Tagged: minimal

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.

Shadows and Light

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Last noted the Norwegian free-noise-rock-a-boodle combo Staer with their self-titled release on Discorporate Records, and here they are again with another aggressive blast of bass-heavy riffing and attack-mode drumming on Daughters (HORSE ARM RECORDS HAR CD10). The threesome of Kristoffer Riis, Markus Hagen and Thore Warland are joined by sax player Kjetil Möster for these 2012 live-to-tape studio sessions, and it’s a joyously black-toned blast of unkempt splurginess which spills out from their collective blowhole, where feedback, reverb units and bass drums tend to rule the roost, and the keynote emotion is a hearty embrace of despair and pain. Look elsewhere if you want remorseless stoner or grindcore sludge played by formulaic rules; Staer are much more “artistic”, and have a strong concern with using their musical limbs to perform clever dynamics and acrobatics, in the form of stop-start rhythms and illogical guitar stabs. They also like to control their excessive noise bursts, causing them to jump like fish on a line. It takes some nerve on their part to title one of their tunes after a line from a favourite Bowie song (‘Flashing Teeth of Brass’), but I’ll overlook this. A good avant-stomper for your elephant boots, and packaged in a silkscreened box thing. A vinyl edition is also available from Gaffer Records.

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A curious work is Lemuria (CRÓNICA 083-2013), a collaboration between the sound artist Enrico Coniglio from Venice and the photographer and field recordist Giovanni Lami of Ravenna, here working as the duo Lemures. The record is a puzzling mix of field recordings and minimalist drones, and you know how commonplace such methods are these days. So perhaps on one level this is nothing very special, and yet the scant aural information they give us is presented in such a very deliberate order that it does implant strange impressions in the brain. It’s as though we’re just hearing the traces of an event that has long since passed, or are being given a handful of unconnected clues to solve a complex detective story. An episode of CSI in sound; aural forensics.

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Ryoji Ikeda for me bestrode the late 1990s like a colossus, except that he did it entirely in digital sound rather than standing bodily over the entrance to a major port with his mighty legs astride. His Matrix album for the Touch label was one of the highlights of punchy minimal precision in electronic music for the year 2000, and if he’d been left to design the world’s millennial fireworks exhibitions, he’d have done everything with advanced virtual reality techniques, setting off Roman Candles of the mind that would have amazed half of Europe with their neatly-arranged orange patterns bursting across the night sky. Well, it’s probably fair to say he’s found his spiritual home on the Raster-Noton label, and his Supercodex (RASTER-NOTON R-N 150) is the latest item for that label – the last one we heard was Test Pattern in 2008, and it so happens Supercodex is the final part of a trilogy which began in 2005 with Dataplex. Apparently all the music here is constructed from cannibalised versions of his own earlier works, plus other art installation pieces thrown into that cauldron, and portions of his current Superimposition project too. When other musicians do this kind of “melting pot” rendition of their own recent history, we can usually expect a sticky gumbo of over-processed nonsense, but Ikeda avoids the problems that can arise from pointless statement and restatement, and somehow manages to pare everything about his work back to the fundamentals. The essence of his work, already ultra-minimal to begin with, is recast here in a form that’s even more clean, white, and precise. If he was a chef in a fish restaurant, I’m confident that he could fillet a large bluefish in 20 seconds, using sharp stainless steel knives and laser beams, and then repeat the process to produce the fillet of a fillet. At the end of this culinary experiment, there might not be much food on your plate in terms of cubic volume, but it’d be full of compacted goodness – one bite of it would nourish you for 48 hours. There’s also some concern to explore the sound of data and the data of sound, which probably means he’s capable of rearranging the parameters of a sound file using a hexadecimal editor. If any of the above is true, or makes any sense, then Supercodex lives up its name – a super-music, a species of futuristic hyper-music built out of its own source code.

Portable Crocodiles

A moody, sullen collaboration is what we’d expect when Miguel A García and Nick Hoffman play together, which is what Vile Cretin (INTONEMA INTO010) delivers across four tracks of seething desolation. In terms of what I’ve heard from either of these players, it’s one of the more three-dimensional improvised efforts, by which I mean the elements are distanced and positioned in ingenious manner, perhaps using skilled studio placement techniques, to suggest vast depths and enormous spaces. There may not be much happening in the aural department other than surly crackles and nameless echoing whimpery whispers, but they are happening in a fabulously resonant manner. Their two personalities, as far as I understand these enigmatic creators, can be discerned manifesting themselves on the album to some degree, for instance I’d like to think that Garcia brought the bad tempered sulking aspects to track 01, while Hoffman’s penchant for steely and imperceptible anti-sounds has dominated track 02. But the pair succeed in creating unusual sound art that is more than the sum of their personal characteristics, and it’s a fine slow-moving broodster of electrical gloomery. Of course, Hoffman’s surreal and violent cover drawings, this time printed in a sumptuous red, may give you a completely different impression of the work. From 29 November 2013.

Coen Oscar Polack and Herman Wilken paint two landscapes in sound on their Fathomless LP (NARROMINDED NM064); one side depicts the Barents Sea, the other side a green wilderness in the Sundarbans. And my goodness, what a very literal job they make of it; the first side is sluggish ambient drone spread thickly with sound effects that imitate the sound of the ocean tides and Arctic winds in a highly prosaic manner. The “jungly” side is peppered with bird-song effects, and hazy drones attempting to invoke shimmering heat of the baking sun. Atmospheric and pleasant, but not very imaginatively done; it’s one step away from being a BBC Sound Effects record. From November 2013.

Haven’t heard from The Magic Carpathians Project for some years, but they sent us a couple of interesting items which arrived 11 November 2013. On T.A.M. (WORLD FLAG RECORDS WFR 043), the duo of Anna Nacher and Marek Styczynski are joined by Tomasz Holuj for five extended group improvisations, which they describe as “symbiotic music”. I suppose the term “symbiotic” is another way of highlighting the dependencies that can grow between musicians who play together. The Carpsters have made a name for themselves over the years, on account of their unique way of extending the traditional musics of Eastern Europe by blending them with Indian music, free jazz, radio waves, and the unusual singing styles of Anna Nacher. At one point it seemed like they were going down quite well with your latterday psychedelica revivalist types, and they enjoyed an association with the American label Drunken Fish Records – home to many freaky wild-eyed droners in the late 1990s and early 2000s. T.A.M. seems to be more in the area of traditional music, being mainly acoustic and featuring a lot of percussion instruments, but it’s also very strong on ethereal droning effects and unusual stringed instruments, and the music they create is extremely original and hard to pin down. The trio just keep on playing, wailing, hammering and droning in a deceptively gentle mode, doing little to vary the mood, tempo or root note for long periods of time, until a species of greyed-out Nirvana is attained. Not an immediate “grabber”, but your listening perseverance will pay off. I think the recordings are all live, there’s no overdubbing and the mixing was done in real time. Released on their own label World Flag Records. My copy has a nice original artwork insert.

On Vtoroi (MIKROTON CD 25), we have the team-up of two Russian heavyweights – the most estimable Ilia Belorukov, and Kurt Liedwart, who is in fact Vlad Kudryavstev and the owner of Mikroton Records who released this sulky brooder of contemporary improvisation. On these 2012 sessions, Belorukov is playing a prepared saxophone, an iPod, contact mics and objects – in short, the sort of setup I used to associate with the “EAI” school of improvisers; at any rate I recall that Günter Müller frequently used an iPod as part of his live processing. Liedwart brings his field recordings and objects to the table, along with ppooll, a program which appears to be some sort of networking bridge that works with certain implementations of Max/MSP. The majority of this record is a bit too under-eventful for me on today’s spin, particularly the long track ‘Ikkemesh’ with its hissing, beeping, and long periods of uncertain rustling and clunking, but I’m very taken with ‘Antra’, which is a nice extended slab of grumbly white noise mixed up with other scuzzy layers, and containing just the right amount of semi-musical content to keep it interesting. It gives off a mood of existential futility. The duo sustain this taut position for over ten minutes, as if performing painful physical exercise, and probably gazing into the mirror with blank expressions the while. Kurt also did the cover art, showing some Stephen O’Malley influence in overlaying a found photograph with geometric shapes. From 6th November 2013.

T.R.A.S.E. (Tape Recorder And Synthesiser Ensemble): early 1980s UK teenage outsider synth-pop (yes, really!)

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T.R.A.S.E. (Tape Recorder And Synthesiser Ensemble), self-titled, UK, B-Music / Finders Keepers, CD BMS050 / FKR067 (2013)

Here’s a recording where the history of the artist and the equipment used is so unusual and engrossing that it threatens to overshadow the music itself. The group’s name might seem twee and antiquated to us jaded sophisticates today but in 1981 the concept behind the name and project was just slightly ahead of the trends prevailing in the commercial pop music industry in Britain. The astonishing aspect of T.R.A.S.E. is that it was actually the music project of a 16-year-old boy who started it as an extension of both the work he was doing at school, in class and in extra-curricular activities, and his own interests in pop and rock music. Even more amazing is that the youngster, Andy Popplewell, built his own synthesiser (the Elektor Chorosynth), a 6-channel audio mixer, a phaser and a fuzz box using instructions from electronics magazines and the school woodwork and electronics skills he gained. With money earned from delivering newspapers, Popplewell built all these himself (his father having died years earlier), acquired and assembled a drum machine kit, and off he went, experimenting with composing and playing his own music, some of the results of which have now been released on vinyl and CD.

Admittedly if you were to hear the music and you didn’t know that this was all the work of a young teenage boy with some help from his guitar-playing kid brother, you’d swear that the artist behind the various rhythm texture pieces making up the bulk of the recording was a bit conservative in the way he coaxes sounds and melodies out of his machines, with very few sounds hitting the extremes of the instruments’ capabilities and burning up the wires. The drum machine beats anchor the music rigidly and apart from a couple of instrumental tracks near the beginning and the end, there’s hardly any experimentation with basic elements like sound; the music is driven by repetitive melody loops held in place by fixed beats. Sometimes the music is so slow or monotonous that you almost fall off your seat in slumber. On the other hand, there are some good tracks that show music composition potential (“Electronic Rock”, “War Machine”, “Unrequited Love”) even if very little is done with them. There are some beautiful ambient mood pieces like “Harmonium”, a radiantly sunny instrumental that includes a trilling melody and plucked warm-summer guitar tones. That a school-kid was able to progress as far as he could building his own equipment and writing and playing his own music within fairly commonplace artistic and musical conventions of the time might say something about his middle class upbringing in early 1980s Britain and how much (or how little) exposure children had to music, art and other avenues of creative intellectual enrichment.

In the booklet that accompanies the CD, Popplewell lists among his musical influences acts like Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Jean Michel Jarre, Joy Division, Ultravox, the Human League, Gary Numan and John Foxx and his own music certainly reflects those inspirations. (The booklet also mentions his interest in Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin and Motorhead but their influence, if any, can’t be discerned, perhaps for obvious reasons: their music was dominated by guitar and was not minimalist in structure.) Some tracks have a melancholy air as well as a definite pop orientation and the deadpan singing style Popplewell employs might owe as much to his heroes as to his own inexperience as a singer. Although in the booklet he states his suspicion of being close to having Asperger’s syndrome, I detect in the music he may have had something of a talent for picking sounds and tunes that conjure up particular moods.

I don’t have many favourite tracks on this CD but the one I like best is one I might treasure for the rest of my life and that’s “War Machine” for its delirious slightly off-key and dazed synth tones and the clicky mechanical rhythms. Probably by the time Popplewell composed this song, he’d already had considerable experience writing, playing and polishing his music. The singing is frail and boyish and the whole track sounds a bit like a cross between early Depeche Mode and The Cure. A solo lead guitar turn by little brother Phil Popplewell adds a soulful blues mood. The song is crowned by the sort of abstract early-Kraftwerkian experimentation, here simulating machine-gun fire and falling bombs, I’ve been dying (err …) to hear all through the album.

The value of this recording lies mainly in the circumstances in which it was conceived, the DIY culture that existed in the UK in the late 1970s / early 1980s and the fact that it was made by an artist still at high school and what this suggests about how much Western society still underestimates the creative potential of adolescents. Some of the songs may well grow on listeners over repeated hearings.

Alas, Popplewell did not follow up his early precocious start as an experimental electronic pop musician; he became a BBC radio broadcast engineer (though he curiously manage to miss falling into the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) in the 1980s and has held other technical and engineering positions since. It may not be too late for Popplewell to resurrect his music career if he so wishes, though I doubt that the novelty value of his having been a child musical prodigy would last long; advances in music technology and electronics have been so great over the last 30 years that audiences born after 1980 might well be mystified by the music and instruments used, and several tracks really are just not much more than rhythm texture studies.

Contact: Finders Keepers, www.finderkeepers.com

Watch Out For The Silent Types

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France Jobin
The Illusion Of Infinitesimal
FRANCE BASKARU KARU:27 CD (2014)

One of the more ‘silent type’ sound art selections to cross my path of late; volume’s now up so high so I’ll probably be blasted into next year when I forget to reduce it for the next CD. Though drifting for the most part in a zero-gravity bliss state, these minimalist compositions do distinguish many a frequency between remote rotary rumbling and a fan-like spreading of sine waves that pierce the head bone, bleach neglected skull lining and fill the sterilized space with a waft of hygienic vapour.

France Jobin returns thus inspired from the realm of subatomic particles and their nebulous existential status, engaged this round by the quantum conundrum of angular momentum: as I understand it, the directional attribute possessed by gyroscopes and Frisbees. Particles possess a more limited version of this; a matter quite mysterious given that they have no discernable size. Moreover, their tendency to alternate with the wave state has rendered objective analysis a notoriously tricky business.

The compositional parallel Jobin draws from this involves working from a given emotion while neither pursuing nor exploring said state, just as one keeps an eye floater in view by keeping the eye still (to paraphrase inexpertly). From this point she painstakingly pares sounds down to their ‘unique essence’, from which point she is equipped to ‘communicate intent without influencing its unfolding, a delicate balance between perfection and detachment.’ This definition of ‘intent’ – perhaps less commonly used – can be found in meditation and internal martial arts with specific reference to the manipulation of the opposing forces of yin and yang. It can designate ‘intention’ divorced from ‘desire’: the information the brain sends to a limb for example. This neutrality is well demonstrated across these three unemotional yet involving compositions, which reveal and conceal different attributes with each listen.

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Gintas K
Nota Demo
PORTUGAL CREATIVE SOURCES RECORDINGS 244 CD (2013)

Rather an unforgiving fix of digital fragmentalisations and obliterated data from Lithuanian composer Gintas Kraptavicius, who has appeared on the Sound Projector radar several times now, impressing one and all with the intuitive path he’s been cutting through psycho/electroacoustic music for the past 15-odd years. Perhaps as some sort of atonement gesture for his last set of ‘slow’ pieces, Gintas treats us now to a set of entirely more abstruse and increasingly volatile liquid glass eruptions, which swiftly recall the work of Hecker, whose Chimerizations and Sun Pandemonium have both graced and grazed these ears of late. Had I not been properly briefed I might have mistaken this CD for one of his, though present is a merciful cohesiveness that Mr. Hecker would mirthfully pulverise given half a chance.

Not to be outdone by the Mego veteran however, Gintas is enigmatic to a point with regard to his methods and motivations. One imagines his mute astonishment at the sudden extra-dimensional manifestation of this ever-bifurcating torrent of audio mulch, indeed so much so that its division into eleven parts – perhaps for prime number purposes – constitutes a sincere and wilful break for freedom from such raging chaos. But perish all doubt as to the material’s palatability, for the longer the ears’ immersion, the more distinct becomes the composer’s guided footfall. That said, I’d also venture a claim that a degree of satisfaction in the listener’s bemusement falls not far from his remit.

Zo Rel Do: a curious and intriguing mix of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv

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Mohammad, Zo Rèl Do, Antifrost, CD AFRO 2064 (2014)

Mohammad is a Greek trio employing cello, contrabass and electronics to create a curious fusion of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv. “Zo Rèl Do” is the first part of a trilogy exploring the music and sounds of the musicians’ homeland and immediate neighbouring areas in western Turkey and parts of Bulgaria and Romania.

We start off with some field recordings dominated by a solo flute melody and conversations that might have been recorded in a market-place. These are swept aside by low booming scrapey string instruments, deep and rhythmic, with a very minimalist melody loop: the music is a bit like an acoustic doom folk version of Sunn0))) at times. A scratchy spitting drone accompanies the raw and sonorous dirge-like march. The track seems very serious and solemn although there are moments when it appears not to be taking itself too seriously and almost parodies itself.

“Kabilar Mace” takes up the repetitive circular structure, applying it to a drunken seesaw melody and torments it with a nagging grinding string accompaniment. The two opposed melodies can be very amusing to listen to as one tune insists on going its own sedate way and the other buzzes around it like a jumpy pooch. The music steadily escalates to an extreme intense and quite deranged level with the odd pause or two to let off steam.

Subsequent tracks stick to the minimalist template of repetition (with variation), building up to an almost hysterical climax, and the sound lurches about clumsily as if in an empty and dark room feeling for the light-switch. One later track gives the impression of nearly falling over in a heap. “Samarina” in particular sounds a bit like the aforementioned hooded ones playing unplugged after having gone on one or two too many benders; this is probably the most memorable track in spite of it not sounding quite as accessible melodically as the others – it does have a certain mournful grace. The album concludes with what could be a barely audible recording of night crickets that might be overlooking a secret nature ritual.

While this is a fairly short recording, “Zo Rèl Do” has a massive sound and a clear ambience that emphasises the rough-hewn texture of the music. The mood alternates from bleary-eyed somnambulist slouch to solemn and serious to something suggesting a wry sense of humour at work building up the music to a near-insane, mind-transforming level. Though the music does not vary a great deal, the mood and humour behind it keep this listener transfixed, wondering what surprises these Hellenes might pull out next from within their instruments.

The thought has just occurred to me that Mohammad’s objective is to bring listeners deep into their world of native folk and other influences and to take their audiences right to the edge of infinity by mixing serious solemnity and playful teasing in equal measures. Beyond that edge, we become merged with the fabric of the cosmos itself and are at one with it.

Contact: Antifrost,  Mohammad

Fragments Shored against my Ruins

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Lucrecia Dalt‘s Syzygy (HUMAN EAR MUSIC HEMK0032) comes across as a record that’s trying to tell me something; it’s studded with written texts, short mysterious paragraphs, not only in the gatefold interior of the cover but printed on the CD disk, and on the tiny cover sticker which asks me “are you in a hurry?”, in a faintly chiding tone. The opening track title ‘Glossolalia’ also clues you into a preoccupation with the spoken word, and when playing with the printed text she chooses to print her track titles backwards on the cover, and provide her name in embossed form; one step away from the Braille text which appeared on the back cover of Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway. So far, no opportunity has been wasted to keep the meaning of the text at arm’s length; Emily Dickinson could have done no better. Even her website is likewise served up as disjointed fragments, short texts and disjunctive images inviting us to follow clues and dig into deeper meanings, and she makes more allusions per square inch than the complete works of Jorge Luis Borges.

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I’m not here to pass on any deeper understanding from today’s listen, but the record is oddly compelling in a very gentle and mysterious manner; Dalt makes sparing use of instrumentation such as muffled keyboards, synths, and acoustic guitars, to build fragile structures which her voice inhabits like a fleeting phantom floating past on floorboards greased with candle wax (viz. Lewis Carroll’s Phantasmagoria). This sonic world, like a more avant version of Kate Bush crossed with Virginia Astley or Enja, is the perfect white-walled and heavily carpeted arena for her disjunctive fragments of text to thrive. Is she even a singer? Half of the time she’s delivering a spoken-word recit, and doing so in breathy whispers that occlude the text still further. While you may not notice the impact of her work at once, I feel sure that it will manifest itself weeks later when you find yourself scrutinising a text printed in a foreign language, and suddenly find you can understand half of it by the sheer power of intuition. This unique item was recorded in Barcelona, though apparently the artist was born in Columbia. I would guess she’s made a virtue of solitude, contemplation, and exile, and that’s going to be her lifetime’s work. Interested listeners may which to investigate her previous release for this label, Commotus, or her debut album Congost. Received this one in October 2013.

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Polarlicht: giving us soothing low-key ambient electronic soundscapes

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Monolyth & Cobalt, Polarlicht, Time Released Sound, CD TRS041 (2014)

In spite of its name which translates from German into English as “Polar Light” and the artwork of cracking ice viewed from above, this recording is not really much of a cold and forbidding Ice Age ambient soundscape opus to be filed in among other Arctically or Antarctically inspired works; it turns out to be a slow, relaxing and gently immersive journey through glitch electronica worlds sculpted by one Mathias Van Eecloo, the man behind Monolyth & Cobalt. The recording was made in Brittany over a period of some 18 months from April 2012 to October 2013.

There may be allusions to maritime exploration on the album and the fact that the work was recorded in Brittany – an area with connections to the sea – might have some significance. “Blooming Stones” sets the tone releasing this listener to drift on gentle grey seas with rhythmic bell chimes and something of a slow undulating sea-shanty melody.  The tracks conjure up quiet landscapes of muted grey or light sandy colours where the sea raises barely more than a murmur of white wave froth and washes blue-grey up pale beaches. Even the skies are a restful pale blue colour. Not much happens and we are whisked from one track to the next to inspect new low-key soundscapes.

Track 4 promises to be a bit more interesting than previous pieces with a mechanical rhythm loop and some off-kilter noises suggesting all’s not quite calm and serene, and any moment we may run across some rusted toys or machines still able to play a melody after years of disuse and deterioration. Following after is a track where instruments seem to be more recognisable yet still unidentifiable – there could be a banjo in the music – and a sighing siren vocal is present as well. As the album progresses, the music broadens to include acoustic guitar, harmonica (or something very like it), violin and field recordings or found monologue in tracks like “Et Ces Arbres” and “Verhaal”.

The most interesting track on the whole album turns out to be “Birds (Are Some Holes in the Sky Through a Man can Pass)” which features some beautifully resonant string instruments, one of them possibly a harp or a zither, delicately trilling against a seesaw rhythm.

True, the general tone of the album rarely rises above mildly stimulating and the criticism could be made that the whole recording is just too mild and placid to hold most people’s attention. Sooner or later, someone will start wishing for something pacey and exciting, like a great white shark lurking in the unassuming grey sea. Folks with short attention spans will drift away leaving a few willing to follow Van Eecloo and to let him take his own time describing the vistas before them.

It doesn’t really matter that I fail to see the polar connection this music makes: it’s very soothing, low-key and minimal, and there are some interesting acoustic surprises in later tracks that add individuality and a distinct folksy flavour.

Contact: Time Released Sound

Thought of Two: a successful launch of dark minimalist techno on a long journey

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Black Hat, Thought of Two, Hausu Mountain, CD HAUSMO13 (2014)

I believe this is the first full-length recording from Black Hat, a dark electronica project by Seattle resident Nelson Bean. Seattle is famous in the music world for many, many reasons but so far minimalist darkened techno with a bit of psychedelia and industrial influence hasn’t been one of them. One day that may all change and Bean is to be commended for bringing that happy day closer. “Thought of Two” is a short effort with just three tracks but these are long ones with the third clocking close to 20 minutes.

“Imaginary Friends” sounds innocuous enough until you start spinning the disc and long groaning tones crawl out of the speakers and drift through the air with echo dragging behind and sinister feathery whisper percussion shifting and shuffling along. The track transforms constantly with drone, skittery effects, a hollow metal rattle and eerie high-pitched metal whine together giving the impression of a black claustrophobic worm-hole tunnel unravelling itself as we explore deeper inside. It’s at once creepy and ominous yet some of the rhythms offer reassurance and comfort on our journey. There are no big shocks or surprises and that in itself can be heartening for listeners.

“Portrait in Fluorescent Light” is an amorphous entity of shifting metallic wash and shimmer. This is a highly hypnotic and cosmic piece with a lush beauty and radiance. However Bean saves the best for “Memory Triptych”, a tapestry of very warm shining rhythm loops, muted industrial scrapings, dreamy drone and lots more besides, all bathed in a soft radiant ambience. This is a very dreamy trancey track, reminiscent sometimes of old Vladislav Delay recordings in their seductive quality though those VD releases had a much cleaner sound and were more emotionally neutral. Flotsam and jetsam from various musical genres seem to drift in and out – at one point, we seem to have a repeating jazz horn, calling perhaps for a lost brass instrument companion, intruding apologetically on proceedings – making the track difficult to describe: it encompasses ambient trance, industrial, techno, cosmic space and musique concrete among other genres but reaches far beyond any of them. Near the end, the track adopts a contemplative mood as if brooding on its telos and what it might mean.

It’s a bewitching recording, smooth and beguiling, at times a bit melancholy and wistful. In spite of the tracks’ formless nature, the music can be very accessible and almost poppy in orientation. The sounds are very absorbing and for once I don’t mind that they can be repetitive and monotonous in parts as the soundscapes never stop evolving. For a recording lasting no longer than 35 minutes, this album really does take its listeners on very long expansive journeys.

Contact: Hausu Mountain

Darkspace I: setting the controls aiming for the heart of the universe – and finding sheer dark space

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Darkspace, Darkspace I, Haunter of the Dark, CD001 (2003)

Finally I’ve been able to hear the first album in Darkspace’s trilogy of cold immersive space-ambient BM albums, mainly for the sake of completion. In comparison with the other Darkspace albums, this first set sticks closely to militaristic black metal, delivered a little too efficiently in the manner of machines inhabited and driven by an insane and malevolent spirit. That’s meant to be a compliment to the Darkspace trio of musicians themselves. All three recordings are inspired and powered by a vision of space and the cosmos as essentially indifferent, and maybe even hostile, to the existence of humanity; the message is that we are on our own and if we are to continue to exist, we must do so without help from external powers. A supreme God will not save us because such an entity does not and has never existed.

The beast is born in utter black cavernous emptiness amid shifting, groaning echoes, sighing whispers and cries of lost spirits. Suddenly the music jets off into the high atmosphere, all bristling noise and crunching jagged guitar battery riffs, eerie background synthesiser tones and a cacophony of gabbling demon voices caught up within the tight maelstrom. In the second track there is a sample of dialogue from the Stanley Kubrick film “2001: A Space Odyssey” in which the computer HAL is interviewed by the BBC and states that it looks forward to working with humans. As the track progresses, the music speeds up to a frenzied and extreme level, the screaming grows more demented, drums and cymbals are pounding away, and the synths sigh on as if in a frozen catatonic state.

The musicians concentrate in the main on building up an overwhelming, enveloping structure that sweeps up listeners and carries them aloft on an interstellar journey between their ears. You can’t help but be absorbed by it all. The evil and deranged atmosphere completely swamps you. Within the music, hideous beings converse and plot the course of the spaceship careening through the cosmos at multiple times the speed of light. One mistake, the ship lurches in another direction and the monsters scream and howl their lungs inside out and back gain. Lead guitar hollers away in a wormhole and drums bang on in a non-stop frenzy.

Admittedly the music is not varied and tends towards the obsessive and extreme in its single-minded focus. That’s the whole point of the recording: its very derangement and seeming lack of anything resembling human nature or anything organic mean that there is no concept of limitation where the music is concerned. Whatever direction is set for it, it continues relentlessly down that track. Everything takes place in a nihilistic universe; concepts of good and evil are neither here nor there. You’re not asked to love the music but you have to admire it anyway for its pure nature, steeped in what we would consider evil and malevolent.

It’s only in Track 1.6 that we get the first hints that the music might be slowing down just a little and a certain despair, a moment of bleak desolation, appears beneath the layers of compulsively grinding guitar texture. But these hints lead nowhere as the maelstrom moves with a force even it can’t control. On and on it goes, and even when the album appears to wind down and the music fades away, there’s still a sense of a never-ending journey into infinity and beyond.

Nevertheless whether this journey ever has an end or not, it is a journey worth taking for those brave enough to question the nature of the universe in which we live and who want to know more beyond what they’ve been taught to believe and found wanting.

Contact: Haunter of the Dark