Tagged: minimal

Lightweight Distro

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Excellent set of minimal electronica-glitch computer music things from Phil Maguire, an English musician who has been quietly seeping out the odd cassette and Bandcamp release since 2014…this this (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL LOR 078) is one of his rare physical releases and in some ways an unusual item to find in the LOR catalogue. The album collects two “suites”, the five parts of the highly alien minimal buzz-drone of “This This”, and the even more dry, desolate and stark purrings of “th at ti me wh en”, which originally emanated in 2015 on his own This This Recordings imprint.

Maguire’s sound art is notable for originating mostly in the guts of a Raspberry Pi, which is the cheap circuit-board miniature computer that’s been creating quite a stir in the world of “digital” these days…a versatile piece of kit which even I can operate (I made mine into a media player) and features in a small range of dedicated computing magazines in the high street, full of articles suggesting DIY projects and teach-yourself-coding exercises. Maguire plays the Raspberry Pi to create wholly abstract and non-human noise, but somehow this this is not a harsh or hostile release, and it doesn’t take long at all for the listener to become acclimatised to its strange tones and start to enjoy or appreciate the textures and patterns inside this tiny world. It may feel sealed off, claustrophobic even, but it’s a good zone to visit for four or five minutes at a time.

The sleeve notes refer us back to the mid-1990s when, if you recall, “glitch” music was one of the big things in vogue. What I remember of it (and I do still enjoy the “genre”), a lot of glitch was associated with European labels and artistes, particularly in Vienna and Cologne. It may have had some lineage with Techno and dance music, and its production involved hacking into synths or (if feeling more radical) experimenting with sound files on a laptop. My verdict is that Maguire owes practically nothing to dance music, and has arrived at his extremely reduced and introverted abstractions by other means, perhaps more processed based methods. If I’m right about that, then Phil Maguire’s music might fit in on the Hideous Replica label in some ways, although I’m not sure if their aesthetic choices overlap exactly. As to the hardware and production aspects of glitch, evidently Phil Maguire has taken it further by bypassing musical instruments and keyboards altogether, and even surpassing laptop music, by working with such a compact and tiny instrument as the Raspberry Pi.

If we were going to start a cultural war of one-upmanship over this, it could be argued that Maguire’s exceptionally modest set-up makes the average laptop with its weighty OS, software bloat, and hundreds of MP3 files look like the excesses of a Rick Wakeman multi-keyboard array. Recommended…this release is a 50 copies limited press CDR with a Victorian photograph inserted, and a downloadable PDF of notes from the website. From 24 June 2016.

Bindweed

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The latest item from UK’s Hideous Replica label is a CD called Bind (HR12), a collaboration between Phil Julian and John Macedo. Arrived here 24 May 2016. The front cover looks like a degraded photograph of some rocky outcrop, overprinted with a subtle green tint, suggestive of algae or lichen growing on those rocks. In like manner, the very abstract sound art we hear on the disc could be read as a form of digital micro-growth, organisms thriving on an inhospitable surface.

The prolific and highly able Phil Julian last showed up here in 2015 on Between Landing, an understated crackly record he made with Ben Owen, but he’s rattled his circuits with some of the best names on the mountainsides of avant-noise, and in many diverse contexts. John Macedo is a London sound artist who has released a few cassettes and CDRs, some on his own Black Plume Editions label, and owns himself a devotee of analogue electronics, hand-made devices, and close-miked objects to create his sounds. The pair performed together at Cafe Oto in 2015, the results issued as a live tape by Wasted Capital Since 2013, a sub-label of Hideous Replica.

Bind contains zero information as to how it was produced, other than the vague remark “recorded at various locations in South East London 2013-16”. Although generally a quiet and unobtrusive set of crackling squiggles, it offers a “continuous” experience rather than a disjointed one, continually drawing the listener in to its small confines, as we fall further down the rabbit hole and are squeezed along many narrow passages. There’s an eerie fascination to the subdued drones, the unexpected squeals and ticks; we might be watching small unknown life-forms multiplying in ways we can’t understand.

While most of the 11 track titles are utilitarian and provide few clues, I do like the title ‘Another Burden on the National Grid’, which suggests something about the excessive power consumption of this duo (despite the minimal audible output). It also passes on a wider awareness of how they see their activities plugging into a whole network of dependencies and resources. Perhaps they see their errant alien signals as ghosts in the bloodstream, humming along the cables from pylon to pylon, until they reach their intended destination.

Boxing Match

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Has it Started?

Stefan Thut
Un/even And One
RUSSIA INTONEMA int018 CD (2016)

Swiss cellist Stefan Thut debuted his score Un/Even and One in St Petersburg in 2015 with a bevy of (somewhat more) local musicians who do a top job of sounding like they aren’t there. A short Youtube clip reveals much to this theory: for the 5-strong assembly, virtue is expressed in restraint from virtually any physical movement at all; just a young lady pushing a box around in the foreground while five instruments receive attention only spasmodically. I sense that the concept behind Thut’s scoring is one of meticulous refinement; that of distilling full bars and phrases into the merest of gestures, upon the blank canvas of near-silence. We should not be surprised to learn therefore of Thut’s affiliation with the Wandelweiser group, for whom such matters are a preoccupation.

Silence is, in fact, is one of two canvases common to Thut’s work. The other is ‘the box’. There’s one drawn on on the cover, with semi-explanatory text describing how Thut ‘joined the sounds from transcribed language played through the surface of a moving cardboard box’ to add to the enigma. As I understand it, the musicians’ fingers were prerecorded rubbing words into the surface of cardboard boxes, which recordings were played back during the performance, effectively encompassing the space in conceptual cardboard. The value of the symbol of the empty-box-as-pure-potential is appended by the actual movement of the box throughout the performance, its location at any given point conferring on each musician the right to play.

Over 40 minutes, silence intersperses with sounds barely identifiable: low-volume cello massage and rummaging beneath a layer of tape hiss; a mass of slippery shadows, exhaling emphysemically and pierced by sine waves in a dark basement that yawns with an ancient hunger. What the recording may lacks in terms of immediatism, it at least makes up for by stirring the imagination.

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Is It Over?

Michael Pisaro
Mind Is Moving IX
RUSSIA INTONEMA int017 CD (2015)

Something of a go-to for less voluble composers, guitarist Denis Sorokin facilitates a recent work by another of the Wandelweiser composers, Michael Pisaro, for the novel combination of electric guitar, radio, stones and whistling. No prizes for naming the other, unnamed ingredient as silence (or a recorded approximation of) in immodest volume. The piece was refined in performances over two years (2013 to 2015) before being deemed medically fit for recording, in which: you’ve guessed it, the instruments/sound sources are addressed only sporadically between far lengthier and more considered pauses.

That the hapless listener might come unstuck is occasioned by the fact that the performer’s means of interpretation and the composer’s means of evaluation are equally nebulous. At what point is the performance deemed ‘acceptable’ and how is the listener to know when the standard has (not) been met? When the form of the piece stands so readily to baffle, it is difficult to gauge and this much is neither divulged nor easily relatable. However, one senses such judgements rely at least partially on attaining the ‘Goldilocks’ balance between pause and play that ‘the listener’ stops wondering whether the piece is contiguous and/or continuing. Reaching this sweet spot presumably necessitated a good deal of fine tuning of both composition and intuition.

Thus, the recording takes its place in Pisaro’s ever-satisfying catalogue, alongside fine companions such as 2016’s Melody, Silence by Cristián Alvear. Along with the Stefan Thut CD, it also brings further respectability to the Russian label Intonema, based in St Petersburg, where many of these performances are recorded. Limited edition run, needless to say.

Moon Madness

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Obscure, puzzling and near-anonymous slab of “dark ambient” chill-mode minimal drone-a-thonnery from Poland…Nusthur (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 119-2) is credited to Kallee & The Lunar Trio, an extremely low profile act which seems to comprise Karolina Kallee and Mariusz Nantur Doering, the latter appearing here as Nantur. These two have appeared on the label before, on the 2-CD comp From Earth To Sirius released in 2011; since that comp was dedicated to the works of Robert Anton Wilson, our friends were clearly compelled to call their contribution ‘Sabbah & 23 Hashisheen’, adding to the weight of musical utterances inspired directly or indirectly by William Burroughs…this “old man of the mountain” stuff has clearly not outstayed its welcome…

Nusthur may be gunning for other fish, though. There’s a quote from Omar Khayyam inside the cover, something about sending the soul through the Invisible, and the cover motif of skulls and flowers is very far from being a Grateful Dead tribute. Kallee & The Lunar Trio want to induce “trance…meditation…a soundtrack accompanying the journey into yourself”, and are happy to be associated with sleep-walking as they make this trek into the subconscious. The first track ‘Nox’ is a horrible assemblage of drab, unappealing electronic drones, utterly shapeless; you may fare better, or worse, with ‘Nox-Lunaris’, over 19 minutes of barely-audible atmospheric effects, which might be mistaken for a thunderstorm in the far distance or a supernatural throb produced when the Northern Lights cross paths with a belt of UFOs. At least this overlong stretch of abstraction does manage to convey a “nocturnal” sensation, assuming that’s the point of including a reference to the moon in its title. I kind of get the meditational point, but ‘Nox-Lunaris’ is just too insubstantial to even make an impression.

On ‘Nox-Lux’, the musicians make some concessions to making themselves heard, and while the texture and surface of this 18-minute cut are hard to grasp (terms like quagmire, mud, swamp come to mind), at least the technique of irregularly-repeated patterns and loops starts to make some sense. Kallee & The Lunar Trio refuse any conventional manner of hypnotising the audience, and seem determined to get there in a very awkward, long-winded and unfriendly manner. The cabalistic rules governing this sect are impossible to fathom, and I’m not sure I even want to join. From 14th April 2016.

Ether Fields

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I’ve been kinda intrigued by CoH (Ivan Pavlov) ever since hearing his IIRON album many years ago, but that’s because it was produced using guitars and to my rock-seeking ears resembled some sort of avant-garde, metaphysical take on heavy metal. In my rush to find a viable alternative to Sunn O))), I was overlooking the electronica drones and techno beats in the mix on that release, whereas it seems the latter music is broadly more characteristic of what CoH gets up to. Retro 2038 was an all-computer music record which I interpreted as a futuristic vision of how the disco-dancefloor would evolve over time (not that I really care much), while 2014’s To Beat was much more of a process exercise, composed from micro building blocks like pulses, tones, and sine waves, to create something akin to aural illusions of space and depth.

Well, now I’m facing the ultra-minimal and slow-paced throbulations and hummings of a new record called Music Vol. (EDITIONS MEGO EMEGO 222), and while this is far removed from my dream of intellectualised guitar rock, it’s still managing to cast a compelling spell of mesmerising wizardry using only the simplest of means, in an extremely unhurried fashion. There’s something calculating about the evil ways of this Soviet monster, a man who probably wears a grey business suit at all times to throw his unsuspecting victims off the scent, when in reality underneath that suit he’s got a torso of muscles rendered hard as steel from his years of dedicated exercise in an underground gym of brutality. The tracks here, languishing in the 7 to 8 minute realm, are almost like lullabies, soothing you into a false sense of security with their comforting, gentle rhythms and tiny, unsophisticated melodies. Yet there’s no disguising the sinister undercurrent; when you wake up, if indeed you ever do, you’ll probably find yourself with some vital organs missing, or you’ve been sold into slavery and sent back in time to serve a long term in the Gulags.

I’ve no idea how this diabolical and subversive music was created, but the press notes are blithering on about the “VOL.” part of the title, stressing this is the key to understanding all, and insisting that CoH is playing around with “volume” in some way. “Concepts of silence and sound…variations of volume…soft progressions of sound”. Good grief. As if classical composers have never used dynamics in the last few centuries. It’s true that the music seems to have been created and mastered to exist in some barely-there twilight of perception, so you have to crane your head forwards even to be sure you’re still alive, at which point the mastermind of the operation will sneak up behind you, cover you up with a black sack and slit your throat with his garotting wire.

When I was still an innocent fanzine editor, I used to enthuse about this ultra-minimalist thing in the early 2000s and even came up with my cute name for it – “Very Special Nothing Music”, used to describe the work of Francisco López, Steve Roden, RLW, and Bernhard Günter with his Trente Oiseaux record label. But somehow CoH is nothing like that. After all, these are still relatively conventional tunes and compositions on here, it’s just that they are forced into this low-key slow-moving profile through his very deliberate working methods. The punchline to this is that he’s got his own distinctive approach to using “volume”, not with pre-planned silences to create sensations of emptiness, but incorporating it into the blueprint of each piece in some way. Whereas RLW et al wanted us, I think, to “enjoy” the silences as if they were music, CoH is obliging us to pay more attention to his timbres, sounds, and atmospheres, forcing us into his cruel constrictive bubble of pain. Very good. From 14th April 2016.

Grain Removal

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The composer / musician NE Trethowan is based in Tampere in Finland, though given his actual name is Nicholas Edward Trethowan I wonder if he has Cornish roots. He has appeared on two compilations for the label Linear Obsessional Recordings, namely Open The Window and Two Minutes Left, and here he is now with an entire solo release for that label, the collection Grammostola (LOR 080) which contains eight instances of his subtle and understated craft.

While these quiet and crackly drones may be pigeon-holed in the “ambient” genre if so inclined, I found several instances where Trethowan is able to transcend any limitations and arrive at his own highly distinctive sound. I think it was around the track ‘Suvanto’ that I started to become convinced. This is not a bad piece of work at all. Like a lot of composers in this general area, he’s got a declared interest in slow and subtle change, and these pieces certainly reflect that, but his goal is to try and efface traces of human intervention if possible – he wants to achieve a certain “distance from active human composition and authorship”, and would be happier to create music that feels more like a phenomenon of nature in some way, as if simply created by the elements.

The active agent making this into an aesthetic experience is not him, but us as listeners; we do the work of “link[ing] together” these “fluctuating, chaotic, momentary events.” In terms of his processes, a lot of the work begins as samples which he gets from second-hard records, specifically choral records he found in Finland charity shops. His extensive reworking and reprocessing methods allow for a certain amount of random or chance events, often expressed as automated scripts probably run in the computer. This appeals to him as much as structure and order, and so any given piece here may represent a fortuitous combination of accidents and interventions. I would guess that NE Trethowan is being slightly modest here; many other musicians working with the same techniques and sources would come up with something dull and samey, so in spite of his attempts to distance himself from “authorship” I would say Trethowan’s personality or signature imbues this work.

In the final analysis, it’s quite beautiful music, recommended to listeners who enjoy Ian Holloway and his Quiet World label. If you want to hear more of his work, there are numerous file-based releases on his own Tavern Eightieth label. Limited edition CDR (50 copies) with inserts. From 28 April 2016.

The Red Room

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Future Perfect (MIKROTON CD 49) is a set of music from Berlin-based musicians, to some extent a crossover between minimal electronica and minimal improvisation. The reduced percussionist Burkhard Beins is joined by Serge Baghdassarians, who plays an electric guitar and mixing desk with various digital delay effects; and Boris Baltschun, who works with computer and sampler. Beins is well known to us from Phosphor and many other minimal playing events, and Baltschun played on Hanno Leichtmann’s fine 2013 record called Minimal Studies, but Serge Baghdassarians is a new name in these pages. Serge and Boris often work together, and indeed have been collaborating since 1999. They’re often more associated with installations, sound art, and performance art, rather than with conventional “music performance”, if that means anything any more. Even this trio, if we can call it that, is quite an ad-hoc and very sporadic thing in terms of commitment. This is only the third time they’ve done it, the previous meets being in 2003 (documented on the Labor comp for Charhizma) and in 2006, when they made a trio record for Absinth Records. They don’t even play at live events any more now, and have taken their sullen, broody work into the artificial zone of the studio.

Three tracks of lengthy slow explorations will reward the listener with about an hour of low-key but surprisingly intense and dense sounds. Beins’s ultra-restrained zither plucks and gentle percussion actions occasionally add texture, notes, and patterns, but mostly the works are dominated by these non-stop continual digital drones, hums and crackles. Small variations gradually grow out of the processes by which they’re operating, and advance the listener a little further down the conveyor belt. It’s as if we were in a large and vacant art gallery, watching coloured shapes under very subdued lighting, where either we or the sculptures are moving in a highly kinetic way, in slow motion. My favourite one is the middle track called ‘n-eck’ which is probably the richest and most elaborate of the works here, though you may prefer the simplicity and stark tones of ‘futur 2’. The album feels like a sustained meditation on something, where the participants are perhaps not really sure what they’re thinking about or seeing, but maybe together they can reach some shared understanding of it. From 14 April 2016.

The Third Brain

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strøm is the superb duo of Swiss players Gaudenz Badrutt and Christian Müller. I thought we had in the past received some of their solo releases on the Swiss Domizil label, but I must have dreamed it. At any rate Gaudenz Badrutt has surfaced a few times, as part of the group Social Insects and with Jonas Kocher on a maddening record called Strategy Of Behaviour In Unexpected Situations. Plus he played with Kocher again in the Mayakovsky Library on Rotonda, where they were joined by Ilia Belorukov. This new record may be called X (MIKROTON CD 48) and is one of a crop of new excellent improv / sound art releases we received from the Russian Mikroton label.

Where Badrutt is all electronics here, Müller does some electronics but also plays the contrabass clarinet, the forbiddingly huge instrument which is the largest member of the clarinet family. On these six tracks, strøm are capable of creating a deliciously fractured and bitty approach to electronic noise, refusing any form of lushness or pleasant surface to the sounds, and accepting only the choicest moments of compressed digital glitch and crackle into the mix. Austerity and severity are just two of the watchwords hopefully sellotaped onto their respective consoles or mixing desks. This can result in very exciting music, where the listener’s fleshy brain and listening apparatus are draped over a stainless steel structure of some sort; there’s that much power and inflexible strength to the core.

Elsewhere, there is a menacing bass drone underpinning the work which may have originated from the clarinet. Oddly enough these moments are less satisfying for some reason, and I find I derive more satisfaction from the pieces which spit out their digital juices like so much hot fat over the roasting pan. Extremely abstract music, as reflected in the plain colourfield designs of the cover artworks. But this is very far from the clean lines of Raster-Noton or other minimal-glitch work of Cologne and Vienna, and its lineage does not come from techno beats or the dancefloor. From 14 April 2016.

Long Overdue Part 1

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Welcome return for some music by The Vitamin B12, in a double-cassette set we’ve had here in the racks since 2014. The Vitamin B12 is sometimes just a solo project by Alasdair Willis, but has also been an improvising collective involving any number of people in and around the Brighton UK area. We used to enjoy the solo records enormously back in the day, such as the vinyl-only releases 2LP Gatefold Set from 2000, or the double LP Badges from 2003, and for a time I was amazed we managed to persuade this rather reclusive fellow to contribute some record reviews to the magazine and provide some of his sumptuous drawings as well. Solo Vitamin is always hard to pin down to a genre, but it’s usually a form of very melodic music, full of inventive and eccentric electronic tunes and ditties, informed by everything from Radiophonic Workshop, easy listening, and classical avant-garde composition. The improvising version of The Vitamin B12 didn’t appeal to me half as much, but the manic skittering clattersome noise they made was well represented on a series of 10-inch LPs called Heads, all issued together in 2006. When spun, you had the impression with these players that they just didn’t know when to stop.

Today’s item is not like either of the above “modes”. Winter City Patterns 1-4 is two cassettes with zero artwork or information printed anywhere, and they’re sealed inside a plastic box which you have to open by loosening four screws. Luckily, I have a head start in that department. Listeners without a Philips screwdriver will find themselves at a loss. I was afraid it might turn out to be a memory stick inside the box, containing some 400 unreleased albums. I wouldn’t even have known the title had it not been for the helpful letter from Nick Langley of Third Kind Records, who issued it and sent me a copy. It’s a solo set by Alasdair Willis; “the music…will definitely not be described as impenetrable”, writes Langley.

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Winter City Patterns is all keyboard music, mostly piano (or digital piano) with some other keyboards including a tasty organ preset, with one long piece per side of a tape. It is indeed very accessible music and in places quite beautiful. The earlier electronic music from 2000 onwards was often characterised by its brevity and compactness, but here Willis has opted for the long form to allow his discursive ideas to develop. Perhaps as a result of this, it’s easy enough to find comparisons with the music of Terry Riley or Philip Glass in these repeated arpeggios and restated patterns with their slight variations, but Willis is clearly not aiming for anything as solemn or monumental as an American Minimalist, and is still happy to construct model villages and Lego toytowns in sound. His music here may mesmerise and enchant, but he doesn’t promise mystical Sufi fulfilment or Eastern knowledge at the end of it, maybe rather a trip to the toyshop and a bag of boiled sweets. All of the pieces are pretty much in a major key setting, contributing to the sense of uplift and well-being; and the music flows as naturally as a mountain spring.

Besides the American minimalism parallels, there’s something of more substance and complexity going on with sides three and four (at any rate, the third and fourth sides of these unmarked tapes which I spun) with moves and structures which I would like to classify as more European, but I lack the musical knowledge to affirm this claim. One might hear traces of Satie in these inventions and caprices, including phrases which sound as though they ought to be quotes from well-known classical works, woven seamlessly into the flow of the music. For one thing I had no idea Willis was so fluent and capable behind the piano, but with such a self-effacing personality it’s perhaps in keeping that he remains modest about these achievements.

If one could find fault with Winter City Patterns, it would be with the small problem that Willis solo, like the Vitamin B12 collectives, doesn’t know when to stop. The duration here is important to the meaning and realisation of each piece, but they also seem to go on for far too long, without really progressing much in the process. There’s also this slightly cloying taste to the work, to the point where the major key and user-friendly melodies start to become irritating. It’s almost like a very contemporary form of cocktail lounge music. These observations though should not detract from your listening pleasure as you allow these lengthy and pleasing extemporisations to wash over you like a warm bubble bath. From 1st December 2014.

Phantom Artefacts

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English electronics composer Adam Asnan has been on the radar for a number of years now, first with cassettes from the Foredoom label and then through the imprint Hideous Replica, both sources of fine grisly electronic minimalness. He’s also one third of the occasional trio VA AA LR with Vasco Alves and Louie Rice. Very happy to receive his cassette Carriers, PA (MAPPA MAP02) which has been issued by a Slovakian label and kindly sent to us by Zoltán Czakó, who also did the design; the geometric styled cover art is by Miroslav Žolobanic.

Pretty testing listen; single-minded hums, purrs, drones, buzzes and distorted whines abound on this stark set of sounds, resolutely refusing any connection with reality and ploughing their remorseless furrow down a pathway of severe abstraction. Few variations, and the rough-edged sounds are not particularly engaging. With these fearsome grinds, Asnan manages to transcend simple process-art, and it’s not just through sheer persistence either. I am persuaded he has clear ideas about form, structure, and duration that guide his moves. Hope this gives you some idea what to expect. Of course, you may stick it in your player and hear nothing but off-tune transistor sets or the annoying growl of workmen doing drilling three blocks away, which would also be a perfectly understandable response.

One of the more rewarding and successful experiments we’ve heard from this fellow, perhaps because it’s more continual and maximal than some of the more puzzling minimalist forays to which he’s tuned his dials and knobs. Apparently this work was made several years ago using analogue synthesisers, a technique which Adam rarely works with these days. The two different series – named Carriers and PA – were not intended to be played side by side, but he finds to his own surprise that they work very well together. Very good! From 13 April 2016.

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