Tagged: quiet

Abstracted Radio

PKM MAY 2014021

Mark Cetilia
{Impact + Aftermath}

God, that’s quiet. I’ve heard some quiet albums, but that’s brave how quiet this disc starts. It builds from nothing to distant rumbling, or the sound of a thousand subterranean hard drives in standby mode. The source of this curious sonic disturbance is “software defined radio + electronics”. Software defined radio, eh? I’ll have to look that up. Ok; it means radio generated by or by the use of components that have been typically implemented in hardware (e.g. mixers, filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors, and so forth) are instead implemented by means of software on a personal computer. Does that mean Mark Cetilia has a piece of bespoke software which is monitoring internet radio streams and choosing stations of its own accord? If so, Cetilia then processes the heck out of it to obscure any traces of Gangnam Style, Lady Gaga or Pharrell Williams. The title of the piece suggests that what the software might be looking for is {PULSE DEFINITION} raw radio information, which could be incoming extra-terrestrial incoming picked up by SETI, the broadcasts on the emergency services channels, covert operations, the sound of wireless routers, numbers stations etc., etc. As the piece increases in volume it certainly begins to sound more and more like abstracted radio transmissions, so hung with hums and static is it that, again, it could equally be a fleet of servers boiling away in an air-conditioned bunker that we are listening to.

A filter opens that could be a sweep across shortwave frequencies at two in the morning. It is not known if Cetilia has used multiple sources or a single one. Whatever, the result is ecstatic, creeping dread. I suspect multiples. What had begun as quietly airless becomes more pneumatic as it goes on – decisive stereo events push the claustrophobic fuzz out into all corners of the room. Whines enter the previously high frequency-less aural environment. Kinda like being gassed with plasma-fied candy floss by a grinning toothless ape in a sealed concrete bunker in Spain. Volume rise is intended to take over your senses by stealth. A huge suction is vortex produced. Jet engines at take-off. Sawmill surge. Nothing can withstand its awful power. An impressive performance – I would like to have been there – having seen Tim Blechmann perform live recently, I can vouch for the power of transformative coding live. Ends bloody loud.

Cetilia runs Estuary Ltd as far as I can ascertain, and this disc appears to be only the second title on his release schedule. It’s a good start – I hope to hear more from this interesting new Providence, RI label. Edition of 200.

Clair De Lune


Klaus Filip & Dafne Vicente-Sandoval

Klaus Filip I know has an extensive back catalogue including projects with Tim Blechmann, Toshimaru Nakamura, Radu Malfatti, Mattin, Nikos Veliotis, Andrea Neumann and Ivan Palacky, is the creator of the ppooll/lloopp music software and boldly claims the possibility of being the first ever Viennese musician to ever use a laptop in a live performance. Dafne Vicente-Sandoval is a new name to me, but I gather she has worked with Bonnie Jones, Angélica Castelló and Xavier Lopez; as well as in trio with Sébastien Cirotteau and Lawrence Williams, and has recorded two compositions by Jakob Ullmann which were released by Edition RZ in 2012 as part of the cd box-set fremde zeit addend.

Remoto was recorded at Amann Studios – Christoff Amann seems to be the EAI go-to producer of the moment – whose notable clients include Christian Fennesz (who is resident in Amann’s Studio B), Barbara Romen, Kai Fagaschinski and Gunter Schneider whose album Here Comes The Sun was released on Mikroton and comes highly recommended by this reviewer, and also David Sylvian’s half-digested improv construct Manafon.

So, a necessary overview of Remoto. There is a lot of high frequency information here. A lot. I’ve already got the beginnings of tinnitus so I’m less enamoured of this kind of approach than perhaps others might be.

This album fits the remit of minimalism, vaguely. It is possibly Reductionist with a small “r”. Remoto – nothing to do with those novelty miniature racing motorcycles, or “mini-motos”. When I visited Corsica in the 80s, I was struck by the young age at which the locals were allowed to ride motor scooters, or “motos” as they were known back then. These kids would come screaming round the blind bends on the mountain roads, helmetless, thirteen year-olds, sheer drops on one side; no Armco; mountain roads with burned out cars, desiccated landscape, the vague threat of banditry, all the while trying to make sense of the gearbox of a hire Citroen 2CV.

To me, this music is what you might expect from sine waves and extended bassoon techniques – pleasantly reduced, long-form, until some very harsh high end squeaks halfway set against an underdeveloping bass drone. One early listen through was in a village car park on a sunny mid-afternoon with plenty of distant but nonetheless distracting builders’ saws and drills and so forth which would ordinarily slot right in with this kind of music… Then the high frequency information kicked in – I don’t know if it is my knee-jerk fear of tinnitus but I had to turn the volume down pretty swiftly. But then car stereos are not the most forgiving playback devices. At least mine’s not. I resolved to persevere with “Obscur” at home on decent equipment.

When spinning “Obscur” at normal listening volume you might say it’s a barely there-type listening experience. Pulsing wisps of sound. Boost your amplifier’s volume control and you’ll become aware of a lot of information played very quietly. Thus, this elevated volume serves to foreground the following substantial low-end of the bassoon (or it could be Filip’s sine waves), an effect I find very pleasing. I’ve occasionally noticed recently releases which have included disclaimers on their sleeves recommending the listener not rely on their laptop’s built-in speakers. I should say that this advice applies here. Too much would be inaudible on laptop speakers or most standard car stereos; but on headphones you might be risking your hearing due to all the high pitched tones – a half decent hi-fi system really is necessary to get the best out of this. Even then, when the high end information kicks in around 18 minutes, it is still uncomfortable listening. I found myself dipping and raising the volume on the amplifier a lot.

“Clair” starts with yet more high-end frequency information. If you were watching a concert performance of this material, you could argue that a man producing sine tones with a laptop is not as interesting to watch as a bassoon player presumably employing a range of extended technique, but there is little visual imagery to accompany your dry experience of playback of the disc. Furthermore, I would imagine huge chunks of the frequency range of this music will be inaudible on most domestic-quality built-in pc speakers, but would you risk your hearing by using headphones? I avoid headphones myself as a matter of necessity. As “Clair” begins with high pitched sines again and keeps it up, I found I couldn’t physically listen to this without it affecting my mood for the worse. Is this a deliberate strategy by Filip and Sandoval? It’s a brave and commendable act if it is deliberate, but pushing boundaries is one thing but I’m not joking this is harsh. The second half drops into gear with some drone based action, hopefully. Yes. Yes, yes…no. Look: here’s more pointless high pitched squeaking. I’m not really enjoying this. It’s frustrating. There’s some good music here I’m not being allowed to hear properly. Overall, quite a lot of nothing happens. I wonder if Filip has included a lot of information that is out of the range of human hearing. An interesting approach if true. Dogs may benefit. Filip seems to lean heavily on a linear range of variable sines and not a lot else. I have a copy of his collaboration with Tim Blechmann, The Organ Of Corti, where he uses similar instrumentation to more devastating effect.

The cover and disc feature an image of what looks to me like an image of the night sky – a constellation of stars – but it could just as easily be white spray paint on black card or dust motes floating in front of dark fabric.

Potlatch has been supplying excellent releases of improvised music since 1998, when they kicked things off with No Waiting, an Anglo-French meeting of Derek Bailey and Joëlle Léandre. Since then, they have built an illustrious catalogue including contributions from international improvisors including John Butcher, Xavier Charles & Axel Dörner, Phil Durrant, Bertrand Denzler & Burkhard Beins, Jean-Luc Guionnet & Toshimaru Nakamura, Seijiro Murayama & Stéphane Rives and Keith Rowe & John Tilbury.

Watch Out For The Silent Types


France Jobin
The Illusion Of Infinitesimal

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.


Gintas K
Nota Demo

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.

It’s a thin line…


Devin DiSanto
Tracing A Boundary

This is an odd one. At first, this sounds like a fairly standard airy slab field recording. Someone, presumably DiSanto, is going about his business. We can hear the sounds of people and traffic in the background, and what sounds like DiSanto rummaging around. Occasionally there are more dissonant sounds, a loud hissing, for example, which suggests some other activity. There’s the odd twang of a guitar and ukulele at around the 35 minutes mark. Not exactly the most dynamic thing I’ve ever heard, but actually quite engaging. There’s looseness to it, a lack of focus that renders it pretty engaging, not engaging the deep listening way that you might listen to a more intense nature recording, but the kind of pleasure you get on those afternoons when you can hear the neighbours bustling around in their backyard and you can’t help but eavesdrop.

Yet there are several things that hint this might not be as lackadaisical a recording as you might expect on first listen. The first thing is the number of musicians credited on the back of the CD. Trumpet, trombone, two guitarists and a ukulele – not to mention a bass clarinet credited to DiSanto himself. Then there’s the fact that, as well as these musicians, a group of different people are credited as ‘performers’. Finally, there are the periodic vocal interventions from Desanto, mainly announcing lengths of time. So, for example, at around the 13-minute mark, he says ‘Eight minutes’.

What is going on? If I’m honest, I have no idea. But I like it. It’s as if Disanto has assembled his musicians for a Wandelweiser-style quiet performance, but one where the process of setting up and preparing to play is as important as the playing itself. By doing this, it unpicks the conventions of this kind of performance. It seems to conflate the bustling, workaday nature of preparation with the intense focus of the playing – an act which itself combines as it does the physical acts of plucking or bowing with the intellectual activity of listening and responding to other musicians – into a single plane of action.

Or it might be something completely different. There’s no talking, for one thing – apart from the aforementioned vocal interjections – which undermines my thesis that we’re eavesdropping on preparations for a performance. It’s all very mysterious. But it is a playful mystery, like Tom Waits’ ‘What’s He Building?’ as performed by the cast of The Good life. It’s something that invites us as listeners to join the dots that DiSanto has left for us, pushing us to bring our own view of what we think this piece should be. An enigmatic, beguiling and yet strangely satisfying work.

Tales of the Riverbank

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

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

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

Which Way Is Nowhere? (Part 1)


Is Music Invisible?

Beamed in from Canada are two sessions captured in Nov 2012 and Jan 2013, by the improvising duo Kiiln (Lance Austin Olman and Mathieu Ruhlmann), who grace us here with five softly spoken, open-ended, static-based improvisations rich in mysterious mechanical whirrings, purrings and clunks born of an arsenal of ‘amplified objects’ alongside more familiar instrumental sources. By virtue of their close-miking and bold phantasmography, Kiiln offer manifold chromatic permutations for the space that lies between your ears, with a bit of dental-drill piercing at no extra cost. Abundant are low-res vacuum drones, taut, crackling strands of yarn and thickets of static seemingly purchased in bulk; all dropped with considerate timing to ensure the hit count (in the most nebulous possible sense) is sufficiently stacked-up. Granted, it’s ‘quiet’ music, but it has personality, and while the sort of thing one might sympathetically buy at a chance-attended gig, we could all do worse than to invest the ticket money in a nice bottle of white to accompany a maiden voyage or two through these unobtrusive explorations. Limited to 100 copies as well, thus upping the buyer’s hip quotient.


Alvin Lucier performed by Maze
(Amsterdam) Memory Space

Sixty minutes to the second, this long-winded improvisation consists of moody exhalations and other odd emissions so soft to the ear that the audience threatens initially to subsume. It’s an illusion however: the crowd voices are just another red herring to add to a tank of false beginnings that exist seemingly to defy all desire for development. Throughout this process, gauzy webs form in the darkness, thicken and soon dissolve into other tentative textures begotten by a bemusing mix of hiss-inducing guitar jangling, teeth-rattling double bass and punctuational breathwork. Your navigators and interpreters for this amble are Anne La Berge (flute and electronics), Dario Calderone (double bass), Gareth Davis (bass clarinet), Reinier van Houdt (piano, keyboards and electronics), Wiek Hijmans (electric guitar), Yannis Kyriakides (computer and electronics). Their collective designation of ‘Maze’ could not be more appropriate for the current endeavour.

Making the effort to interpret a set of ambiguous instructions penned by Alvin Lucier in 1970, prior to performing the musicians each made a (mnemonic or physical) recording of a selected outdoor environment, which they then set about recreating during a group improvisation with the unexpurgated ‘memory device’ to hand. While extensive detail is not provided as to means employed here, it would appear that headphones were worn by all performers, with attention divided between internal and external environments (a bit like pubbing with friends and their iPhones perhaps), though it is unclear as to whether we actually hear those initial recordings. The result is an unusual interplay in which highly subjective personal dimensions are invoked by each performer: a process of unfolding that would appear to have further implications for the CD’s listeners in their own listening environment, which strikes me as like being written into a Jorge Luis Borges story.

In sum, it’s a searing non-event, though as an exercise in patience it is quite impressive, as tethered urges raise the temperature so gradually as to embroil the unwary listener, though never actually to the point of catharsis or climax.

Key Acoustics

The plaintive cry of Loren Connors and Suzanne Langille is I Wish I Didn’t Dream (NORTHERN SPY RECORDS NSCD 031), on a highly opaque CD of intense experimental guitar murk and equally plangent vocalising. These short, clipped poem-songs are exemplary manifestations of the Emily Dickinson approach taken to its post-modern extreme – broken images, unfamiliar emotions, and nascent ideas stumbling into the world scarce half made-up. Who better to delve into these uncharted seas than the two talented Americans in this duo, who singly or collectively have been producing musical puzzles for over thirty years, producing a large body of work that’s proving impossible to decode – and the problem only increases when you have obtuse, distanced and frown-inducing releases such as this one. We last heard from them as two-thirds of Haunted House, a group producing the wonderful Blue Ghost Blues for this same label in 2011, whose hard-rocking and lengthy guitar noodlings may well have struck a chord with all good lovers of avant axe-excess, but this particular sleep-talking mystery bucket of murmurations and unfinished utterances is quite another brisket of bones. The guitar meanders and squeaks, producing icy cold tones from a meat locker situated thirty miles from the studio. The vocalist is closer to hand, her urgent whispers magnified in a small echo chamber, but her cryptical half-sung sketches – fleeting portraits etched on a frozen window pane with a dusty twig – will have you straining to catch the implications behind each intimate gasp. This is blanked-out, impenetrable minimalist art music of the highest water, a more austere version of Annette Peacock and Joni Mitchell running across the snow with the distorted and attenuated guitars of Japanese ghosts in pursuit of their threatened souls. It also comes with a booklet of stark abstract paintings by M P Landis, completing a package that’s guaranteed to confirm everything you ever suspected about the emptiness and futility of life. Gradely! (01/11/2012)

Another American who, I suspect, is no stranger to staring the Gods of futility in the eye is our good friend Nick Hoffman, the sullen and stern genius who utters little while issuing great but perplexing music on his Pilgrim Talk label. One such batch arrived in November 2012. Cockroach Boy (PILGRIM TALK PT22) is a teamup with Satoshi Kanda, one of his many connections in the steaming continent of the East, and they also made a split cassette for this label in 2010. Kanda has been improvising since 2003 using nothing but an electric bass and some empty milk bottles. Well, he certainly delivers the cream on this recording! It’s one of Hoffman’s “play it and guess” recordings where absolutely nothing is explained and it’s up to the listener to decide when the duo have started or ended performing, and whether or not what they are creating can even be called “music”. Ultra-minimal, confusing, yet it’s full of the unbearable tension that these dangerous situations can often create. Soon you too will be drawn into contemplating these strange tones and lengthy silences, and wishing you were nailed inside a coffin at the cemetery in Fukuoka, where this was recorded. The lengthy title to this 40-minute work, if indeed it is a title, compacts references to demons, corpses and Gods and also retains the air of a schlocky horror movie, in keeping with the grotesque Insect-Fear cover art by Hoffman. I love the way this music consistently refuses easy digestion, and all these Pilgrim Talk releases are recommended. (09/11/2012)

The Polish trio Sonda recorded Sonda (AUDIO TONG AT26.2012) in Sopot, a little town abutting the Baltic Sea, performing in an attic space in 2006. Now released on Audio Tong, it’s an engaging set of music played by the drummer Krzysztof Topolski and the guitarist Marcin Dymiter, with vocalist Tomasz Pawlak “Czaszka” joining them with his husky yawps for three tracks. In their endearingly untidy music, the group make a point of confusing musical genres, aiming to indulge their love of “rock, blues, metal, drone, punk, electronics and improvisation”. Two of the seven tracks are a species of obnoxious guitar grindcore racket that should grease the wheels of die-hard Napalm Death fans, while two other tracks are meandery improvisation of the rattle-and-creak variety, with much emphasis on the metallic resonances produced by cymbals and metal-wound strings. Other pieces are just plain impossible to categorise, although the 12-minute ‘Wszystko Dobre, Co Sie Dobrze Konczy’ has a definite vibe of Can threaded into the sinews of its drumming and electronic drone, making snake-like movements across the carpet with the help of the violinist Marek Dybusc. Competent enough performances, but the trio ultimately lack force and conviction, no matter which style they adopt. Lovely deep sea cover art. (02/11/2012)

Strange furry thing from Jüppala Kääpiö, the duo who brought us Spring Promenade in 2010. Despite their Finnish name this band is actually two Japanese musicians Hitoshi and Carole Kojo who live in Belgium. Rewound Grooves (OMNIMOMENTO OM 07) may be a concept record telling the story of the Krampus, a vicious and hairy beast drawn from Alpine mythology who is associated with Winter and may be the enemy of St Nicholas – a sort of early manifestation of the Grinch. The music by Jüppala Kääpiö is however anything but beastly, and comprises four lengthy and limpid drones of ambient swirlery, all created from numerous layers of gentle electronic tones, breathy vocals and endlessly spinning tape loops (probably enhanced by digital means). The album strikes a thoughtful and contemplative pose, and is generally soothing and positive, with only the third track ‘From Veins To Nebulae’ introducing an element of drama or danger. Somewhat diffuse and static music, but there is much craft in the Kojos’ sound-generation technique, and they rarely commit a careless or half-baked statement to tape. Besides the fake fur wrapper, there is also a screenprinted band of card which can be worn like a mask. (29/11/2012)

If you’d prefer drone music with more darkness lurking in the corners, then as ever Sum Of R will satisfy your thirst for all that’s lugubrious and sombre. The sounds on Ride Out The Waves (STORM AS HE WALKS SAHWLP001) are produced mostly by Reto Mäder working in the studio overdubbing his keyboards, bass, electronics and percussion, although Julia Wolf (what a brilliant name for a supernatural horror combo like this one) adds poignant stabs from her fatal guitar at chosen stages on the forest pathway. I tend to remember Sum Of R records as an unbroken feast of thick occluded dark ambience, but Ride Out The Waves has a lot more variety and incident than their usual output, each track quite unlike the last, until the LP becomes the soundtrack to a very disjointed and episodic horror film. Said film, if it exists, is characterised by much bloodshed, sabres, and men on horseback cutting down villagers with a pitiless scowl of contempt. Aye, there is still plenty of the characteristic bubbling black tar music which induces fear and misery, but the heavy metal guitar swipes add a very welcome element of tension, plus the spare percussion will appeal to all you hard-boned stoner freaks – just check out the slowed-down battering effects on ‘Alarming’, the truly apocalyptic nightmare that brings the album crashing down into ruins. I’ve always said Reto Mäder should have made a Black Metal LP, but I feel that genre may sadly be in decline now. Even so, Mader should join forces with MZ.412 some day, and the results would be truly monstrous – they could produce the ultimate “atmospheric dread and cold death” album. The photo shows a promo CD, but the release is vinyl.

A Fitful Impasse


Monica Brooks & Laura Altman
As Is

Curious CD from Sydney. Very spartanly presented, very spartanly instrumented. Our two antipodean artistes utilise on this recording accordion and clarinet, respectively. Both make tentative enquiries in the higher registers of both instruments and use extraneous and ephemeral effects of non-standard physical sound generation, what is known as “extended technique”. The extended technique is not extended much further than these quiet high frequency forays, however; restraint, or hesitancy, is the order of the day.

The restrained and reduced instrumental approach might ordinarily be an encouragement to deep listening, go deep here and you find yourself contemplating mass transit systems, airport terminals, the undersides of caterpillar treads. Potentially uncomfortable places to rest for any length of time. These intimated locations remind me of certain scenes in Patrick Keiller’s films: long, static shots presented in a documentary manner of localised manifestations of global capital such as highly automated ports and out of town shopping centres. Places often edited out of existence (understandably) by the psychic censor.

The title As Is suggests that this disc is conceived of as a verité document, the results of an experiment presented for inspection. Extrapolated, perhaps it is the situation of two artists negotiating their wider real-world context. We hear the dry sounds of a fragmentary indoor busking, unwilling to be heard, the two wind instruments doing a fair impression of the slow squeak of metal grates against the distant backdrop of diesel generators and diggers reversing. The specific (muted) urban-industrial backdrop that is sharing the acoustic space is throughout a tonally confusing monotone alongside the (spare) musical information. Subdued shadings in chalk and charcoal on concrete walls, faint luminescence of contradiction.

Apparently As Is was recorded in a ‘concrete room’ in a former brewery in the middle of multiple construction sites; the low growling grey concrete dust of the metropolis is a constant throughout all tracks. Despite being enclosed within a building, the low-frequency sounds of mechanised urban activity still manage to seep in, subtly crowding the acoustic space. In between silences, underneath quiet sustained high register pitches, the muffled rumble of activity sits discomfitingly under what might in another context become delicate interplay.

However rather than interplay, the two distinct aural elements come across as mutual incompatibility, a contrast highlighting an underlying tension or even antagonism (at least in the configurations attempted) – there may be more specific dialectical implications to be teased out here by those with the inclination. The only time that the artists seem to compete with the background noises of the playing environment is when they move briefly towards the lower register or make more definite gestures. In the third track, ‘In distinction’ (a telling title?), the tonal spectrum broadens to include lower instrumentally-generated pitches and more movement. This indicates a way out of what can seem a fitful impasse. It turns out to be only a brief moment. Perhaps the artistic decision was to throw such brief moments into relief by surrounding them with determinedly introverted and self-effacing playing?

Much of the rest of the album involves tones which are dissatisfied with their own audibility, which seem quite happy and relieved for a reprieve from the task of making a sound when a passing delivery van or dropped pen takes centre stage. In some ways this can be confusing, certainly leading to an unsatisfying listening experience, in others it perhaps contains something of the Taoist approach to confrontation, making a virtue of weakness.

The uncomfortable contrast between the tentative, de-centred, lop-sided approach of the duo and the noisy construction activity occurring in the same soundfield induces a mindset in which speculations on the relationship between the personal and industrial, entertainment, art, commerce and capital occur and within such a framework demonstrates two peoples’ own oblique strategy when confronting such questions. Rather a dry subject when framed and limited in this way. Still, although in some ways frustrating, there is food for certain modes of thought here, if not much for the ears or the more exuberant areas of the psyche.

What we can say definitely, concretely, at the end of this is that this is ‘as was’, these sounds were performed in this particular situation. Reasons and results remain notionally obscure, coloured by a murky wash of exhaust particles. This very obscurity of hidden purpose may hold a key to understanding, though. The plain presentation, lack of adornment or transformation is the essential nature of the artefact. Not seeking to construct an imaginationally transfigured situation it invites us instead to contemplate the implications and nature of a specific real-world nexus of different human activities.


Somatic Soundtracks: modest set of abstract experimental minimalism with a dub touch

Ulrich Troyer meets Georg Blaschke, Somatic Soundtracks, 4Bit Productions, CD 4Bit-P001 (2012)

I’ve already passed quite a few pleasant afternoons and evenings with this compilation of recordings made by the Viennese sound-art creator Ulrich Troyer. Originally these pieces of music were composed for dance works choreographed by Georg Blaschke so if they sound rather low-key to some listeners, their initial purpose is the reason. The music moves from very moody abstract ambient soundscapes of a digital grainy texture to actual music constructions based on reggae, techno or dub. Although the sounds are varied, they seem quite tiny in the huge white art space in the album. The choice of instruments to create this array of music include analog synthesisers, samplers, melodica and guitar, performed in the main by Troyer himself with the exception of the last track “Back from Serbia” on which Jurgen Berlakovich played guitar.

The early tracks may prove daunting for most as they are quietly unassuming and give very little away, and you strain to catch every little nuance of tone and sound. The best of these tracks is “Somatic Script” which promises mystery and drama in its sinister whirring, scraping guitar-noise rhythms and foreboding tones.  The middle tracks may still be very bare-bones abstract and quite po-faced but there are intriguing rhythms within their dark spaces (“Your Dancer”) and very sculpted flubby sounds (“In Case of Loss”). “Song for Heide (Extended Version)” finally starts edging towards gentle pop and a definite dub reggae rhythms. “Back from Serbia” is a sunny, laid-back piece of fragmented reggae rhythm and ambience that might have sprung from someone’s much-loved collection of reggae vinyl platters from the mid-1970s.

If there is one criticism to be made, it’s that the tracks are often not much more than studies of rhythm texture and atmosphere, and often sound a bit like excerpts of much longer music. Bear in mind though that the music may have been secondary to the dance spectacle it was written for.

An ideal collection of rhythm studies and loops for an aspiring DJ perhaps and for the rest of us, some nice background music to a quiet restful Sunday afternoon in late summer: this is an album of very modest music.

Contact: Ulrich Troyer, Georg Blaschke, 4Bit Productions



Cendre: beautiful music trapped in land of Melancholia

Fennesz + Sakamoto, Cendre, Touch, CD TONE-32 (2007)

Sometimes I wonder if I’m missing out on much by various artists who I used to listen to but then drifted away from. It’s been quite some time since I heard anything by Christian Fennesz. So I thought I should check out this collaborative instrumental work from 2007 with Japanese composer / musician Ryuichi Sakamoto with whose music I was also once familiar way back in the early 1980s when he was a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra.

“Cendre” is a series of ambient soundscape pieces done mainly on piano, guitar and laptop (used to process guitar and piano sounds and melodies). All track titles are short one-word names that suggest states of incomplete stasis or the remains of something that once existed but is no more. Much of the music is desultory piano melody meandering, often sad and meditative in mood as it favours certain keys, with guitar and laptop electronics active in the backdrop. The atmospheres can be quite dark but they are never menacing or threatening. No other instrumentation is used and there are vast spaces revealed in the music by the plaintive keyboard tunes. There is the sense that listeners have to fill in the empty spaces with their own imaginations and memories that those darkened spaces might evoke.

Although the album is divided into 11 tracks, the music is better heard as a continuous soundtrack of changing melodies and sounds that passes through a melancholy blues style, something approaching lounge lizard muzak and occasionally falling into abstract experimental territory. The best tracks are those where the piano and guitar electronics are blended so well that everything sounds like one instrument with an amazing array of tones and effects that all sound like pure piano and Fenneszian guitar effects (“Kuni”, for instance).

The music is certainly very beautiful and its sculpting can be gorgeous and heavenly but at the same time it stays within a very restricted zone of Melancholia: in this world, joy, lightness and happy defiance, in the face of a world that insists on solemn observance of the transience of life, are qualities alien to its denizens. I know we all have to die one day and for many that’s a terrible prospect to be shunned; for others such knowledge kills off all motivation to live fully in the moment; and for still others the awareness suggests we must observe detachment and resist a hunger to satisfy all our appetites but at the risk of denying our emotions, feelings and animal passion; but “Cendre” takes its remit of regarding the world and change with a detached eye rather too seriously to the extent of draining any life out of the music. The result is an album that increasingly becomes stupefying and soporific as it hammers its message over and over with each subsequent track.

Hmm … I probably wasn’t missing all that much after all after floating away from Fennesz and Sakamoto all those years ago.

Contact: Touch Music, Christian Fennesz, Ryuichi Sakamoto