Tagged: quiet

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

Hitoshi Kojo 009

Omnimoment: five soundscape pieces that delight the senses

Hitoshi Kojo, Omnimoment: Site-specific Sound Works 2006 – 2009, Omnimemento, CD OM05 (2012)

A beautifully packaged set of five soundscape pieces, “Omnimoment …” is a compilation of sound works originally made as installations or live installations dependent on the objects found in or around the locations where they were recorded, mixed with the natural environmental sounds of those locations. This is a document made with a great deal of love and care. Each track is accompanied by an explanation of how it was made, the sound sources used to produce the sounds we hear in it and the location where it was made. The locations include Barcelona, a castle in Germany, a lake site in Estonia and a couple of venues in New York.

“Shiranui” sets the pace with a slow, calm drone created from a metal cylinder found in a barn at the lake site. Kojo surmises that the object might once have been a turbine but it, like the other objects used on the recording, is being used for something other than what it was originally designed for and that’s part of the theme of this album: to use objects in a way other than the object’s narrowly defined, specialised role for which it was created and in doing so, open up human minds and hearts to an alternative parallel world. “Sea Migration” is just a little faster but has a murky air with a hint of sea-salt smell and a breezy ambience that could be mistaken for soft digitalised noise with a bit of drone.

“Sunshine Erosion” is a beautiful piece created on a surprising mixture of junk metal, kitchen supplies, plastic tube, a tuning fork and objects picked up at the beach; its sound is not too far off in mood from Fennesz during his “Endless Summer” period and if it were a bit softer and muted around the edges it might even slip into Touch label territory. The ambience is warm, relaxed and serene but there is enough sharp edge to the work to move it away from sentimentality.

The last two tracks “Star Grazing / Seeding Planets”, using a mix of kitchen supplies, glass and metal objects, and traffic noise ambience, are static fragile pieces of droning wonder; the latter track is a bit stronger and more whining. The mood is very benevolent and tranquil, and one has a vision of the universe and its maker as essentially benign and looking favourably on the germination of life across the galaxies: a very pleasant counter-balance to the visions of the universe as indifferent or downright hostile to humans that this reviewer often encounters in several genres of music.

Each piece has visual documentation which can be viewed on the links that Kojo has given in the booklet that accompanies the album. Some people may query why Kojo didn’t just release the set in DVD format rather than as CD and one can argue the pros and cons of releasing these tracks on DVD against the pros and cons of releasing the same in CD format. There is value in seeing the music being made as it goes but this can detract from the actual product itself; there’s also value in hearing the music and not seeing it being made but then it becomes a very different creature when removed from its environmental context and the instruments that made it. If something sounds as if it had been generated on a PC and then we discover it was created manually on instruments that weren’t intended as instruments but as ordinary cooking objects let’s say, then wouldn’t we judge the musical product differently? We might say that due to the extra effort and the creativity the musician demonstrated, the music becomes more valuable as an entity in itself.

A very soothing and quite lovely listening experience on the whole, and very well packaged and organised in a way that explains the artist’s intentions and why he used everyday non-musical objects as musical instruments, this album offers much that will delight the listener’s senses.

Contact: Omnimemento, Hitoshi Kojo

Hitoshi Kojo 038


We The People

Métal Urbain

Here’s TSP favourite Franck Vigroux with a new solo record, his first for about two years since the exciting and pessimistic Camera Police, which took a stern unblinking look at modern surveillance methods. We (Nous Autres) (D’AUTRES CORDES RECORDS DAC 2021) is not informed by so specific a theme, but the titles such as ‘Death in Paris’, ‘Ininferna’, ‘Fire’, ‘Crash’ and ‘La Mort’ should alert you to the inflammatory nature of the music here. Many tracks demonstrate Vigroux’s strong capability in terms of manipulating and sculpting electronic noise on a grand scale. There’s a very physical, manual quality to the way he assembles sound, smearing vats of lard with one hand while controlling an enormous derrick with the other, swinging steel-like girders of digital burr and buzz into place. When he’s not hammering another rivet into the cast-iron coffin of 21st-century schizoid man, Vigroux exhales from his poisoned lungs bleak and foggy atmospheres such as ‘Bruisme’ or ‘Ashes II’, which are positively Ballard-esque in their remorseless misery. There’s also the splintered and nightmarish consciousness of ‘Death in Paris’, which in less than two minutes posits a horrifying future where your modernistic all-automated apartment (all its utilities computer-assisted, natch) is rebelling against you at every turn, and gloomy resigned robots wait outside with the express task of hammering your face into the wall with mighty metal mitts. Speaking of Ballard, there is the 14-minute ‘Crash’ which in title at least pays homage to the respected English dystopian, and concludes the album by leading us on a lengthy tour around many aspects of the modern urban hell we are doomed to create for ourselves, and combines most of the techniques used so far into one monstrous track – vicious electronic growls, fragmented inhuman voices, white noise, and depressingly vacant ambient fogs. Even if this cut ends the album on a relatively serene and calming tone of minimal drone, you’ll still be crushed into a compressed block of meat by the claustrophobic weight of Vigroux’s brilliant music. Listen out too for the “abrasive distorted electronic beats” as noted in the press pack, and the contributions of vocalist Annabelle Playe. Vigroux uses a lot of electro-acoustic methodology in all his music, but I sense he works in a very intuitive and painterly style, rather than assembling content laboriously like a formal composer. The results always pay off, and his dark imagination flourishes. Received 18 March 2012.

Proteus Gowanus

The Gowanus Session (PORTER RECORDS PRCD-4068) is a fabulous suite of free-jazz-improvised music created by bassist William Parker, pianist Thollem McDonas, and Nels Cline with his electric guitar. Californian improviser Cline may be familiar to you from records he’s made with Thurston, Zeena Parkins, Chris Corsano, Alan Licht, Henry Kaiser and many other untamed Americans. The Gowanus Session does contain two or three high-energy type cuts, which propel themselves forward admirably without the aid of a drummer, but the trio exercise considerable restraint as they explore puzzling metaphysical mysteries on the quieter, slower tracks. The album is mainly about the combination of unusual and far-out sounds, textures and tones, and it’s loaded with tasty, dense musical fillings. Parker for one serves up a fabulous range of techniques, such that his bass performs as a growling droner or pattering percussive instrument as the situation demands. McDonas supplies rich and baroque chord shapes, melodies and patterns, while Cline is generally let off the leash to go completely bonkers – aggressive feedback blasts, intense high-octane soloing, and amplified curved shapes that fall out of his solid-body guitar like dollops of Baskin-Robbins’ finest. Recorded and mixed by Peter Karl in his studio, and it’s got cover art by Cork Marcheschi, a former member of Fifty Foot Hose. How much more hip could it be? Received 20 March 2012.

Death, Thou Shalt Die

Just noted Steve Roden yesterday and here he be again, this time in a team-up with Steve Peters. Not A Leaf Remains As It Was (12K RECORDINGS 12K1069) is largely a vocal record of extreme delicacy and subtlety, with near-hesitant vocal wisps unfurling their washed-out tones to the accompaniment of gentle ambient music and small percussive sounds. The content for the lyrics was derived, in an extremely circuitous fashion, from a book of Japanese Jisei, a form of poem supposedly written by Japanese monks at the very point of death (though according to some scholars, warriors and poets did it too). Neither creator can read or speak a word of Japanese, but they weren’t about to let a little thing like that stop them making a covenant with this highly charged spiritual content. Sorting out the poems using a classification system that would have delighted both John Cage and Brian Eno (a methodology that involved using index cards), they proceeded to perform the fragmented texts in a remarkably selective fashion, at times settling for the utterance of a mere syllable simply because they liked the taste of it in their intoning mouths. Even English translations of the Japanese words were fair game in this phonetic approach. It’s thus something of a lottery whether any of the original jisei texts get through at all. In this manner, they hoped to avoid all the obvious pitfalls that await any Westerner who attempts to flirt with Oriental cultures, so there is not a trace of Zen Buddhism anywhere in the finished product. Seattle studio whiz Doug Haire has to be given a lot of credit for making the final assemblage and mix from these evanescent sounds, a task which to many would seem on a par with knitting fog. To its credit, this album completely eschews the use of electronic instruments, and any sounds which we may at first mistake for commonplace “ambient” drones are largely produced by the combined voices of Roden and Peters, as they quaver and whisper like avant-garde choirboys in Westminster Abbey. It’s also notable how, despite being so far removed from the original source material by dint of the elaborate near-conceptual cut-up methods used, the record still resonates with a deep spiritual feeling. It also preserves the very starkness of the jisei, a form which ought to “vividly express the sentiments of an individual standing face-to-face with death.” 1 Received 18 March 2012.

  1. From http://japanesereligions.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/japanese-death-poem-jisei.html, retrieved 07/10/2012.

In Six Parts: cool and impenetrable exterior gives way to warmth and appetite for exploration

Tim Feeney and Vic Rawlings, In Six Parts, Sedimental, SEDCD050 (2007)

A continuous improvisation of electronically-enhanced cello and open circuits by Vic Rawlings chopped into six parts, aided by Tim Feeney on percussion and mixers, this recording demands a fair amount of tolerance on the listener’s part for unusual and often very tense, high-pitched sounds, po-faced noises and buzzes, and a cold, abstract atmosphere. I sense an appetite for exploration and a curiosity and wonder at all the strange scrapings, rubbings, rumbles and piercing drones that pass by. As we proceed steadily into the recording, more robust and sometimes quite impudent noises come up to us like inquisitive humpback whales circling a small boat, poking their snouts into the hull and allowing the tourists on board to pat them on their sides. Deep throaty industrial-steel rumbles and creaking groans travel side by side with prolonged siren loops.

The album ebbs and flows from loud, busy sounds to far-off and remote tones that barely register over the horizon and the atmosphere changes with the music. Contrasts of sound and changes in mood as thin pulses pass into full-bodied rumbles and bumps, accompanied by crackles, are key to appreciating some of the middle “pieces”.

The final track is a real surprise as sudden regular rhythm metal scrapes are introduced and start to govern the direction of the piece while a quiet drone putters away and odd little crackles appear here and there. The ambience changes to a benign and peaceful calm. A real warmth begins to glow as the puttering grows louder. Finally the track becomes very active as the machine drone takes on a stuttering life of its own and cold space tones join the metal rhythms and swirls. From time to time the metal churns like a malfunctioning washing machine. Somehow you sense that this part of the album sums up everything that’s come before with sounds we met earlier coming back for an encore and final farewell.

If the CD sleeve hadn’t mentioned that a cello had been used here, we’d be hard put to guess what instruments were being used and we would have assumed that the two musicians were using electronics, found or junk materials and maybe some prepared instruments – but not a cello! – as their source materials. A steady tension is maintained throughout the first five parts before finding its release and resolution in the sixth part. The atmosphere at times seems quite reverential if cool and detached. The album appears stern and impenetrable at first but like many people reveals a glowing warmth beneath the cool exterior.

Contact: Sedimental, Tim Feeney


Snowed In

Frame Me Again

Paul Khimasia Morgan is owner of the UK’s Slightly Off Kilter label, and also occasionally makes music and sound-art himself. Empty Frame (ENGRAVED GLASS EG.PCD008) is one where he aurally professes his alignment with Mark Wastell, Rhodri Davies, Burkhard Beins, and others of the “reduced” playing school by making three tracks of extremely quiet and mysterious process-based music, floating in a midway point between improvisation and that unclassifiable activity that involves the manipulation of small objects, and tiny microphones to capture the sounds from those manipulations. On the first track there may be some motorised components involved, but the second cut ‘The prospect of dim sum’ is more of a serene, slightly processed, electronic drone whose origins are untraceable by the ear. The label is largely a showcase for the work of its owner, Jez Riley French, who declares his love for “infinite detail” and sounds that are “often overlooked and hidden”, but he has also released work by Richard Kamerman, Anne Guthrie, John Grzinich, and many others. From 17 January 2012.

One Speak for Both

Speaking of Mr Kamerman, here’s another release on his Copy For Your Records label. Un Lieu Pour Être Deux (CFYR) is credited to Antoine Beuger, who appears to be a Dutch flautist and composer associated with the Wandelweiser Group, an international team of hard-core ascetics who profess a very extreme doctrine of silent music. We’re passingly familiar with the work of one member, the trombonist Radu Malfatti who in turn has had some influence on Mattin, so that gives us some reference point; Malfatti’s testing music is sometimes the equivalent of a death sentence, executed with incredible slowness. The composition (if such it be) by Beuger is realised here by the guitarist Barry Chabala and Ben Owen (of Winds Measure Recordings), who plays synthesizers and contributes field recordings. The 47-minute work seems to have been executed in a single day in New York, and the field recordings are all urban in nature; the distant sound of traffic forms the basis for much of the piece. I think there may be some sort of “imaginary map” or psycho-geographic connotations to decode as well, but the minimal information and cover in this instance is giving nothing away. As a musical performance, it’s quite some way from any familiar sort of improvised music, and the players are both slow, deliberate, and almost cautious in their utterances, drip-feeding small chunks of synth tones and guitar notes that are studiedly inscrutable. I think we have to process this as a conceptual composition, where even the field recordings don’t mean what they appear to mean, and most aesthetic pleasures are being strictly denied to us, or at best being rationed out very carefully. To put it another way, this seems to be a rare use of field recordings as a compositional element, rather than something to be heard in its own right, which is an encouraging development. Strangely compelling to listen to, this perplexing work holds us in a state of considerable tension and concentration for its duration. 150 copies only and mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi, an apt choice as he represents the Italian wing of this school of emptied-out music. From 16 January 2012.

An Aerie Skit

Two more of the items from the & Records label of Montreal which arrived here 20 January 2012. The record Ave W (&10) is credited to Tiari Kese, who apparently plays all the instruments – keyboards, French horn, electronics and samples, but it’s more likely to be all the work of Michel F Côté, who’s a Canadian electro-acoustic composer. A biography of alleged Bulgarian Tiari Kese can be found online, but with its Stockhausen, Beatles and Debord connections it’s all too good to be true and is probably just another internet hoax. The record does have one glorious track title, ‘Dreams of Spartacus’s Spacecraft’, but I mostly found it a rather turgid listen, directionless and shapeless digital layers of drone that amount to less and less the more they’re piled up. The instrument-playing has been processed and denormalised to an extreme degree, sucking the humanity out of everything until we’re left with echoed and orphaned horn tones floating aimlessly on a sea of samples, light distortion and glitch.

The City Wears a Furry Hat

Even less enjoyable is Solitary Pleasures (&RECORDS &15) by Fortner Anderson. It comprises several short 90-second vocal recits by the poet Anderson while accompanied by electro-acoustic noise played by a non-jazz trio of Alexandre St-Onge, Sam Shalabi, and Michel F. Côté again, this time playing the drums. The release accompanies a book of poems published at the same time. We’ve encountered Fortner Anderson before in TSP15 where we noted the baffling Six Silk Purses, recordings of his spoken word exploits provided to sound artists to add their musical interpretations; in fact the same musicians were on that release too. Fortner’s short couplets are expressed here in diary form, each segment beginning with a calendar date announced in solemn tones, before proceeding with his free-form observations such as “I had forgotten the calculus of transcendence…”, alternating with mini-stories about life in the city and the characters he meets. It all feels oddly old-fashioned, like one of the forgotten Beats. Fortner attempts some jazzy syncopation in his delivery, even as the music drags itself along like a three-legged dog on a hot afternoon. Kenneth Patchen it ain’t.


Quiet parts of in-between

Got a fine hour-long performance here by the mighty English duo of Keith Rowe and John Tilbury, two men who can in all fairness be designated as architects supreme of the genre of what we have come to understand as “free improvisation”. Followers of their music will of course know how they have evolved, transformed and refined their playing across the course of many years. AMM were capable of being incredibly noisy in the 1960s. Rowe and Tilbury, either singly or together, have been getting quieter and quieter over the last 10-15 years. One notable instance of their intense simplicity (one might almost say bleakness) was the 2003 double-disc set Duos For Doris, a release that’s come to be regarded by many as something of a benchmark. The recording session coincided with the passing of Tilbury’s mother and the music was suitably darkened, melancholic, and forlorn as an old letter stained with teardrops, or a room with the faded lace curtains drawn. Sadly this present release is another maternal elegy, dedicated to Rowe’s mother Eileen Elizabeth who was born in 1914 and died in 2009. Like Duos For Doris the music on E.E. Tension And Circumstance (POTLATCH P311) is stark, slow, minimal, and evokes a stern and sober mood which commands respect, a funereal atmosphere which is so intense and private that the listener feels almost like an intruder, as though our presence here were quite inappropriate. For the first third at least, the music is that brittle and delicate – a sheet of ice that barely supports us above the cold torrents of grief and sadness that lie beneath. At various points thereafter the musicians do allow a slight increase in warmth, occasion and event – resulting in a few more musical notes per square inch, the droning intensity of a strummed / fanned guitar string, or a second or so of short-wave radio humming. But it’s like the ghosts of AMM past. After we have driven through a tunnel of cavernous half-noise for about ten minutes, we arrive at the skeletal ending, where what little music there is left is gradually picked away from the bones, and there’s an intense bleaching process that carefully removes all presence of sound from the arena. This is done so slowly and deliberately it’s as if in accordance with the precepts of a Catholic rite, or an unnamed theatrical ceremony by Samuel Beckett. A remarkably poignant statement: I would like to think it empowers us all to face death or old age with dignity and courage. It was recorded in late 2010 by Jean-Marc Foussat, himself a fine musician and veteran of recording free improvised music (he taped Company events in the 1980s), and the felt-tip pen drawings are by another Rowe relative, Milford Charters-Rowe who died in 2008. They add colour to the otherwise all-black sleeve.

English field recordist Craig Vear has documented what he knows about the river Esk in Yorkshire on Esk (3LEAVES 3L012). In fact from his notes on the project, it’s clear that there’s very little he doesn’t know about the area, and he has probably tramped his hiking boots over this stretch of terrain more times than I’ve walked around my back garden. Harbours, river to sea, the changing of the seasons, the merging of springs into river, scientific interest sites; all of these feed into his carefully structured composition. He’s confident enough with his material that he presents it all backwards, as it were; the content was recorded in reverse order, and we are travelling backwards in time through the seasons and away from the source of the river when we hear the final playback of the work. Through judicious choice of technology, hydrophones and air microphones, Vear aims to reveal nature’s truth from the perspective of the river itself. He is quite clear he regards his lucid work as a “poem”, and indeed what shines forth is an incredible lyricism about the beauty of nature which never descends into sentimental twaddle. But he’s also bringing knowledge and understanding of the geography and ecology of the area, which deepens and enriches the work. Vear impressed us in 2010 with his Aud Ralph Roas’le record for Gruenrekorder, which made great capital from the vicissitudes of the English weather. Here, he makes an honest and clear statement about nature which is gorgeous to listen to. 100 copies limited edition. Arrived here 16 January 2012 from Budapest, courtesy of Akos Garai and his label.

Received a bundle of seven CDRs from Bryan Day and his Eh? label in Decorah, Iowa – they arrived 6th January 2012. Here are three of them. The Brooklyn trio Hag are doing interesting things with just a trumpet, bass and a single snare drum on Moist Areas (EH?56), as it were reducing a traditional jazz trio set-up to an atonal sound-production unit concerned with issuing forth rumbles, groans and agitated utterances from the lower registers. The snare drum in particular is most effective – it’s rarely struck, often rolled and rubbed to make it sigh like the stomach of a wounded bear. The freely improvising threesome of Brad Henkel, Sean Ali and David Grollman tend to eschew minimalism, and seem at their happiest when all three are letting rip at once with grumbly snorts and errant percussive bleats. The eight-minute ‘Moist Again’ is a real corker on that account, but so is the title track; it’s like hearing your favourite Pharoah Sanders records played at half-speed on a Dansette, while someone is also sawing the Dansette in half with a blunt instrument.

Chefkirk is the American Roger H Smith, whose insane electronic music I first heard in 2003 with the release of 38-40cm. On We Must Leave The Warren (EH?57) he’s working mostly with a no-input mixing board and a sampler on these home-produced recordings from 2010 and 2011. He seems mainly concerned with the generation of deep electronic sighs and yawns, which fill the space of the warehouse where he’s currently building his 30-foot tall mechanical man. You may find yourself growing impatient at the apparent lack of development in these minimal sub-bass droners, but the single-mindedness of his mental trajectory has a certain grim appeal. I seem to recall his music being somewhat more agitated than the languid and unhurried tones on offer here, where each track takes about 11 or 12 minutes to traverse the metal-tiled floor rolling along on small mechanised wheels like a tiny vacuum cleaner. But check out Chefkirk’s back catalogue and I’m sure you’ll find instances of livelier digital mayhem; he’s a prolific guy.

Strongly Imploded are a loopy Italian quartet of players noted also here. On Twilight of Broken Machines (EH?58) they summon up an unholy cacophony with their unique live improv setup of guitars, saxophones, tape recorder, drums, and feedback. There’s a no-input setup to generate feedback, and a more complex feedback system which uses loudspeakers and drums in some ungodly fashion, as if devised by the bastard child of Max Neuhaus. Even Mario Gabola’s saxophone is made to feedback in some way. If this description gets your mouth watering in anticipation of an album full of loud dissonant squeals, you might be surprised at the degree to which these four young men manage to harness and control all the rampant feedback that was slithering around their basement performance space in Naples in 2010 and 2011. If they could pour it into jars and export it as a form of pickled jam, I’m sure they would. Midway between extreme free improv and harsh noise their music sits more or less, as fidgety as a schoolboy sent to a year below his normal grade, and bearing all the attendant resentment against authority you might expect from that scenario. Strongly Imploded flail and crash with frustration and raw anger as they create their percussion-heavy outbursts, throwing a controlled tantrum and wallowing in their own bitter puke. I always enjoy their surreal and contrived track titles, but even these seem to be dripping with attitude and sarcasm. How grotesque we have become, indeed.

What wind walks up above?

A Fold in the Fabric

Gill Arno has rescued a document of a performance piece from 2006, where he perfomed under his mpld name which is used for his amplied slide projection work. At that time it existed as a cassette edition of 10 copies, and now here is One More Episode In Between Recollection And Amnesia (UNFRAMED RECORDINGS U003) repressed as a CDR. When originally performed at a sound-art venue in New York’s Chelsea district, the piece was meant to accompany a series of art booklets, and the core performances are studio-based compositions where Gill is manipulating the sound of slide projectors. The tiny sound events which interest Gill include the whirring of the projector fan, the feedback that resulted from him clipping a small microphone to the device, or just the general “clunky dynamics” that came out of the performance. But what we hear on the CDR is even more rarefied, as the composer reworks the material, seeks to isolate sounds, and produce as much abstraction as possible. Tracks two through four are impressive enough achievements in this area, the piece ‘Stereoscopic Phase Adjustment’ in particular giving us a close-up aural picture of a fan which is about as powerful as a helicopter blade. A midget helicopter perhaps, one being flown by plasticine airmen wearing cellophane jump-suits. ‘Four flashbacks’ however comes in at twenty minutes, and is practically delirious in the way it piles up the treated and abstracted sound-events into a thick soup of electro-acoustic fog. Given the suggestion of “flashback” one is tempted to read this long piece as a sort of twisted memory or flu-ridden impression of the preceding pieces. At all events it’s a sufficiently wonderful set of aerated drones, lite-industrial grindage, and a concentrated effort to produce strangely compelling music out of non-musical sources. The release is topped and tailed with non-projector pieces, starting with 30 seconds of ‘Amnesia’ – a short metallic scrape episode which could almost pass for a prepared piano – and ending with ‘Afterthought: 061211′ which is exclusively made up of field recordings. Lastly we have the enigmatic cover image, which plays with layers of dust-coating on a slide and different focal views of the same image. This excellent quiet & minimal concept-work is another item from the bundle which Gill sent to us in December 2011.

Glimmer in the Zimmer

Jacaszek‘s Glimmer (GHOSTLY INTERNATIONAL GI-147) is slowly growing on me, and the surface effects that are most pleasing include his heavy use of distortion and simple repeated loops of musical notes. The source music which he works with was played using real instruments by three guest musicians, using harpsichord, bass clarinet, acoustic guitars and metallophon, recordings of which are collaged together with electronic music by the Polish musician Michal Jacaszek. He’s attempting to create a potent bittersweet taste in the listener’s mind, as melody and abstraction writhe back and forth over an uncertain ground, all of this struggle taking place behind what he aptly describes as “a curtain of dirt and fuzzes”. My initial impression was to mistake this CD for another slice of ordinary ambient laptop-drivel, but on the contrary this is a well-crafted piece of art, a fine collision of organic musicianship with thoughtful tape editing and studio skill. In places, it’s even quite affecting and moving. Was released early December 2011.

Prove it, just the facts

On (Fake) The Facts (EDITIONS MEGO DEMEGO 023), we also hear a collision between musical instruments and electronics, but this one takes place in an improvised real-time live arena. The players are dieb13, Mats Gustafsson, and Martin Siewert, and they did it in two locations (one live, one studio) in Vienna in Spring 2011. Swedish Saxman Gustafsson (who uses soprano and tenor saxes here) has been known to rasp out many crazy free-blowing sounds in his time, but on the 15-minute opener ‘Fact’ he resembles a trapped beast howling in melancholic pain through a blocked snout. Alongside him there is a lurching rhythm of fizzing manic energy which may originate either from dieb13′s jet-propelled turntables or Siewert’s unhinged guitar, but with all the free-flying electronic mayhem let loose in those four chocolate-lined walls on those fateful days, who can say for sure. Not since Evan Parker collaborated with noisester John Wiese have we heard such a potent blend of brass-lined puffing with inchoate crackling bursts.

The next cut ‘Rat’ is equally claustrophobic, and as the the three madmen tell the tale of this rat, they seem intent on clogging up the air with theremin-like squeals in order to emulate the voice of that rat. Said rat is poised in a perilous position, hemmed in on all sides by menacing saxophone moan-drones and ominous guitar rumblings of a dangerous variety. The atmosphere is as charged as a laboratory where cruel scientists perform needless experiments on rats. The difference is that now we are that rat, and death by dissection or electrocution is only a heartbeat away.

The flipside of this remarkably intense LP is the side-long ‘Zoom’, one-and-twenty minutes of steadily increasing doom noise where the three unhinged players do not relax the steam-pressure for the first half, blasting out with solid and heavy thunderbolts as they may. Such is the general blend of tones in this brick-like melange that it’s virtually impossible to discern one instrument from another, and the three European minotaurs merge into a single two-horned beast. For the latter half, they open the steam vents and finally give a man enough space to breath, and the remainder of the performance resembles a trip to Company Week in 1988 seen through the distorting lens of a dozen filter-pedals, before descending into a strange alien place where alien electronic chatter is accompanied by mellow jazz guitar strums and distant orchestral sweeps from a stuck record on a turntable. All rulebooks thrown into the shredder, this is one of those rare collaborative efforts where the fur really flew and everything caught fire, and it’s likely to produce similar sensations in your own personal wardrobe. Released as a vinyl LP in November 2011.