Tagged: quiet

Ice Manipulation


Le Cébron / Statics and Sowers is a clear vinyl LP (AUSENRAUM AR-LP-002) by Thomas Tilly, which as usual with this creator hovers gently midway between field recordings, electronica, and scientific investigation – not unlike his previous dense thicket of micro-sounds, Script Geometry. On one side his recordings and treatments start with broken ice from Lake Cébron in France; on the other, he’s doing it with beehives and electronic circuits. The ice-man side feels completely non-eventful on early spins, but I appreciate the “frozen minimalism” approach which lurks behind its conception and its execution. It’s something about freezing movement, the paralysis of everything…you’d imagine that Tilly could stop time itself moving if he had to. It’d probably be relatively easy for him too; most mad scientists would think of huge generators and menacing machines the size of a public library. Conversely, Tilly could do it with two miniaturised boxes and a coil of copper wire.

‘Statics and Sowers’ is certainly more on the maximal side, even if it’s unlikely to be appearing at a rave gig near your town any day. For this bee-centric affair, Tilly applies switches in a manner to make his edits and interventions that shade more obtrusive, so that we click back and forth between the world of the beehive (all warm and buzzy – a nice place to be, all told) and the digital realm of pure electronic noise. It’s a shocking feeling, causing a deeper rift than a simple shift in timbres normally creates. It’s more like your whole body is switching dimensions. In doing this, Tilly also seems to be making a tangible connection between the circuits of his mixing desk and the bees themselves. They’re about the same size, for starters. Perhaps he’s also able to get customised components, for instance resistors made up with stripy jackets, so that the deception is more or less undetectable. He dedicates this work to Zbigniew Karkowski, who ascended to the great beehive in the sky some time ago. From 27 May 2014, limited edition LP of 300 copies.

The Air so Quiet, Scarce a Cloud


We don’t hear from the Dublin label Farpoint Recordings often enough. They are home to some unusual and choice items of sound art, including for instance the sound artist Fergus Kelly who does the field recording/minimal electronic thing to great acclaim, and the site-specific White Star Line EP from Danny McCarthy. Today we have the Quiet Music Ensemble, a five-piece of musicians who perform restrained chamber music with stringed instruments, woodwind, brass and electric guitar, and on The Mysteries Beyond Matter (fp052) they turn their stumps towards interpreting contemporary minimal scores. Alvin Lucier’s ‘Shadow Lines’ is meat and drink to them; it might have been scored with them in mind, as it calls for pretty much the exact instruments in their set-up. What we hear is 15 minutes of glacial, haunted microtonal coldness, proceeding across the empty pavement with the assurance of a shadow cast by the winter sun.

Then there’s their take on Pauline Oliveros, a 24-minute composition called ‘The Mystery Beyond Matter’; Quiet Music Ensemble played the première of this work in 2014, and it involved a computer program providing artificial resonant spaces. It’s all about acoustical spaces; the Ensemble don’t so much create sound as explore an environment, much like phantoms floating around a deserted shopping mall after the end of the world. Does it make sense to say there’s a palpable silence underpinning this music? It’s what’s not being played that’s somehow relevant, and we even go beyond the old Cagean idea of hearing random creaks and groans in the performance space. Again, a rather ghastly chill adheres to your skin from hearing this piece of beautiful, but very stern, desolation.

John Godfrey, guitarist to the group, also wrote ‘Hand Tinted’, another eerie and barely-present all-white drone which is enriched – although that’s too strong a word under the circumstances – with field recordings of birdsong, insect noise, and purring motorcycle engines passing by. We’d almost be in Francisco López territory where it not for the abiding sense of emptiness and loneliness; a sound world teeming with life, or at least betraying some signs of it, yet still passing on an apocalyptic sense of imminent doom. It’s always impressive to me how musicians can perform with such restraint, eking the sounds out as if they were spider’s webs.

Also here: ‘Night Leaves Breathing’ by David Toop, a composition that reflects his then-interest in near-inaudible sounds, mostly in his own house; he noticed the wealth of sounds that a house can bring when it’s “calm”, presumably after everyone has gone to bed and the very timber beams start to relax themselves. This one opens the CD. For some reason I imagine it posed the biggest challenge for the Ensemble to realise it at all. Partly because I think it was originally a (quite short) tape composition, and they’ve now inflated it to 20 minutes; partly because of the strange and perplexing silences layered into the body of the work. It’s probably the least “eventful” piece on the whole album. But there’s an undercurrent of something which might be a man snoring, and that’s referenced in the original tape piece too. Quiet Music Ensemble should consider doing this piece in the context of a Finnegans Wake festival in Dublin, unless they already have. Hope these random observations are helping to some degree.

A very strong album if you enjoy quiet music; the connoisseurs among you will appreciate the important differences between a record of compositions like this, and music made by improvisers from the schools of Reduced Playing or Onkyo. Only the cover art disappoints slightly. It’s a white field (like a white canvas from the severe 1970s school or art) with smudges in the corners, like a linen sheet left outside to get spotted with mould. They should have recruited Ben Owen from winds measure recordings to do one of his embossed sleeves. Otherwise, full marks to all concerned for a coherent statement of austere wiriness. From 13 April 2015.

Tiny Dancers


Kawaguchi / Olive / Oshiro
JAPAN 845-AUDIO 845-5 CD

Two quantum level explorations of the musical underverse, starting with a Japanese-Canadian collaboration. Airs presents four live in the studio performances for self-made instruments and magnetic pickups, from musicians/installation artists Takahiro Kawaguchi, Tim Olive and Makoto Oshiro. It’s very, very quiet, but too spiky to be properly called ambient.

The music, such as it is, unfolds in pulses of resonance and metallic vibration, interspersed with sine waves, rattlings and tinklings. Track 3 introduces some barely-there bass to the mix, and some electronic buzzing, as if someone was taking the opportunity for a quick shave. Track 4 brings in some rhythmic elements, like the world’s first nanotech drum solo. Most of the time, however, you’re listening to the sound of space and air, which makes the title particularly well chosen.

Whilst listening to this, and trying to decide if I was hearing music or just my own tinnitus, I came across an article about a new metal developed by the Boeing Company, a micro-lattice that is 99.99% air. These tracks are the audio equivalent.

Small Bits of Indigenous Space Between The Grains

Small Bits of Indigenous Space Between The Grains

Compared to Airs, Spruit’s offering sounds like The Who Live At Leeds, but it shows a similar fascination with microscopic detail. Spruit is Dutch musician Marc Spruit, who for this release has abandoned his previous work with turntables and taken a step into the wonderful world of laptops and software.

The tracks on Small Bits Of Indigenous Space Between The Grains are digital cut-ups, created from old toys and radios, no-input mixing boards and virtual synths. The resulting bleeps, bloops and burblings have been run through the audio processor and chopped up into small samples, which are then used as components for longer improvisations.

All tracks are named for their running times and, to my ears at least, have very little to distinguish one from the other. Still, it’s quite a fascinating listen. The overall effect is like a musical double-slit experiment, with the sound displaying the characteristics of both waves and particles. Again, it’s all too spiky to be called ambient music, unless the ambience you’re aiming for is “cosmic background radiation”.

Interesting experiments, if nothing else.

Comfort Zones


Michael Pisaro
Melody, Silence by Cristián Alvear

Making circus mimes look like the brutal clowns they are is Michael Pisaro – last noted for his Wire-wowing 3CD set Continuum Unbound – who diverges from that field recording-cum-musique concrète monster for this ‘collection of materials for solo guitarist, written in 2011’. This time Pisaro delegates duties to Chilean guitarist and Wandelweiser labelmate Christian Alvear, whose involving interpretation of the composer’s instructions that ‘up to 12 fragments… can be played in any order and which allow for various transformations, cuts, extensions and silences’ doubtless arises from his appetite for singing his teeth into the likes of John Cage and Alvin Lucier, as he has been wont to do.

Truth be told, little need be said about this recording that isn’t encapsulated in the title. There is so much silence here that I’ve often thought the CD had ended, yet ample in quantity are the super-minimal, vibratory vignettes – some consisting of but two notes that dissolved into pure, tonal feedback – which Alvear must have watched tapering off into cool dawn air. I’m just guessing of course, as I have no idea at what time of day (or how) these segments were recorded, though it did take place over a number of months. More clear however is that within them can be discerned an esteem for the work of Morton Feldman; one equal I daresay to that of like-minded peers like Ashley Paul, whose sub-skeletal compositions have also earned the unequivocal approval of this journal. While I’m not often taken by these silent-type CDs, seldom is the morning I’ve not been reassured by this intriguing recording; a similar state of mind perhaps to that from which these notes and pauses first rang out.


Christian Wallumrød

Quite a diverse set here from Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød, who couch-surfed his way through three friends and their grand pianos (‘piano-surfing’?) between December 2013 and the following April, yielding these six solo pieces for the ever-interesting Hubro label. Corresponding with this spell of short-term faithfulness is an equally fickle creativity, which holds the floor via an assortment of heart-of-winter tape echo drone (‘Fahrkunst’), some surefooted sketches of sauntering gospel-tinged jazz (‘Boyd 70’, ‘Lassome’) and a distracted smoker’s finger-fidgeting (‘School of Ecofisk’). In other words, much is taken in between the realms of easy listening and cold abstraction in the relatively short running time; an eclecticism that might prove unsubstantial to some – just three melodic numbers after all – but few visitors should fail to be charmed by Wallumrød – both a remarkable pianist and ECM label veteran – whose performance has all the volubility of a friend landing squarely ‘in the zone’ while playing in his front room.

Michael Vincent Waller

Michael Vincent Waller
The South Shore
USA XI RECORDS XI136 2 x CD (2015)

Elegant, emotional and complex yet somehow sparing of form are these 31 pieces for an assortment of small chamber ensembles, composed between 2012 – 2014 by New Yorker, Michael Vincent Waller. Critics have been enamoured of their paradoxically vigorous-yet-contemplative manner, which draws upon a variety of precedents and styles, though principally the Minimalisms of Eric Satie and Terry Riley. This stylistic blending (not to mention the bracing undertones of the core instrumentation of piano, cello and violin) grounds the compositions in a credible postmodernist perspective from which to engage in bouts of retrospection, be they in tributes to places (‘Anthems’), family (‘Per La Madre e La Nonna’), or musical influences (‘Y for Henry Flynt’). So diverse and persuasive are the many devices Waller employs – including extensive use of the modal scales established by the philosophers of ancient Greece – that this conjoining of past and present occasions a palpable emotional space quite outside of linear time, around which minor keys whirl in a flurry of muted sentiment.

There are some interesting deviations though, such as the oddly uplifting, quasi-liturgical organ recital, ‘Organum’ – a brief release from the weight of conscience into a state of warmer, spiritual solace – and ‘Ritratto’: the Renaissance flavoured opener to disc two, consisting of deceptively involved interactions between the unlikely line-up of flute, alto sax, electric guitar, viola, cello and trombone. This music should animate many a dreary afternoon, and is quite the soundtrack at times, which may even be Waller’s angle here. In any event, the quantity of quality composition on this double disc set is monumental, and my only reservation owes to the fact that it all runs well beyond the confines of my 21st century attention span.

Pianist, Alone: an inner journey into sound and isolation through piano

Jurg Frey, Pianist, Alone

Jürg Frey, Pianist, Alone, Irritable Hedgehog Music, IHM012 2 x CD (2014)

Jürg Frey is a prominent member of a global collective of musicians known as the Wandelweiser Group, founded in 1992, whose main concern among others is exploring the relationship between sound and silence. On this double set, Frey’s pieces not only investigate the tension arising from the interplay of sound and no-sound but also the relationship between a pianist and the rest of the world that results from the pianist’s playing of the piano which plunges the musician into another world inaccessible to his/her audience and others. “Pianist, Alone” proposes that the pianist and the piano start to become one being when the pianist commences playing – the pianist subordinates his/her ego to the instrument and becomes the instrument by which the piano produces sound.

The result is three recordings in which the piano itself speaks with as pure-piano a voice as is possible, the player’s personality and other characteristics having completely disappeared. All that surrounds the piano is space. The music is highly focused with all concentration tamped into each note played – and everything is done very deliberately. There are no trilling melodies, no dramatic flourishes – the approach is severely minimal and austere. The majesty and range of the piano are conveyed in particular notes or chords, and each sound seems to be a micro-universe of impressions and experiences we may or may not be familiar with.

I can’t say that the three long tracks are easy to listen to: they can be insistent in their own way, forcing you to pay attention to them, but the level of concentration required to hear them out can be wearying, because the music almost exists in a vacuum. Some people may find this music helps them to meditate or develop their concentration. As we pass from CD1 to CD2, a smidgen of emotion, even desperation, may be detected in some of the melodies played. In the final track, definite piano chords are heard which as a phenomenon in itself might suggest the perfect fusion of pianist and piano as a complete instrument in itself. There is definitely something quite spiritual in this fusion, as though silence has turned out to be a necessary medium through which one comes to know oneself and one’s life purpose.

With such starkly minimalist music as this, the production level has to be very high and in this, producer R Andrew Lee is to be commended for giving us sounds that are very clear and quite sombre without sounding precious.


The International Something


Terrific live art-music from 2012 performed by a trio of top-drawer names…the Japanese “maverick” guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama, who’s done more for sales of antique Gibson guitars than Les Paul himself…Toshimaru Nakamura, also of the Japanese persuasion, and man who has ruled unchallenged over the domain of controlled feedback for at least 15 years, with his mastery over the “no-input mixing board”, a set-up whose very name is indelibly associated with Toshi, though many others have used it since in far wimpier ways. Lastly, the American Jason Kahn, composer and percussionist who impressed us last year with his Open Space double LP, here contributing some splendid analog synth work, and perhaps captured here as part of his 2012 Japan tour (when he also played with Tim Olive). The record ihj / ftarri (WINDS MEASURE RECORDINGS wm39) is slightly untypical of what I normally associate with this small-run art imprint New York label, which has often concentrated on imperceptible and conceptual sound-art statements of high recondity. This record by contrast is quite busy and noisy in places, and bristles with live atmospheric electrical bursts…the tension in the air is so palpable that the venue had to be completely redecorated the next day…all the audience went home with third-degree burns to their faces…nearby businesses and shops closed down for one week, the merchants complaining of mysterious headaches. Can your band say this?

As an earnest of their skills, the three musicians work with intuitive bonds and not inconsiderable duration. Somehow they manage suspend a chunk of time in the air for over half an hour, keeping matters hovering by magic, then having circumscribed an imaginary sphere they do their best to slash at it with guitar swipes, pierce it with crackling bursts, and hurl large buckets of digital fizz over its surface. Then, amazingly, they do it again for another 30 minutes on the second recording, showing that their muscular energy never flags for a single second and that musical continuity, even of something so abstract and intangible, is perfectly possible through a combination of serious talent, experience, discipline, and a little dabbling with the Black Arts (one of the above might not be applicable). This is one of the more exciting documents we’ve heard of music in this genre, if indeed it is a genre any more, since the old “Onkyo” label has since been discredited everywhere…over 18 countries have now signed the treaty to discontinue the use of that term…and as a result, the music just keeps growing and getting better, its players free from the constrictions of convenient journalism-friendly labelling. If only the worldwide food industries would sign up to a similar treaty, we might all have a healthier life. 300 copies, letterpress cover, a superb release.


Tetuzi Akiyama also appears on Bromma (SPECTROPOL SpecT 33), a single 26-minute performance where he duets it up in fine style in a living room in Stockholm with the alto sax blower, Johan Arrias. Apparently the room in Stockholm was quite small, and given what we’ve heard about the notorious Swedish approach to interior design and furnishings, this fits the profile exactly. Both musicians had to apply for an entry visa to get into this room in the first place, and Arrias had to cover his instrument in greasy lubricants to squeeze past the tight doorway. Once in, both musicians clearly found their movements heavily restricted, if the evidence on this release is credible. Jan Nygard did the recording, and wrote the sleeve notes, both awed and troubled by what he had witnessed. In his writings, he brings out the keynotes of the event – very little preparation or planning for the improvisation…guided by a few choice minimal suggestions from the Japanese half of the act…fostering a climate of “trust and respect”. Net result, a slow, quiet, but highly intense miniature of contemporary acoustic improvisation. From 18 September 2014.

24 Worter: opening up creative possibilities and connections with twinned reiterations of words signifying aloneness


Jurg Frey, 24 Worter, Edition Wandelweiser Records, CD EWR 1407 (2014?)

Actually there are 27 short pieces on this album, with two tracks being purely untitled instrumental pieces and the other 25 tracks being sung and sharing 24 titles with two tracks named “Tod (Death)” and another two, “Gluck (Happiness)”. There are just three performers on this recording: soprano vocalist Regula Konrad, violinist Andrrew Nathaniel McIntosh and pianist Dante Boon, all singing or playing very sparingly with no apparent feeling or technical flourishes. All tracks are very quiet and spare almost to the point of fading away into nothingness yet throughout the album there is a very strong impression of latent creativity and power. The piano usually plays seemingly disconnected piano notes or chords that go on forever while the violin hovers around thin, almost squeezed-out high-pitched, barely-there tones. The silence surrounding such clean if rather thin music is very still and static but you sense there are many hidden possibilities. Konrad’s singing is steady, confident and precise.

There is not a great deal to say about the music generally as the tracks don’t vary much overall and differences among them are in the technical details of the spare music. As for the track titles though, there’s plenty to say about them: they often describe states of being such as being lost or being a dancer or dreamer, or states of emotion such as longing, feeling out of place, cheerfulness or being close to someone or something dear. The one-word titles can be quite vague and what appears to be a state of being can be just as much a state of mind and feeling, and several tracks appear to revolve around a general theme of being / feeling apart from others and those states of being and feeling that are impossible to separate from one another; for example, dreaming, being asleep or fantasising, all states in which one’s identity and sense of isolation or aloneness can be forgotten, even if temporarily, or brought down. Additionally the word in each title of each song appears twice in the song, and the reiterations of the word, their relative positions in the song, whether one is sung higher than the other or is spoken, help to stimulate and open up creative possibilities and tension.

Odd that such a minimalist recording as this really focuses the attention and directs it, far more so than works boasting many layers of texture and mood.

Contact: Edition Wandelweiser Records

Gently down the Volga


Keith Rowe / Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Ilia Belorukov / Kurt Liedwart

Once more I’ve probably spent longer than necessary waffling on, so I’ll offer a quick précis for the impatient or sensible: some quiet sounds, pretty low key, fairly neutral. For those who want to read that extended by a thousand words or so, read on:

Contents: One CD, two extended ‘pieces’. Although, whether they are pieces, as such, with a pre-determined beginning and end, an allotted span, or even extended – they may just as well be snipped down from longer actions – is not clear. Nothing is clear, actually. And yet, everything is clear, very sober and lucid. Once you turn the volume up. Yes, keynotes for this release can include:

Clarity: of recording.
Quiet: volume.
Dry: tone, sounds, execution.
Professionalism: of delivery, craft, craftsmanship.
Small: gestures
Long: duration.
of means and expression
Enough, well, it’s enough for them at least, presumably, and no more.

Close-up electric stubbles of sound bristled together in a room, not overly concerned in the direction of grand gestures. The first track is a duet between Rowe and Costa Monteiro whereas the second track involves the whole quartet.

Pretty lower-case, overall: a wheeze here, sliding stretches, creaking, and dry, solid sounds combined with thin electroacoustic shavings and metal rustlings. Radio crackle. String scrapes, micro-sawing, shifting, filing, re-arranging… A low-noise, pin-prickle-scratch sharp-focus table-rapping microphone-knocking pair of things.

Yes, it’s quiet, yes, in the grand scheme of things not a lot really happens, not a lot happens (necessarily) with a wall, though, but there’s texture and there’s presence of some sort. Along the planes of these pieces, alongside the mostly rectangular construction, there are a lot of faintly mystifying, dry and yet modestly engaging palette-scrapes of object-derived sound-tint.

Grumbling cardboard bass blots and rumbles from a box. Mosquito tones (but of course), knee-knocked tables. A classicist relish, a moderate relish: dropped marbles. Apportioned, measured with a sober embrace of plain and small sounds and their economical distribution (amplitudinally and temporally).

Not puritan, not rapacious, this inhabits some other middle ground, or unrelated ground, a moderation of sound without dogmatism, seemingly arrived at, intuited or agreed on, by all players, rather than as a consequence of paucity of ideas or tentativeness in expression (There’s room for relatively garrulous outbursts, for example the iPod and subwoofer interjections in the quartet track are not censured, nor, however, do they permanently alter the composure or focus of the proceedings. They just happen.) No, tentativeness is definitely not an impression to take from this, especially from Rowe’s contribution, his precise and economical deployment of movements to release sound from his tools exudes focus and his (totemic? In a sense, perhaps, but more so a quietly active, performing) presence seems to confer and amplify a collective focus. The character of the recording, of the document, is equally focussed and precise. Spare. But also made up of spare parts, of ‘objects’. Distinct – everyday objects and instruments with gaps between them, sounds with gaps, too; space to spare.

As it happens I was not averse to hearing the CD a good few times. My main motivation for the multiple auditions was reviewing purposes rather than major hedonism or passionately abandoned enjoyment but maybe as it is so neutral and moderate those numerous listens never felt like too oppressive or demanding a proposition. Ok, a proportion of those times I was also maybe straining to hear it over other domestic and environmental noises; it’s not THAT quiet, as these things go, not enough for it to really be a thing, quiet music, or rather an extreme thing, there are no real extremes here; the contour lines on this landscape are, however, quite widely spaced, barely perceptible as changes in elevation from above on this flat, laminal landscape. As well as the birds eye view ground level detail counts here, too, a fact borne out by the fascinated cover photos of Rowe’s hand and Belarukov’s (I’m assuming from the presence of the ‘mini-speaker’) sound producing objects. Turn the volume dial (what a cliché with quieter music. Why isn’t it louder to begin with, then, you might wonder, when someone writes or utters that phrase?) and the topography acquires a measure of relief; contrast between sound sources becomes more apparent. Tight-focus as it is, the incidental luxury of texture, relative harmonic variety, is more available with attentive listening and amplification.

In the species of electro-acoustic music on show here as well as your by-now-classicised (calcified?) moves such as high-frequency electronic tones, non-playing of instruments (i.e. pumping of air without playing notes on the accordion, scraping the saxophone), the human genesis of the sounds, the everyday, is ever-present, perceptible; both micro and 1:1 scale events accumulate; between this person-sized puttering and the abstracted textural sonic juxtapositions there is the flickering challenge to perceive in multiple ways at once, to be aware of both the basic building materials and of the whole, to walk round a sculpture, regard a painting. To engage and regard as abstract, abstracted ‘music’, whilst also simultaneously hearing document, agency, origin, familiarity, specificity. Something that probably happens intuitively whilst listening to music usually, this process is perhaps more exposed and perilous with this relatively severely reduced and minimised collections of sounds and gestures. Sounds at once untethered and tied to people and (small, small) movements and space. This is still, overall, very much the sound of four people puttering about with some tables and some bits and bobs, avoiding on the whole making assertive sounds, but the manner of puttering adds definite shape and tone, is on the whole determined and deliberate without being clinical or cold, certainly proceeds at a measured pace indicative of concentration, imbues the pieces with specific shape, space, tone and mood which is alert and reasonably approachable.

This shape and tone can resemble a rarefied/reduced/democratised species of chamber music, in a way; the intimate focus, hushed mood, a small ensemble. No classical affect or tropes exist here – perhaps one or two of small music or electro-acoustic music do, though. A pervading suppleness and openness keeps this comfortably away from zones of tedium or lassitude, or from being po-faced, the more giddy and defined interjections like the muted sub-woofer rumbles (courtesy of Belarukov, I think) and metronome in the quartet track help mean no-one could be accused of fundamentalism or exerting too-tight a grip on proceedings. No one would probably characterise this as exuberant or a laugh a minute; My feeling is that Rowe does add some heft, but leads, perhaps unconsciously, by example rather than force and the consequent breathing space permitted all players is to everyone’s advantage, and although resulting in some odd lumps it at least keeps things fresh and fairly portable.

What it all adds up to, apart from its specific formal and tonal qualities, is anyone’s guess. Rather than speculate, you might as well listen, if you fancied some small lower case improv with no overt agenda or direction. Maybe just as the cover suggests, this is essentially a snapshot of a meeting, the session that took place. The importance attributed to it by its participants, their thoughts on it as a recorded release, the reasons it exists in the form it does, is never specified. Taking into account its standardised production values, shared with many ‘essential’ (in marketing speak) releases it is perhaps refreshingly inessential, even on multiple listens it remains so, it doesn’t become more or less significant. Yet it is ‘essential’, sound-wise, or of its essences, if you get my drift. The materiality of it, the less than monumental nature, the attention to surface, the aura of relaxed focus and tempered exploration distinguish it, at a micro-level, horizontally, from other releases in the happily, self-sufficiently proliferating, self-regenerating, field of scraping things, not playing notes on your instrument and occasional crackles.

The Quiet Life


In A Room

Live-looped fluff-balling nimbus ambience-by-trio, candy-floss grey ornamentation with a ‘live in room’ angle moving it a half-step from neo-classicism recorded straight into the line-input, far enough to glean some early reflections now and again. Encounter on spinning something akin to the Alva-Noto modus operandi – instruments plus live processing (in this case piano, synth and electric bass are duly operated on) – if they were footloose and fancy-free and spent long minutes gazing at the overcast reflected in their dancing shoes and love loved Paris in the Springtime. Blushing and rosy pads meet these cloud chamber aesthetics, and sometimes, just sometimes, there is a far off grumbling from the electric bass. A grumbling that is, since we shall try to stay in keeping with the Romantic implications of the resolutely melodic substrate, let’s say: ‘like the far-off rumbling of thunder on an idle summer’s day’. All very consonant and consistent of tone, electronic pings in the first track and the aforementioned shading on the bass add a measure of variety to an otherwise homogeneously pleasant, if tepid and often somewhat sugary, bathwater (too sticky a combination for me, I’m afraid.) Sometimes, as with the repeated melodic synth motif that the last track is built around, everything become a little more apparent, in focus and demonstrative and in doing so teeters squarely the standard. Nevertheless, I could certainly see this release being appreciated as a part of any collection that requires gauzy, sedative, beatless ambiences with a measure of restraint, professionalism and poise. On the flipside that doesn’t necessarily indicate distinctive character or twists as such, but perhaps these wouldn’t be prime concerns for anyone interested in hearing this. Certainly any fans of the more horizontal offerings from labels like Kranky or Kompakt or artists like Celer, not to mention of the whole gamut of instruments plus laptop live-looping combos – from the ambient end to the more modern (neo-)classical (aka ambient 2.0) factions, where it also seems to be quite a popular working method – would I’m sure find some mellow pastel smudging to appreciate and dissipate to.



If you liked the sound of the release above you may well also enjoy this one. Having been mouldering away in my notebooks for a good long while, we may as well disinter some of the slightly more coherent scribblings for the sake of a triple review, three being so much more prime than two, after all. So while we have, broadly, and broad-brushed in execution in addition, non-threatening and languid electronic ambiences here, too, in this case they are slightly less ‘loopy’ and planar in structure. Interjections of played instruments into the gliding electronic textures are less smoothly integrated and more composed sounding. Demonstrative and stridently epic themes make appearances. They are a bit ‘there’ but their presence adds a dynamic contrast between the pools of ambience with fluttering dustings of acoustic instrumentation, dragging the proceedings towards the horizon of latter-day ‘post-rock’ (mawk-rock) – something that signifies lugubrious emoting and lachrymose sentiment more often than not. Anyhoo, said melodies play counterpoint to said electronic textures which themselves hearken back into middle-distant recent years, back to the post Boards of Canada wave of US, ahem, ‘IDM’. Sugary confections like Freescha and Merk’s ambient series: colourful, well-meaning and a little gooey-cantered. I wrote (remember this is an archaeological review) that they might be experienced as: ‘complacent chord progressions – or comforting, depending on your taste’. In a bravura counterpoint of my own I then also noted that ‘the use of acoustic sound sources through the album as framing devices somewhat balances out the potential saccharine and slickness’. Wunderbar. The artwork and the music both contain separate elements that are not entirely integrated with each other or coherent as a whole. What matters this, though? Who wants blended soup all the time anyway? They get points for the hand-printed insert, surely, and the last track is quite enjoyable, in fact. Incorporating wordless vocalising by Helen Funston it is languid, with a looser feel that hearkens back further, this time to ambient space-rock, blissed-out 90s creations like Subarachnoid Space circa Endless Renovation, or even hints of Tortoise’s widescreen glides through sonic everglades. The album thus waves out on distant operatic wafts and whiffs like a distant interstellar broadcast, ‘Telerehabilitation’ indeed and a successful integration of electronic and organic, a high note, if you will, and one which indicates a potentially interesting point of departure for any future projects.

Only you can tell on which side of the coloured mist you’re feeling today, whether you’ll be comforted or irritated, engaged or indifferent, whether you might feel an affinity or an aversion to these two previous harmonious and drifty things. Maybe this all depends on whether a hearty breakfast has been consumed propitious atmospheric conditions. Speaking of atmospheric conditions and indeed ambience how about this one for you?


Kevin Drumm

As we are disinterring, let’s have a listen to gentleman Kevin Drumm and his CD Trouble. Kevin once declared ‘I Have a Computer’, and this, too, seems to riff on the whole jewel-case production-line extruded mundanity thing, CD silvered and thin, extraneous fat and fleshy protuberances stripped away. One track, one (semi-ironic) title, b&w artwork, sketchy ‘found’ image, minimal typography with the sense of a brand or epitaph (see my review of ‘Relief’) faintly reminiscent of an expensive aftershave. Speaking of which, I can’t remember if I could smell the inks used to print the paper parts when I first cracked the case, but I can imagine a faint, toxic-smelling, chemical aroma being exuded..

Music-wise its steady and slowly shifting wisps of pure, thin, quietly dissonant tones could well be the result of a) a particularly concentrated bout of slo-mo noodling or b) a generative algorithm. With an arbitrary fade from the not-quite silence into actual silence in the not-quite middle to add to the WTF factor and keep you at least aware of your toes whilst remaining prone and apathetic, this precision tooled ambient fuck-you will keep you coming back for more when disgust with extraneous connivances such as audibility, structural progression and resolution have drained and enervated you to the point where numbing/soothing monotony seems the only plastic inevitable and nothing else is quite, quite empty and undemonstrative enough. As Jim Reeves might say, were he to review this, I hear the sound of distant Drumms, far away, far away, and if they call for me to come, then I must get off the sofa and turn the volume up and you must strain to hear what’s going on.

With the acrid-mesmeric intellectual aura of a one-pointed conceptual art prank and minimal, clinical, monotonous screen-saver and dry-ice atmospherics you too can turn your living room into a white cube with all its attendant complexities rendered in sedate/stupefying blankness/thereness. Or you can let the cares of the day ebb away, lulled by the hardcore simplicity and uber-smooth digital whisper. I suppose it depends on which side of the dry-ice you’re feeling. In terms of self-awareness and manipulation of symbols and mental effects, musical and extra-musical, it’s of a different order of realisation to the other releases discussed in this here segment, which ever way you tilt it. Apparent de-individuation is pursued with gleeful abandon the paradox being that the deeper the mission into blank anonymity the tighter the apparent grip of a presiding personality or overriding shape and tone becomes. A visage with empty sockets staring from the white cover, behind that, a bearded Kevin. Laser sharp manipulations, befittingly, paradoxically… and befittingly paradoxically. To what end? Who can say. Although I am in a couple of minds about it due to a faint snarkiness, perhaps only a by-product of a similar tone that can cling to related art-world tactics and not as applicable when appropriated and mapped on to this format. Either way, it’s a successfully totemic package and I will without doubt enjoy the near-silence again – if a quiet enough moment presents itself. If the coloured mists aren’t appealing to you, maybe this invisible, contrary gas might serve instead as your relaxant of choice.

Library Music

Andrey Popovskiy

Andrey Popovskiy
RUSSIA INTONEMA int012 CD (2014)

This is the debut solo album by Andrey Popovskiy and was recorded at a performance given in the rotunda of the Mayakovsky Library in St. Petersburg. This venue was chosen for the special acoustics it provides, amplifying, as it does, even the smallest sounds and imparting a very long reverberation. Prior to the recording, the artist researched the space in order to fully understand the responses that would be gained from the building.

My first listen flagged up the extensive use of silence, to the extent that at times I wondered if my system was working. I cannot say whether this, or Popovskiy’s use of small-scale sounds, are part of his natural armoury, or whether it was developed especially for this venue, but this approach forms the bedrock of the piece, accompanied by the “listener’s sound perception”. Instrumentation used involves lap steel guitar, electronics and objects. Anybody expecting country and techno (now there’s a thought), step back disappointed, put away your ‘kerchiefs, cowboy boots and Milky Bar Kid badges.

There is a short video online of part of the concert, although as the performer and instrumentation are mostly hidden by a bannister its use for clues is pretty limited, but I suspect the objects are being used to prepare the lap steel guitar (à la John Cage). Obviously, in such a reverberant space care has to be taken, as too much information could easily lead to an unholy mess. Not a chance of that happening here, with most sounds being allowed to work their course before the next arrives. Unfortunately, I feel this approach fails. The most interesting moments are where sounds are allowed to mingle, approximately the last seven minutes, leaving the rest to be the sonic equivalent of trainspotting. I am sure there is adventure, mischief and drama, for some, through undertaking it in this way. However, maybe the recording should be heard mostly as a means of documenting how certain objects sound in this space. Short clicks and footsteps are distributed amongst longer electronic induced whistles and hums. A short period of more intense (in decibels) action, itself separated between bursts, acts as a counterpoint to the minimalist fare that surrounds it.

Personally, I do not think the recording helps. It sounds like there is a barrier between the listener and the space, giving the impression that you are once removed from the setting. Considering the importance of the environment to the performance, there is an overall lack of depth and involvement. My overall feeling that you had to be there, was in part confirmed by the video, although even here I found my enthusiasm draining away from me after a few minutes. There were moments where I suspect sound from elsewhere in the building escaped into the space. One of these, at the beginning, resembled a distant Russian choir, although focusing on it reveals dialogue. These, I think, are the things that should have been exploited more and used to build up a more interesting piece. One which involved the whole building on a level above that of the acoustic it supplies.