Tagged: saxophone

Crossed Wires

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Got more nice CDRs from the German label Attenuation Circuit from 28 November 2013. One of them is part of their Concert Series, and it’s an exceptionally fine volcanic eruption of delicious semi-dangerous noise performed by a noise “supergroup”, of sorts. The team of elektrojudas, Sustained Development, Kim Jong-Un and EXEDO call themselves Knark Esion, and their Disturbed Communication (ACC 1010) is a lovely wodge of dynamic, rough-edged and snaggletoothed improvised blat. How long have this quartet been working together? They’ve already got it down; no meaningless, wasteful feedback blather or egos getting in each other’s way. Instead, taut discipline and high-performing band dynamics are the watchwords. Through combined synths, electronics, drum beats, voice samples and guitars, frightening images of destruction of instantly evoked, including the usual hideous fantasies I am regularly haunted with – collapsing buildings, attacking helicopters, and a general brouhaha among the populace. As observed, I wouldn’t want you to think they’re just creating 25 minutes of formless howlage, which as a genre has been done to death since 1990 onwards in any case; instead, they leave enough space for all the broken pieces of the jigsaw (very large pieces, probably made of concrete or steel) to lock together effectively. Except that the jigsaw, when assembled, makes no sense whatsoever to eye or brain. There’s also enough space for the listener to insinuate self into gaps, providing that is you don’t mind near-misses from runaway trains, being scorched by blasts of flame, scathed by falling boulders, or nearly being munched to a pulp by large electronic crocodile teeth. I’m clutching at images of violence and broken-ness to convey some of the sense of this electrifying performance, but even so I can’t seem to encompass the grandeur and towering melancholy which its creators share, creators who start to assume the proportions of disaffected Pagan gods, tearing their own creations into pieces and howling into the cosmos as they do so, before retiring to some nameless Valhalla to drink red wine from the skulls of the fallen. The label notes allude to “the use of noise as a sabotage of cultural codes”, a subversive approach which is well and good, but I think Knark Esion are aiming for something far less cerebral than that, and this is the sort of powerful grotesquerie that really feeds the fires in your bones and your belly.

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Colin Webster is a young improvising sax player based in London and who is a member of The Uniteam All Stars and also plays in Anthony Joseph and The Spasm Band; I think we last heard him on Languages, whooping it up with Mark Holub and Sheik Anorak (Stuart Marshall praised his guttural barking on those live Vortex recordings). His Antennae (GAFFER RECORDS GR039) cassette is more of a process-thing, where he’s keen to showcase a tight range of very minimal saxophone sounds where the stress is placed on his own breath and the “mechanical noises” that result from his operations on the sax, performed under the discipline of what I take to be very strict rules. To this end, he’s insisted on close-miked recordings to allow us to hear every nuance of the real-time creative endeavour he has undertaken. This is by no means the sort of “reduced improv” music which is excessively quiet and where event and drama is all but lacking; on the contrary, Webster not only has a pulse, but he scuttles about like an entire sackful of hopped-up cockroaches who have been spoonfed cocaine in large doses. But it’s also incredibly austere sound art, with a very limited range; recognisable musical notes are not really allowed here, and it’s as though he stifles them at birth rather than let them escape from the bell of his instrument. I admire the rigid control that is presumably required to do this, but Antennae remains a very tough listen, a true bowl of gruel for the lugs. I think he’s done something for Richard Sanderson’s label too, so watch this space for notice of that item. This arrived 18 October 2013.

Analogue Karma

Full marks to this gargantuan double CD set of remastered rare tracks from latterday industrial-mode doomoids Maeror Tri. I only ever heard them on a seven-inch split they made with Crawl Unit in 2000, which represents but the merest sliver of the back catalogue of these gloomy droning Germans who did everything with masses of diabolical guitars and effects pedals. Meditamentum (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 046-2 / NEW NIHILISM NN X) is itself a compilation of Meditamentum and Meditamentum II, released in 1994 and 1999 respectively, and it gives the listener a rich slew of material originally released on cassettes in the 1990s (mostly). Any clown who’s ever formed a “Cold Depressive Black Metal” tape in their bedroom in the last fifteen years pretty much owes everything to Maeror Tri, who prove themselves past masters of the atmospheric, oppressive and miserablist drone. More than that, they did it with real authority and the weight of conviction behind every flanged note they struck from their filthy black Telecasters, plus there’s a lot of variety and texture in their multiple approaches to music construction. I’d say there are enough “alternative sonic worlds” in this pack to keep you busily exploring for years. Only the artwork is a bit drab; it would have been nice if the band’s “monad”, composed of three sticks in a triangular form, could have been more prominent. From 03 October 2013.

Syrinx likewise have a tinge of darkness in their Landscapes (QUIET WORLD THIRTY), but it’s tempered with a respect for nature and an outdoorsness that Maeror Tri, locked in their unholy temples of Hermetic insanity, would not dream of. These three Northampton UK lads Baylis, Plenderneith and Saunders blend their instruments into a morass of pullulating frequencies until guitars and synth – if such devices were indeed involved in the making of this record – lose their voices in the collective tones, which ring like ghostly church bells of a gigantic size suspended over impossible landscapes. Solemn almost to the point of grimness, yet a terrifying beauty will emerge in time from these iron sounds.

Can’t get enough synth and drumming records…and some nice moments to savour on Astro Sonic’s Come Closer and I’ll Tell You (HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2530), a Norwegian trio of young men armed with vintage keyboards, percussion instruments, drum machines and a Fender Rhodes piano. They have their lively and playful moments in the middle of this album, with brief but energised tracks where exciting rock-beats joust with some insane and far-out electronic effects, which seem to evoke a spaceship landing in the ocean or some other space-travel event ending badly. Their other main mode is more contemplative, where sweet melodies and pleasant retro sounds noodle away harmlessly in a major key, such as on ‘Orbiter’ or ‘Shoal’. At such moments they might not reach Eno heights, but they come close to Galactic Explorers or one of those other Toby Robinson studio bands from the 1970s Pyramid label. From 07 October 2013.

I’m now a firm fan of Noteherder & McCloud, the English duo of Parfitt and Reader who do such naughty things with saxophone and electronics, often blamming it out in real time without any cissy stuff like retakes, overdubs or “processing”. All of that rawness can be thine on the exceedingly impolite South Coast Lines (EXOTIC PLYLON RECORDS EP14) mini-CD, the first thing we heard since their The Bottle Loose In The Drawer earlier this year. On this occasion it seems that traffic sound – specifically that of roaring cars and maybe even trains – is contributing to the overall din on record, and the duo have to work like demons to make themselves felt above the general clamour. As such the whole record breathes a city-dwelling urgency which appeals to me enormously. This is the way saxophone and electronics should be – dirty, inchoate, noisy. From October 2013.

Astonishing guitar work from Mike Cooper on Right (H)ear Side by Side (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR043), and we should expect no less from this English veteran prodigy of guitar manipulation who has played on a large number of records from the early 1970s onwards, not all of them “free improvisation” even, yet is rarely mentioned in same breath as Derek Bailey. He’s joined by Yan-Chiu Leung on the sheng and the music was recorded at a 2013 festival in Hong Kong. On ‘Hong Kong 1’ Cooper plays a variety of styles – atonal free improvisation into blues-based riffing and out again – before settling into an eerie textured drone with throbbing pulsations as if trying to recreate a slew of Tangerine Dream LPs with a single set-up, which includes a resophonic guitar, a sampler, a delay pedal, a fuzz box and something called the Kaos Pad. Further blues mannerisms surface on ‘Hong Kong 3’ along with a distressed harmonica, in a minimalist oriental-style portrait of bleakness where the bittersweet interplay with Leung’s sheng is enough to give a grown man a shivering fit. If that doesn’t satisfy you, the sheer inscrutable bizarreness of ‘Hong Kong 4’ will have you finishing your imported beer, asking the waiter to bring you your bill…and a straitjacket. What dissonant eruptions, what measured yet devastating manipulation of the strings into the X-dimension. An unassuming CDR which contains wild music fit to rank with any of Fred Frith’s 1980s noisier works. From 21 October 2013.

Dialogue and Discussion

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Keith Rowe / Ilia Belorukov / Kurt Liedwart
Tri
RUSSIA INTONEMA INT011 CD (2014)

As you might expect from Keith Rowe and anyone he plays with, tri is a carefully considered, improvised soundscape that mixes scrapes and scuffles with textural electronics, pauses and almost inaudible details.

As I listen through again this morning, my study window is open, and the birds outside, the distant sounds of the road and the window cleaner’s whistling, have changed the music again: the treated guitar sounds like distant thunder, contact-mic sounds like the wind pushing a storm away. Then something buzzcuts across, something rings like a distant phone, and the scene changes again.

Drones underpin much of this musical exploration, holding the noises together as a composition, one which ebbs and flows, regroups and splinters, time and time again. There is perhaps little unexpected going on here – musicians have been improvising this way for 40 or 50 years now, but Rowe and his colleagues on both long tracks here offer some of the best work in the field: tri is an enchanting, focussed example of abstract dialogue and discussion as composition in the moment.

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Ilia Belorukov
Tomsk, 2012 04 20 [Live]
RUSSIA INTONEMA INT005 / AKT-PRODUKT AP10 CD (2013)

Solo, Ilia Belorukov’s saxophone recorded live – the sleeve note says with ‘preparations’, whatever that means – is a noisier, looser affair. The first part sounds like wind in a tunnel, treated and amplified breathing made into endless cyclical wooshing drones, which the second’s sustained blown notes initially come as some relief from, although the slight shifts and repetition soon become tiresome. The third part is more textural to begin with, utilising more abstract sounds in the mix, before high skittering notes arrive, developing through a kind of electronic ping-pong section into a shriller solo with barking bass undertones. This lower end exploration gradually unfolds into a slower, more sonorous, Braxton-esque solo which, with its use of some kind of echo or delay, works as a stunning conclusion. The ghost of Evan Parker and other giants of improvisation can’t help but hover in the wings here, but Belorukov makes his own mark in a flurry of fragmented melodies and cascading tones.

Where Belorukov is perhaps most interesting is the way he moves from minimal, more abstract soundscape to solo saxophone improvisation within a more established field, musical genres which to some extent have diverged and separated over the years rather than engaged. As a CD, tri is more convincing, more focussed and engaged, but Tomsk… is perhaps more surprising and challenging, though I think Belorukov’s real strength is working with the saxophone rather than around it.

Intonema, a new label to me, produce exquisitely designed gatefold card CDs, with recording and artist information included on neat little card inserts housed in one half of the cover, the CD in the other. These are accessed by the neat trick of a shaped cutout across the inner card edges – perhaps in the shape of a person.

Mass. Effect

Here are a couple of vinyl long-players which may or may not reflect aspects of contemporary American underground music in and around Massachusetts.

The Mystery Triangle (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR090 / MYSTRA RECORDS #011) item takes its name from an event in November 2011, performed and recorded at the record shop Mystery Train in Amherst. It was recorded by Ted Lee of Feeding Tube Records and released here for our delectation with a gorgeous piece of cover art drawn by Joshua Burkett, who also happens to be the owner of said record shop. The sumptuous melty distortion of the lettering might take its cue from Haight-Ashbury psychedelic posters, but in terms of that spiral shape and bold use of black and white shapes, this is pretty much an ESP-Disk’ cover manqué. Notice how Paul Flaherty, the white-haired and bearded demiurge of the tenor saxophone, is rendered as a slightly unflattering bulbous lump, much like a prone Edward Lear figure, while the distended drawing of his instrument is certainly something Spike Milligan could relate to. Flaherty gets all of side one to showcase a solo saxophone blurteroo, called ‘The Jellyfish Dilema’. We’ve always enjoyed his solo records, of which we used to receive a lot in recent years. On this outing, the tension lies in his mixed emotions which pour out of the bell of his sax, almost like unwanted effusions from a cauldron; now happy, now sad, now going through complex feelings that can barely be expressed. The man can preach a sermon to the masses, then sound as intimate as a member of your family speaking to you. He can change tack in the middle of a phrase, apparently with a single breath. This happens in real time and is presented as an unedited recording. Not many players who can articulate this richness, nor play it in such an approachable fashion. Toot on, Mr Flaherty.

B side has a short billow released from the mysterious Sam Gas Can. His ‘Untitled’ documents him and his voice performing with just one microphone. He’s squeezing out a thin and painful sound neither from his lungs nor his diaphragm, but from a part of the body that anatomists haven’t yet named, or discovered. This is like an all-vocal, semi-acoustic version of Toshimaru Nakamura’s controlled feedback whine, all the more eerie for being so quiet and unexplained. Completing the B side are White Limo, a trio of players who serve up ‘Strite 15 Noslirana’, a strangely engaging bubbling broth of live electronics and percussive effects. The intermittent signals they wrench from their malfunctioning equipment are a big part of the charm. Not noise; the sounds they make may be jumbled, chaotic, even half-mad, but they are not aggressive or lazy dollops of shrieking high-volume drubbage. The only thing keeping this nebulous thing aloft is the irregular pulsations which emanate like toy car alarms from the midst of the gaseous puffs. Quite fine…I see Jess Goddard is also in Fat Worm of Error along with Chris Cooper, and the latter has links to Caroliner, those Californian nutcases who were regarded as heroes of free noise in the 1990s. Since this 2012 LP, White Limo put a solo LP out on Fogged Records which may warrant investigation.

As indicated, this LP has no fear of being labelled “parochial”. Even more of an insiders-only record is the private-joke pressed on vinyl called Fuck Brett (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR085). Recorded in a single day, and the occasion was a birthday party performance thing organised by Lisa Crystal Carver in honour of Brett Robinson, and the event included fine art painting, stickers, and musical performances from assorted marginal illuminati. Carver is Lisa Suckdog, a writer with no fear of extremes or taboos, who is considered to be extremely influential on the American punk / underground of the late 1980s and early 1990s. I have no idea who Brett Robinson may be. He apparently isn’t very popular, as many people on this record spend a good deal of time attacking him personally. The opening songs by Moose on the A side are enough to frighten away most sourpussses, and they’re indistinguishable from the general tipsy roaring and whooping of these happy American folks at this bizarre bacchanal where all inhibitions were checked in at the door. The longer workout by Big People Band – in fact a one-time offshoot comprising members of Egg, Eggs – is slightly more palatable, where the extemporised vocal chant is barked out to the accompaniment of primitive uke strumming and queer synth noises. The band sound like they’re walking around the room as they make up this hale and hearty nonsense. Improvising on the theme of Brett’s birthday, the chant wastes no time in giving said Brett an avant-garde version of the “comedy roast”, as the singer makes it clear how much said Brett is loathed by one and all. Then they start free-associating on the idea of giving birth, and the piece turns “shamanistic” as the troupe attempt to re-enact a birth-passage psychodrama right there on the floor. Unbridled screaming and hilarity ensues. I’ve not read a single line of Lisa Suckdog’s prose, but I’m guessing that this performance comes close to embodying the spirit of her work.

Assuming you were tempted to purchase this very limited record, you might fare better with the B-side which features two noise projects, Belltonesuicide and Diagram: A, engaged in a sweaty arm-wrestling match over a bank of shrieking synthesizers, or live electronics of some sort. Unlike the very specific A-side, this side is blank and abstract. It’s wall-to-wall, blanket-coverage loopy noise that takes no prisoners, but not as violent or insufferable as Merzbow despite the airless tone and pulsating repetitions. Those involved seem to layer on the effects like they were serving up triple-scoop sweet goodies in an ice-cream parlour. Chris Blair – also known as Abortus Fever – is Belltonesuicide, while Dan Greenwood is Diagram: A, and both have been unleashing free noise in the free world since 1997. 100 copies were made with paste-on covers, and a full-colour booklet with text and images is inserted.

Radical Vocabulary

POTLACH

Sergio Merce
Microtonal Saxophone
FRANCE POTLATCH P114 CD (2013)

From prepared piano to rewired guitar pick-ups, in western avant garde traditions the physical deconstruction of musical objects has often been employed as a means to break down musical form and strip away the excess of tradition and context. Due to the nature of their construction and extended techniques horn instruments have, for the most part, missed these possibilities for sonic rearrangement. Attempting to redress this, Sergio Merce has replaced his saxophone keys with water, gas and compressed air taps, meaning the tuning of every note can be altered very precisely. His aim on this record is to force his composition out of the saxophone’s standard harmonic series and towards the possibilities of microtonal composition.

The ingenuity of the alterations to the instrument and conceptual rigour involved are startling, so thankfully the drones produced are equally fascinating. If you were to skip between the beginning, end, or any chance moments it would seem like there was no variation whatsoever. Tough sheets of crystalline pure-tone are built on one another, but cycle through variation rather than ever reaching crescendo or dynamic contrast. When the pieces all share such a narrow field of timbre, pace and structure it seems misguided even applying the term minimalism. The resonant notes oscillate then settle, competing for space and recalling the rumble and harmonics of submerged water pipes; essentially the same physical process being harnessed.

Yet, when following the progression of the resonant drones from within, the pieces expand and the range of tones Merce elicits from his saxophone seem almost unlimited. The act of breathing and tuning each note must surely be extremely demanding and minute alterations are used to create gradual but significant shifts. The sounds adopt a delicate, unfocused and disorientating quality comparable to the electronic work of artists like Eleh. Merce’s tinkering allows him to leap into a previously unattainable field, whilst transporting the saxophone’s core properties; the control provided by breath and embouchure, the tentative reed quality and slow intermingling of notes.

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Although playing the instrument involves circular breathing and a sustain pedal, the object and techniques it requires are intertwined; it is almost impossible to imagine what a different performer could achieve with the same object. This means that the sounds produced are completely idiosyncratic, but due to that uniqueness, somewhat characterless. Microtonal experiments, without major or minor grounding, can demand a great deal from the listener and the debate surrounding the distinction between academic exercise and expression will not be resolved through this recording. It is solely the presentation of this object and the exciting transformation of saxophone pitches it can produce. The act of simply presenting a radical vocabulary is effective, but it is far more exciting to imagine the possibilities for Merce’s future composition. Sergio Merce belongs to a group of composers seeking to physically cut away expectations and techniques for their instrument and this record documents an aspiration that will hopefully continue to flourish.

Ordo ab Chao

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Carter / Chen / Wooley / Yeh
NCAT
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS monolp016 LP

Vast, cosmogonic explosions jump-start another galaxy thanks to this crew of hardy improvisers who ceremoniously ‘blur the line between electronic and acoustic music’ (it still exists?). Consisting of the ubiquitous C. Spencer Yeh, saxophonist Nate Wooley, cellist Audrey Chen and audio engineer Todd Carter, the string-centric sessions were recorded by Yeh, Chen and Wooley during a residency in Amsterdam then shipped to Carter for extensive editing in NY. While those recording sessions appear to have been a galactic free-for-all: all amplified, scraped strings, thrumming electronics, groaning drones and fathomless feedback (a prohibitively pricey proposition were it the analogue tape days), there’s ample evidence of the musicians applying the best of their respective crafts to ensuring the listener endures nothing too exhausting or tedious.

In this respect, Carter is clearly our hero of the hour: he spent a week sifting through the recordings (whether alongside his other work I know not), startling the trio soon afterwards with this taut and tidy electroacoustic suite. Considerate are his track times, ranging from two to fourteen minutes (depending on the content), which effectively render side A into a sound collage, somewhere between Tony Conrad and early Faust. Accompanying and accentuating the studio antics are fleets of distant sirens alongside all manner of mysterious sounds and transformations Carter saw fit to add, resulting in a dripping tunnel vision of a mechanised dystopia, in which electricity is the inhabitants’ lifeblood.

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Yong Yandsen
Disillusion
FRANCE DOUBTFUL SOUNDS DOUBT10 LP (2013)

Seven servings of industrial-lunged, post-Ayler/Kaoru Abe screeches and bellows from Malaysian sax warrior Yong Yandsen, who is one quarter of doom jazz unit, Klangmutationen, and one of a putative handful of new music exponents comprising the ‘Experimental Musicians & Artists Co-operative Malaysia’, situated ‘on the fringes’ of Kuala Lumpur.

It would certainly seem that he’s the first of them to issue a solo recording, and quite a debut it is: nearly three quarters of an attack-happy hour with the tenor sax, which find Yandsen indefatigably wrestling new sounds out of the thing. Of course, comparisons to Ayler and Abe are now de rigueur, though in this case they belong more appropriately to the latter, as Yandsen lacks the audacious melodic deconstructions that were Ayler’s bread and butter during those glory years. It’s abstraction all the way, and delightfully so, even if the style is one burningly familiar to free jazz fans. It does feel authentic to me though: I get the sense that every audible emission here represents the cathartic erasure of yet another hint of melody from Yandsen’s being, in a public exhibition of musical therapy.

The sessions on side A consist of shorter, sharper attacks, with lots of pauses in between as he gets his bearings. Side B revels in more masochistic breath stretches, which flow into gliding scale runs and through a punishing range of dynamic extremes. You know the deal. Over forty-five minutes, it is the listener who is ultimately put to the test, and I’m glad to say I’ve made it through in the rudest of health, spirit rejoicing.

Metal Birds

I’m warming to the music of Noteherder & McCloud, an English duo who are really growing on me with their odd and inscrutable noise-filled approach to saxophone and electronics. Chris Parfitt does the strained hooting with his brassy soprano while Geoff Reader supplies the crackly boxes, and they both add voice elements too. We haven’t reviewed them since 2011 (their mini CDR Field Log), and I have the sense they can be pretty raucous and outspoken when the circumstances deem fit, but The Bottle Loose In The Drawer (SLIGHTLY OFF KILTER sok043) is slightly more reflective, subtle, and drawn-out; the full length album format gives a bit more space to their unique qualities, and each track stretches out into a puff-driven event showcasing the yowlage of the human throat or the metallic bell of a ghostly sax, accompanied with requisite doses of strange alien drone or bizarre electric twittering. The duo have a very eccentric and personal approach to instant music creation which I like very much. It would probably be a mistake to characterise N&M’s music as “jazz” or “improv” in any way, and to me it feels more like they are creating spontaneous sound-art installations, doing so in any environment in need of such an artistic statement. They change things for the better, wherever they play. To my mind, local councillors should sponsor musicians like this and send them out to any given spot in the city in need of attention, and give them free rein to cure the problem with sound art. Urban blight would soon be a thing of the past. From 24 January 2013.

Label boss of above release is Paul Khimasia Morgan, who walks everywhere in crepe sole shoes, so that none may anticipate his silent advance. He’s released a short performance piece called Eaves Drop (AURAL DETRITUS audet001) and it’s the first item on his own Aural Detritus sub-label. It’s taken from a Brighton concert where he performed with Jason Kahn, who also recorded it using the spindly tubes that grow from his forehead. 17 minutes of highly minimal slow music; there’s a piercing high tone at the start, overlaid in the middle with additional elements which might have been generated by a slow-motion underwater guitar played backwards with electro-magnets by dying turtles. Then we enter a realm of uncertainty, with small boxes being rearranged on an imaginary supermarket shelf of the mind. In a short space of time this impenetrably blanked-out sound art works itself through at least three or four timbral changes, which if closely attended will assume a certain dramatic flair. We’d hesitate to describe it as a “composition”; perhaps it’s more like the outline for a composition, presented in a short pamphlet where the pages consist of pencil notations that have been 90% rubbed out using a Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser. From 24 January 2013.

Fancy cover, quality pressing, clever titles and grand ideas on Extant (THE GEOGRAPHY TRIP TRIP 002) the vinyl offering from OH/EX/OH, but only rather ordinary ambient drones within. Their musical plan is to offer a bleak and depressing experience on side one, with a slightly more hopeful message delivered on side two; this means we hear flat monochrome ambient music, interrupted only by a spoken-word quote which I suspect is a sample from a Planet of the Apes movie (it’s about a post-nuclear disaster), and a general sense that we are living through the last days of humanity with solemn music that proceeds at a leaden pace. The “Utopian Tones” of the B side make more prominent use of sequencers walking along at a brisk pace on ‘Close Encounters’, while on ‘With Nova A New Beginning’ we finally hear the identikit synth droning resolve itself into chords of some sort, instead of the usual nondescript blancmange. However, even this track is blighted with cliché, and feels like it should appear in a fourth-rate arthouse cinema film to coincide with a corny sunrise shot and a life-defining moment for the lead character. One would like to encourage this relatively new Manchester-based label (this is their second release), but this entire album is bogged down with over-familiar sounds and scant ideas. However the packaging, as indicated, is first-rate.

American players Steve D’Agostino and Ted Lee form the core duo of Zebu!, who have had their most recent record released by Feeding Tube Records – home to all that is currently bizarre in US underground rock noise. On Chill Wave (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 082), Zebu! are clearly influenced by early 1960s surf music, a genre which was looked down on for a long time on account of its supposed naivete, but which has I think since been reclaimed into cultural appreciation, a process which may have begun with the Rhino Records compilations (The History Of Surf Music) in 1982. I’ll admit Zebu! exhibit plenty of energy in their rough music and evoke a suitably amateurish garage-rock feel through the flat recording, but I don’t like it much. They have no gift for a memorable melody, and their sloppy guitar work is an insult to the precision and care of The Surfaris, Dick Dale, The Challengers and Santo & Johnny (the creators of ‘Sleep Walk’), all of whom struck their guitar notes with a purposeful simplicity that these boys can’t hope to match. The saxophone work of guest player Peter Van Siclen is nauseating to my ears, and the band’s lapses into 1980s punk rock are embarrassing. “Classicist American instrumental ho-daddyism”, indeed!

Sex of Angels

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Heddy Boubaker
DiG!
FRANCE PETIT LABEL SON 015 CD (2013)

Unwrapping the CD wallet (nice-to-the-touch cartonpaper and printwork) and reading the name of the artist, the album and the first few tracks that catch the eye (‘Sitting on the side of the road’, ‘Sex of Angels’, ‘I believe in joy’, ‘Light water’) I instantly relax in the assumption that the music that will unfold will have a light feeling to it. Maybe not exactly country music (my first, wild association), but at least some experimental music with a certain laid-backness, lightness and maybe even humour.

Never judge a book by its cover they say, and indeed: maybe in a few aspects my assumptions could be defended (there’s definitely humour in the music on this album), but on the face of it I was totally wrong.

DiG! is an album of intense solo saxophone, the kind of experimental saxophone playing that never produces the sound that the instrument is broadly known for. And though it was totally not what I expected, it was, I must say, quite an extraordinary listening adventure.

“Sitting on the side of the road” starts off with sounds that are difficult to place, but for an open set of ears it is immediately a curious and titillating experience. As if it was a radio play, we visit different places and atmospheres, well seperated by Boubaker’s playing, with effective use of suspension.

“The real sexlife of a banana” leads us further, with almost computer-like sounds and textures, sometimes reminiscing white noise interferences on the radio. The intensity and focus that Boubaker puts into his sound-explorations makes my ears stay glued to the speakers. There are breath and saliva thrown in a lot, and sometimes it sounds as if Boubaker is playing underwater saxophone, to great effect. Boubaker’s timing is excellent, which he especially proves in track 3 (“Indistinguishable”).

Halfway through the album, however, my interest wears off. There is maybe a limit to the amount of these sounds a brain can take in one go. Also the type of explorations seem to repeat, with no new point being made. But then, with track 9 I am directly back on Boubaker’s lap: he’s wringing different rattling, thumping and insect-like sounds from his instrument, the kind of sounds you can get from beasts crawling under your ceiling at night. Here again, the mixture of textures and the timing of his sounds are superb and it is a track I enjoyed to re-listen several times.

The track titles are actually not giving any relevant information about the music, but the interesting part is that through my light-headed assumptions after reading them, I do listen with a rather relaxed ear. And although the playing is intense and focussed, dark at times and even foreboding, there is also a certain lightness and humour in the way Boubaker places and presents his material.

The album is at its best when the playing is subtle and pure and so far from the usual saxophone sound that the imagination goes wild with guessing “which wond’rous place are we in now…?”

For the balance of the CD, maybe three or four pieces less would have cut out some repetition and given a more round feeling to the whole, but this doesn’t dismiss the many great moments Boubaker has caught with these recordings.

Glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Boubaker!

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Russian Brutalism

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Wozzeck
Act IV

RUSSIA OPPOSING MUSIC OPM013 CD (2012)

Young Russians (previously known to me only via their interview in The Sound Projector issue 21), headed by Ilia Belorukov with a fresh approach to the by now well known if not well-worn grindcore tropes, here mastered by James Plotkin (equally well known to many by now I should think, and quite rightly, too). The unorthodox addition of synthesiser and saxophone to the traditional elements should do much to endear the project to those susceptible to this kind of thing. And a worthwhile piece of brutalism it is too.

It is an unusual album of saxophone-hybrid avant-garde metal which periodically put me variously (and perhaps predictably), in mind of Borbetomagus, Hawkwind and Elliot Sharp’s Carbon on first listen. Plenty of riffage and screamo vocals (not always upfront – sometimes very effectively used as you would an instrumental pad morphing into a saxophone part), as you would expect.

No little evidence of technology (live processing and editing I suspect, plus lots of production, no doubt), on the sprawling single track on this album, but not to such a psychotic extreme as a contemporary like Genghis Tron, say. In fact, this single 39-minute track is surprisingly effective device with a coursing dynamic, space to breathe and some very capable group improvisation dovetailed in. I like to imagine this is a recorded document of a live session but there’s no written evidence on the sleeve to support this impression.

In its quieter moments, Act IV reminds me of (and here I’m showing my age), Gong, Cardiacs, and briefly, even the modulated Roland Chorused guitars of early period The Cure. Somewhat predictably, I feel like pointing out that Lightning Bolt have a lot to answer for when I listen this music (although its authors may not agree). There’s the ever-present grumbling of a multi-effected bass guitar, and the drummer is feral – capable of all the required polyrhythmic tricks one minute and relying on pure power the next – although not as fightening or potentially dangerous as Brian Chippendale or the guy from the Japanese duo FINAL EXIT. I’m making the comparison stylistically and/or philosophically; not literally – the incarnation of Wozzeck here are a four-piece not a duo. They are, in fact, the aforementioned Ilia Belorukov on voice, electronics and alto sax; bassist Mikhail Ershov; guitarist Pavel Medvedev and on drums, Alexey Zabelin.

So, to Act IV itself. Kicking off with strangulated feedback then an explosion of blastbeats, Act IV sets out its blackened and twitching stall without delay. After a short while, screamed vocals cloud over a sudden slackening of pace as digital feedback raises questions (of mortality?) no-one is prepared to answer. Residual traces of processing give way to the entrance of the saxophone at four minutes in. From here on in, the music takes on an aura of relentless, progressive grind allowing all four instrumentalists to shoot off on their own separate internal voyages. By nine and a half minutes, the bluster is replaced by a brooding ambience. Hissing fog tones and rumbling bass coalesce before a sudden and violent return to blast. Hidden in the midst of a typical blitzkrieg at thirteen and a half minutes is one of the brief Gong-like asides – a contrast as captivating and unhinged as any. At around 22 minutes, there is a protracted fatal collapse of all previously well-wrought metal architecture; the digital distortion produced as all the inputs blast into the red left in the final mix, until relief, reprise and reconnection with the melodic thrust of fifteen minutes previous, and then without warning everyone bar the bassist drops out. A bass chord is languorously explored while phantoms of electronics waft here and there. Serpentine long tones that might once have been an electric piano move in and out of focus while the drummer gradually recovers from whatever blow to the head rendered him unconscious in the first place, and turns his attention to his impressive collection of cymbals. From here the Robert Smith-like guitar flange kicks in to ominous and eerie effect. Tom-toms are chucked down a liftshaft and/or reverbed to sound like they are being played in the next town and a ring modulated buzz encourages over-amped guitar (tinges of Alex Lifeson if he was ever capable of becoming truly deranged), finally, to take over for the last three and a half minutes of the session.

Act IV rewards repeated listens, packed as it is with unhinged sonic artefacts; fast moving and restless. There’s been a long list of on trend noise/screamo (if that’s the correct genre appellation – apologies if I’ve got that wrong), bands come up for air in the last few years; Rolo Tomassi, Charlottefield and Bo Ningen spring to mind – perhaps Wozzeck are on their way to joining that list. James Plotkin’s involvement can be seen as an endorsement in a way. Whether that was their intention or whether the opportunity to work with Plotkin was just too good to miss remains a mystery. Either way, I’m glad they did.

Ilia Belorukov
Opposing Music

Rare Birds

MYRIAD1A
Magda Mayas is a young percussionist from Berlin but her favorite instrument is the piano. And this is sheer luck for us, the listeners, since she has developed a very solid technique on tingling, scraping, bowing and scratching the strings inside the piano, speaking to us in a very personal and comprehensive sonic language. Her CV is already full of important collaborations, e.g. with Peter Evans, Phill Niblock and Thomas Lehn, to report only a few of my personal favorites. This is the second product of the collaboration between Magda and her alter-ego in the wind instruments, Christine Abdelnour (Sehnaoui), a young, largely self-taught, sax player from Lebanon. Her high-pitched sonic expressions are influenced by the concepts of noise and distortion, following, in a very personal style, a long line of avant-garde sax players in the field.

For many people, art is the rendering and processing of nature by its human factor. In this way, numerous music compositions and playing techniques are determined by the language of birds, the most profound being Catalogue d’Oiseaux by Olivier Messiaen. Here, the birds’ presence is implied by the cover image, the title and probably by the recorded material which otherwise is a free improvisation. Bird sounds are often considered soothing and relaxing but a birds’ convention taking place on a large tree could easily end up in a hellish high-pitched havoc. Myriad  (UNSOUNDS 30U) is balancing on both sides of this coin following mostly a tender and clear path even in the rough parts of the improvisation, aligned with the female temperament behind the work. I have to admit at this point that I feel a special gratitude for the female perspective on modern music, that tends to deliver an increasing number of important works.

The two improvisations in this album captured by Unsounds label, home of some very notable musicians, are influenced by spectral contemporary music, building a high-frequency reverberating corpus and spreading very unequally in duration. The longest track, “Hybrid”, begins with what seems like the birds’ smooth awakening and develops into a complicated communication among different types of bird singing (or high-pitched sax patterns) accompanied by weird wood knocking and string plucking. The mood of this piece is constantly in motion, leading to a pleasant uncertain evolution of the music. The sax sound in the second track “Cyanide”, reminds of ambient pre-recorded soundscapes while the “piano” contributes with arpeggios and pitch-bending expressions achieved by the direct manipulation of the strings inside the instrument.

What we have here is a highly conscious, crafted sound of a duo that amounts to an impressive wholeness of a single entity. This is a very rare scenario when we discuss avant-garde improvised music played live (during the Meteo Festival in France). The instrument techniques employed are both original and complicated. The sonic expression is dense and consequently the listening experience requires a devotion that is nevertheless rewarding. My only complaint could be that the 33 minutes of the album seem too few and the work leaves a sense of being unfinished.

After their first album Teeming, Myriad certainly reinforces the appetite for more recordings of this unusual duo that consists of a standing pianist and a sitting sax player.

MYRIAD2A