Tagged: sound art

I’m Lost: losing and then finding oneself in five expansive sound dramas

tarablost

Tarab, I’m Lost, 23five Incorporated, CD 23five 019 (2014)

Well if Eamon Sprod is lost in this album, what hope is there for the rest of us as we try to follow him about on this set of field recordings all chopped up, fragmented, distorted and amped up to an extreme? – but no matter how far the soundscapes take us, we somehow find our own points of reference in recognisable sounds. The album’s seemingly modest and low-key title turns out to be deliberately layered: “I’m Lost” could be interpreted in a narrow physical sense but it could also be read in other ways. There is the loss you feel when you lose loved ones or your relationships break up either intentionally or through neglect or simply because the other people have moved on. There’s the loss you feel when your youth becomes a distant memory and familiar objects, cultural and technological items associated with your generation and knowledge are superseded by other cultural ephemera and become obsolete. There is loss on a greater scale as well: buildings are demolished to make way for new ones, industries change and certain kinds of work become redundant, valuable history and advice are forgotten, countryside is submerged under cables and concrete, and the world is soon brought to the brink of another global war by yet another lot of incompetent politicians and their unseen puppet-masters. (Well at least one thing doesn’t change!) Through this work of five meditative pieces, Tarab demonstrates that the concept of loss contains within itself an openness and potential for creativity and inventiveness as new associations, directions and goals are free to form and connect.

The album is at once quiet and noisy as scraps of unrelated field recordings of industry, the natural world, domestic life and urban environments are pashed together with no thought for how they blend (or not) together. Of course the more you listen to this recording, the more your ears and brain start to accept the unusual and random juxtapositions for what they are, and structures and links arise spontaneously in the music that are unique to it and to your ears. Other listeners will make their own associations. In this way, you’ll find your own supports in the music but they’ll be unique to you as a listener.

Listeners become aware of the environments in which they live and the detritus they unthinkingly leave behind. The lost and forgotten, the things that seem innocuous at first but which have serious consequences for us later on (things like plastic rubbish left on the ground, scooped up by the wind or washed through stormwater drains into the ocean where it might choke a sea animal that swallows it), the things we try to ignore or forget but which have a habit of annoying us and demanding our attention … Tarab scoops all these up into these five expansive and highly absorbing sound dramas.

Repeated spins of the album do eventually result in your finding yourself as a unique being, free of all past associations and structures. Isn’t that a paradox, that to know and find yourself, you have to be lost?

Contact: 23five Incorporated

Speaking Charms

From 25th October 2013, a bundle from Nick Hoffman sent from his Oregon address. This one was even sent in a decorated envelope, and the images of butterflies and bees have a certain charm to be sure, but given Hoffman’s “occultist” leanings they also have a faintly sinister hum to their translucent wings. No matter, I am confident he wouldn’t actively direct a curse against one of his biggest fans.

Primary item is blue and gold cassette by Coppice and it’s called Epoxy (PILGRIM TALK PT26) because, like glue, it sticks to everything and doesn’t melt under high temperatures. The A side, ‘A Defective Index’, apparently refers to the transfer process by which these cassette tapes are produced and indicates that “artifacts” may have crept into the finished product. This is a little vague; am I hearing something that’s the result of an accident, or have the accidents been used to distort the musical recordings in some way? Even “musical” might be stretching things somewhat in this context, but the printed notes do indicate that a series of performances took place in Chicago in 2011-2012, and that at least four people were involved. These were the vocalist Carol Genetti, the composer Sarah J Ritch, and the all-rounder Julia A Miller (composer, electronic music, guitarist, poet, and teacher). They are all Chicago-based, but the Icelandic flautist Berglin Tómasdóttir also took part. Their contributions to the composition ‘Seam’ are represented on the B side ‘A Refracted Index of “Seam” with Girls’. And there’s another reference to “indexing” which I don’t quite get, but I do like the way this mysterious project is gradually disappearing into a mist of hints and allusions. Lastly we give credit to Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer, who are the actual members of Coppice, and perform in Chicago using a combination of electronics and bellows, although here they’re content to credit themselves with “indexing and arrangement”. When these verbal layers have peeled away, we’re left with a fascinating tape of very curious sound art, verging on the cold and inhuman in its utter opacity, with peculiar gaps, distortions, false starts, and very irregular patterns. Clearly there’s a concern with keeping things simple, to a very radical degree. There’s also the sense that the music is being discovered as much as it’s being created. It would be a brave man who would want to guess how this strange music is being built, but it’s utterly compelling to hear. It’s a wild guess, but I think Coppice – and their four gifted collaborators – are somehow finding their way out of many of the cul-de-sacs of modern music, tentatively exploring new ways of playing and composing, subtracting the cult of personality and moving towards a genuinely collective, ego-less work. I’m not exactly sure what I am basing all this on, but hearing this remarkable music gives me high hopes and more confidence for the future.

Secondary item is a purple and green cassette by Double Morris called Best of the Hightone Years (PILGRIM TALK PT25). Duo of Aaron Zarzutzki and Morgan Bausman surprise everyone with these charming home-made guitar-based songs of alienation, boredom and disaffection. They surprised me at any rate, since when Zarzutzki teams up with Nick Hoffman he tends to generate some of the most “blank” and bewildering improvised music I have heard in my life. Double Morris’s tape is by no means blank, but it’s still teetering on the brink of a nameless psychological void. Some hallmarks of these very odd post-post stoner songs: (1) a vague resemblance to USA 1980s underground rock, e.g. Minutemen, Firehose, Dinosaur Jr, as if that genre were reinvented by Mongolian tribesmen after consuming opiates; (2) distortion and poor recording used to deliberately mask the lyrical content, though the precisely-calibrated sense of urban boredom is still detectable in the flat and weary singing voice; (3) no attention whatsoever paid to “rules” of song construction, so songs end up ridiculously truncated with no repeat sections or versification. It’s as though the writer ran out of things to say, or couldn’t be bothered to express them, or even to finish the song. Great! These are very strong qualities which already intrigue me, and I’m certain I will come to love them the more I listen to this tape.

Tertiary item is Bruiser (PILGRIM TALK PT28), a solo CDR by the very wonderful Nick Hoffman, a release which he has cloaked in quite elaborate fold-out packaging where each image, printed across 12 panels, stands alone and makes the wrapper feel like a piece of Fluxus artwork or a conceptual artist’s book, notwithstanding the familiar occult theme here represented by distressed images taken from a book of medieval woodcuts and printed in assorted colours. In fact it’s as if the Hexen DVD had been repackaged by George Maciunas. Musically, these 2008 recordings from Illinois (processed in Oregon in 2013) present a highly baffling tableau of process tones, which appear to have been produced exclusively by computer programming. Hoffman may want to stress the term ‘programming’ so as to differentiate his work from laptop music, a genre which is now ubiquitous and which, although it involves computers, does not necessarily require programming skills. Hoffman’s sound art here alternates between tracts of total gibberish (a computer babbling to itself in its own language), imperceptible yet menacing low hums, and a very harsh crunchy noise of a sort which only the broken and hacked digital toolkit can produce. I’m basing that assumption on most of the similar crunchy outputs I’ve heard from the New York label Copy For Your Records, which harbours many cruel sound-artists evidently bent on wreaking havoc with digital methods and abused machines. Come to that, the first three tracks of Bruiser could comfortably fit that label’s profile, with no loss of earnings for either party. The fourth long track, meanwhile, might also have found a home with Winds Measure Recordings; its pale-white (ghostly) understated tones and carefully layered textures have a pristine beauty that I think Ben Owen would appreciate. But the whole record has a dark side too; I can never put my finger on why, but I feel that each Hoffman release I hear is like a carefully-executed curse against the world, a wizard’s rune or a witch’s spell.

Ben Owen might also appreciate the presentation of Miguel Prado‘s 45RPM single, a lathe cut on clear plastic. Miguel Prado is a conceptual sound artist who I think uses the diary form as a means of documenting his own life and transforming the narrative into his ongoing artistic statement. In short, he’s making himself into his art. His Kempelen’s Lesson (On Voice And Tape) (PILGRIM TALK PT27 / HERESY 04) is the result of mangling and reshaping a spoken word tape, taking great liberties with altering the playback speed, mixing it with musical interludes, and subjecting the whole meshugana lump to even further distortions, in the way of wild edits, unexpected gaps, and other interpolations. The titles ‘Criptolalia’ and ‘Glossolalia-Laden’ refer (respectively) to the development of a private language, and to the act of “speaking in tongues” often associated with certain religious fundamentalists. It’s clear Prado isn’t out to present a lucid scientific lecture on these subjects, but rather to demonstrate them – through his extreme manipulation of the very same instruments and agencies which can be used for voice capture. Just another spoken-word item, you may think? Au contraire, mon brave. This is one of the most chilling instances we’ve encountered in the genre; the whole record just sounds grisly and monstrous. It, like almost everything heard in this bundle, has left me with a vague discomforting chill which has endured for hours.

Pictured: Back Magic‘s Blood Plaza, previously noted here.

Microsolci

august207

I am delighted to own another highly eccentric item from Ezio Piermattei, the mysterious and absurdist Italian composer / musician from Bologna who memorably dislocated my brain-pan with two of his far-out albums in 2012, which he released under the aliases of Hum Of Gnats and poisucevamachenille. Now reinventing himself yet again as Autopugno, he serves up two further crazed tape collages on Carpa Cavernosa (NO LABEL CDR). Unlike those two previous mind-zonkers which did feature performed music and acoustic instruments, this album appears to have been realised with just magnetic tape, microphones, and effects – which makes it all the more impressive. Piermattei steps up to the plate and spews out a baffling range of mouth-music in the manner of Henri Chopin at his most demented, sputtering, coughing, spitting and grunting into the recording device, making multiple overdubs and edits of these oral eruptions, and assembling the results into an insane, scrambled, non-musical nightmare of semi-human proportions. Clever editing is used to fragment everything into tiny portions of nonsensical weirdness, and nutsoid elements are stacked on top of each other to hasten your dispatch to Bedlam. There’s also some metallic percussion clatterments, which likewise follow the illogical patterns which the creator demands. Each piece is edited and structured so as to present many inexplicable pauses and breaks, so that the listener is in a constant state of bewilderment, wondering what we’re hearing and what’s coming next.

While superficially this album may appear understated and slightly less “wild” than those two crazed predecessors, I suspect it’s informed by the same undercurrent of fractured thinking and deranged imagination, such that your sense of normality will soon be sapped and replaced by a warped, distorted view of reality, as surely as if you exchanged your eyeballs with those of a mad loon from the bughouse. Put simply, the record is not rooted in reality; apart from a few instances of “found tapes” and brief passages where voices are recognisably babbling in Italian, Carpa Cavernosa occupies its own indescribable sound world. I’m personally delighted that Ezio sends us this material, and am even more delighted by his refusal to explain anything – no letters, no press release, no album notes, no website. Silence and exile – it’s the best way, especially if you’re about to purchase a one-way ticket to the rubber room. From 31 October 2013. Limited to 50 copies; no idea how you can get hold of a copy.

Hum Of Gnats Review
poisucevamachenille review

august208

Climatologies Old and New

RN151_front1

Emptyset
Recur
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 151 CD (2013)

More masterful manoeuvring through interstitial zones of perennial instability where explosive power is condensed into potential energy and refashioned into new refinements of Emptyset’s unmistakeable dystopian techno. Even the introduction section – so commonly the dilettante’s excuse for a lie-in – affects Poseidon’s shockwave stride across a sandpaper beach. But belabouring neither the science nor the scientism behind such feats, the pair pares down all data to the point of obliqueness and lets the music do the stalking.

‘Recur’ alludes both to an impersonality – that of a natural occurrence – and elements of Emptyset’s MO: their return to Raster Noton (and to form) after their Collapsed 12” for the label in 2012, as well as the increasingly divergent orbit of their off-kilter tempos: perpetual rhythmic derailment by great white noise blasts; the tug of super-gravity on the radiant thrum of nightmare factories. The sonic possibilities may not be endless, but destructive ones are. Plus it sounds fantastic when the paper shredder’s going.

Quite averse to re-inhabiting a familiar coordinate, the hull-breaching heard hitherto is hinted at here as part of an upwardly mobile theme and variation exercise: ‘Fragment’ – to choose just once – makes this clear through the application of alternating modalities to their signature arrhythmic bursts. You may think you’ve heard this before, but listen more closely. One clear and significant differential to earlier work appears when Recur is weighed against their earlier LP, Medium, with power accruing unequivocally to the newcomer. This provides optimism for the power-up potential of future releases: (as scarcely imaginable as is that that their work could permit further refinement) which could assume increasingly diminutive proportions as Emptyset’s craft approaches singularity state.

IMG149

emiter
air/field/feedback
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO072 CD (2014)

Initial impressions of Polish sound artist Marcin Dymiter’s Emiter project were of Emptyset steamrolled to a steaming hiss; mechanised rhythms forsaken for more organic emanations: misshapen bulbs and tendrils sprouting from shocks of black gas that unbalance and subsume the unwary over the course of four extended pieces; the sum truly towering over the mire of so much whine-fed peer work.

I was quickly surprised to learn that Dymiter also purveys post-rock plangency as Niski Szum, whose maudlin marathon of many dour landscapes: Siedem Piesni Miejskich, I recently enjoyed reviewing. Though the sad guitar is stored in case for the time being, Air – Field – Feedback expresses a similarly peripatetic spirit: drawing the listener through subtly differing phases of the night sky, which is liable to erupt in sudden chaotic events (the titular ‘feedback’ in other words) to distract the ear from more subtle tonal changes that signal transition. The listener might not even notice for minutes at a time the extent of their drift from their last known location.

Emiter’s sources are the traditional elements: wind and sea being two components in this meteorological tapestry of varied quality recordings that interact aloofly; remaining crisp and distinct amid a climate that alternates between beatific and brutally clear. As is his wont, Dymiter carefully adorns all this with electronic pulses, textures, clippings, cuttings, blasts, drones and surging whines; adding up to an even signal-to-noise ratio and a relaxing listen that will still prevent passivity.

Blue Baroque

AUG203

It’s been about five years since we heard from the Scottish sound artist Brian Lavelle, when he released Ustrina on the Italian AFE Records label, a record which seemed to perceive the simple forest canopy as the gateway to a spiritual experience. He’s here now with My Hands Are Ten Knives (QUIET WORLD FORTY TWO), a title which may have led you to expect a slicing attack of sonic violence or at least some impression of “sharp edges” in the sound, as befits this Edward Scissorhands-styled description. Instead, Lavelle offers a hypnotic ambient drone with rather soft beguiling edges, but also one with remarkably opaque and near-mystical qualities, and a hard core of rigid concentration at the centre. As we listen we can glance with one eye at his processes, which usually involve blending the textures from field recordings with electronic tones and electric guitar music, but that doesn’t begin to account for this haunting sense of the other-worldly. After just 30 minutes, the patient listener is rewarded with a harmonic epiphany that seems to resolve the secretiveness of the work’s first half. The mystical enigma is not exactly explained away, but we can perceive its contours better. I’d be interested now to hear his record from 2000 called How To Construct a Time Machine which was released by Bake Records in the Netherlands. Indeed that particular item was one of the faves of Mr Quiet World, who released this. Lavelle has also done collaborations with the uncategorisable musician Richard Youngs, and others groups such as Space Weather and Fougou, besides running two labels techNOH and Dust, Unsettled. From 17 September 2013.

AUG202

Through the Mysterious Barricade at Holysloot, Holland (QUIET WORLD FORTY SIX) is an astonishing record of powerful piano improvisations by the American Fluxus composer Philip Corner. As I glance at some of the records we’ve received in recent years when his name comes up, I’m amazed at the depth and breadth of Corner’s remarkable achievements. Member of a group called Tone Roads in the 1960s with Malcolm Goldstein and Charlie Morrow. Experimenter with gamelan forms to produce long-form minimal metal percussion pieces. Using calligraphic methods he learned from a Korean expat to create graphical scores of great character. Notorious deconstructer of a piano at a Fluxus event in Germany. I also refer you to T. Shrubsole’s excellent research he conducted for this review. To this list of achievements we clearly have to add the gift of “free improvisation”, but once again even that genre or style of playing has been co-opted and made by Corner into something joyous, something non-academic, replete with spiritual richness, in short something uniquely his own. With the first 38-minute piece, I’m intrigued by the spiky beginnings and bold glissandoes as Corner waves his hands over the open strings inside the piano, then I’m overwhelmed by the powerful block chords and fortissimo-pedal effects that he strikes when the music really picks up its pace, and becomes a delirious and passionate meditation with an intense, thickly-clotted sound full of resonating notes and sympathetic vibrations…haven’t heard the likes since Charlemagne Palestine nearly vibrated a grand piano apart on stage at the LMC Festival in London…the power of this non-stop barrage simply increases in intensity, almost becoming violent with stamps and thuds, and only gradually subsiding into a quieter mode where we can once again hear the birdsong through the open window and the creaks on the floor of this home-made recording…a terrifying beauty…Well, Corner’s been doing this particular series of piano improvisations for many years, for his own personal reasons too deep to fathom. Apparently he bases the structure of each improvisation on a composition by Francois Couperin, a baroque tune which is eventually revealed as the “code” of the work when he quotes it (in this instance, not until 30 minutes into the work). These two pieces, recorded in 1989 and 1992, were made in the home of his unwell brother, a fact which may or may not add to the emotional intensity of the works. Quiet World can feel proud of this remarkable release, issued as a signed limited edition item (at any rate, Corner has provided signed business cards for insertion) although it’s not the first time Corner has been released on this label.

Collapsing

JK

Many aspects there be to Things Fall Apart (HERBAL INTERNATIONAL CONCRETE DISC 1302), a record by Jason Kahn documenting his live activities at a performance space in Zurich from April 2013. The first records I heard from Kahn showcased his brittle and crisp percussion work in various performing and collaborative improvisation contexts, but he’s since widened his ambitions and become a sound artist and composer. Here, there’s plenty of percussion work for sure, and also electronic sounds (quite primitive ones, perhaps generated by his magnetic coil and speaker setup), amplified and non-amplified vocalising experiments, noisy buzzes produced by a short-wave radio set, and non-musical sounds produced by non-musical objects, such as plastic bags which rustle about in a compellingly mysterious manner.

These approaches are offered up as stand-alone episodes in the suite. But the record also documents his use of the room, which from his description appears to be the ideal space guaranteed to delight the heart of any electro-acoustic performer – the floors and ceiling of the Kunstraum Walcheturm are made of wood, it’s a large space, and “the floor creaks tremendously when one walks over it”. In short the acoustics are very warm and wet. Without doubt Kahn is “playing” the room throughout, and no more so than on track two simply called ‘Im Raum’ where he appears to be dragging tables or chairs across the floor, thereby staging a two-minute impromptu recreation of La Monte Young’s ‘Poem for Chairs, Tables, Benches, etc’.

Kahn’s exasperated sleeve notes document his misadventures trying to stage the performance in the first place, where the whole evening was almost ruined by a litany of unfortunate mishaps and sonic intrusions, and to some degree the piece represents his triumph as he snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, where The Enemy are represented by wedding parties, horses and carriages, and disco music. The title refers to a personal philosophy he’s carried around with him since his studies at SOAS in 1981, inspired by reading a novel of this title by Chinua Achebe. From 15 October 2013.

Cold Comfort

IMG147

Various
Vernacular
JAPAN WHEREABOUTS RECORDS WHACD-13 (2013)

Cold comfort is afforded in great measure by this tasteful survey of introspective sound art: fifteen furtive, frippery-forsaking fffffenquiries that collectively resemble a handbook on obscure natural textures, from thick and oily to seabed-dredged. With a line up that features Janek Schaefer, Lawrence English and their justly esteemed ilk, it bears familial resemblance to Virgin’s Isolationism collection, though is a good deal more polished than that rough-hewn basalt milestone, which these days sounds charmingly of its time. Track titles are a similarly predictable but pleasant blend of the obvious (‘Tenebrae’), utilitarian (‘Animate Structures #2′) and oblique (‘Extra Ordinary, Extra Regular’).

The term ‘Vernacular’ suggests both a linguistic and architectural locality, which is fulfilled in spirit and deed through the sourcing of sound and context in the fifteen artists’ home countries. Why one and all chose to express these associations so dourly merits consideration, but such is their stock-in-trade I suppose. This isn’t intended as a criticism: there is a palpable richness in the range of ‘dark ambient’ methodologies herein: from earthy field recordings to a handsome turnout of aching, treated strings, most notably on Hior Chronik’s arresting opener ‘Sketches of You’.Someone who has yet to disappoint me: Yves De Mey’s cauldron of electrickery ‘Lower Fracs’ sheds the bpm and shreds the night sky into crackling tatters. Another standout, Kenneth Kirschner’s ‘July 10, 2012’ finds a frail piano improvisation (reminiscent of the playing on ‘Drukqs’) that barely manages to wrest itself from a quicksand of fading memories. Among disc two’s higher quotient of naturalistic and elemental pieces, the refreshing audio postcard of Jos Smolders’ ‘Vangsaa: Revisited’ (a remote coastal spot in Northern Denmark) virtually deafens ears with sea spray.

I could go on, but truth be told, while bleak of countenance there’s nary a dull moment on here. And though for many an adventurous collection it will not be (a tough call these days), both the pedigree and provenance of this fine round-up should inspire many a calming interior monologue; one to which I’ll certainly be retiring for time to come.

Fragments Shored against my Ruins

JULY197

Lucrecia Dalt‘s Syzygy (HUMAN EAR MUSIC HEMK0032) comes across as a record that’s trying to tell me something; it’s studded with written texts, short mysterious paragraphs, not only in the gatefold interior of the cover but printed on the CD disk, and on the tiny cover sticker which asks me “are you in a hurry?”, in a faintly chiding tone. The opening track title ‘Glossolalia’ also clues you into a preoccupation with the spoken word, and when playing with the printed text she chooses to print her track titles backwards on the cover, and provide her name in embossed form; one step away from the Braille text which appeared on the back cover of Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway. So far, no opportunity has been wasted to keep the meaning of the text at arm’s length; Emily Dickinson could have done no better. Even her website is likewise served up as disjointed fragments, short texts and disjunctive images inviting us to follow clues and dig into deeper meanings, and she makes more allusions per square inch than the complete works of Jorge Luis Borges.

JULY198

I’m not here to pass on any deeper understanding from today’s listen, but the record is oddly compelling in a very gentle and mysterious manner; Dalt makes sparing use of instrumentation such as muffled keyboards, synths, and acoustic guitars, to build fragile structures which her voice inhabits like a fleeting phantom floating past on floorboards greased with candle wax (viz. Lewis Carroll’s Phantasmagoria). This sonic world, like a more avant version of Kate Bush crossed with Virginia Astley or Enja, is the perfect white-walled and heavily carpeted arena for her disjunctive fragments of text to thrive. Is she even a singer? Half of the time she’s delivering a spoken-word recit, and doing so in breathy whispers that occlude the text still further. While you may not notice the impact of her work at once, I feel sure that it will manifest itself weeks later when you find yourself scrutinising a text printed in a foreign language, and suddenly find you can understand half of it by the sheer power of intuition. This unique item was recorded in Barcelona, though apparently the artist was born in Columbia. I would guess she’s made a virtue of solitude, contemplation, and exile, and that’s going to be her lifetime’s work. Interested listeners may which to investigate her previous release for this label, Commotus, or her debut album Congost. Received this one in October 2013.

JULY199

Amulet: the deep and the commonplace in mystery ceremony revealed by iPhone recordings

1391283160_cover

Oren Ambarchi, Amulet, The Tapeworm, cassette TTW 65 (2014)

Korean director Chanwook Park made a short movie not long ago using a cameraphone so it was only a matter of time before a musician made an album with an iPhone. The surprise is that of all people I can think of who might do it first, Oren Ambarchi should have been the one. (Though he may have been preceded by others and I just haven’t noticed.) This is a really intriguing effort from Ambarchi: it’s an ambient soundscape, sometimes industrial-sounding, that includes what field recordings, whirring cymbals and other percussion or intrusive background noises that he opted to leave in.

In spite of its fairly short length, the recording seems expansive and blackly cavernous. We start with sharp metallic drone and buzz rolling across a huge flat plain in pitch-dark atmosphere on Side A. A rhythm of sorts is established with a loop of mechanical dolly clicks and there are other little noise effects that tinkle and thrum. The work or parts thereof must have been done live as indicated by audience applause somewhere in the middle of Side A of the cassette.

On Side B, the fragments of delicate metallic bell, gong and chime along with a quiet background and the static nature of the music, suggestive of a soundscape snapshot, give the impression of an ongoing mysterious ritual. You end up concentrating so closely that your mind becomes completely entranced and for a brief while you become part of the scene. Whichever side is played, and depending perhaps on the frame of mind you’re in, whether you’re tired and need soothing or you are just curious, the atmosphere can be quite intense and your anticipation of what might come with the drones keeps you hooked. A motor stutter vibration helps to concentrate your mind as well.

Anyone who is familiar with Ambarchi’s activities and the musical company he’s been keeping over the years might see the two sides of the cassette as representing the polar opposites his music has often straddled - Side A is very black and sinister, and Side B is tranquil – and the cassette and vinyl 7″ formats certainly lend themselves to such an interpretation more so than if the music had been released as a mini-CD. So I’d caution TSP readers not to allow a little knowledge about Ambarchi’s history and the choice of music format to influence their listening experience too much.

I don’t know how familiar Ambarchi is with recording music on his iPhone, if this is something very novel for him and if he will continue recording in this way on occasion, so I’m prepared to give him some leeway with the loose free-form structure of the music. The editing in parts can be crude – that audience applause cuts out very sharply – and any beginnings and endings are determined by the cassette format and the length of the tape. Had the musician and the label thought of the idea at the time, this music might suit a Moebius-trip cassette format, to be played continuously according to the whim of the listener.

Savage Pencil provides the odd(eye)ball cover artwork which plays up the voyeuristic role that the listener is forced into, in listening to this music that might serve as accompaniment to a secret ritual or ceremony. Whether the ceremony is a long drawn-out process involving animal sacrifices or just one’s bed-time routine being read to by a preschooler eager to show off by making up stories about a moon-worshipping rabbit family s/he sees in the picture-book, “Amulet” will be an ideal mystery backdrop. There’s something of the profound and the commonplace in these recordings.

Contact: The Tapeworm 

Polarlicht: giving us soothing low-key ambient electronic soundscapes

polar-digi-shop

Monolyth & Cobalt, Polarlicht, Time Released Sound, CD TRS041 (2014)

In spite of its name which translates from German into English as “Polar Light” and the artwork of cracking ice viewed from above, this recording is not really much of a cold and forbidding Ice Age ambient soundscape opus to be filed in among other Arctically or Antarctically inspired works; it turns out to be a slow, relaxing and gently immersive journey through glitch electronica worlds sculpted by one Mathias Van Eecloo, the man behind Monolyth & Cobalt. The recording was made in Brittany over a period of some 18 months from April 2012 to October 2013.

There may be allusions to maritime exploration on the album and the fact that the work was recorded in Brittany – an area with connections to the sea – might have some significance. “Blooming Stones” sets the tone releasing this listener to drift on gentle grey seas with rhythmic bell chimes and something of a slow undulating sea-shanty melody.  The tracks conjure up quiet landscapes of muted grey or light sandy colours where the sea raises barely more than a murmur of white wave froth and washes blue-grey up pale beaches. Even the skies are a restful pale blue colour. Not much happens and we are whisked from one track to the next to inspect new low-key soundscapes.

Track 4 promises to be a bit more interesting than previous pieces with a mechanical rhythm loop and some off-kilter noises suggesting all’s not quite calm and serene, and any moment we may run across some rusted toys or machines still able to play a melody after years of disuse and deterioration. Following after is a track where instruments seem to be more recognisable yet still unidentifiable – there could be a banjo in the music – and a sighing siren vocal is present as well. As the album progresses, the music broadens to include acoustic guitar, harmonica (or something very like it), violin and field recordings or found monologue in tracks like “Et Ces Arbres” and “Verhaal”.

The most interesting track on the whole album turns out to be “Birds (Are Some Holes in the Sky Through a Man can Pass)” which features some beautifully resonant string instruments, one of them possibly a harp or a zither, delicately trilling against a seesaw rhythm.

True, the general tone of the album rarely rises above mildly stimulating and the criticism could be made that the whole recording is just too mild and placid to hold most people’s attention. Sooner or later, someone will start wishing for something pacey and exciting, like a great white shark lurking in the unassuming grey sea. Folks with short attention spans will drift away leaving a few willing to follow Van Eecloo and to let him take his own time describing the vistas before them.

It doesn’t really matter that I fail to see the polar connection this music makes: it’s very soothing, low-key and minimal, and there are some interesting acoustic surprises in later tracks that add individuality and a distinct folksy flavour.

Contact: Time Released Sound