Tagged: sound art

Tales of the Riverbank

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

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

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

We Are Glass

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I have never seen Lucas Abela perform his notorious act with the sheets of glass, but now you can purchase a short 45 RPM 12-inch recording of this remarkable phenomenon on Popped In The Head All The Time Now (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR108), which was released under his Justice Yeldham alias. The press notes describe the method by which this Australian wild-fellow uses sheets of glass, salvaged perhaps from building sites or derelict factories, adds contact mics, feeds them through electronic effects, and then blows with all his might against the surface of the glass with his lips. In fact, the process is likened here to playing a trumpet, albeit in an extremely limited way; like a trumpeter who gets as far as forming the embouchure, then applies it to anything other than a trumpet. If you listen closely enough to the feral, inhuman sounds on this slab of vinyl, you can derive some information that connects it to a human action – a bit like a doting father blowing raspberries on the tummy of their baby, only exaggerated and rendered into an extremely grotesque form by means of amplification and distortion. As music, it sounds somehow constrained and constipated, in spite of the fizzing emotion and agitation which has fed into it. A reserve of energy without an adequate outlet, a steam kettle that is perpetually on the boil, with no valve for release, not even a whistle. I suspect the truth is that it’s not exclusively the sound that matters, and you really need to witness Abela cavorting physically on stage to get the full effect, and I leave it to you (or your imagination) to retrieve yarns and anecdotes about this, many of which wallow in the violence and the bloodshed. Although it’s likely that’s all in the past now. When I did see him live in London in 1999, he performed using turkey skewers with phono cartridges on the end, which he stuck into his mouth with ferocious abandon. Are you a musician, or a performance artist? I asked him afterwards. “Entertainer,” he replied firmly. “I don’t like to put any luggage with it!” He was at pains to stress than he wanted people to like him and his act, so worked hard to shed any notion that he might be a boring, worthy, serious-minded performance artist. I suppose growly and abrasive noise records like this one can only be an appendage to the visceral mess of his live act, but this beast is still worth owning and spinning as needed. From January 2013, 300 copies only.

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The LP MuLTiLiNGuaL SaD SoNGS, WeiRD JoKeS aND eXPeRiMeNTaL STuFF FoR uSe By GRoWN-uP CHiLDReN (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR118) by BeNe GeSSeRiT is an indescribable mix of vocal experiments mingled with musical interludes, performed by the husband and wife team of Alain Neffe and Nadine Bal, who call themselves B. Ghola and Benedict G. respectively. These Belgian creators are well respected in the international Industrial / experimental music world with a string of releases going back to 1981; matter of fact some of this material dates back to the 1980s and 1990s, and has been previously released on the Falling Dreams CD on Opcion Sonica and the Norwegian Schizofrene Festsamler compilation cassette, although this is the first US release for th’ tracks. I’d situate it in the area of text/sound art with a vague New Wave feel; it’s all about mangling the spoken word. English, French and Japanese tongues are reduced to atomic particles and reassembled into dribbling nonsense, and both performers affect annoying high-pitched speaking voices and Monty Python-esque inflections to add further barriers to our understanding. One track title suggests that the Surrealists’ “Exquisite Corpse” method may have been used at composition stage, but one doesn’t sense anything like the controlled dreamlike mayhem that a cut-up approach might have introduced to the experiments. To accompany the vocal recits, we hear half-baked melodies played on synths, accordions, guitars, or music boxes; many of these tunes are palpably sarcastic in the way they imitate the sort of Euro-bland background music I’d imagine gets played in French and Belgian shopping malls. This dumbed-down approach betokens a degree of snide contempt for the listener; they’re treating us like children. I’m trying hard to regard this as a serious sound poetry LP, but it’s lightweight; it has none of the attack or coherence of Henri Chopin or Paul de Vree. I’m afraid I find virtually nothing to recommend in this silly record.

Common Bloop

Another odd package received from Tape Noise which arrived here 2nd September 2013. We’ve had a number of these over the years, most recently noted by Darren Wyngarde in a review which also brought forth a supportive comment from one Belle Blue, calling our attention to the unique position occupied by Tape Noise and his community art venue ‘No 10 Decimal Place’. For this latest bundle, Tape Noise sent us a couple of CDRs instead of cassette tapes. The usual practice, if I understand it correctly, is that each cassette tape exists in an edition of one single copy, made available for sale on eBay, under the series “ONeOFF”. These mini-CDRs also have hand-made covers, hand-decorations on the disc surface made with a Sharpie pen and with little attempt to conceal the brand of CDR. The contents, when spun, are likewise pretty inscrutable; low key murmurings, ill-defined events, field recordings that aren’t much more than eavesdropping, bizarre poetry recits, distant droney grumbling…nothing is explained, no context is given, no “track titles” or anything so boringly conventional. Not much to listen to; hardly anything to hear. I’m slowly beginning to get the sense that Tape Noise releases are about as non-musical / anti-art as it’s possible to be.

That said, there is in fact a wealth of contextual detail in the enclosed hand-written letter from Mr Tape Noise (decorated with his own doodles and drawings supplied by his young daughter), which identifies CD 1 as Common Bloop and CD2 as The Cabbage; and now that I look more closely, I can see these titles are indeed written in brio on the covers, in very small handwriting. According to these annotations, The Cabbage “starts with a live recording from a Weird Garden gig in Lincoln at Decimal Place…where a few people from up here have put together some experimental music events. Pete Rollings has helped a lot. I shall see if I can send more of his stuff to you. The other two steam engine field recordings were done in Norfolk from Yaxam and they are un-edited as I always find it so easy to lose the original quality of the recording once you start messing about with it.” I think these statements should persuade you of the seriousness of Tape Noise’s intent, and there are numerous clues provided as to his defining aesthetic.

Further indications are given in another enclosure, this one written in red ink on top of printouts from eBay pages. Here the creator reflects on the place of art in the marketplace, what “publication” actually means in 2014, how art may tend to be defined by those who buy it as much as those who create it, and what happens to the buyer and seller in the process. He positions all of this in the context of social media, mobile phones, and the web, which he claims have “really shaped the way people interact, with regard to selling their second hand goods and home made stuff, with both positive and negative attributes…it is worthy of investigation I think.” He illustrates the trend of his arguments with a diagram which proposes the marketplace as a three-tier structure, comprising Cloud Street, the High Street, and the Underground. A ruler at the side of this chart indicates some form of metric. Notice how the Underground layer contains skulls and bones within the measurable portion of the diagram, yet there seems to be even further activity taking place at a much lower level – a level which evades the scale, and is quite literally “off the map”. I have included numerous scans and photos, for the curious reader to investigate further. Suffice to say this project is asking quite pointed questions about the fugitive and intangible nature of art, yet doing so through a continuous (and presumably quite prolific) stream of tangible product.

Churches Schools and Guns: minimal electronic soundtrack to a techno-dystopia

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Lucy, Churches Schools and Guns, Stroboscopic Artefacts, SACD005 (2014)

No, “Lucy” isn’t a woman in case you’re wondering: it’s a solo project by Berlin-based producer / DJ / sound designer Luca Mortellaro who also owns the label Stroboscopic Artefacts. “Churches Schools and Guns” is the quirky title of this offering of dark and slightly sinister minimal techno-dub whose central theme might be a futuristic survey of a dysfunctional society addicted to paranoid technological visions amplified and manipulated by media designed to mirror and reflect back to us our deepest phobias in order to keep us all afraid of one another and so prevent our revolt against the forces oppressing us. I confess that initially when I got this album, I thought it should have said “Churches Schools Post Offices and Guns” but that would have suggested a more particular vision peculiar to societies where “going postal” means something more than popping a letter or a parcel into the mail-box.

Though divided into 12 tracks, the music is best heard as a continuous soundtrack of deep space techno-ambient rhythms. Individual tracks, while they may contain some interesting sounds, rhythms and audio-textures, turn out to be very repetitive and (in the second half of the album) monotonous, unable to advance much further than the initial rhythm and beat loops. While early tracks set down definite atmosphere and mood of an ambiguous and slightly malevolent nature, delineating the start of a tour of the future global panopticon where consumers of manufactured experience huddle in their cells, afraid to look outside, the tracks in the later half of the album seem less confident and the early strong direction dissipates.

Some tracks are very distinctive by virtue of machine-like rhythms (“Laws and Habits” which might suggest that the regulations and conventions we have are our jailers), crisp crackly pulsation beats (“Follow the Leader” which also features a very creepy throat-singing sample loop) or a robot vocal (“Leave Us Alone”). “We Live as We Dream” seems a hopeful track though the title itself suggests a double-edge sword: our dreams are all that sustain us but they might well be more nightmare than dream.

Ultimately though this album promises a lot, it doesn’t quite reach its potential as a soundtrack to an imaginary dystopian techno-world. I’m hoping Lucy’s follow-up work will take up where this one leaves off as I think Lucy could work itself into a niche of very dark ambient minimalist techno soundscape art not reliant on dance beats and rhythms.

Contact: Stroboscopic Artefacts

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 3 of 3

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Reuben Son gives us an unassuming brace of acoustic guitar pieces on Days Gone By (WAGTAIL RECORDS 003). That title is a very close match to Volume VI of the early works of John Fahey, and Reuben’s use of the plural term “guitar soli” links directly to another Takoma star, Robbie Basho, who used the exact same words on his album covers. This Boston musician also performs electronic music and does interesting sound manipulations, and anyone who’s a friend of Eli Keszler and Ashley Paul (the latter also designed the cover for this release) is welcome in this house. There’s a very honest and direct sound on these two recordings from 2010 and 2011, but I wish I could find more substance to them than the vague fuzzy-nostalgic charm that resides in the surface. The playing is slow, and feels hesitant. While there is some intimacy to the work, and even a little drama on side B, the abiding impression given by this music is sadly rather sketchy and aimless. Edition of 230 copies, from September 2012.

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The Santarcangelo (SPÈCULA 001) record is a split EP of sound art featuring Teho Teardo on one side and JG Thirlwell on the flip. I found it plays best at 33, though this is one of those releases which fails to print the necessary information anywhere on the cover or labels, a matter which is a source of continual irritation for me with seven-inches. Both works are linked by their exploration of a cavernous space in this historic Italian town, a space which Teardo describes as “a long hole under the town” and Thirlwell calls “a cavern tunnelled into the side of the mountain”. I was intrigued by this, and find that this interesting Italian city is in fact “built over a network of beautiful, mysterious caves” according to one tourist website, and “the entire Hill of Jupiter is criss-crossed by over a hundred tunnels.” To produce interesting sound-art in these resonant spaces was the challenge presented to the Italian Teardo and the Australian Thirlwell, both of which have been associated with noisy rock music, in the form of Meatball and Foetus. Teardo’s ‘Oh Hook’ ropes in the cello work of Martina Bertoni and the singing voice of Chiara Guidi; with them by his side, he strummed his baritone guitar in the grotto space to produce a testing work made of echoing strings, whose forlorn sounds will haunt you until judgement day. What’s impressive is that he spent a full three days in the grotto, and the sounds we hear are edited highlights from that self-confinement episode. Thirlwell’s ‘Ecclesiophobia’ has a lot more going on than the A side’s bleak minimalism, and in fact represents an extremely elaborate sound installation he performed there, involving water dripping on a bass drum in the caverns, a loudspeaker setup, and another external performance space where he manipulated his bell-like sounds mingled with field recordings of church bells. This piece – composed in Santarcangelo and later reprocessed at his Brooklyn studios – is extremely imaginative and immersive, conveying a sense of claustrophobia simply through the accretions of sound and remorseless loops. Both Thirlwell and Teardo get to and from the same place, more or less; it’s just that Teardo does it by bouncing exploratory string-plucked sounds off the walls to see what responses he gets in return. Conversely Thirlwell is imposing his own personal “fear of churches”, which is what the title translates to, implying that the caverns under the town were dungeons, the site of “nefarious operations”. I can’t imagine that Thirlwell has any sympathy whatsoever for the aims of the Catholic church, hence his use of church bell sounds is not just ironic – he actively turns them into threatening agents of destruction, fear, and terror. From August 2011.

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Another meeting of Japan’s finest screecher Junko and French guitarist Michel Henritzi is documented on Fear Of Music / Berlin With Love (L’ESPRIT DE L’ESCALIER LELE 01). These two studio recordings from 2012 aren’t so much prime examples of improvisation, but about combination of the sounds they make, Junko’s animalistic cries whimpering in a shrill high register, while the guitar occupies a mid-level range with semi-tuneful strums and riffs. Henritzi’s sound, to me, is always redolent of melancholy and decay; rarely more so than here, where his guitar has a terminal case of the mournful blues and makes a steady plaint against the sorrows of the world. Combined, the sound of the two players cuts directly into the heart of mankind, with an almost unbearable honesty.

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 2 of 3

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From Norway, we have a single by Mummu which is a team-up between Skrap and Ich Bin N!ntendo. Skrap are the two women Anja Lauvdal and Heiða Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck who make quite a nice low-frequency and subtle drone music out of tuba and synth, while the trio of Nergaard, Winther and Heibo are capable of puking out a form of spiky high-energy noise-rock with their guitar-bass-drum setup that is appropriate to almost any musical situation, as their recording with Mats Gustafsson will testify. Both bands also have at least one CD album to their name on this label. On Mitt Ferieparadis (VA FONGOOL VAFLPS001), we have an A side ‘Feda Bru’ which is incredibly restrained, and a much more fiery B side ‘Logatunellen’. You might be more drawn to the riotous and anarchic free playing on ‘Logatunellen’, which is louder, thicker, and almost has a beat that you could frisk to, but somehow the energy feels neutered, blocked. There’s a lot more to be said for ‘Feda Bru’, even though it appears hesitant and uncertain at first spin. I would guess that Lauvdal and Mobeck are quietly dominating this session, while the three rockin’ guys are reining themselves in and acting on their best behaviour. It sometimes takes more discipline to play with this degree of restraint than it does to blast out an amplified blurt, and this does show up on the recording in the form of a seething tension that’s so sharp you could put it in a jamjar. The cover art was concocted by all five musicians with the help of Torstein L. Larsen; it looks like a primary school art mural, except it’s spiked with four-letter words, riddles, and slightly rude sexual images poking about in amongst all the incoherent dribbly visual anarchy. No idea when we got this one but it was released in 2013.

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White Star Line (FARPOINT RECORDINGS fp042) – the label and artist would prefer it printed as White * Line – is a piece of sound art by the Irish electro-acoustic artist Danny McCarthy from Cork. He’s attempting to make some sort of statement about RMS Titanic and the White Star Line shipping company; since Cobh in Cork was the final port of call of the doomed ship, it has historical significance. McCarthy visited the harbour there and made some field recordings using hyrdophones (underwater microphones) from the very same pier trodden by the feet of passengers who originally made their way on board, before sailing off to meet their doom. If the cover photograph has any verisimilitude, said pier is now just a skeleton of decaying timbers. It doesn’t actually take a great deal of research to find this information out, and there’s a “historic experience” museum at Cobh which was established in January 2012 and is probably proving very popular as a school outing. McCarthy’s approach is to combine his watery field recordings with low-key electronic sounds, and I think there may be some post-processing on the finished work. What results is to my ears some rather dull process sound, a lot of static and whirr combined with little bubbles, and ultimately rather irritating sonically. However, there’s an added poignancy to the fact that he made the recordings on a date that coincides exactly with the centenary of the tragic event. And the cover images are strangely moving; the lone pigeon sitting there on the ruin of the pier in a rather forlorn stance is quite touching. And at least one listener claims to hear the voices of drowned souls in this record, or at least an imaginative suggestion of same. However, compared to Gavin Bryars’ grand-scale work The Sinking of the Titanic, this under-resourced and attenuated statement is not much more than a footnote. Arrived 3rd June 2013.

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I always enjoy the playful singles released by Jos Moers on his Belgian-Dutch Meeuw Muzak label. The one by Harry Merry, Australian Sun (MEEUW MUZAK 042), is no exception – and like others in the roster, it’s melodic, has a catchy beat, and is eccentric to the point of near-daftness. Merry was born in Rotterdam and professes his love of vinyl singles, attracted as much to the sensuous colours of the labels as he was to the music he heard when he was a child growing up in the 1970s. He’s a keyboard player and pianist, and while he usually plays a Roland synth, this particular record is instead accompanied by a Belgian barrel organ. There’s a small colour photo of this beast in the press release, and it’s a shame we couldn’t get a picture on the record sleeve. In design terms, it’s a truly ghastly piece of Mittel-European gingerbread. How was the jaunty, cornball music that emanates from its pipes put into service of this quirky piece of post-punk music, with its cryptical layered lyric about the threats to global ecology, and the stiffly mannered but irresistible singing voice of Harry Merry? The answer is, I think, that the music – originally composed by Harry Merry and Ilhem Sabih – had to be rendered into “book music”, a late Victorian storage system for mechanical organs, which comprises holes punched into thick pieces of card. The pieces of card are folded into a zig-zag book, and fed into the mechanical organ. Elbert Pluer assisted with the production of the “orgelboek”, while Adrie Vergeer provided the instrument, Tom Meijer did the arrangement, and Martin Luiten did the mix. The B side contains a delightful instrumental version, allowing you to hear the sheer craft that has gone into the production of the mechanical music. You can keep your Conlon Nancarrow…it’s about time for a revival of this near-obsolete music production method! The A side is a stroke of sheer genius. If nothing else, the fusion of the lyric’s cadences with the music is little short of incredible; the ungainly phrasing of the musical composition dovetails with the words in ways that are continually surprising, like a little miniature wooden cabinet with ingeniously hinged flaps and drawers. A meeting of the old and the new, the square and the hip. A brilliant piece of offbeat pop, and a tiny miracle enacted in just over three minutes. From 21 November 2012.

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 1 of 3

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Last heard from Trophy Wife with their eponymous EP from 2011…here they are now with Stella, My Star (PRIVATE LEISURE INDUSTRIES PLI-5), two songs which show this Tennessee all-girl band now reduced from a quartet to a trio and continuing their themes of haunted suburban angst which they deliver with lo-fi post-punkish guitars and synths and wispy washed-out vocals. Have to admit this is an improvement on the earlier EP which didn’t know where to put itself and wound up like a fakeified Goth-lite mish-mash of ideas, despite some spiky highlights in the playing. Here, the title track is a jumble of words which are hard to decipher, but it’s clear a sinister story is being unfurled and there’s no happy ending to it; matter of fact the song just stops dead abruptly with no formal warnings, leaving the listener a tad stunned. The disquieting tone of the instruments here, and the uncertain chord changes and key of the song, create the correct degree of unsettling paranoia. A dense and opaque nightmare in the daylight. B side ‘Frankie’s Song’ is certainly more limpid, and the dark nursery rhyme of the repeated lyric is incredibly basic, but the payoff to this “tale of childhood love gone wrong” feels as trite as a Hollywood teenage horror flick. I think this band have potential, but they gotta stop striking so many poses that don’t quite fit, and strive to be themselves a bit more. Arrived 10 April 2012.

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Romvelope has a seven-incher Catomountain / Hodmandod (ADAADAT ADA0025). This is the electro-acoustic sound-artist Bjorn Hatleskog, a man with feet planted in both Norway and Scotland, who performs with handmade sound sculptures in what could be deemed a rather eccentric performance setup. He’s built an electric organ that can be played with a remote control, a guitar that strums itself, and an item called the “robotic bongo” which I take to be his personal rustic update on the drum machine, and hopefully a convoluted device that is far more complex and time-consuming than some facile piece of programmable machinery. Hatleskog also generates his own unique form of live electronic sound by processing and amplifying the otherwise inaudible buzz from fluorescent lights. This might be akin to the methods employed by Atsuhiro Ito and his optron, but I’m prepared to be corrected on that. It’s probably no surprise to learn that he’s done it in art galleries around the UK and mainland Europe; this kind of thing just begs to be seen in a confined space. Reading about his quirkoid inventions makes them appear rather brilliant, but as sound art, this record is tame and unadventurous, a dreary series of random clops and buzzes; the endearing “clunky” feel to the recording is the only factor that appeals to me, as though Romvelope were presiding over a workshop of charming wooden toys that are gradually coming to life. However, neither Pierre Bastien nor Bruce Lacey will be losing any sleep. Limited to 200 copies, arrived 8th July 2013.

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MHFS is one of two items we received from the fine Emerald Cocoon label on 30 January 2013. This is Mark Sadgrove, a New Zealander based on Tokyo who is also an atomic physicist. The Grey Lynn Homeless Set (EMERALD COCOON EC006) was originally delivered in response to a commission from the label, who asked Sadgrove to perform a support set for Metal Rouge’s debut live show in 2006. He was too busy working on his thesis on quantum mechanics to attend, and instead turned in the recordings on this seven-incher, requesting that they be played over the PA. Well, I spun this item at home and have at first been massively underwhelmed by MHFS’s baffling outburst of arbitrary, meaningless noises. Now as I wrote this I find I can’t wait to hear it again. It’s short to the point of abruptness, the sounds generated are lazy, dull, and broken, and all the mistakes in the process – Sadgrove uses an incredibly primitive setup which can barely be called “musical” in any sense of the term – are exposed for all to hear, and indeed incorporated into the finished work. Apparently it’s all very deliberate; his selection of recording locations that allow for maximum leakage of environmental sounds onto the tape, his detuned and de-assembled acoustic guitar that has been strung with six low E strings, and a system of recording that is programmed, perhaps using mathematical methods, to deliver the certainty of randomness to a high degree. The other appealing element is that none of the above is “explained” on the recordings, which simply burst on stage and make their brief statements underscoring the absurdity of existence, before vanishing into the nearest wormhole. The A side of this item will be more “shocking” to those who crave form or structure, while the B side may win you over with its bizarrely distant voice elements and its additional textures, which contrast quite sharply with the stark minimalism of the A side. Marginal in extremis, the ultra-simple approach of MHFS calls into question more elaborate forms of sound art, making them appear labour-intensive and wasteful by comparison. This is #4 in the label’s “Alone Together” series.

Revealed Truths

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Emmanuel Allard
Nouvelle Upanishads Du Yoga
FRANCE BASKARU KARU:25 CD (2013)

The Buchla 200e is a hybrid modular synthesiser. Part analogue, part digital, it is a contemporary descendent of those groovy contraptions that were so attractive to pioneer sound heads like Morton Subotnik and Charles Cohen back in the late 60s and early 70s. These fearless sonic architects used the first-generation Buchla synths – the original 200, the sound easel and others – to create trippy, shimmering soundscapes, which sounded like messages from the future sung by cyborg angels.

French musician and sound artist Emmanuel Allard spent three years getting to grips with the system before laying down this set of seven austere and intense instrumental pieces. It’s his sophomore record, and is quite a departure from his first release, 2003’s Imite Moi, a slab of maximalist computer music released under the name Fabriquedecouleurs.

“I wanted to make simple forms, primordial electronic music,” said Allard in an interview last year. This mood of reductionism permeates this record. Basically, if you’re hoping for the joyful polyphony of Subotnik’s Silver Apples of the Moon, or the rapturous clatter of Charles Cohen’s Dance of the Spirit Catchers, then you’re out of luck. This is ascetic stuff. Allard is happy to set one or two patches off and let them run for fairly long periods without much happening, resulting in a strange, disembodied feeling.

In ‘Élan’, for example, various glitches and crashes punctuate a steady low hum, snatches of some strange machine conversation heard through a wall. In contrast, ‘Adelphi Wave’ swoops and screeches like a robot wasp in a jam-jar.

The title, too is important. Most yoga is all about discipline, a kind of physical version of meditation where the practitioner focuses on one thing – the position – to the exclusion of everything else. These pieces can be seen in the same way. Meditative exercises in sound, with no extraneous interruptions to disturb the concentration.

Of course, this CD is a world away from your typical new age twinkling you hear playing in many yoga studios in the UK. I can’t quite imagine the call and response style howls of ‘L’Art Noir’ – which sounds like a kind of prehistoric cattle lowing – helping your typical middle class salaryman leave their worries behind in the search for transcendence.

But these pieces are engrossing, their less-is-more aesthetic making it easy to focus in on the detail of the sound, aided by the pleasingly physical feel of much of the album. It’s not something you can imagine being bashed out on an iMac in half days messing around with whatever software package is hip with the kids these days.

There’s no better example of this than on the album’s final track, the 13-minute long ‘Gold Rand’. Starting with a hypnotic bass hum that rises and falls at irregular intervals, it mutates into a series of electronic creaks and groans before settling into a series of truly strange-sounding whines and farts, It feel I’m eavesdropping on some vast, fantastic creature – some huge, furry, cat-like beast from an early Studio Ghibli film perhaps – drifting off into a dream-filled sleep.

The Calling of Hell: where Hell exists in far realms of the universe

ALTURAZ

Alturaz, The Calling of Hell, Soulthief Musick, CDR (2014)

A most curious object this CDR from San Francisco act Alturaz has turned out to be: it’s inspired by black metal ideas and concepts but all instruments are either organ or other keyboards. The quartet of tracks runs to just under 18 minutes so listeners might expect there’s not much on offer. You would be wrong: this is creepy Gothick-sounding atmospheric music that nods in the direction of old horror movie soundtracks made for films about proper bloodsucking daemons and not pallid Robert Patterson parodies of current Twilight film franchise fame. Alturaz is a solo project by a musician who helms a perhaps more conventional (?) BM act called Wikkid.

The recording opens with a slow spooky droning organ piece based around a very simple chord sequence, against which a more sprightly organ melody may dance in short bursts. Picture yourselves entering a tall, grim and grey cathedral, the stone walls of which depict carved figures of sinners in hell writhing in silent screaming agony under sadistic punishments dealt by demented devils. We continue on to a deep darker-than-dark space atmosphere piece of low murmur, the odd synth splash and a blank wall of nothingness. As this amorphous piece progresses, it gains a more definite if very plastic shape and a brooding atmosphere. The music becomes a twitchy pulsing, silver-shimmery alien skeletal critter, all long fragile limbs with fine veins of rhythmically swishing ichor. It is a beautiful and delicate beast yet there’s something deeply sinister in its darting movements.

If you were expecting the CDR to depart on a triumphant though maniacally evil note, you’ll be disappointed: the outro track is short and barely there, a most understated and minimal drone mutter barely rising above the black formless plasma murk that births it. No better way to leave listeners stranded in deep space with no means of escape or survival than this coldly indifferent desertion can be conceived of.

In its own understated way, this recording poses a portrait of Hell as a place of dark brooding silences and overbearing dread. The use of simple repetitive drone, drawn out and relatively unembellished, creates an oppressive black atmosphere and a feeling of malevolence. Alturaz combines serenity and mesmeric sounds into a dark trance music. I only wish the whole thing had been longer for listeners to savour something of an unenviable experience of being plunged into this forbidding universe and left there forever.

Contact: Wikkid, wikkidblackmetal@gmail.com

Cut a Rug

pop tabriz520

P.O.P. (Psychology of Perception)
täbriz
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO063 CD (2013)

Here, Zeitkratzer’s Reinhold Friedl meets Hannes Strobl, ably assisted by alto saxophonist Hayden Chisholm (no relation to the Scottish jazz trombonist George Chisholm), all the better to further blur the already uncertain boundaries and relationships between improvised music and composition. To my ears, every sound I hear on this disc is or could be the result of serendipitous events on prepared pianos, or happy accidents with non-specified electronic gadgetry blended with other electric and acoustic instrumentation, but its authors resolutely declare its status as “composed” within the sleeve credits.

However, it seems Messrs Strobl und Friedl are also equally interested, as we can plainly see from the full colour photography on the sumptuous and expensively-printed foldover sleeve, in rugs. Yes, rugs. In fact, we are given a brief yet comprehensive rundown of the relative merits of three famous types of rug, which also serve as the track titles; “Tabriz”, “Senneh” and “Kerman”. A close-up of a Kerman rug design liberally adorns the cover of this cd. Whether P.O.P. were attempting to invest the attributes of each type of rug into the corresponding musical piece or simply show off their latest holiday purchases remains unclear.

To designate this music “composition” suggests many, many hours staring at a computer screen running ProTools HD, and like all productions in this vein, I would have liked to have had sight of the score. Of course, it is possible to record anything and run it through the software Sibelius and let that spit out some manuscript, but I think you’ll agree a print-out of a recording of Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise created by Sibelius would pall into insignificance when placed next to the actual score. Even piano preparations can be easily scored and it may be these recordings were performed straight through in one take. The second track, “Senneh”, consists of seemingly random ticking and chiming reminiscent of what Lee Patterson was up to around 2004/5. In short, there’s nothing here you probably haven’t heard before, but it is an extremely pleasant listen nonetheless.