Tagged: sound art

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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

Three Spooling Dans from France

Nicolas Marmin sent us three split cassette tapes from his KommaNull label in France which arrived 18 October 2013. Note the uniform packaging of these Spooling Dans. Each tape resides in a corrugated card carton which when flipped open will reveal the cassette in a paper slipcase within, the pearl of tapedom sitting in the oyster of the hypermarket. It so happens our first pearl (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_3) is of pinkish hues.

Häk and his Music for Molekularsynthesizer finds German synth-mangler Häk issuing forth a pleasing variety of electronic sounds – some crazy, some outer-spacey, some just plain obnoxious. Certainly no shortage of effects, textures and surfaces on his half of the tape, but it’s a tad under-developed in the way of compositional design, apart from letting the piece continue and accrue further layers of effects, until it reaches a tipover point and collapses in a welter of noise. However there is a sense of exploratory fun in the work as knobs are twisted and crazy whoops sputter from the devices, and the sense that Häk is something of a kid in a sweetshop, restlessly trying out a shiny new toy. The fun aspect is undercut somewhat by the grim buzzy drone noise which closes out the tape, a testing episode of process-based grind, but as noted Häk has many varied approaches to offer.

Alan Courtis occupies the flip with his Untitled piece. Argentinean peripatetic loon Courtis has produced so many records now and worked in so many micro-genres that I’ve given up trying to understand one-tenth of what he does. One moment a throat-singing guitarist, the next an electro-acoustic tape boffin who does his best work with a household blender. At all times he’s been informed by a sense of absurdity which always gives his work a slant, an offbeat edge. Here we have something so indefinable passing over the tapeheads that my ears are getting bent out of shape trying to get a handle on it. Right away you notice his sound is much “dirtier” than the pure electronic beeps and tones of Häk, but that may be due to excessive processing and transformation. We’re dragged unwillingly across very unfamiliar terrain and there’s no clear end to this weird journey through tunnels of murk. I’ve often thought that Courtis underperforms as an editor or a composer, but here those deficiencies are somehow turned intro strengths, as this odd and episodic perambulation wanders through a series of unexplained vistas. This tape is probably a reliable psychic indicator of what’s happening to Courtis’s inner being on account of his frequent travels, not least the nauseating effects of air travel. I need a cup of strong tea after this one.

Next split is a blue item (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_2), the sweet sweet blue of the sea.

BoneyFM’s self-titled album is 14 tracks resulting from collaborative actions between Lil’ Oof who provides the raw material in form of tapes, and Finkelstein who processes them, while Eran Sachs contributes a mixing board to two tracks. A confusing jumble of half-baked electronic sounds emerges, chopped up into short and unfinished pieces, arranged in no apparent order. Interesting sonic collisions may emerge from this wreckage, but they feel more like accidents. The creators can’t seem to decide if they’re going for all-out table noise, or a radically deconstructed recreation of avant-techno. A very broken and disjunctive listen; sorry chums, I just don’t get it.

Suboko offers a single 30-minute piece from a live recording at La Bascule in Rennes, from 2011. This is Laurent Berger, who’s also a member of Sun Plexus and the “minimal wave” four-piece band Ich Bin; plus Pascal Gully and the turntabler Nicolas Boutine. We have heard them before when they collaborated with some German brass players as the K-Horns, but this little slice of mayhem shows them at their unhinged and primitive best. I suppose one could also characterise this as a very broken and disjunctive listen, but it’s much more enjoyable than BoneyFM. The players are energised and focussed, and determined to give us an honest portrait of urban sprawl in sound, whatever the cost to themselves. It’s got the same vibe I find in APO33 and pizMO, the sense of a chaotic but juicy performance which has no defined boundaries and revels in the joys of uncontrolled electronics. Plus it just keeps going on and on forever. You may find the grim, industrial-ish caste of this music a bit wearisome, but it’s an honest and raw performance.

Of greenish tint is our tertiary item (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_1)…

Ravi Shardja (also associated with GOL and Oleo Strut) is another French musician who has come our way before with the double LP Grun Ist Grau for Grautag Records. While that item might have shown his industrial landscaping skills, his half of the split tape La Ferme Vous-Meme is apparently more of a cut-up sampling item, with a baffling jumble of instruments and voices producing a nightmarish version of modern pop music, with insane beats and ugly sounds wrought from guitars and synths. No less unpalatable are the distorted voices, sometimes screaming in agony from the harsh transformations they must undergo. Shardja makes his mixing board work overtime until you could cook a three-course meal on the overheated desk, and pushes his array of sounds to their utmost limits. The album may have its melodic moments, but these too are rendered quite bizarre (almost comical) by means of edits and juxtapositions. Even so, this is so far the most “entertaining” listen of the bunch. You could play it to someone who’s an expert in obscure Burmese movie soundtracks, and just watch their brows furrow as they try and name the tune.

Enregistrement Temporaire is another name for Marc Nguyen Tan, who improvises on a modular synth to produce his Clusters Animés. All I can say here is that it’s a piece of great beauty, a very subtle melodic work, innovative and imaginative and with a lot of intriguing details to hear as it passes through its compositional stages. It may also be somewhat untypical of Tan’s other work. He’s more well known as Colder, an Electro-Beat thing under which name he has a lengthy catalogue from 2003 onwards, and has been involved in dance and remix projects besides finding time for film, TV and dance work. For me, Clusters Animés is the pick of the bunch from these tapes and shows there is a contemplative side to this young man’s work. Other listeners find parallels here with Nurse With Wound or HNAS – what may be emerging as a “surrealist” sub genre of electronic music.

Dragon’s Kitchen

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KK Null + The Noiser (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO054) is a meeting between one of Japanese noise-rock’s heavyweights and the French electro-acoustic anarcho-poet loon Julien Ottavi, with results every bit as fractured and unpredictable as poisoned sushi wrapped in a crepe suzette. The album’s first half is seven short-ish experiments in grotesque electronic rhythms and crazy samples intercut with each other in ways that make no sense; after you’re reeling from that onslaught, they finish you off with a 25-minute monster that’s just chock full of playful edits so as to resemble an episodic, cartoon-like composition in the form of an acid trip. Free jazz piano, birdsong, unhinged electric noise and odd percussive gamelan doodling are just some of the elements you can expect from this garbled spew. While it includes some live recordings made in Vienna, this is mostly a fun-filled and semi-dangerous studio concoction – which is evident from all the half-mad control-freakery that’s going on here. From October 2013.

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On the face of it, CMKK’s Gau (MONO065) is a pretty sickening proposition – four artists producing a single 47-minute meander through some surreal sludgy ambient drones while one of them recites their strange poetry using plenty of pastoral images like black water, swans, fields, and mist. There’s Celer with laptop and samples, Machinefabriek with laptop and tapes, the guitars of Romke Kleefstra and the poetry of Jan Kleefstra. However, listen to the end of this slow dampened odyssey across joyless and sunless flatlands and you’ll feel the rewards as your brain is softened into malleable mush, fit to be sold as Sten Hanson’s Canned Porridge. Not unlike hearing Polwechsel after they’ve swallowed a dose of Mogadon, with added zombified electronics and a stoic TV announcer trying to remain calm while he watches the whole world being flooded. From October 2013.

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Here’s some French heroes of indefinable music and sound art: Eric Cordier and Jean Luc Guionnet, discreetly rubbing their organs together in a deserted temple in Metz. By “organs” I mean the hurdy-gurdy of Eric, which has been amplified and processed while he squeezes it, and the amplified organ of Jean-Luc – an instrument which he’s previously played to great effect in various church and cathedral settings. De Proche En Proche (MONO061) comprises live recordings from 2004, mostly rather uneventful and slow droning. Things liven up from the third piece onwards as vaguely menacing machine-like qualities are exhibited – it sounds like a milking machine going wrong and the cows are moaning in complaint. Or perhaps reaching a cow-like orgasm of some sort as they feel the errant mechanical clamps around their udders. From October 2013.

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Unearthly slab of live electro-acoustic music here from Charles-Eric Charrier, who is manipulating two musicians – their instruments, at any rate – on C6 GIG (february 2012) (MONO059). Martin Bauer is playing the viole de gambe and Nicolas Richard plays percussion and accordion. From this we derive 45 minutes of continual, mysterious sounds, at times approaching the shape of a nightmarish cloud of purple filth descending on the belly of the fitful listener. I’d have liked a tad more commitment to sustaining this crapulous mood, but I can understand why Charrier feels the need to layer this inexplicable composition with long silences, pauses, and other existential longeurs. Still, when the strings pluck bass throbs from the lower registers and the percussion rattles its cage like a snoring gorilla, you’ll find me there with my concrete pillow. From October 2013.

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Bartek Kalinka concocts some fairly bonkers music on Champion of the World Has No Monopoly on the Legions (BOLT RECORDS BRK003), through overdubbing meandering acoustic guitar strums, wonky synth tones, and arbitrary percussuon bashes. These ten tracks feel all of a piece and sonically they occupy the same zone of solitary, intimate conversations – except I feel like the conversation is taking place with a balmy loon who doesn’t even speak my language. By time of eighth track, called ‘King Is Approaching’, my mind is reduced to small lumps of gravel and any sense of proportion has been sapped by the tropical, heat-cooking weirdness that boils the brain slowly. By the end, I give in and am prepared to admit that the King is indeed approaching, and that creator Bartek Kalinka is in fact Napoleon.

Five Uneasy Pieces

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Virgil Moorefield
No Business As Usual / Five Ideas about the Relation of Sight and Sound
SWITZERLAND HINTERZIMMER RECORDS HINT17 CD + DVD (2013)

Virgil Moorefield is a Zurich-based drummer, avantist composer and near polymath whose previous projects have found refuge with such highly revered institutions such as Innova, Tzadik and Cuneiform. As a ‘have drums, will travel’ freelancer, he’s collaborated with Bill Laswell, guitarist Elliott Sharp, and The Swans around the time of the Burning World l.p. He was also the sole panel-beater (and that’s no mean feat!) for John Cage’s favourite guitar slinger Glenn Branca, on his herculean “Hallucination City – 100 Guitars” tour which kicked up vast chunks of orchestrated metallic chordage over the heads of the N.Y. populace from 2006 to 2008.

Moorefield’s latest release on the Hinterzimmer imprint is the No Business as Usual c.d. which is coupled with the Five Ideas about the Relation of Sight and Sound d.v.d. No Business… is primarily a showcase for his Bicontinental Pocket Orchestra; a sixtet comprising Aleksander Gabrys on contrabass, baritone saxist Jürg Wickihalder, Taylor Levine on guitar, percussionist Martin Lorenz, pianist Vicky Chow and Ian Ding on vibes and drums. They and their bandleader can all be observed very much following a cerebral/muscular mindset on the title track; a five part commissioned by New Music Detroit and Detroit Per Se. Both of these experiments in post-minimalism edge towards a certain jazz noir in the Naked City feel, purveying in the main an appointment in unease, plotted on graph paper with slide rule, compass and protractor, where the contents, under extreme pressure, are seemingly fit to burst at any moment. Some passages resemble a debut album era Lounge Lizards under the batonship of Steve Reich, while other fragments seem to refer to a more rigid version of Magma’s ever-building dynamics circa Kohntarkosz. The most prominent figures in this unwavering/take no prisoners script are the icily cool vibraphonics of Ian Ding and the high end (and beyond) keyboard attack of Ms. Chow, which appears to be an angry, fingerpointing pianist’s curt riposte to Bernard Hermann’s shower scene nerve shredder from Psycho.

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As to the visual side of events, the Five Ideas… shows a number of different takes on how moderne technology can affect the interchange between sound and the moving image (this includes a couple of sub-two minute interludes, possibly fulfilling a latterday testcard function). “River of Color” is the opener and explores/expands on the tonalities originating from the guts of a grand piano when struck and its innards plucked. This generates a series of everchanging vertical bands of colour issuing from a huge bank of screens that almost dwarf the two instrumentalists. “Grainy Film” is based on a sequence of simple guitar shapes which build to nightmarishly kozmik proportions and eventually shake themselves free of their wire on wood connotations completely. The closing “Trio” is a processing overload involving the measured thud of a drumming threesome, which is reconfigured into real-time visuals, while, simultaneously being tweaked into an all enveloping electronic soundscape. Wow.

Within the confines of a fairly understated packaging concept employing the joys of four-panel chipboard lies an undisputed treasure trove of left field thought for ear and eye. Highly recommended.

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The Transitive Nightfall of August

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Koji Asano
August is Fall
JAPAN SOLSTICE 049 CD (2013)

I. Koji Asano presents us with a Neapolitan ice-cream of digital concretions, each part of his tricolore an insistent and near-literal manifestation of that vivid phrase ‘An Earworm’ – or, in the original German – Ein Earworm. A delightful image for all to consider and an apt analogy for the hour-long tripartite aural noogie presented here, a symphony in mildly irritating looped mini-noises.

Original sound sources are masked by process and near-focus, but could be in part derived from acoustic phenomena, perhaps breath in the tubes and on the mouthpiece of a brass instrument, traces of room sound or sounds whose scale and intimacy implies a human-scale and intimate architectural setting also remain. (Chamber? Asano’s anonymous cityscapes on the cover, glimpses through windows to rooftops and service staircases, imply empty hotel rooms or flats.) Tiny clicks and the low-key buzzing of a malevolent air-conditioning and giant energy-saving light-bulb. Pause for breath and look out of the window. Manipulate object with hands. Click. Continue buzzing.

Sustained midrange activity over the three tracks or movements utilises distortion but is never harsh, focus is intense but restrained, and Asano is the master of his material, never yielding to the inexorable and anxious logic that demands productivity and regularity of noise; buzzing ceases arbitrarily and momentarily as if half-distracted by a pigeon and an ensuing reverie involving a discarded piece of paper lying just there on the floor. Click. Continue buzzing. The organic logic of breath and the non-linearity of association intercede in the mechanical tendencies of continuous electronic sound that would otherwise threaten inevitability and happily exclude other vectors. Throwing a spanner in the works. Although I get the impression that a spanner is not an ‘Asano’ object, cast your eyes through the back issues of this publication and you may be able to corroborate, however, that Ed once received a Koji Asano-branded ballpoint pen.

II. Asano, entranced, prods and buffs up his 1:72 scale grindings into creamy Milliput sausages, extruding them as rigorously as a tantric douanier towards the pulsating beige centre of his incremental porous topography. Straining ever onwards, but naturally managing to make time to pause for a click or some rustling. I would suggest that next time you wish to imagine that you are a sheet of sandpaper the physicality of these works would be a useful aid in visualisation.

In its seeming arbitrary internal rules Asano positions this sound beyond good and irritating and stakes out a small, honey-combed territory of micro-noise. Merzbow as conceived of by a bluebottle and a pane of glass; a remarkable and oblique dedication to a reduced palette and the economic use of small variations and contrasts within an extended time-canvas of sustained sonic character ekes drama from what may have seemed unlikely sources. Within the severe limits set it utilises effective counterpoints and manages to draw the listener in to its initially unprepossessing or baffling world on its own terms.

Enervating buzz and muted looping static is overlaid with intimate clacks and scrunching punctuated with organic pauses before more long periods of enervating buzz overlaid with intimate clacks and clicks and physically scrunching scrunch as long periods of (momentary) clack and continue buzzing (ring modulated) and muted static click. Buzz. Continue:

III. Some of this review may have appeared wearing, or tortuous; you may have felt you discerned a slow and counter-intuitive progress, a narrow focus, playing haphazardly over minutiae, may also have become aware of repetitions and redundancies – however you may have enjoyed details, or words, become intrigued despite any demands on your patience. In this way I have fiendishly sought to emulate the very character of August is Fall, to further give a rounded impression of that flat and strange music. So, it’s not just an interminable review, honestly.

Also honestly, August is Fall has plenty to offer the curious listener – from deft juxtaposition of a minimal array of quirky sounds and effective counterpoints of those sounds to non-standard arrangements or arrangements that subvert more dominant and readily-disengag-eable 1 forms. Confrontational through use of duration, insistence and palette, though through the use of ‘weak’ or small sounds and clever use of pauses and silence pleasingly spry and canny about it. Also sporting an underlying and fundamental sense of human scale that insists on the concrete and present, what I would term a documentary approach to choice of sounds that I would characterise as one stimulating 21st century extrapolation of music concrète (we will investigate two other albums in a similar light in future reviews) – which in this case is also applied to the digital noise techniques used. An interesting synthesis of elements successfully crafted into an unusual, tedium-flirting, object-manipulating, bit-crushing, forehead-boring, idiosyncratically stimulating whole. Speaking of tedium, I’m finished again. (For now).

  1. An ungainly construction, I know, but by which I mean simply, as stated earlier, that Asano, although he does go on and on over the course of three long-form repetitious pieces, goes on at a incidental level which never allows the listener to relax in the knowledge that they know exactly how exactly the piece is going to progress from moment to moment.

Silenced

Pas Musique / Ben Link Collins / Shaun Sandor
Of Silence
ALREALON MUSIQUE / BLONDENA MUSIC / SILENT MEDIA

Peter Orins
Empty Orchestras
HELIX LX006 CD (2013)

I recently attended a conference in New York about music and film. One of the most fascinating papers given was about how film soundtrack has to approximate silence, through some use of background noise, industrial drone, ambient sounds etc. The speaker started by mentioning John Cage’s 4’33” work, although strangely – given his paper – he disputed Cage’s idea that silence doesn’t exist. I say strangely as it seemed to me that both Cage (whose 4’33” manuscript and other documentation were on display at MoMA) and many film composers agreed, and make us listen to other sounds when we think that we are listening to nothing.

Anyway, Pas Musique, Ben Link Collins and Shaun Sandor frame their CD using Cage’s ideas, but also the idea of silence as a blank canvas, something waiting to be filled, ideas of inaudibility, studio silence, and The Art of Noise. There are nine tracks on this CD, three sets of three, with the 2nd and third of each trio deriving from their predecessor.

Whilst conceptually these are interesting, it has to be said as ‘music’ or even ‘sound’ they are not. The five and a half pages discussing the work is in the end more informative and engaging than the work which is the product of it. I also have to say that in the end the compositions and process seem more about the recording process itself than silence. To amplify and endlessly re-record a original tape of silence is about the noise of technology and machinery, about decay, analogue and digital equipment rather than silence.

Full marks for the thinking, few marks for the music.

Peter Orins’ CD actually has nothing to do with this kind of work, or so says the press release, which suggests Orins uses an electronic treatment to allow himself to duet with himself pushing himself endlessly into new improvisations and dialogue. So why have I put my review here? Well, the CD will not play on any computer, stereo deck or boombox in the house, has silenced itself. I applaud the concept, and as someone who dislikes most drumming intensely can truthfully say it is the best CD by a drummer I have [n]ever heard.