Tagged: sound art

Dislocation Recordings

Various
Landscapes Of Fear
GERMANY GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 153 2 x CD (2015)

One to disrupt the harmony of your CD shelf is this oversized card wallet containing an obliquely labeled, monochrome OS map of the area surrounding Cologne and 2 CDs of discomfiting sound art pertaining to the themes of 1) Landscapes and 2) Fear. A simplistic summary perhaps, but given the density of the accompanying text – which will assuredly sort the men from the boys among us – some distillation is required. We might ponder the dichotomy posed by these two situational extremes: the tangible and idyllic terra firma juxtaposed with the most chaotic and disembodying of emotions; security and exile – two extremes of human existence. Framing this juxtaposition is an image of a metal fence, on one side of which is a crowd of displaced refugees concealed from view by strategically placed bushes and palm trees. On the other, two golfers conducting their game, unmolested by the nearby tragedy.

While the reference to Europe’s current refugee crisis is explicit, the universality of the title’s constituents is such that we could extend the analogy to many situations in which the ‘radically diverging perceptions and adoptions of spaces’ occur in the present day. Take for example the legally sanctioned compartmentalisation of UK homes into multiple ‘apartments’ as a means of revenue generation for landlords and private investors, added to which is the humiliation of full council tax for each (while mansion owners pay proportionately lower rates), regardless of the size of the dwelling, purely on the grounds that there is a lock on the front door. Inhabiting these overpriced shoeboxes are the many who are locked out of the ever costly housing market and who face a future of financial disempowerment.

Needless to say, we needn’t look to the contents of this collection for comfort, but we might take heart that some are watching and addressing the flagrant injustices that visit so many walks of life today. The majority of the music is drone-based; tension-fuelled dark/power ambient minefields paired with location recordings for dislocation effect; splattered with rhythmic and vocal shrapnel in reference to political assassinations and other human rights abuses, as well as – of course – the kind of drones used by Western governments to police and terrorise the Middle East. Lawrence English has produced work similar in sound and agenda, but not with the bleakness of such events as Tim Gorinski’s ‘Amuse 2’ – a controlled explosion of ricocheting beats, sirens and shouting (William Burroughs might have approved of this), or Alex Pulgar’s ‘Lujk/Flame’ – where electroacoustic flames are funnelled through a tunnel of low-fi scum noise.

Hardly content with the alienating effects of such ‘music’, the compilers have seen fit to include Lena Ditte Nissen’s dispassionate German-language narration in ‘Imaginary Orb’ – which many a non-German speaker will instinctively skip – and the uneasy listening of a pair of North American accented sat-nav devices speaking over one another in Stephanie Glauber’s and Miriam Gossing’s ‘Mercure/Mondial’. Even English speakers will find this nauseating. Indeed, our agitation appears to be the overriding raison d’etre. Where so much in the realm of high-concept music can comfortably detach itself from conceptual baggage to exist as listening material per se, works such as this promote a sense of responsibility by insisting upon a level of listener interrogation.

More akin to an art gallery experience, Landscapes of Fear attains a kind of surrealism as a home-listening product. The simultaneous in/coherence of the selection, defined largely by the wilful austerity and disparity of the artists’ methods, would effect a collapsing of borders between internal and external phenomena; occasioning a discomfort that would remind us of the atrocities that take place daily beyond our psychological blinkers, in a world in which even the horror of events like Donald Trump’s inexplicable popularity achieve a circus sensationalism at which most of us can but shrug our shoulders in resignation. At the same time, the experience should also remind us that far from getting downhearted and downhearted at such horror, a constructive response is always possible.

I Forget

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New York composer Howard Stelzer is mostly known round these parts for his fab label Intransitive Recordings, whereon he released many smouldering gems of mysterious electroacoustic composition, field recordings, tape music and noise. While a few snippets from his career have come our way, I don’t have much of his solo work to hand, so this collection The Case Against (MONOTYPE mono073) is most welcome. Title tracks indicate it’s a suite in five parts, so one might read it as a lengthy meditation on various heavy matters – the overall tone is sombre, and the music is extremely abstract for the most part, excepting some segments where recognisable fragments of real-life everyday noise seep into the mix.

Most notably this happens on ‘Rip It Up’, a brief montage where the sounds of a crowd of people take on a very puzzling hue in the context of so much droning soarage. Did I mention he does it all using cassette tapes…he calls it “cassette music” and his approach to composing with these cronky oxide lengths of magnetic hue is very maximal, using intensive processing and editing to create incredibly rich and dense fields of solid grind. What evocative track titles too…’Accumulated Background Radiation’ might almost be preparing us for a post-nuclear devastation landscape, always a popular trope with industrial musicians, while ‘The Last Scattering Surface’ contains a poignant air of finality, and serves up over 17 minutes of single-minded metal-enriched airy droning tones. When the noise ceases to make way for clouds, birdsong and the noise of the artiste fumbling with his microphones, it’s almost a shocking shift from the abstract to the real, emerging into daylight from the end of a deep pit. This moment, and other parts of the album, show how sensitive Seltzer is when it comes to contrasting timbres and deploying them for maximal effect.

The cover art is by comic strip artist Tony Millionaire and depicts a wrecked hulk on the beach, a forlorn image which is highly suitable for the somewhat lonely and desolate air of this release. From 21 June 2016.

From the country and the concrete jungle

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Two more cassettes from Staaltape arrived 9th May 2016. It so happens both releases are by women, and very coincidentally the imagery on Rinus Van Alebeek’s collaged decorated envelope (which he customarily includes with every mailout) features the faces of women clipped from his vast stack of old magazines.

Patrizia Oliva has created Numen – Life Of Elitra Lipozi, a most beautiful work clad in a smoky black cover with just a single blue butterfly spray-painted on. The A side, titled ‘Danse Des Fantomes’, is dreamy and evocative and makes me a willing dancing partner of the proposed ghosts and spirits. Voices, loops, and even some vaguely operatic elements are refashioned by Oliva into something personal and strange. She’s playing with magnetic tape like a gifted child sets to work with a box of watercolours. I don’t know why musicians (like Michael Nyman) are drawn to the work of Oliver Sacks (this release includes dedication to that deep thinker). But Oliva may be trying, like Sacks, to map the strange pathways of the brain in her atmospheric and charged music.

The B side ‘A Day Long To’ showcases the “Annette Peacock” mode of this performer…vaguely jazzy free singing she emanates from an indefinable part of her singing apparatus, in an inflected and mannered mode…the lonely avant-ness of Joan La Barbara is notched back two degrees and edged a shade closer to a ghostly portrait of Ella Fitzgerald…by which I mean it’s not clear if she’s singing from her mouth, or her brain-waves. Of course the minimal arrangements that back her up are pretty inspired too, making the most of a studio housed in a matchbox and two rubber bands holding everything together. More tape loops and much dreamy unfinished music drifts into the ether. A nice not-quite-there quality, slightly balmy. Oddly the B-side feels to me like separate songs, where the A side feels like a mini-opera telling a story. Not all that’s here is a song; there’s one very effective piece which is extremely abstract, just repeated patterns, sound effects, and whispered / murmured voices, yet it’s uncanny and highly effective in its dream-like mood sustaining of same. The side ends with a fascinating anecdote about synaesthesia, how it’s possible to see music as colours, and how no two people who have the condition ever agree on what the “right” colour is. Interestingly, the condition was first recorded in medical history by another Dr Sachs, this time a German physician of the 19th century.

In all Patrizia Oliva not only has a singular vision but also a very delicate touch in the creation of her work which is determinedly “non-masculine”, which isn’t to say it’s feminine and decorative, but organised along non-aggressive lines, without the usual male need to follow structure blindly and rush to a contrived ending. “Patrizia lives in the country, surrounded by nature,” write Rinus helpfully. “One lady from the old world”. If that’s true, that’s one old world whose passing we will come to regret. Every commonplace remark made on Twitter hastens the death of these old worlds.

The tape by Valerie Kuehne is of a different order. I couldn’t find a title but it might be called Audiozone #3, part of a series; release is just identified by the two sides, called ‘Ball Side’ and ‘Other Side’. Patrizia Oliva is pleasantly balmy, while Valerie Kuehne is an inspired screwball, in the nicest possible way of course. “Valerie moves in the concrete jungle”, writes Rinus about this American performer. Her songs here feature a kind of demented folk-inflected chanting and yawping, for instance the opener ‘Haul Away Joe’, a sea shanty which requires the artiste to remake herself as a crusty nautical cove on board an 18th century rigger. A grotesque opener. ‘The Graviton’ is better, more of a shamanic free-form wailing trip…like a lost ESP Disk recording from such waywards as Erica Pomerance, much free warbling with plenty of percussion and manic performances from her side musicians. ‘Apocalypse Berliner’ is a spoken word recit which gradually becomes more, erm, impassioned…as she describes some situation which sounds like a grave social injustice, her sarcasm shoots through the top of the thermometer and she becomes positively demented with her passion and commitment to the cause. The sort of loopy radical who might have featured in any 1970 Hollywood hipster road movie made in the wake of Easy Rider. Then there’s ‘Long Long Sleep’, which is like a nightmare parody of Edwardian parlour music with its poised and mannered vocalising which over-stresses certain phonemes in an annoyingly pronounced manner. But you can still sense the underlying nuttiness…her cello work, just now beginning to surface among the chaos on offer, is also certainly highly distinctive and evidence of a wild, peculiar talent.

B side of this weirdie in tape form contains ‘Sunshine in the Sunshine’, which is her freakoid take on the Fifth Dimension pop hit, with emphatic singing, chaotic playing from the guest musicians, her mad cello sawing and her frantic attempts to stir up collaboration among all participants. A glorious mess. You’d hate to have her at your birthday party, unless you love to be embarrassed and mortified. A mostly solo work follows, ‘Architecture at Muchmore’s’, with its cracked all-over-the-show melody, and alarming dynamics which require these abrupt shifts of tempo and sudden bouts of intense delivery. Shocking, crazed. Voice and cello only, I think, were used to realise this insight into the cracks of Kuehne’s brain. After this it might be a piece called ‘Leader Eater’ but it’s getting harder to tell one track from another. Part of what we hear sounds like a confrontational performance-art piece that involves yelling at the audience, and further ingeniously complex songs where it’s a wonder she manages to sustain the difficult long tones which the tunes require. I’m a-warming to this release now…Valerie Kuehne is a very acquired taste, but you don’t get this exceptionally high degree of uncut humanity and honesty captured on tape every day. Ably supported by her side players, which include Natalia Steinbach. Alex Cohen, Hui-Chun Lin, The Columbia Orchestra, Matthew Silver, and others, she saws and sings away. Other releases by Valerie Kuehne include Dream Zoo and Phoenix Goes Crazy, both very obscure low-run CDRs.

The tape itself is a provisional attempt at an “album”. Rinus Van Alebeek made the selections and put it together, but didn’t get much in the way of preferences expressed by the creator, who’s presumably so creatively chaotic in her life that she doesn’t bother with bourgeois things like organisation and planning. So “it is not an album by Valerie; it is an album about her”, is the stated claim, along with an attempt to document the “subculture she is a part of”. This provisional aspect is even reflected in the cover, showing details from a notebook, where the track order and even the titles are subjected to much crossing-out and rethinking. Most intriguingly, the result “leads to a couple of obscure passages into 21st century life somewhere in the US.” What in the name of Condoleezza Rice does that mean?

Dysfunctional Organs

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The Quellgeister #2: Wurmloch (INTERSTELLAR RECORDS INT039) LP by Austrian artist Stefan Fraunberger is part of his Quellgeister series…he does it by performing on “semi-ruined organs in deserted churches”. At one level what we hear is a fascinating wheezy acoustic drone, as he attempts to force sound from these old, broken devices. He’s not attempting to make music or play hymn tunes, rather create a conceptual form of sound art. The tones he creates are quite eerie, and the distressed keys and dilapidated pipes are clearly generating just the sort of effects he’s seeking. Even the performances are “broken”, refusing conventional form and veering from recognisable modular chords to freely-improvised passages and moments of purely abstract noise. So far, very rewarding and highly unusual set of rather disconcerting half-musical sounds emerge from Wurmloch, and we could probably locate Fraunberger in a lineage with other artists who discover ruined pianos in odd places and try and force a noise out of them, such as Russ Bolleter or Annea Lockwood.

Stefan Fraunberger is doing it in Transylvania, in churches that are about 300 years old. One of the things that interests him is the profound changes history and migration has wrought in this area, whose German population have mostly moved on since the collapse of the Berlin wall, and where the small villages are now inhabited by Sinti and Romani gypsies. The churches he visits were built during one of the many Ottoman wars, and are more like fortresses. Fraunberger sees the buildings, and the organs themselves, as the last surviving remnant of a forgotten purpose, a “pre-modern, forgotten future” as the press notes have it. He proposes to reinhabit and colonise this admittedly rather vague zone with his own modern, radical ideas, through the possibilities of sound…the record is a document of his spontaneously created “organic sculptures”. While “organic” is an overused word in our field, it’s entirely appropriate to the all-acoustic nature of this sound art, music which is somehow aspiring to reach the “abstracted spirit of electronic music”. Not just because it involves wood and other natural materials and the passage of air wheezing its way through the pipes in irregular bursts, but something of the rottenness and decay of the organ itself has passed onto the grooves. You can almost see the dust, smell the mould.

Visit Franunberger’s website for further examples of his forward-looking and rather abstruse ideas about art and language, and its place in society…through his extensive travels, he seems to be trying to discover things about the meaning of contemporary culture through signs of change and decay, and finding clues in the most unlikely places. The photo of heavily-rusted satellite dishes is strangely evocative in that context, for reasons I can’t explain. From 3 May 2016.

Bindweed

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The latest item from UK’s Hideous Replica label is a CD called Bind (HR12), a collaboration between Phil Julian and John Macedo. Arrived here 24 May 2016. The front cover looks like a degraded photograph of some rocky outcrop, overprinted with a subtle green tint, suggestive of algae or lichen growing on those rocks. In like manner, the very abstract sound art we hear on the disc could be read as a form of digital micro-growth, organisms thriving on an inhospitable surface.

The prolific and highly able Phil Julian last showed up here in 2015 on Between Landing, an understated crackly record he made with Ben Owen, but he’s rattled his circuits with some of the best names on the mountainsides of avant-noise, and in many diverse contexts. John Macedo is a London sound artist who has released a few cassettes and CDRs, some on his own Black Plume Editions label, and owns himself a devotee of analogue electronics, hand-made devices, and close-miked objects to create his sounds. The pair performed together at Cafe Oto in 2015, the results issued as a live tape by Wasted Capital Since 2013, a sub-label of Hideous Replica.

Bind contains zero information as to how it was produced, other than the vague remark “recorded at various locations in South East London 2013-16”. Although generally a quiet and unobtrusive set of crackling squiggles, it offers a “continuous” experience rather than a disjointed one, continually drawing the listener in to its small confines, as we fall further down the rabbit hole and are squeezed along many narrow passages. There’s an eerie fascination to the subdued drones, the unexpected squeals and ticks; we might be watching small unknown life-forms multiplying in ways we can’t understand.

While most of the 11 track titles are utilitarian and provide few clues, I do like the title ‘Another Burden on the National Grid’, which suggests something about the excessive power consumption of this duo (despite the minimal audible output). It also passes on a wider awareness of how they see their activities plugging into a whole network of dependencies and resources. Perhaps they see their errant alien signals as ghosts in the bloodstream, humming along the cables from pylon to pylon, until they reach their intended destination.

Open The Sight to a Hidden Reality

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Here’s another new record by Raymond Dijkstra. At least I think it is. This vinyl LP is credited to Bhaavitaah Bhuutasthah, the music is credited to Le Ray, while the artworks and sleeve note are credited to RD. It’s fair to assume that these are all aliases for the same fellow; last time he descended upon our four walls, he was calling himself NIvRITTI MARGA, an act which he realised with the help of Timo van Luijk (from Noise-Maker’s Fifes) and Frédérique Bruyas, who added grisly voice effects. Unwritten rule followed by a few avant-garde acts: keep one step ahead of everyone by throwing them off the scent with exotic aliases. It worked for Fantômas, that pulp fiction anti-hero criminal mastermind so beloved of the Surrealists.

Over the years I keep finding myself in a love-hate relationship with Dijkstra’s work, forcing myself to hear it and drag myself to the writing block afterwards; even he was moved to email me with the observation, “although you don’t really seem to like my music, you’re nonetheless one of the best review writers I know.” Remembering In The Cosmic Manifestation (EDITIONS LE SOUFFLEUR LS111) is, for the first side at least, one of his more approachable records. The two parts of the title track appear on side one, and it’s a couple of moog / percussion workouts that I’d venture to say might even appeal to fans of the first Popol Vuh LP, Affenstunde. Matter of fact the very word “Cosmic” in the title is probably a nod in that very direction. But it’s far darker and colder than the sunlit worlds of Florian Fricke. It’s as though Florian had turned to diabolry and satanism instead of Tibetan Buddhism. I say this because the music is so wayward and distorted; although Le Ray comes close to playing recognisable chords or melodies, it’s as though he deliberately stops short of doing so, refusing that safe resolution into a comforting E-C-G chord shape. Likewise, his sonic treatments keep the listener off balance here; distortion, wayward interventions, and other devices to disrupt the surface calm keep on bobbing to the surface, like so many unwelcome monsters rising up from the bottom of the lake. Even those conga rhythms which could have added a transcendental effect and contributed to a meditative frame of mind are poisoned somehow; they smack of decadence, ether-infused trance states, unwholesome nightmares. So far, “approachable” does come with a caveat or two.

Side two turns out to be the hideous twin brother of the relatively benign side one. Both parts of ‘Kosmische Vernichtung’, especially the interminable part I, are the sort of indigestible and unsettling music I usually associate with Dijkstra. The title says as much. You may be cheered by the sight of the word “Kosmische” and assume we’re in for some more Popol Vuh related treats, but it translates as “cosmic destruction”, indicating at least three related aspects to Dijkstra’s fiendish plan. He aims to destroy krautrock music; he aims to completely reverse any benefit that may have been conferred by his efforts on side one; and he aims to create a soundtrack for the apocalypse. Yes, I know there’s probably not a single Industrial musician who hasn’t boasted about their apocalyptic ambitions since 1980 onwards, but Dijkstra comes pretty close to opening the Seventh Seal with this horrifying melange of sound he’s unleashed. Produced I think with mellotron added to the moog and percussion, said mellotron probably contributing the ultra-queasy string effect that sounds like a hundred classical musicians being sick at once, ‘Kosmische Vernichtung Part I’ manages to stay just on the right side of coherence long enough to pull you in to its hateful vortex of chaos and despair. Every discordant moment is probably planned and executed with a ruthless precision, the composer knowing exactly what buttons to push to induce existential terror in the listener’s head. You’ll think you can stand it at first, then after ten minutes you’ll be begging for mercy. I can’t really say I enjoyed listening to this side of swirling, monstrous noise, but it’s a work of genius. Evil genius, that is.

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The cover art to this record continues the series of photo-collages we have already seen on Nivritti Marga and the Santasede 10-inch, also on this label and another Dijkstra collaborative project. Through the simple expedient of cutting up images of a lushly-furnished room, the artist strikes cold fear into the heart of the onlooker. It’s a deliberate attempt to subvert the normality of the bourgeoisie, through a direct attack on “good taste” and the traditions embodied in fabrics, wallpaper, and antiques. In the same way that the music challenges you to find a way into its illogical patterns and pathways, this impossible room looks at first sight like a place where a human being could enter, but the more you examine it the more you realise it’s an impossible, nightmare dimension, full of broken perspectives and awkward shapes. It’s not too far-fetched to suggest a connection could be found with the music on ‘Kosmische Vernichtung Part I’, those parts where classical orchestral traditions are being parodied and grotesquely mutated into a sickening noise. What these collages do for a hundred stately homes and luxury hotels across Europe, Dijkstra’s music is doing for the conventions of classical music. Once again I must liken him to that most famous of 20th century art movements, and consider him one of the most outright Surrealist artists working today. From 10th February 2016.

Office Surprise

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Ryu Hankil, Noid, Matija Schellander And Others
Foreign Correspondents
RUSSIA MIKROTON CD 43/44 2 x CD (2015)

Foreign Correspondents is an unusual double CD of music and sound art which is highly intriguing…I thought it might be nice to investigate it “blind” without aid of search engine to begin with, as the information printed on this Russian release is not exactly forthcoming with contextual information. Rather, a few lines of bare facts is all we have to go on. On Disc One, there’s just a single stretch of music some 47 minutes long, which might be an improvisation between Hankil Ryu, Matija Schellander, and Noid. It’s called Tokyo Office and might well have been recorded in such a location, given that Ryu plays the typewriter as a percussion instrument. For starters, it’s reassuring to think there might still be typewriters in a world where everyone taps out digital messages on smartphone and tablet, freeing their trivial blather into the void. Ryu’s relentless hammering on that old-school analogue device is music to the ears of those who still cherish tangible messages written on a medium you can hold in your hands. Meanwhile Schellander plays the double bass and also emits buzzy explosions from something called a “Victorian synthesizer”, while Noid bows the cello and the jinghu, a Chinese bowed instrument whose wailing drones you may have heard if you’re an aficionado of the Peking opera. Their performance is an endearingly peculiar piece of acoustic improvisation, full of mysterious rattles and stabs, and equally puzzling tracts of silence. It was recorded at Ftarri in Tokyo in October 2013. Ftarri is not the deserted office block I was hoping for, and instead turns out to be a small shop and music venue, but I still can’t help hearing this piece as a document of an office cubicle take-over, performed by mutinous staff in the middle of the night, protesting against their restrictive lifestyles by means of forming an impromptu band playing pieces of office equipment. That’s a revolution we can all get behind.

Noid is the Austrian cellist Arnold Haberl, whose music we noted previously on another Mikroton release called I Hope It Doesn’t Work. He might be the pivot to this particular release as he is credited with recording and mixing the music, plus he appears on most of the pieces on the second disc, a collection entitled Field Report. From the same date range, Oct-Nov 2013, we have 23 tracks here on Field Report, interspersing improvised music with short snippets of field recordings captured in parts of urban Japan, China, and Korea. The latter include observations of Japanese city life which must have seemed intriguing to the European Noid; subway doors, traffic light signals, and a pachinko hall. But they also include such oddities as the machine drones heard in the staircase of the CIA building in Hong Kong, and a “fuel tank filled with sound art” (whatever that may be) in Shanghai. Some of the best field recordings can be given an extra dimension through such imaginative titles; the true poet should be looking for flashes of the divine wherever they poke their lyrical luminous nose.

These charming and understated field recordings convey a sense of peace and mystery, which is the exact opposite of what we might expect to find in these densely-populated parts of Asia such as Hong Kong, Seoul, Osaka, and Tokyo. Viewed through Noid’s audio snapshots, it’s as though the people, buildings and traffic have all been reduced by 75%, and the locations feel like some pre-war innocent paradise of birds, flowers, and contented spirits. The same sense of peace emerges from the extremely quiet improvised music on offer. It’s centred, tranquil. Hankil and Schellander are here again as the core members of this ad-hoc grouping, but also guest appearances – including notable Wandelweiser player Radu Malfatti, the guitarist Kazuhisa Ucihashi, Syo Yoshihama with a laptop, and Jin Sangtae. Most of the music is slow, unobtrusive, and with few notes; not only that, but it’s recorded in such a way that the acoustics feel very diffuse, and it’s hard to separate the sound of the instruments from the sound of the locale where it’s taking place. In this way, all of Field Report becomes of apiece, the edges blurred between music and sound art. This is most clearly demonstrated with the various instances of “street music”, where the musicians blend in with events, people and sounds out in the open; one track documents Noid and Schellander “playing air horns while walking away from Mullae Art Center”, while another piece from the same Dotolimpic Festival treats us to the sound of an entire orchestra performing on the “Victorian Synthesizer”, involving participants in a workshop. The results – less than 90 seconds of strange scraping sounds – are not quite as spectacular as that build-up may lead you to think, but what is more relevant here is the event itself, a spontaneous outbreak of sound and activity, a tiny wonder.

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Foreign Correspondents is the document of Noid and Schellander’s 2013 trip to the Far East. It was planned they would meet musicians and exchange ideas… “carrying compositions, sound art pieces and workshop preparations in their luggage to be tested by changing social and artistic settings, by everyday tour life and to be used as starting points for debates in various forms,” as the label website describes it, and “exposing sometimes strict concepts to confusing listening situations”. As to this latter area, I think it’s this intoxicating mix of control and chaos that emanates from this CD. For most of the time it does so hesitantly, as befits the potentially bewildering situations that these roving Europeans found themselves in, out East. As for the “Victorian Synthesizer”, this appears to be an ongoing project by J.M Bowers since 2004 to build an electronic instrument using 19th century technology, and an “imagined historical reject” is what he calls the end result. We received a copy of this release on 14 April 2016, but it’s been out since 2015 and is sadly sold out at source.

Dig We Must

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Here be the latest dubby sound-art suite from Portugal’s finest contemporary composer Jonathan Uliel Saldanha, called Tunnel Vision (SILO003LP) and released on the Silo Rumor label. He recorded it in various caves and caverns around Porto. I had no idea there were caves in Porto, though when you Google for information abou this you mostly get guided tourist visits to wine cellars, which makes sense, or at any rate is something that’s bound to be popular. On this dramatic and dynamic music, Saldanha revisits his preoccupation with dub music, which has previously been evident on the record he made with HHY & The Macumbas, called Throat Permission Cut, in 2014. The composer boasted of his “space-age voodoo dub constructions”, and referred to the echo studio effect as “Skull Cave Echo”, a fanciful term he continues to use on Tunnel Vision.

We hear such a wide range of instrumentation and vocals on Tunnel Vision I found it hard to believe that it was indeed recorded in caves, as doing so would seem to entail assembling a small orchestra of percussion instruments and a large choir packed in a cramped narrow space, under conditions where most musicians would start charging double rates. In fact it was made by a small ensemble. It might be the mixing and editing stages which contain the processes that are most relevant. What ends up on the tape – I continue to regard him as a “sound painter” along the lines of Teo Macero – is a strange intoxicating melange of wailing choruses (vocals by Jessika Kenney, Mike Ladd, Catarina Miranda and Raz Mesinai), performing like a demented Greek chorus; trumpets and woodwinds (played by Álvaro Almeida) producing forlorn fanfare effects that are the exact opposite of triumphant music; and no end of wild percussive and drumming moments (João Filipe and others), punching home the excitement of the musical narrative. Where previous works of JUS have owed some debt (large or small) to the dancefloor, this one is all art-music through and through. It comes within an ace of being an avant-garde opera, compressed into some 40 minutes; perhaps Saldanha should attempt such a project, unless it’s in danger of being too pretentious, and assuming he can find a suitable text.

There’s a movie of the same name, an experimental science fiction film directed by Raz Mesinai, said film endorsed by John Zorn and released on his Tzadik label. The present release is a “re-edit and remastered version of the original soundtrack”, originally released in 2013. Tzadik’s blurb for this stresses the infernal nature of going into caves to make music, and relishes the thought that Mesiani and Saldanha “descend[ed] far below the earth’s surface into some of the oldest, and darkest underground tunnels in Europe.” In like manner, the label Silo Rumour cherish the “use of resonant spaces”. From 19 April 2016.

The Yellow Room

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David Vélez
Unaware
UK LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR 067 CD (2015)

In the summer of 1993, after finishing college, I found myself living in a derelict building in St Helier on Jersey, writing prose poetry and relying on the kindness and patience of friends while playing in a jazz funk band when I should really have been concentrating on working out how on earth to make a proper living. My sojourn in the Channel Islands coincided with the Jersey Airshow, during which aircraft would fly very low over the island, almost grazing the top of a ridge at South Hill Gardens that overlooks St Helier’s man-made harbour. At this low altitude, the larger military aircraft, in particular a turboprop Lockheed Hercules, produced an extreme noise environment inside the flat which began with everything rattling as the aircraft approached and grew in intensity to a literal deafening; a pressurised, noise-blotting, zero-sound environment inside the building as they passed overhead. If you crank Unaware loud enough, through robust speakers, the effect is not dissimilar.

In 2013, I was very lucky to be able to book the Colombian sound artist David Vélez for an Aural Detritus Concert Series event during his rare visit to the UK, thanks in large part to Simon Whetham’s recommendation. David’s performance was excellent. Along with Juan José Calarco, Pedro Leitâo and James McDougall, Vélez co-founded the Impulsive Habitat label; an imprint which “focuses on the publication of phonographic and music concrete based works” and the journal The Field Reporter. The people at Linear Obsessional describe Vélez as a “composer and installation artist”, and here, his piece Unaware is designed to “play” your listening environment by way of “…exploring the effects of low frequencies, and is intended to be played through loud speakers…” Furthermore, those loudspeakers should be “woofers”, i.e. the aforementioned robust units with authoritative bass response, and with the compact disc itself on repeat in the cd player. So, if you are used to using headphones a lot you’re probably not going to experience the intended effect. Real-world hi-fi – every home needs some.

As an artist who works often with sound, Vélez is clearly attempting to encourage and control the conditions his installations exist in, which I’m sure leads to some very interesting situations/installations/environments, of which Unaware is but one. What I particularly like about it is its potential to sound radically different depending on where it is played back. There’s something very satisfying about domestic speakers moving things other than just air around. It throws up a lot of questions too. Among other things, I think it underlines the recent movement toward endless miniaturisation of both playback equipment (headphones, earbuds, laptop speakers and so forth) and format (media players, phones, mp3s), which could have as many drawbacks as advantages.

Un Mixte

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Vicious piece of no-nonsense fucking process electronic music from Léo DupleixTwo Compositions For Mixed Sources (ALBERTINE REC) is a creaky academic title hiding some pretty severe and hard-to-take sounds in a non-descript cover. A decoy if ever there was! Well, on the first of these two discs, we have various sorts of electronic drone and grunt, including one really piercing and shrill high tone that they use for torturing prisoners in fascist regimes, and which has been outlawed in most countries. The other sound is running water, always a good standby in this area. When composers want to refer to the real world, they reach for them old running water sounds, be it a river or stream, or even the ocean in some cases, depending on what sort of dramatic mood they wish to conjure. In the case of Dupleix, he wants the pastoral babbling brook effect (and let’s hope he packed a picnic with baguettes and pate for the occasion) to contrast with these evil flying saucer tones that are gradually taking over the civilised world at his behest. Later on we get a hotel lobby full of chattering types talking about something. Or maybe it’s captured from a conference on some learned subject. Everyone seems really polite. Which do you prefer, babbling brooks or babbling classes? Along the way to this civilised point we’ve endured the awful chirping crickets of bedlam, been abraded by the abstract white noise tones of abrasive sandpaper, and faced the void of unknowing thereby. Cissy old Pierre Henry wanted to take the listener on ‘Le Voyage’ in 1967 to attain spiritual knowledge of some sort, but this is the real deal…here we’re being forcefully taken on the last mile down the corridor, where the metaphysical guillotine awaits us. 32 minutes of existential abstract hell!

So that was BRUIT(s), described by Leo as a mix of “field recordings, white noises, sine waves.” Turns out it’s the first ever release on Albertine Rec. Further turns out he founded said label himself. It’s about limited editions, so these are CDRs. 27 copies only were pressed of the thing I now clasp in my mitts. Your man has ambition with this label. Three things are in his sights: (a) composition, (b) raw live recordings of improvised music and (c) what he calls the “in-betweens”. Challenging, radical, daring. You bet!

Well, better shove in disc two I guess. Aha, five tracks this time. Might be easier to digest than the first disc, but in fact that one was more episodic anyway. It was like six or seven suites all edited together in a jammy wodge of golden filth. This time he’s “playing” his own hardware – an open hard drive and its fan, recordings of same then subjected to digital processing. This is pretty much on Gregory Büttner’s turf now. What that German guy doesn’t know about playing small objects, especially electric fans, you could write on the back of a 50 Euro postage stamp. It’s about the beauty of process, the poetry of mechanical devices blindly whirring out their noise into an uncaring world. Who’s to say the humble electric fan is not actually a butterfly in disguise? And other such banal observations I would utter, if I was writing this review for Field And Stream or a BBC Nature magazine.

Léo Dupleix calls this Process #1: Changes. Accurate description. It’s one of the features of modernism that we made a break with “poetic” titles like The Lark Ascending, and instead insisted on hard material facts, so often a composition title is just describing the means of its own making, such as the famous avant-garde ceramic which was titled I Am A Pot. Has anything been sacrificed thereby? Well, I’m finding this Process#1 quite the mesmeriser, and through sheer persistence or something else, it is sublimating the materiality of that fan in short order. To be sure, some processing has been allowed to heavily disguise and mutate the sound on track two, so that it resembles a wonky helicopter from beyond the Eighth Dimension hovering in for a visit. But the core structure is still rotating blades. And it’s still beautiful on some level. Elsewhere on this disc, you’ll get long and testing grindy drone tones which rumble and whine in a most severe manner. That word again. Maybe Léo Dupleix is a severe man. Probably someone hard to please, if he was a tutor of modern music and you were in his class. He’s not always aiming for sublimation here, and while we can’t get away from the truth of that simple hard drive and fan, it’s still reaching into a new dimension of aesthetic pleasure. Tough minded, stolid process noise…it’s hard to beat, and less subtle than Büttner’s material which seems positively altruistic by comparison.

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So your man was born in Paris. And heavens, can he really be that young? After a stint at the Conservatory in Brussels, he did the Japan thing. He’s played with some of the famous feedback and quiet tone musicians in that oriental locale, including Nakamura and Akiyama. Plus the wonderful Utah Kawasaki. And a bunch of other names I don’t recognise. But suffice to say he’s co-opted the flippin’ “Onkyo” style into his own pouch, and is reworking the fabric on his own terms, as it were cross-layering that single-minded approach to minimal improvised noise into the more classic French electro-acoustic compositional method. But even the latter has been examined, found wanting, and simplified to make sense for the brutal post-2010 years.

In all, I think this is a great set. Many thanks to Léo for sending this. It arrived 4th April 2016. Now for a full neck transplant to compensate. In the words of Plastique Bertrand, “la colle me manquera”.