Tagged: sound art

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

JULY180

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.

JULY183

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.

Darkspace I: setting the controls aiming for the heart of the universe – and finding sheer dark space

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Darkspace, Darkspace I, Haunter of the Dark, CD001 (2003)

Finally I’ve been able to hear the first album in Darkspace’s trilogy of cold immersive space-ambient BM albums, mainly for the sake of completion. In comparison with the other Darkspace albums, this first set sticks closely to militaristic black metal, delivered a little too efficiently in the manner of machines inhabited and driven by an insane and malevolent spirit. That’s meant to be a compliment to the Darkspace trio of musicians themselves. All three recordings are inspired and powered by a vision of space and the cosmos as essentially indifferent, and maybe even hostile, to the existence of humanity; the message is that we are on our own and if we are to continue to exist, we must do so without help from external powers. A supreme God will not save us because such an entity does not and has never existed.

The beast is born in utter black cavernous emptiness amid shifting, groaning echoes, sighing whispers and cries of lost spirits. Suddenly the music jets off into the high atmosphere, all bristling noise and crunching jagged guitar battery riffs, eerie background synthesiser tones and a cacophony of gabbling demon voices caught up within the tight maelstrom. In the second track there is a sample of dialogue from the Stanley Kubrick film “2001: A Space Odyssey” in which the computer HAL is interviewed by the BBC and states that it looks forward to working with humans. As the track progresses, the music speeds up to a frenzied and extreme level, the screaming grows more demented, drums and cymbals are pounding away, and the synths sigh on as if in a frozen catatonic state.

The musicians concentrate in the main on building up an overwhelming, enveloping structure that sweeps up listeners and carries them aloft on an interstellar journey between their ears. You can’t help but be absorbed by it all. The evil and deranged atmosphere completely swamps you. Within the music, hideous beings converse and plot the course of the spaceship careening through the cosmos at multiple times the speed of light. One mistake, the ship lurches in another direction and the monsters scream and howl their lungs inside out and back gain. Lead guitar hollers away in a wormhole and drums bang on in a non-stop frenzy.

Admittedly the music is not varied and tends towards the obsessive and extreme in its single-minded focus. That’s the whole point of the recording: its very derangement and seeming lack of anything resembling human nature or anything organic mean that there is no concept of limitation where the music is concerned. Whatever direction is set for it, it continues relentlessly down that track. Everything takes place in a nihilistic universe; concepts of good and evil are neither here nor there. You’re not asked to love the music but you have to admire it anyway for its pure nature, steeped in what we would consider evil and malevolent.

It’s only in Track 1.6 that we get the first hints that the music might be slowing down just a little and a certain despair, a moment of bleak desolation, appears beneath the layers of compulsively grinding guitar texture. But these hints lead nowhere as the maelstrom moves with a force even it can’t control. On and on it goes, and even when the album appears to wind down and the music fades away, there’s still a sense of a never-ending journey into infinity and beyond.

Nevertheless whether this journey ever has an end or not, it is a journey worth taking for those brave enough to question the nature of the universe in which we live and who want to know more beyond what they’ve been taught to believe and found wanting.

Contact: Haunter of the Dark

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