Tagged: sound art

Questers from Quebec

You may recall two previous posts where we noted Rinus Van Alebeek and his Staaltape label. Among the projects he likes to instigate are “Tape Run” events, where a cassette tape is passed relay-fashion from one sound artist to another, to document / record / express what they will. Often this takes place in great secrecy and in the confines of a single city. The results are always unexpected and sometimes even quite shocking, hence the need for secrecy. If they applied for a license to do it from local government officials, most likely it would be refused or the creators involved would have to pay a heavy fine for contravening 13 local restrictions and bye-laws. Lesson one for would-be radical artists; don’t tell anyone your plans.

Most of the “Tape Runs” I have heard are from mainland Europe, but now it’s possible to hear one of the international contributions on Montréal Tape Run, an item sent to us in February 2013 by the Crustacés Tapes label. The cassette was “passed between 10 sets of hands over 10 days across the city”. Right there you’ve got a coherent rule – a structure, governed by numbers, that delineates this as a project, makes it finite, and makes it admissible as a composition. Without that rule, you could have a tape project that theoretically takes place across several cities, involves too many creators, and goes on forever. Second lesson: don’t try and map the whole world.

Included with the item is a brief document on flimsy paper, said document written in typewriter (one with a red ribbon, even – how old school can you get?) and pencil annotations. From this, we deduce that ten artistes contributed, five on each side, including Andrea-Jane Cornell, Alain Lefebvre, Hélène Prévost, Martin Tétreault, Joshua Bastien, and others – including the mysteriously-named grkzgl, who turns out to play a pretty mean spring-box. As to that, we can also deduce something about their methods for sound generation, but not very much – due to the famous Canadian love of the “cryptic” when it comes to giving away trade secrets. Some of them may be performance pieces, some of them may be field recordings, some of them may be very odd and perplexing compositions involving a highly unlikely set of elements.

It’s all quite bewildering, I’m happy to report, and whereas I seem to recall likening the Paris Tape Run to a form of latter-day derive by some madcap Situationists, the overall feeling I’m getting from Montréal Tape Run is not unlike Fluxus art, where small and apparently trivial events or actions are framed, contextualised, magnified, captured quickly and presented as interesting ephemera rather than fossilised and plonked firmly on the pedestal of “high art”. This sensation is not dispelled by the fact that the tape is hard to follow and it’s not always clear where one piece ends and the next begins, but this is also welcome to my ears, and probably deliberate. That said, I was able to orient myself on side one when I heard the actions of three stone masons hammering away outside the window, and realised we had reached ‘Crayon Maçon’ by Hélène Prévost (noted electro-acoustic composer and radio producer, she) – it’s a mix comprising two field recordings of events happening in and around her studio, and one “action” – her sharpening a pencil. 1

If any of this sounds intriguing to you, please do investigate – after all I know you’re all longing to hear what a piece called ‘Rainbow Banana’ sounds like, and it’s on side two and it’s by Dona Silicon. Personally I’m not only impressed by what I hear but also wonder to myself why something so fragile and marginal and eccentric should be so compelling to listen to 2. I suppose it has the same sort of rough-hewn experimentation I hear on Van Alebeek’s projects, the sense that the outcome of these works is not known in advance, there’s something at stake, and that there is both nothing and everything to lose. I also like the fact that so little is “explained”, that there are no printed biographies of the creators that can sometimes seem so self-serving and pretentious, and not a web link in sight. Hand-made cassette tapes, sounds recorded without use of a laptop, and a typewritten note – it confirms to me that I’m right to stay in love with the “old” world of tangible objects! Indeed the passage through time and space of this artefact is so important to me that I have taken photos of the envelope it arrived in, for your delectation.

  1. At least this contribution has a “point” to it. Ha comma ha.
  2. Actually that’s a pretty good list of adjectives describing what I enjoy about modern music.

Living with Acousmatics

Nicolas Wiese is a German all-rounder artist based in Berlin – responsible for some dense and fascinating audio-visual installations, samples of which play on his ultra-cool website in a highly seductive manner. He’s also strong on graphic design and drawing, and his work has manifested itself in the form of collages, radio art, drawings, and film. And he’s an electro-acoustic composer to boot, and some examples of his compositions are now available on the LP Living Theory Without Anecdotes (CORVO RECORDS CORE 005), a high-quality object presented in a nice window-cut cover designed by Wendelin Buchler with typography by Wiese and an unexplained image of some lilies. The album contains four acousmatic (which is the term composers use when they intend the music to be used exclusively for playback over speakers) works dated 2009-2011. One of them is a collaboration with Rom Rojo Poller, another uses samples provided by Thorsten Soltau 1. I think at least two of the others recycle older existing compositions by Wiese himself. Most of them are composed out of samples, and he uses a good deal of processing and reprocessing to arrive at the finished product. There’s a concern with layering, with structural depth, and in some cases with creating a very immersive environment, with detailed sound samples arranged in near-architectural forms, creating aural illusions of depth and space, intended to surround and envelop the listener.

Wiese certainly creates a unique and effective sound. To those listeners familiar with contemporary electronic and electro-acoustic music – especially that produced by digital means – the record may superficially appear quite familiar at first, but this impression will last about five seconds. After you let these four suites draw you in, they will wrap you up in polythene like a pupae in a cocoon and then boot you out of the whitewashed doors of the art gallery, after which you’ll be a changed person…there’s an air of abiding unreality, of unnatural sounds that have little or no direct correspondence to real life, even when they may have been derived from string samples and recording sessions where acoustic instruments (zither and cello, for instance) were involved. The very title “without anecdotes” confirms Wiese’s indifference to “narrative” forms in art, and his dedication to utter abstraction. It’s not unlike being invited to make your camp for two weeks inside a Mark Rothko painting, with no outside communication allowed. I don’t mean to make it sound unpleasant though, because this record’s slow-moving and elegant forms do exude a strange non-musical charm. Above all there’s that almost oppressive sense of enclosure, imaginary walls hemming you in. At times I have the impression of great precision combined with an equally great vagueness…these thoughts arise as I consider Wiese’s working methods…as though he were able to draw a very accurate map of a topography that is impossible to chart, has no limits, and doesn’t even exist. No wonder I feel lost after only a few moments wandering in these brittle soundscapes.

As I consider the term “precision”, I’m then drawn back to think about the work of John Wall, our favourite UK composer who for a long time has worked exclusively with samples. For years he has been riveting his sounds to our skulls using his hard-edged digital editing techniques, following a trajectory that was bound ever deeper into the minimal realms. His work is nothing like Wiese’s though. It might be instructive, for both parties, if we could begin to understand why that is. From 15 July 2013.

  1. Thorsten made one half of a picture disc for this label called Grün Wie Milch in 2011, noted here.

Terror Tales

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Sixteen Fingers is one of the more edgy and anxious artists on LF Records, itself a home to the more extreme and angst-ridden forms of underground electronic and digital music. We last heard from Sixteen Fingers with their self-titled record released around 2011, a fierce and coruscating blast of anger and frustration. For Glooms Vol. 1 (LF034), the anger seems to have dissipated somewhat, and we’re left with a the sound of a sorrowful soul who appears resigned to their fate; eight episodes of unremitting misery, in the form of very rich dark ambient cloudstorms, or attenuated electrical malfunction-buzz that grates on the pelt of every flea-ridden mutt who dares to pass by the home of Sixteen Fingers. Some of the tracks use spoken word elements, which might be broadcasts captured from the radio – the one on Track 01 does have the sneering patrician tones of an English politician – but all content has been drained away, the voice rendered unintelligible through distortion. This accurately reflects a very acute state of mental desperation, when things in the outside world start to mean nothing to you, and become mere ghosts or empty projections. Track 07 is a particularly outstanding achievement, an indescribable blend of vague and faintly-perceptible sounds, all as malnourished as a 1930s shoeless tramp living in a nameless derelict site, and set to a backdrop of chilling waily drone music. Nightmarish…I do kind of miss the agitation and anger of previous release, but this creator is truly one of a kind. Every single sound here conveys a vivid sense of abject despair and futility, and the album more than lives up to its title. Looks like Vol. 2 is already out…maybe it will include a free razor blade with every copy.

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Seems a long while since we received any “product” from Ian Watson, the talented hollow-eyed mystic from Cardiff who runs Phantomhead Recordings, is a musician in his own right, and an exceptional draughtsman capable of producing quite twisted images of supernatural horror, death and decay with his gnarled and spiny brush or his unholy collage technique. His cover for the Bear Man cassette (circa 2011) is an image I personally cherish in the art gallery I keep inside my head. Here he be with 12 untitled tracks on the compilation album Terrestrial Gone Tropic With Some Pretty Fancy Animals (LF032), each of which is a unique venture into his own highly warped “take” on dark ambient and drone music. How is he creating this near-organic mulch, this non-artificial mush made only from the choicest sourced ingredients? He studiously avoids over-familiar sounds and I would imagine that almost everything we hear is hand-crafted by him in some way, hopefully using home-made instruments concocted from a tin of pineapple chunks and an Ever-Ready battery from 1969. Through layers of vague sonic distortion, evil tales of swamp life and inhuman creatures are spun; indeed every track itself seems to have been dredged from the heart of the swamp, squishing about covered in mud and weeds, and it slithers towards us with diabolical intent. I’d as leif face up to “Brown Jenkin” for 25 mins. as endure any one of these supernatural groan-a-thons. No titles, and in fact no contextual information, but apparently these grotesque smogged-up droners have surfaced before, mostly on various very small editions from Watson’s own label. A highly effective and original “spooker” to be sure, it scores 15 points on the “murkeroo” scale, which is my scientific method of applying a metric to music of this ilk.

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TX Ogre has named all the tracks on his Brrr Blobs (LF036) after popular ice cream lollies of the 1970s, including Jelly Terror, Melting Monsters, Pineapple Mivvi, and Jack of Diamonds. The latter I remember well for its crunchy biscuit and chocolate coating around its vaguely coffee-flavoured filling. This mini-CDR is highly percussive – either produced with an old broken drum machine, samples of percussion, a live drum kit recorded in a metal garage, or some combination of all the above, producing the impression of several boxes of Sheffield steel cutlery being thrown down a spiral staircase at speed. TX Ogre embellishes his angry, walloping attacks with errant jets of squiggly synth doodles and electronic belches, and the total effect is of wild crazy energy firing off every which way. TX Ogre is the sculptor and free musician Henry Collins, who also performs / records as Shitmat and a host of other humourous aliases, including Evil Roast Beef Administrator.

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The visual artist and noise-maker Robert Ridley-Shackleton is a new name to me, but I see he’s already released a number of CDRs and cassettes since 2012, including some interesting splits, on his own Hissing Frames label – many of them with zanoid titles that persuade me he’s not lacking a sense of absurdity. His Ovencleaner (LF033) mini CDR may be short in length, but it’s dense and detailed in attack – 20 minutes of very imaginative and layered textured-processo racket wielding a sonic Brillo pad for your hide that you’ll be glad you submitted to. Or will you? While it’s not an unpleasant harsh noise blasterthon, there’s still enough basic grind going on here to produce a vague sense of unease, as if the downtown bus we boarded in good faith some moments ago is now heading on a one-way course towards an abattoir’s conveyor belt. Or the reassuring drone from the propeller engines of this old-fashioned passenger aircraft is now turning to the sinister as the pilot directs us into the mouth of an enormous ogre which we mistook for the side of a mountain. Compelling in an evil goblinesque way…and the washed-out cover artworks won’t provide much in the way of clues. I wonder if all of his paintings are this way…cloaking as much as they show, hiding strange realities behind painterly swathes of dishevelled and distressed canvas? If I had the time, I would immerse myself in more of these disorienting episodes from Robert Ridley-Shackleton, fearsome character though he be.

All the above from 12 November 2013.

Shadows and Light

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Last noted the Norwegian free-noise-rock-a-boodle combo Staer with their self-titled release on Discorporate Records, and here they are again with another aggressive blast of bass-heavy riffing and attack-mode drumming on Daughters (HORSE ARM RECORDS HAR CD10). The threesome of Kristoffer Riis, Markus Hagen and Thore Warland are joined by sax player Kjetil Möster for these 2012 live-to-tape studio sessions, and it’s a joyously black-toned blast of unkempt splurginess which spills out from their collective blowhole, where feedback, reverb units and bass drums tend to rule the roost, and the keynote emotion is a hearty embrace of despair and pain. Look elsewhere if you want remorseless stoner or grindcore sludge played by formulaic rules; Staer are much more “artistic”, and have a strong concern with using their musical limbs to perform clever dynamics and acrobatics, in the form of stop-start rhythms and illogical guitar stabs. They also like to control their excessive noise bursts, causing them to jump like fish on a line. It takes some nerve on their part to title one of their tunes after a line from a favourite Bowie song (‘Flashing Teeth of Brass’), but I’ll overlook this. A good avant-stomper for your elephant boots, and packaged in a silkscreened box thing. A vinyl edition is also available from Gaffer Records.

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A curious work is Lemuria (CRÓNICA 083-2013), a collaboration between the sound artist Enrico Coniglio from Venice and the photographer and field recordist Giovanni Lami of Ravenna, here working as the duo Lemures. The record is a puzzling mix of field recordings and minimalist drones, and you know how commonplace such methods are these days. So perhaps on one level this is nothing very special, and yet the scant aural information they give us is presented in such a very deliberate order that it does implant strange impressions in the brain. It’s as though we’re just hearing the traces of an event that has long since passed, or are being given a handful of unconnected clues to solve a complex detective story. An episode of CSI in sound; aural forensics.

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Ryoji Ikeda for me bestrode the late 1990s like a colossus, except that he did it entirely in digital sound rather than standing bodily over the entrance to a major port with his mighty legs astride. His Matrix album for the Touch label was one of the highlights of punchy minimal precision in electronic music for the year 2000, and if he’d been left to design the world’s millennial fireworks exhibitions, he’d have done everything with advanced virtual reality techniques, setting off Roman Candles of the mind that would have amazed half of Europe with their neatly-arranged orange patterns bursting across the night sky. Well, it’s probably fair to say he’s found his spiritual home on the Raster-Noton label, and his Supercodex (RASTER-NOTON R-N 150) is the latest item for that label – the last one we heard was Test Pattern in 2008, and it so happens Supercodex is the final part of a trilogy which began in 2005 with Dataplex. Apparently all the music here is constructed from cannibalised versions of his own earlier works, plus other art installation pieces thrown into that cauldron, and portions of his current Superimposition project too. When other musicians do this kind of “melting pot” rendition of their own recent history, we can usually expect a sticky gumbo of over-processed nonsense, but Ikeda avoids the problems that can arise from pointless statement and restatement, and somehow manages to pare everything about his work back to the fundamentals. The essence of his work, already ultra-minimal to begin with, is recast here in a form that’s even more clean, white, and precise. If he was a chef in a fish restaurant, I’m confident that he could fillet a large bluefish in 20 seconds, using sharp stainless steel knives and laser beams, and then repeat the process to produce the fillet of a fillet. At the end of this culinary experiment, there might not be much food on your plate in terms of cubic volume, but it’d be full of compacted goodness – one bite of it would nourish you for 48 hours. There’s also some concern to explore the sound of data and the data of sound, which probably means he’s capable of rearranging the parameters of a sound file using a hexadecimal editor. If any of the above is true, or makes any sense, then Supercodex lives up its name – a super-music, a species of futuristic hyper-music built out of its own source code.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact: 23five Incorporated

Speaking Charms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microsolci

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

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

Hum Of Gnats Review
poisucevamachenille review

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Climatologies Old and New

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Baroque

AUG203

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

AUG202

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

Collapsing

JK

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

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

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