Tagged: sound art

A Fitful Impasse


Monica Brooks & Laura Altman
As Is

Curious CD from Sydney. Very spartanly presented, very spartanly instrumented. Our two antipodean artistes utilise on this recording accordion and clarinet, respectively. Both make tentative enquiries in the higher registers of both instruments and use extraneous and ephemeral effects of non-standard physical sound generation, what is known as “extended technique”. The extended technique is not extended much further than these quiet high frequency forays, however; restraint, or hesitancy, is the order of the day.

The restrained and reduced instrumental approach might ordinarily be an encouragement to deep listening, go deep here and you find yourself contemplating mass transit systems, airport terminals, the undersides of caterpillar treads. Potentially uncomfortable places to rest for any length of time. These intimated locations remind me of certain scenes in Patrick Keiller’s films: long, static shots presented in a documentary manner of localised manifestations of global capital such as highly automated ports and out of town shopping centres. Places often edited out of existence (understandably) by the psychic censor.

The title As Is suggests that this disc is conceived of as a verité document, the results of an experiment presented for inspection. Extrapolated, perhaps it is the situation of two artists negotiating their wider real-world context. We hear the dry sounds of a fragmentary indoor busking, unwilling to be heard, the two wind instruments doing a fair impression of the slow squeak of metal grates against the distant backdrop of diesel generators and diggers reversing. The specific (muted) urban-industrial backdrop that is sharing the acoustic space is throughout a tonally confusing monotone alongside the (spare) musical information. Subdued shadings in chalk and charcoal on concrete walls, faint luminescence of contradiction.

Apparently As Is was recorded in a ‘concrete room’ in a former brewery in the middle of multiple construction sites; the low growling grey concrete dust of the metropolis is a constant throughout all tracks. Despite being enclosed within a building, the low-frequency sounds of mechanised urban activity still manage to seep in, subtly crowding the acoustic space. In between silences, underneath quiet sustained high register pitches, the muffled rumble of activity sits discomfitingly under what might in another context become delicate interplay.

However rather than interplay, the two distinct aural elements come across as mutual incompatibility, a contrast highlighting an underlying tension or even antagonism (at least in the configurations attempted) – there may be more specific dialectical implications to be teased out here by those with the inclination. The only time that the artists seem to compete with the background noises of the playing environment is when they move briefly towards the lower register or make more definite gestures. In the third track, ‘In distinction’ (a telling title?), the tonal spectrum broadens to include lower instrumentally-generated pitches and more movement. This indicates a way out of what can seem a fitful impasse. It turns out to be only a brief moment. Perhaps the artistic decision was to throw such brief moments into relief by surrounding them with determinedly introverted and self-effacing playing?

Much of the rest of the album involves tones which are dissatisfied with their own audibility, which seem quite happy and relieved for a reprieve from the task of making a sound when a passing delivery van or dropped pen takes centre stage. In some ways this can be confusing, certainly leading to an unsatisfying listening experience, in others it perhaps contains something of the Taoist approach to confrontation, making a virtue of weakness.

The uncomfortable contrast between the tentative, de-centred, lop-sided approach of the duo and the noisy construction activity occurring in the same soundfield induces a mindset in which speculations on the relationship between the personal and industrial, entertainment, art, commerce and capital occur and within such a framework demonstrates two peoples’ own oblique strategy when confronting such questions. Rather a dry subject when framed and limited in this way. Still, although in some ways frustrating, there is food for certain modes of thought here, if not much for the ears or the more exuberant areas of the psyche.

What we can say definitely, concretely, at the end of this is that this is ‘as was’, these sounds were performed in this particular situation. Reasons and results remain notionally obscure, coloured by a murky wash of exhaust particles. This very obscurity of hidden purpose may hold a key to understanding, though. The plain presentation, lack of adornment or transformation is the essential nature of the artefact. Not seeking to construct an imaginationally transfigured situation it invites us instead to contemplate the implications and nature of a specific real-world nexus of different human activities.


Manners Maketh Man


Alessandro Bosetti‘s work grows more complex and more fascinating with every day. The first things I heard from him were rather enigmatic assemblages of field recordings and sound art, but in recent years he’s become more focused on using the voice – quite often his own – to make dazzling pieces of sound poetry, cut-ups, song-speech and unclassifiable statements, some of them within the context of his post-jazz post-pop trio, Trophies. Der Italienische Manierismus (CON-V CNVCD006) is a collection of seven unrelated pieces, all of them quite astounding, and making different observations about aspects of cultural history in the most eclectic way possible. If it weren’t for the artist’s notes in the enclosed press release, I’d have no idea where to orient myself. The abiding theme is to do with “mannerisms”, hence the title – Bosetti freely owns he is drawn to the contrived, the artifice, the stylised and the mannered in art, whether from the renaissance or baroque periods, and translates these preoccupations into his extremely rich sound art. Just starting off with ‘Rosso’, for example. The music itself is a thick layer of abstract electro-acoustic noise, underpinned by Bosetti’s own melodic doo-wop styled backing vocals, and is extremely puzzling. It’s something to do with “rhythm and drapery”, as if Bosetti had spent months studying the finer points of how folded cloth was rendered in Italian renaissance art, which he probably has; and then found a way to translate this visual information into sound art.

On ‘Fantozzi Vs Dalla’ the artist claims to be paying tribute to two popular Italian singers. I suppose one of them was Lucio Dalla, the singer-songwriter who died in 2012, and was one of many post-war musicians dubbed “cantautori” who spoke to a disaffected generation with their lyrics about society’s ills 1. Dalla also loved opera, jazz, film soundtracks, football, and made many best-selling records. Bosetti is a fan, but declares he prefers the “early yells” of these singers. On the track here, the sampled voices of Indra Klimaite and Valentina Picello are rebuilt into strange barks and discordant parodies of opera singing, wailing in alien fashion over a layered woodwind drone. This is the deconstructionist approach taken to a remarkable extreme – it almost lays bare the mechanics of popular song, reducing it to a disjointed yet strangely beautiful sequence of events that don’t quite match up.

Another enjoyable piece is ‘Sigmund Holmes and Sherlock Freud’, which at three minutes is almost a throwaway piece in among this clutch of more serious essays, but it’s sumptuous. Described as a “madrigal soaked in reverb”, it’s like the evil ghosts of The Beach Boys surfacing from a nocturnal ocean with twisted, Gesualdo-like harmonies emanating from their pallid lips. The title here is something which I’m sure Anthony Burgess could have made into a perfect short story.

‘Dolce Stilnox’ is one of the slightly less challenging cuts on the album, with a musical backdrop that could almost be mistaken for lite-funk disco music with its rubbery pulses and electric piano samples, but even here the genre has been turned in on itself in a highly mannered fashion, producing a music that’s almost a sarcastic parody. The art dimension comes from the sampled voice spitting out fragments of disjunctive phrases, apparently taken from “insomnia drawings”, whatever they may be.

There are also pieces about the writings of Proust and one derived from a study of the avant-garde poet Corrado Costa (the insufferable ‘Our Positions’). I was more drawn to ‘It Is An Island’ which is dedicated to Guiseppe Arcimboldo, the painter who made figures and faces from assemblages of fruits, vegetables, animals and so forth. Since Arcimboldo’s one of my favourite painters, I had high hopes, but the track is one of the most mannered and irritating pieces on an album which, some might think, is already being too clever for its own good. Bosetti’s voice intones in dry emotionless fashion, describing a landscape in minute detail much like some 18th century Romantic poet or novelist. Gradually his verbal descriptions are overlaid with sound effects and field recordings, to bring the tableau to life with the sounds of water, wind, beach and birdsong. It works well on paper, but it’s not an easy listen – the edits are deliberately jumpy and jarring.

Lastly I ought to mention the cover art, which is almost a direct lift from the work of Peter Max, the American poster artist who was incredibly popular in the 1960s with his watered-down appropriations from psychedelia and hippy culture. If I am right, this pastiche-of-a-pastiche fits right in with the intentions of this very unusual record. Arrived September 2012.


  1. Essay question waiting to be set here for sociology students. The same strain of post-war disaffection gave us Krautrock in Germany, Merseybeat in the UK, and Tropicalia in Brazil. Discuss.

Comforts in Atrocity: darkly moody and sometimes hellish industrial ambient soundscapes

Mors Sonat Comforts in Atrocity
Mors Sonat, Comforts in Atrocity,  Crucial Blast Records, CD CBR92 (2013)

On paper at least, Mors Sonat boasts a respectable pedigree as the bastard child of Bob Nekrasov (Whitehorse, Nekrasov) and Mories of Gnaw Their Tongues. We therefore expect no less than a gigantic slab of intense and malevolent industrial / dark ambient / noise monsterism from the Mors Sonat debut “Comforts in Atrocity”. Well, the dynamic duo delivers but not necessarily in the way breathlessly anticipated by those of us who’ve been hanging outside the musical maternity wards around the clock night and day. Some of the better aspects of the two musicians’ work have combined in a subtle way to produce an album of darkly moody and occasionally demonic ambient soundscapes with a careful use of effects, sound tones and textures, and treated vocals. Some genuinely creepy and terrifying work can be found here without the more cartoonish and gruesome serial-killer kitsch tendencies of Mories’ Gnaw Their Tongues project.

Early tracks gradually bring about a vision of bleakness and unrelenting hell; one detects the sure hand of Nekrasov in describing and building up insidious horror on a track like “Sanctuary in Soil”. Come to “The Vengeance of Embrace” with its layers of metallic reverberations and ululating-dog drones and you start to detect an undercurrent of derangement and theatricality; the track is quite disciplined though in the way it unfurls its richly vibrating metal tones to reveal its insane essence. By contrast, the title track is a strangely soothing and beautiful creature possessed of a demonic spirit being. The duo reserves active fury and terror for the final track “So shall I weep in Liberation within the Ecstasy of Death”, a work of gibbering monster voices, screechy high-pitched drones and constant high-pressure background static steaming away.

They’re all good tracks but they suffer in being much alike in structure: they’re not much more than ongoing rhythm texture exercises and one gets the sense that they’re being run through their paces without much challenge to their potential for drama and viciousness. It’s a pity that five tracks should escalate through tension and mounting horror towards a track that should reveal a final message of utmost terror and everlasting torment but which ends up not delivering on what its predecessors hinted at. Even so, the journey has its fine moments and the goal might not necessarily be what “Comforts in Atrocity” aims at: it is a first effort after all and perhaps Nekrasov and Mories were erring on the side of caution and taking things slowly and gradually. You don’t want to accidentally blow the planet apart on your first collaboration together before you’re even sure that that’s what you want to do.

Contact: Crucial Blast Records

Don’t Eat the Grass

Another odd entry in the Bryan Lewis Saunders Stream Of Unconscious series of cassettes where contemporary sound artists interpret the dream-diaries of this very extreme American performance artist. On Volume 7 a lot of leeway is clearly given by the creator to his collaborators, and these two contributions are indeed very free and imaginative interpretations of the source material. On ‘French Spies’, Joke Lanz may or may not have been given an original tape recording of Saunders’ sleep-talking, but he has elected to re-record the text using his own speaking voice. That alone kicks things off in a fairly unsettling fashion. It feels decidedly odd to be listening to the American’s speech patterns and slang words recast into this rather formal sounding vocalising, as if Joke were acting out the role of a rather strict and stuffy Swiss official like a schoolteacher or customs officer. This contributes no end to the utter surrealism of this fragmentary and illogical story involving broken bones, a French family, eating grass and cooked eggs. Natch, Joke Lanz is no stranger to extreme performance art himself, need I tell you…I gather that you’d be safer letting a firecracker explode in your face that get near this man when he’s in full spate in an underground bunker armed with his noise devices and microphone. For this recording though, he tones things down to an almost glacial degree, and his additions / interpolations in terms of sound effects and tape manipulation are relatively subdued, all in the service of making the text appear as strange and unnatural as possible. Odd giggling effects and bodily-function burbles, perhaps making a passing reference to the granddaddy of all literary sleep-journals, Finnegans Wake. 1 In short, although the actual recorded voice of BLS may be missing from this experiment, his inner core of warped dream visions still hit home, regardless of which voice may be speaking them…

The B side is even more triumphantly surrealist. ‘It’s Parents Like You That Are Flies on the Horse’s Face’ is credited to Dylan Nyoukis, although Elkka Reign Nyoukis also contributed vocals, and various friends who were also captured in the tape machine of this eccentric Scots genius who lives in Brighton. Nyoukis has created a turgid tape collage that’s as thick and swampy as ten-day old porridge, and laced the brew with potent hallucinogenic drugs. Within this completely insane swirling melange, we hear creaking, musical fragments, muttering voices, bird song, snatches from TV or movie soundtracks (perhaps); but mostly unidentifiable and puzzling sounds. These are stitched into place in erratic fashion around whatever segments of the original Saunders tape Nyoukis has managed to salvage in what (I hope) was a gloriously untidy and somewhat dangerous exercise, involving tape splices made with razor blades on the breakfast table while the family were still trying to eat breakfast, and the splashes of blood were indistinguishable from the raspberry jam. Through his wild-eyed and half-mad method, the artist succeeds completely in capturing the crapulous effects of a nightmare, by turns horrifying, hilarious, and mostly just plain bizarre. Whether this matches Saunders’ original intent is irrelevant, as his crackpot texts are Grade-A bughouse to begin with, and in any case the curious reader can decipher the transcripts printed in the enclosed booklet as needed. Animals, insects, drugs, and a strange scenario about a school day trip are among the many elements in this tangled tale. On the portions where we can hear Saunders muttering, he sounds like a more tremulous version of Tex Avery’s Droopy. For the rest, he’s just one more player in the cast of thousands that constitutes the psychotic inner world of Dylan Nyoukis. Another essential entry in this cassette series!

  1. No, I never read it all the way through, but I understand that snoring, coughing and indigestion sound effects are all worked into Joyce’s prose.

Somatic Soundtracks: modest set of abstract experimental minimalism with a dub touch

Ulrich Troyer meets Georg Blaschke, Somatic Soundtracks, 4Bit Productions, CD 4Bit-P001 (2012)

I’ve already passed quite a few pleasant afternoons and evenings with this compilation of recordings made by the Viennese sound-art creator Ulrich Troyer. Originally these pieces of music were composed for dance works choreographed by Georg Blaschke so if they sound rather low-key to some listeners, their initial purpose is the reason. The music moves from very moody abstract ambient soundscapes of a digital grainy texture to actual music constructions based on reggae, techno or dub. Although the sounds are varied, they seem quite tiny in the huge white art space in the album. The choice of instruments to create this array of music include analog synthesisers, samplers, melodica and guitar, performed in the main by Troyer himself with the exception of the last track “Back from Serbia” on which Jurgen Berlakovich played guitar.

The early tracks may prove daunting for most as they are quietly unassuming and give very little away, and you strain to catch every little nuance of tone and sound. The best of these tracks is “Somatic Script” which promises mystery and drama in its sinister whirring, scraping guitar-noise rhythms and foreboding tones.  The middle tracks may still be very bare-bones abstract and quite po-faced but there are intriguing rhythms within their dark spaces (“Your Dancer”) and very sculpted flubby sounds (“In Case of Loss”). “Song for Heide (Extended Version)” finally starts edging towards gentle pop and a definite dub reggae rhythms. “Back from Serbia” is a sunny, laid-back piece of fragmented reggae rhythm and ambience that might have sprung from someone’s much-loved collection of reggae vinyl platters from the mid-1970s.

If there is one criticism to be made, it’s that the tracks are often not much more than studies of rhythm texture and atmosphere, and often sound a bit like excerpts of much longer music. Bear in mind though that the music may have been secondary to the dance spectacle it was written for.

An ideal collection of rhythm studies and loops for an aspiring DJ perhaps and for the rest of us, some nice background music to a quiet restful Sunday afternoon in late summer: this is an album of very modest music.

Contact: Ulrich Troyer, Georg Blaschke, 4Bit Productions


Gods Of Tundra

Jim Haynes

I’ve often thought that sound-art should sound like music, without necessarily sounding like music, if you know what I mean. Jim Haynes possibly shares that view as Kamchatka emits no melodic information until three minutes into the second of its two tracks; ‘rocks, hills, plains,’ and even then we’re talking minimal high frequency moving drone-type melodic artefacts.

Jim Haynes is an American visual/sound artist and he distils his practice down to the brief epithet “I rust things”. This is no facile, throwaway comment. To me, this demonstrates brevity, rigour and commitment. All highly valuable qualities in an artist. It suggests an extreme interest in and engagement with the artist’s chosen materials.

The work is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. Lovely whirring hums, clicks, static, the sounds of distant heavy machinery; the effect of the whole is like listening to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music being broadcast from the bottom of the San Marinas trench on one of those little cream mono earphone contraptions that used to come in the box with radios in the 1970s. As you can probably tell, this kind of thing goes down well in my house. Plus, I really appreciate that Haynes states on the sleeve that despite the work being about Kamchatka the place, it is equally about his lack of knowledge of same. This confounds the unshakeable documentary nature of a lot of field recording while at the same time, this subtle self-deprecation endears the work to me somewhat. Art? You’ve got to have a little bit of humour in there, somewhere.

Great big chunks of Kamchatka are like sonic tundra; desolate, hostile and vast. Or like a giant solar contact mic attached to the blisters and eruptions on the surface of a distant star, if perhaps you’re listening to it late at night. Occasionally, subdued electronic bleats can be heard sounding out remorselessly like a lone thousand year old rescue beacon transmitting from a distant planet. The first track, ‘lilith’, is the more single-minded of the two pieces presented here, in that it is more monolithic and uncompromising in its extrapolation of useful sound data from late night shortwave radio broadcasts for Haynes to mould. The second piece, ‘rocks. hills. plains’ (sic) is more glacial; it was edited out of a much longer “expanded cinema performance” in collaboration with film-maker Paul Clipson. Its deep waves of intoxicating drone exude a feeling of colossal stasis. This music was written to accompany footage of Clipson’s first visit to the former Soviet Union, which tallys with the title of the album, although perhaps not too much emphasis should be placed on the importance of that fact. Haynes states in the sleeve notes that he has never visited Russia, although getting near to it on the border at Podmosta in Estonia; however, “…I’m geographically closer to Kamchatka in California than I was in Estonia.” Nevertheless, the recording develops slowly adding occasional higher pitched tones to the resonant base, vaguely reminiscent of the sound palette Mark Wastell creates on his tam tam, and integrating distorted filigree drones towards its climax.

It is worth saying something about the label Contour Editions as it has quite a curious remit. They take an interest in works “…that are engaged with notions of acoustics, materiality, process, spatialization, reduction, perception and function”, and the labels output is not confined to physical releases but also embrace film, multi-channel sound installation and online projects. The packaging they have chosen to use for this item is heavy card stock printed using what looks to me like a lithographic technique with the cover image a pale, grey-blue inkspot design that puts me in mind of the results you get with ink applied to paper from a distance with an old-fashioned mouth diffuser. An edition of 150 copies only.


Octavluv – a puzzle to be unpicked

Caroline Park
Visceralmedia Records VMR008

Following digital releases, and limited cassettes on Private Chronology and Bathetic, Octavluv is Caroline Park‘s first work widely-available on CD. A bare but glowing piece, its succession of individual electronic tones and minimal, organic feel quickly lull the listener into a contemplative state. The notes unflurl languidly but rapidly, at a tempo just on the periphery of where the ear and mind is able to perceive their separation, like the dancing pictures on a zoetrope. It puts me in mind a little of Eno’s ambient work, but four times faster, and much less fluffy – these are quite visceral, unadorned bleeps. Fittingly, Park states that the music is intended to be “peripheral”, something meant to be listened to as background sound, at low volume, with the listener’s attention drawn to and from it.

Whilst the music is arguably a success in this respect, with no obvious melodic repetitions to snare the ear, I feel that allotted function also does it a slight disservice – it is, in of itself, quite beautiful music. I could easily imagine drifting to sleep listening to this at low volume on a long train journey, but as a musical meditation at home, I actually found the lack of obvious motifs drew me in, the music becoming a puzzle asking to be unpicked. It’s human nature to seek patterns in the apparently random, and in this respect, I actually found this CD quite engrossing, albeit in a relaxing way.

At a cursory listen, this sounds to be a relatively rigid, perhaps algorithmically-generated composition, but on closer attention, the details which Park presumably intends to occasionally recapture the attention are revealed. There are subtle modulations in duration, intensity and timbre of individual notes, lending a not otherwise immediately apparent live feel, and a couple of times the entire thing collapses into a pure tone for several seconds, absolutely demanding the listener’s attention, and briefly allowing a glimpse behind the curtain at an otherwise well hidden human operator.

Regardless of concept, for lovers of minimal ambient electronica, this album is a simple joy. It works well at low volume, in the half-world before sleep, but its raw, electroacoustic feel means it also sounds great played louder, in a room with nice acoustics. I’ve listened to it repeatedly and always find it hard not to be drawn deeply into it. If this is nothing more than high-grade lift music, I’d be quite happy to curl up in a corner of that lift with my eyes shut and travel a few extra floors.

Elegant and Detached: a beautiful and serene work that’s perhaps too remote and unemotional


Pinkcourtesyphone, Elegant and Detached, Room40, CD RM451 (2012?)

Elegant and detached this second album from the solo act Pinkcourtesyphone certainly is, so we know what we’re letting ourselves in for. Moody minimalist work exploring the spatial nature of sound and silence, how we listen and interpret what we hear, is the order of the day. The spaces are very cavernous with a cool, slightly soughing air wafting through; tones float in and out; there may be faint echoes of what could be familiar noises but I’m not sure. It’s very dignified and stately work here with grace and tranquil serenity in quite a few tracks (track 2 in particular).

As might be expected, the music can be very quiet, so quiet that either your ears strain to catch everything or you’re turning the volume level waaay up which does defeat the purpose of hearing the music with all its subtle gradations. Whatever you obtain out of the music depends on what experience and imagination you bring to it: spooky darkness or an air of wonder and exploration can be found on track 3, for example.

Perhaps the album is rather too remote and unemotional to appeal to very many people. The music glides along effortlessly on an even keel throughout and not much threatens to derail it in another direction. There are not many contrasts between sounds or between tracks that might keep listeners enthralled and wondering just where PCP will go next. The danger with this kind of electronic sound art is that listeners may regard it as something to bring out to impress the art crowds at a new gallery opening or an exhibition’s first night: yes, it can be that kind of background ambient muzak.

It’s quite a beautiful, august and slightly unsettling recording at times, but whether many listeners will play it often, apart from the odd art gallery opening or two, is another issue.

Contact: Room40

Triumphs in Sound Placement

I recall seeing the name of electroacoustician Anna Lockwood mentioned for the first time in a now yellowing page of an ancient Record Collector. Her Glass World… on Tangent Records became a grail object for years. Until (and this WILL never happen again), I stumbled upon a boxload of Lockwoods and Henri Chopins (also on Tangent) at a local record fair for 99p a disc!! Since that time, I’ve been following Anna (now Annea’s) career in fits and starts. Still searching for a copy of Harvey Matusow’s Jew’s Harp Band LP in which Anna was a member (after studying at the Royal College of Music), and still playing, on a regular basis, the amazingly sensual and magnificently creepy ‘Tiger Balm’, which can be found on the Early Works 67/82 CD on EM Records of Japan). I urge you to hear this. So it seemed that Christmas had been rescheduled when I received a review copy of Annea’s In Our Name (NEW WORLD RECORDS 80729-2) CD on the American New World Records label. The utterly disarming ‘Jitterbug’ opens this three-parter. It’s a six channel tape composition that pits the micro burble of aquatic insects and fish against a guitar/strings/percussion trio. The main idea being that the touch of hom. sap. shouldn’t overpower the more fragile sounds of Ma Nature. You would have thought that ramming a couple of hydrophones into their watery kingdom might have made its inhabitants just a little self-concious. But no…the curious clicks, pops and flutterings rise to the surface like there’s no tomorrow. And for some of these lifeforms, with their accelerated lives…there probably won’t be. ‘Thirst’ is another multi-channel work. On this occasion, the hubbub and drone of the human worker bees milling through grand central station is captured and set against an artist’s recollections of an idyllic childhood in Damascus. I know which sounds the better option. The title track though, is the piece that should have really caused the biggest reverberations within the avant classical/sound collage circles. Commissioned by baritone vocalist Thomas Buckner (collaborations w/ Robert Ashley, Phill Niblock, Wadada Leo Smith…). it was designed to cut through all the media spin/b.s. regarding the plight of those incarcerated (and forgotten about) at Guantanamo Bay. Instead of the expected rage at this continual injustice, these sung/spoken poems by Buckner, (accompanied by a mournful cello), are delivered in a dignified and measured way, thereby, possibly, giving the work a little more longevity and more leverage on its journey through the airwaves and concert halls of the U.S. More triumphs in sound placement, with a fully beating heart. Extra points are certainly due for copious sleeve notery and thoughtful/considered sleeve art.


Speaking of sleeve art…turtles’ eggs or ping pong balls?? It’s a question that’s been on my mind since first glancing at the photos adorning the Weird Tales & Elegant Motion (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono052) CD by The Mia Zabelka Trio. Even the out of focus group photo seems to continue the misdirection. And that’s not discounting Mia’s violin skreek which wraps itself in all manner of sound processing, its methods to deceive. She’s been recording since ’87 and has teamed up with John Zorn, Pauline Oliveros and Alvin Curran amongst others. Mia’s joined here by the muscular and supple bassings of Pavel Fajt (ex Dunaj) and Johannes Frisch (also of the Kammerflimmer Kollektief) on drums/percussion. The set can be (loosely) divided into two states of being: powerful, sometimes fragmented avant funk (‘Backyard Funk’, ‘Back to Start’, ‘Nasty Rumours’) and insinuating, mid-paced tone poems (‘Djinn’, ‘Push’) that come with the gift of the unknown tongue and creepy, whispered asides (a la Gong’s Gilly Smyth, but with talons…). A solid body of work with a real sense of band unity. They remind me a bit of Massacre or Crimso extracurricular activity like Project X or Space Groove. And as a p.s., can their ‘Slims and Slams’ really refer to Slim Gaillard/Slam Stewart’s novelty jazz act? I do hope so. It’d be nice to see those purveyors of the ‘Flat Foot Floogie with the Floy Floy’ given a nod. If that’s made you curious – check ‘em out on Hellzapoppin – a nutzoid flick from the war years with Martha Raye, Olsson & Johnson etc etc…

Instrumentarium: a wondrous tropical tapestry inquiring into the techniques of dub

Boris Hegenbart with 19 Artists, Instrumentarium, Monotype Records, CD mono055 (2012?)

What a wondrous tapestry of soundscapes the digital experimenter Boris Hegenbart stitches here with help from nineteen musicians representing a range of abstract experimental and improvisational music styles. The album is meant to be Hegenbart’s inquiry into the methods and techniques of composing dub music but his results don’t sound very dubby apart from the syncopated rhythms in some tracks. The majority of the 18 tracks on offer (one track features two guest musicians) are at least 3 minutes in length and all come well within 6 minutes so most of them don’t have a lot of time to develop but instead stay more or less as exercises in rhythm looping (as in track 3 with Stephan Mathieu on drums). Although there’s an emotional coolness throughout the album, on the whole it seems quite friendly and benign in approach; I think of it as a community of slightly remote people, minding their own business and respectful of the privacy of others, until such time when someone is in an emergency and needs help, and everyone pitches in to assist without hesitation and needs no thanks to know the recipient appreciates the aid.

Some instruments benefit from Hegenbart’s dissection of the original music samples: the banjo gets a stretchy work-out that almost turns the instrument into a koto on track 4. The night ambience of chirruping insects on that track becomes incredibly spooky. Most musicians featured choose to play guitar or drums; on the other hand Oren Ambarchi couldn’t make up his mind which to play so he ends up playing everything in sight including an organ and on top of it all does some singing (track 10) – now that is really indecisive! On track 6, Bernhard Gunter plays an electric cellotar which sounds like the kind of keyboard guitar-shaped object I’ve seen in videos where the kooky Kazakh Borat tries to channel his hero Freddie Mercury but actually generates some very nice tones and tunes in the time it has.

Though most tracks lack a distinctive personality that might be associated with the source material and their owners which is a bit of drawback, a few are stand-outs with regard to having an identity: the aforementioned track 4 with David Grubbs on banjo, track 6 and track 8 (Fred Frith on guitar), to name a few. Ambarchi’s track does sound quite dubby in sound and rhythm and there is a wild and wacky edge to the blurred singing over the tropical music. Marc Weiser’s guitar piece (track 11) is turned into something very hypnotic and Martin Brandlmayr’s drums contribution (track 12) is a beautiful and seductive piece that threatens to go quite haywire at times.

Overall this album is a pleasant listening experience with sometimes very beguiling and seductive music suggestive of laid-back holiday tropical beach ambience and open-air discos. Haven’t had much of that warm summer experience lately with all the heavy winter rain that’s been falling over the past few days …

Contact: Monotype Records