Tagged: sound art

Dry Stone Walls

Black Mountain Side

Mountain Black is Martin Kay, an Australian sound artist based in Melbourne, specialising in sound art, field recordings, compositions, installations, and soundtrack work. On Closing In (MOOZAK MZK#006) we’ve got a very subtle blend of slow-moving sound episodes, where the edges between field recordings and (electronically-generated?) ambient sounds are continually blurred and confused. He has no interest in site-specific recordings as far as we can tell, unless naming a track ‘Singapore’ qualifies as identifying a particular locale. Though there are 10 index points on the album, this feels like it might work when played back as a start-to-finish suite of near-imperceptible sonic musings. Kay does get briefly agitated about halfway through ‘Non-Diegetic’, and ‘Glass Eaters Part II’ contains its share of thunder-cloud massing droney drama. The most eventful cut is ‘Silver’, just 2 and a half minutes of mysterious burbling intercut with untraceable sound sources, following a wistful dream logic. Quite nice. But for the most part this chilly material is opaque, inscrutable, mysterious. From August 2013.

Acousmatic Hollows

Another Australian sound artist is Tattered Kaylor, which is an alias for Tessa Elieff. She’s got ideas about the environment which involve using hollows, caves, and cavities, and has installed her work in places that offer natural surround-sound effects. Sombre Nay Sated (STASISFIELD SF-1101) contains three of her pieces, originally intended for installations. In each instance, she’s reprocessing and reconstructing tapes provided by other creators, although she did create sounds for ‘Waves’, the first piece here, which is a fairly intriguing work of transformation which builds up to an impressive, swelling climax – like gentle furies blowing up a storm inside a vast cavern. ‘Taken To Borroomba’ isn’t as thrilling though, a vague meander-fest mostly comprised of outdoor field recordings edited together – campfire, winds, thunderstorm, amounting to not much more than the document of a soggy camping holiday. ‘The Broken Return’ is quite a nice piece of metallic creaking and vague murmuring, almost manifesting a rather evil presence; it’s derived in ways I know not from a field recording of ‘Minigit’, an art installation by Andreas Trobollowitsch. Trobollowitsch seems quite an interesting creator actually, and I’m surprised I don’t know more of his music – he uses for instance prepared guitars, live electronics, radios, and feedback as part of his setup. I’m not clear to what extent Tessa Elieff has transformed this original source, but sonically speaking it’s largely in keeping with the general tenor of the rest of the album. From August 2013.

Dem Dry Bones

Sebastiane Hegarty contributed an essay about Guy Sherwin’s film work to a DVD of Sherwin’s work produced by the Lux in about 2008. He’s also a sound artist. Unlike the two artists above, who work on a grand scale with outdoor field recordings, Hegarty proposes a microscopic view of the world in his collection Eight Studies of Hearing Loss (VERY QUIET RECORDS VQR007). On these eight imperceptible tracks, we’re hearing the sound of chalk dissolving in vinegar. The chalk is taken from geological samples collected from around the world. Each cretaceous sample represents a different geological period from millions of years ago. To put it another way, what we’re hearing is very small acoustic events generated from the bones of dead dinosaurs. In the accompanying sheet of notes, Hegarty points out that these experiments create “a release of ancient gas”, but also speculates on the idea that it’s an “audible escape from substance”; I suppose he means it’s as though we can hear the process of extinction taking place in some way. He was inspired to do this work by Dr Simon Park, a microbiologist from the University of Surrey who has interesting ideas about the art-science interface, and Sarah Craske who donated one of the chalk samples from Lyme Regis. It’s clear he’s knowledgeable about geology, chemistry, and the history of dinosaurs, and his speculative ruminations on what this sound can mean to us are quite philosophical in nature. In short, the idea that “we can listen to the loss of substance occurring” is a very intriguing one, but I wish he’d worked a bit harder to make it more interesting to listen to. As sound art, it’s dull; it flatly refuses to sublimate itself into anything more than the not-very-interesting document of a routine chemical process. I completely applaud Hegarty’s strenuous efforts to prove to us that fossils contain a great deal more information than we might suppose, but for me it’s not enough just to write that down in an essay; if you’re proposing that as sound art, then I want to hear it on the tape. Since it might be regarded as a compromise to process the recordings in any way, it means he’s confined to strictly scientific methods, and not those of an electro-acoustic composer. Thus, he’s apparently unable to perform this aural transformation, so I doubt I’ll be revisiting this one. If I could add some constructive criticism, it would have been nice to see some additional visual components to the experiment…maybe photographs of the chalk samples, map references, images of “before and after” the vinegar was added, more details about the chemical process, pictures of his equipment. Not saying these would have been especially interesting to look at, but they might add conceptual weight to the experiment. But I do like the cover artworks – a shell printed on the wrapper envelope, and on the front cover a little cigarette card with a printed dinosaur image. That’s visual poetry. Ian Hamilton Finlay could have done no better. The record label is run by Tony Whitehead. From August 2013.

Ecumenical Matters

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Jacob Kirkegaard
Conversion
UK TOUCH TONE 47 LP (2013)

A pithy, innocuous title enclosing a tidy double entendre here: ‘Conversion’ signalling both the ecumenical matter of (side B’s) ‘Church II’, and the orchestral transposition of two of Danish composer Jacob Kirkegaard’s earlier, field-of-science recordings. ‘Labyrinthitis II’ is a taut but sombre exercise in which a single, suspended cello and clarinet lines are subjected to meticulous, miniscule modulations over seventeen minutes, purveying an emotional stasis somewhere ‘twixt the snowbound realms of The Thing and The Shining, albeit mitigated by the odd ray of survivor-spotted sunshine.

Traditionally, the sequel cedes superiority to the original piece, so if it is the case here then the earlier versions must have been intriguing to say the least (I say this not having heard them). Their origins are anyway: Kirkegaard’s methods aim to expose ‘potential musicality in hidden sound layers in the environment’ and ‘inaudible acoustic phenomena’, and so in the original version of ‘Labyrinthitis’ – named after an inner ear disorder – Kirkegaard amplified the sound of his own inner ear’s ‘Distorted Product Otoacoustic Emissions’ 1 and allowed the audible results – a ‘third tone’ (via deep inner-ear microphones) to play out for some 40 minutes, apparently with interactive potential for each listener: their ears being empowered ‘to sing’ as it were. My own hat (if I had one) I would doff out of respect to the scientific prowess applied to reifying an otherwise mystifying/mystical phenomenon.

‘Church II’ applies similar methodology to a comparatively conventional recording of an abandoned church that lies within the contaminated zone in Chernobyl, resulting in a pleasant (if predictable) stretch of arctic yawn over endless plains of nowhere, which is conducive at least to a contemplative state of mind. Interested parties are encouraged to bring the relevant apparatus (ears) and contextual awareness to the proximity of this recording, which has much more to offer than a mere ‘drone’ record.

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Greg Sinibaldi / Jesse Canterbury
Ascendant
USA PREFECTURE MUSIC PREFECTURE 010 LP (2013)

Wherein the nominated pair provide peals of soft, svelte sax and bass clarinet, captured in a capacious, chasmal, concrete cistern, and resulting in a slow, sonorous suite of normalised harmonics. Though inhabited by two human bodies, one phenomenological novelty of the performance space was a forty-five second reverberation effect that boomeranged sounds off the curved walls, effectively necessitating a negotiation with invisible doppelganger co-musicians. Such mindfulness was further employed to avoid sonic inundation, which would have been a most poetic consequence in a dry vessel.

They achieve this largely by dint of the sensitive insertion of pauses between phrases, which are filled by the effulgence of their sonic doubles, yielding an atmosphere of perpetual undulation, and suggesting that a good deal of research went into correct physical position and proximity within that closed space. As for tunes, though Thelonious Monk’s ‘Ugly Beauty’ gets the cover treatment (an apposite title, given the location; check out that texture on the cover!), there’s not a lick of jazz. So reverent are these sloooooowwww sounds in fact that they seem to emanate from the pulpit of a vast church. Similar sobriety is evident in the astringent tones on the cover shot (a small textural detail from the venue), and in the nature of the occasion itself, which marked the pair’s final session together before Sinibaldi departed Seattle for pastures new. One for a month of Sundays.

  1. Also known as ‘Tartini tones’ – individualised vibrations of microscopic inner ear hairs brought about by specific pairings of tones (in this case ratio 1:1.2), such as those first demonstrated in Maryanne Amacher’s ‘Sound Characters’.

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Revenant
Zeltini
UNFATHOMLESS U05 CD (2011)

Zeltini is a former soviet military base located in northeastern Latvia. The abandoned base housed nuclear missiles in large horizontal bunkers. Amongst the decay and debris of weapons of deterrence also lies a giant pink granite head of Lenin. Which sounds like a great place for a sonic environmental incursion. Five individuals did such a thing one day in November 2008 and documented their acoustic actions on four synchronized binaural recordings. Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, John Grzinich, Kaspars Kalninsh, and Felicity Mangan use for the most part only objects and materials found in the bunkers. Pipes clang, metal objects are dragged, scraped and slammed in this reverberant space. The sonic explorers scrape away through the empty space, unleashing the ghosts of previous military activity. Their movement is never arbitrary but maintains a sense of composed actions. The first 30 minutes stays in the same clanging vein, then shifts into a more subdued approach and two sounds from out of the bunker milieu are introduced: the shifting sounds of a radio broadcast in Russian and then a jews harp. After a while the metal clanging returns albeit more subtle and then it wraps up with the sounds of water being splashed around to announce the end of the action. This is a CD to put on and fill your room with the sounds of another time and place, and experience a sonic incursion in your own environment.

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Howard Stelzer & Frans de Waard
Pink Pearl
BOCIAN RECORDS be pp CD (2013)

The hazy and sometimes murky sounds of old cassettes and laptop produced sounds is what Stelzer & de Waard conjure up in this four track album. The tracks were assembled from recordings made either in person or via swapping sound files over a ten year period. This process of editing together disparate sources makes the music hard to place in time and space. It’s a thick sound, not drone, just hazy, hissy, and something easily to get lost in. The first three pieces range from 4 to 17 minutes, and are focused excursions of repetition and murkiness. The final piece, a side long slab called “here we are” clocks in at 24 minutes, and starts to drag midpoint with spare high pitched tones. As my mind begins to wander the piece suddenly comes back to life and teems with activity. Snippets of old tapes sneak into the mix and are recognizable. Laptop generated overtones almost hint at a melody…as much as an arrangement of three repeating tones can be considered such. Howard & Frans managed to bring it all home and end the piece in a satisfying way. If they had trimmed some of the meandering mid section, it would have only strengthened the work. Overall a real nice album of hiss and mud, with digital crackles and tones for those humid and overcast summer days or late night fogginess. Skip reading Stelzer’s linear notes about the album, as he sorta grouses about having to describe how the music was made. If you don’t want to say, then why bother saying that? I dig the sounds you’re making, so don’t sweat it.

Crazy Like a Fox

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Alessandro Bosetti has scaled new heights of achievement with his Renard project, a fine art commission which has also found expression as an LP record (FRAC FRANCHE-COMTÉ FRACFC 002). He’s continuing to work in the “area between spoken language and music”, and while there is a fair amount of spoken word on this immaculately scored piece of chamber music, it’s actually more complicated than that…after one listen I’m as exhausted as I might be after hearing a 5 LP box set, since the work is so dense and compacted. If Bosetti was a film-maker, he’d combine all the best elements of 1960s Jean-Luc Godard and 1980s Peter Greenaway. Godard for the words (and inter-textual games), Greenaway for the precision of composition.

The idea for Renard derives from an ethnographic film seen by Bosetti. An African woman divines the future by casting objects on a table and reading them, learning hidden truths from their configuration; it’s not unlike the I Ching with its casting of coins or sticks 1. Bosetti devised his own updated version of same with help of Annette Stahmer, and assembled his own set of objects (perhaps similar to the array seen on the front cover), then experimented making a few castings with invited participants. They brought their questions to the table; they were instructed how to read to interpret the objects. Fruitful and emotional exchanges resulted 2; apparently, all of this was the basis for how Bosetti composed Renard. I’d like to think he found a way to recast the raw material of human speech into notated form (as Harry Partch did, on occasion), but it’s probably even more complicated than that…at least the clarinet parts, brilliantly played by Laurent Bruttin from Lausanne, seem to match the patterns of excitable human speech during some passages.

Though the album opens with something resembling a melancholic ballad or chanson (all the words are in French, by the way) and closes with a perplexing conversation between two disembodied voices, the most part of Renard is this fascinating and detailed chamber music, performed by Bruttin’s clarinets, the classical guitar of Seth Josel – a much-in-demand New York player who lives in Berlin – and Bosetti’s speaking voice, sometimes underpinned by his unobtrusive electronic device, an oscillator which murmurs up and down the scale to punctuate certain phrases. The clarity of the recording enables these ultra-precise pieces to shine like cut diamonds. Sonically, we’re invited to find affinities with the chamber music of Anton Webern, and the 1960s jazz music of Jimmy Giuffre, at a time when Jim Hall was the guitarist in his Trio. It’s not only highly distilled – I’d imagine hours of work from the “divining table” sessions were required just to generate two minutes of music – but also thoroughly composed and notated, so that every micro-second of this elaborate music could be replayed as needed. I like the way it’s described in the press notes as “hand made hyper-realism”…suggesting that Bosetti is making “life size casts” in sound. Of course, it moves past at such a brisk pace that it’s hard for the non-French listener to keep up, but fortunately the entire “libretto”, if we can call it that, is printed in the gatefold cover.

Speaking of the cover image, when I first saw it I thought it represented a parlour memory game which I used to play in my youth. You’d arrange some two dozen objects on a tray, let the guests view it for two minutes, then take it out of sight and remove one object. The point of the game was to identify the missing object. I often feel that Bosetti’s work is governed by game-play rules of some sort, but they’re much more challenging, and he plays for keeps. It remains to mention the title. It refers to another form of African divination, that of the Dogon people. They would trace secret diagrams in the sand, then read the tracks of the white fox the next morning. At the same time, it’s not hard to see Bosetti himself as a Reynard the Fox figure, sly and cunning as his namesake from European folklore.

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  1. I need hardly tell you which American 20th century composer is famously associated with this.
  2. Perhaps we could consider this a fine art variation on how Pink Floyd created the spoken-word sections for Dark Side Of The Moon.

Distrukt Fragment Zero

P16009

Here we are with CD four from the P16.D4 box set Passagen (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono58). Head P-sixteener Ralf Wehowsky seems quite proud of the fact that the band had been asked since 1982 to contribute to compilations issued around the strange murky globe of industrial noise friends and neighbours. Matter of fact they were doing comps before they even released their first proper LP in 1984. Tionchor gathers together a bunch of these tracks…did someone say it’s a compilation of compilation tracks? Maybe not far from the truth, although it’s just the tip of the iceberg 1 as far as RLW is concerned, and represents a “best of” of submitted tracks made from 1982 onwards. They decided to gather the material for Tionchor in 1986 and it came out as a vinyl LP, although when it got reissued on CD in 1997 they added three bonus cuts, and now there’s one more additional bonus track for this release. How many of you can dip that deeply into your reserve barrels? These tracks originally appeared on records with such tremendous titles you can imagine they’re not only ridiculously rare 2, but if you ever played them you’d probably go completely insane. Dry Lungs, Mail Music, Anthems, Hate’s Our Belief, Bad Alchemy, Cadavres Exquis, and Magnificent March of the Dead Monkeys. The years 1982-83 musta been a great time to be alive, assuming you were an alienated pariah weirdo who loved ugly sounds on records with hideous cover art and wanted to kill yourself in the first place…

Musically, this CD kicks off with some six or seven short tracks that in P16.D4 terms are almost like pop music; a lot of bass guitar, electronics, and drums, treated voices, and plenty of that abrasive scratchy noise which sends hackles up the neck of a white rat. There’s plenty to savour; innovative mischief in the editing and assemblage, and the fact that the performances are pretty fundamentally crazed to begin with. ‘Setebos’ is one particular gem of completely wacked gibberish, on which a chair and percussion loop feature heavily, and the combination of harsh hostile voices (one shouting, one giving very strict commands) has rarely been bettered by RLW and his crew. ‘Inkubationskreise’ is another monstrous burst, which in places achieves the ultra-heavy distorted rock beat that Faust strove to master in the 1970s; this one’s a live version of their own (as PD) song ‘Progressive Disco’, recorded in 1980 and rejigged in 1983 with extra elements mixed in. Needless to say their idea of “progressive” in this case is a force that progresses both the genre of disco music, and its listeners, over the edge of a cliff.

Some other standouts: ‘Bürgerliche Illusion’, two minutes of dark illogical madness featuring a heating system and a tuba; a classic example of wild cut-ups somewhat typical of “that” period, creating delicious shocks for your ears with its timbral clashings. ‘Strauchlende Saulen’ which is historically the first recorded example of their “Improvised Musique Concrète” approach, using lots of radios, percussion and live electronics to startle and sicken the listener. ‘Okay She Said…’ which is a rare appearance of the P16.D4 rock trio playing drums, bass and guitar, but sabotaged and recut into two minutes of sarcastic, pointless absurdity. It not only makes you question the point of rock music, but makes you question why you’re even alive. And the astonishing sound of ‘Virtuell Ausgemerzt’, another of the band’s excursions in combining concrete noise with conventional musical instruments; a drippy electronic organ does battle with angry sawing teeth, and may not come out a winner. This track had a long life, recycling-wise: it uses the same basic material as that found on the Nichts Niemands Nirgends Nie LP, and appeared in some form on two separate compilations (both on the German Dom label), on one of which it was mistakenly pressed backwards. Even this version has been “restructured”.

With this constant insistence on remaking and restructuring work, RLW must be intent on making it impossible for future archivists to retrace his steps; his own personal “audit trail” is complex to the point of bewilderment 3. Who knows who did what, and where the original music began? I suspect this profligate creativity is all part of the disorienting master plan; after a while, even the fabric of reality itself is called into question.

  1. An iceberg formed of grey toxic sludge rather than ice, that is.
  2. Just search for some of them on Discogs when you’ve got a few hundred pounds to spare.
  3. That said, he clearly has a handle on it himself, as his concise but detailed sleeve notes indicate.

Icarus Ascending

aviation007

Paul Carr
The History Of Aviation
UK BUILD MUSIC BM001 CASSETTE (2012)

Walking through the Art School Canteen, nodding to Godley and Creme, Wire had also been around, but had caught Brian’s Ferry rather than the plane. The plain and mundane get a look in in the shape of Currys, presumably appliances rather than Anglo-dubbed Indian food. No Tikka Masala, then. But there is some sort of ode to ‘reversible jackets’. The artist apparently does not like them. To be honest the reviewer is not sure he is totally into songs about preferences regarding them.

Name drops include the artists Bruce McLean (I had to Google, but there’s a Slade connection – University rather than Holder or Reeves and Mortimer) and Ian Breakwell. This should suggest a certain angle and context which – assuming sympathy to such suggestions – could influence engagement with this short tape. Musically very low rent keyboard and close-mic’d clutter-loop, with mumbled vocals and an overall hesitant rattle and vaguely spindly nature, an introspective pencil and a shoe-box idly trying to imagine sketches of This Heat by someone who’d only ever heard descriptions of them. Fits into some sort of English tradition of tentative uncertainty. (Perhaps).

Like the light switch in somebody else’s bedroom, it’s plastic and there. Aha, but the sky is outside! I find that’s good to remember whatever the circumstances, anyway. But then again, it’s also through the window. Unless the curtains are drawn. Hmm.

There is a website, and hints of more sprawling, perhaps ambitious, projects such as radio plays should you be drawn (you see?) to investigate further.

One Nation Indivisible

Another three connected items from Michal Libera’s Populista series. We were mightily impressed by the first three we heard in this series – delvings into modern clasical music and very radical reworkings of same – and now that I look at the literature I find I’m missing three others in the series that I most sorely need, including Ergo Phizmiz’s take on Robert Ashley. The present set is called the United States Of America (Triptych) and is a very unusual and imaginative reflection on the history of American music – on selected aspects of it, at any rate – involving numerous international performers who forgathered in Warsaw in 2012 to do it as part of a week-long residency called Playback Play 2012. Libera downplays his own role in the editing, assemblage and conceptual planning, but I think a lot of the continuity of ideas and coherence here can be attributed to this fellow, who’s proving himself a true “man of ideas” in curated statements like this one, and through exhibitions such as Making the Walls Quake… and its accompanying book of essays. The thread running through all his work seems to be about combining far-flung and apparently unrelated ideas and looking for connections that have been overlooked, and he’s not afraid of imposing connections that may not even be there; the resulting intellectual “constructs” are relevant, regardless of how they may have been arrived at.

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The first CD is 1939 Southern Recording Trip Fieldnotes (BR POP07) – and on one level it’s a showcase for two extended performances (about 11 minutes apiece) by Pete Simonelli, performing two rough-house vocal recits in a contrived country-Americana idiom. He roars them out; they are more like declaimed poetry than songs, even where they use repeated phrases and motifs clearly plucked from the history of American blues music – “Tell me how long…”, “Since I was born…” – and every sentence rings out packed with folk-symbolism bordering on the supernatural. Simonelli belts out these soul-searching texts like a Golem possessed by the spirits of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, aiming for that sense of a cursed spirit wandering the earth who’s seen too much. He’s accompanied on these apocalyptic journeys by Miron Grzegorkiewicz (guitar), Michal Biela (bass), and DJ Lenar on the turntable. Right there you’ve got a post-modern stripped-down rethink of blues instrumentation, its surface mussed up in bizarre ways by Lenar’s interpolations. The works takes place in a framework referencing the field recording work of John Lomax and Ruby Lomax; John Lomax, as the world knows, was the ballad-hunter of the United States, performing much the same work of detailed surveying as Cecil Sharp, Francis Child and others did in the United Kingdom and Scotland. Libera’s record uses texts extracted from the Lomax’s written notebooks, and more importantly short excerpts of their tape recordings – spoken word, snippets of songs – to contextualise the piece. These very brief Lomax fragments demonstrate an enquiring mind at work – one who asks questions from the people he’s recording, and not a collector trying to assemble evidence to prove a foregone conclusion or bolster a preconceived idea. It’s especially haunting when the tapes surface in the middle of the Simonelli performances, like superimposed old photographs in the middle of a documentary film. As for Simonelli, his performances are not only over the top, but are spinning a fantasy of a pre-war America that never existed, propped up by hints of folk mythology. This is absolutely in line with Libera’s declared aim – “reinterpretations, overinterpretations and misinterpretations of the past”.

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The second CD is Ten Intrusions (BR POP08), a tribute to the work of Harry Partch. We are now in 1949, ten years later from the first part of the trilogy. The musicians perform all but one of Partch’s Eleven Intrusions, although the 1949 date is a little arbitrary if we consider that Partch began the work as early and 1930 and completed the set in 1950. He began considering they could be performed on the adapted guitar, but by 1950 these vocal pieces had been arranged for his unique home-made instruments, such as the harmonic canon, diamond marimba, and cloud chamber bowls. None of the words were Partch’s own; he’d adapted them from poems and writings by Ella Young, Willard Motley, and even Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher and poet. Not sure why I’m bothering to pass on all this information to you, since the recorded performance here has departed massively from Partch’s original score, and the trio don’t play the original Partch instruments. David Grubbs (guitar), David Maranha (organ) and Andrea Belfi (percussion) provide another minimal and pared-down musical framework for the vocal work of Pete Simonelli; hints of blues idioms suggested by the slide guitar mingle with elements of free improvisation and drone music. Simonelli’s histrionics from the first CD are abandoned in favour of a severe, tight-lipped no-nonsense recitation, that admits of virtually no emotion. All of this is in almost complete contrast to the recordings I’ve heard of the Eleven Intrusions, which are delicate statements full of wistful and graceful emotions, where a melancholic voice wails its plaint against the modest but very rich instrumentation. This sombre and stern remake changes Partch’s dream-like poems into hard facts, facts which we can live by. The intention may have been to emphasise the solitude of the composer (he wrote some of the work in an isolated studio in Gualala); Libera’s note also claim that this music is “perhaps one of the first cosmopolitan reinventions of American native music”. If that statement holds any water, then it’s possible to hear a lot more alternative history in Simonelli’s stark vocalisations, as if he was brooding long and hard on the encroachment of the land by rapacious settlers motivated by John Sullivan’s “Manifest Destiny”.

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The last panel of the trilogy is Vanishing Point: How to Disappear in American without a Trace (BR POP09). It’s the most unfathomable of the three, and the most intense. The implied date structure of 1939-1949 has been abandoned now, and we’re deliberately left stranded in an uncertain, undated future. It’s a spoken word piece with music, and the text comes from a book apparently edited by Susanne Burner, though it may also be an anonymous work written by a “survivalist”; it’s all about detailed advice on how to operate as a fugitive and leave no tracks as you flee your adversary. Natch, it’s teeming with paranoia; on “Kill the Dog”, Simonelli makes a real meal out of the unpleasant text and throws himself into the role, putting himself and the listener directly into this drastic no-win situation where a fugitive has to kill a dog that’s on his heels, and there’s a seemingly endless description of how to go about it, and why. Whoever wrote this text clearly lived and died by the ultimatum “It’s him or me”. Musically, the alarming mood is fuelled by the nerve-wracking abstractions created by Grubbs, Maranha and Grzegorkiewicz with their guitars, organ and violin. If you can endure the 16 minutes of “Die with Dignity” with your fingernails intact, you’ve got nerves of steel; the vivid descriptions of police operations regarding fugitives is not for the squeamish. How does this contemporary, neurotic vision square with the rest of the trilogy? Well, it’s well known that Harry Partch was a hobo; but on the other hand he chose to drop out of society in the 1930s with some expectation that he could drop back in, and the rail-riding world he detailed in Bitter Music seems positively genteel compared to the urgent all-or-nothing imperatives glimpsed in Vanishing Point. Likewise, the itinerant voyages of the Lomaxes are shown to have degraded by the later 20th century into these futile car chases escaping the police. There’s one last thing. With the striking and terrifying dog image in its centre, I would also suggest that this canvas in the trilogy connects strongly to America’s rural blues history; what else could that dog be but the hellhound on the trail of Robert Johnson?

“Three images of America facing each other” is just one possible interpretation that Libera himself offers for this whole work; he intends the trilogy to remain open-ended, a series of questions rather than answers, yet many clues are inserted in its stark near-deserted landscapes. The cover artworks, all depicting figures faced with barren and hard-to-negotiate landscapes, were created by Aleksandra Waliszewska. From 12 April 2013, highest recommendation for these excellent meta-text musical statements.

Board Game Theory

Hecker
Chimerization
EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 153 LP (2012)
Chimärisation
EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 154 LP (2012)
lettering

EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 155 LP (2012)

Somewhere on this computer I’ve a folder full of music podcasts, lectures and interviews that I somehow never have time to listen to: ever burgeoning; so many words gathering digital dust. I require some sort of audio anti-desiccant that releases the music in the words, to bring this goldfish attention span to attention.

Sound designer and psychoacoustician, Hecker’s Chimerization offers the sort of hybrid information transmission I’m after. Realised as a gallery piece entitled dOCUMENTA (13) (Kassel, Germany), it comprises electronically rendered fragments of a high-concept ‘experimental libretto’ by Iranian writer and philosopher Reza Negarestani entitled ‘The Snake, the Goat and the Ladder (A board game for playing chimera)’. For the occasion, Hecker recorded recitals of Negarestani’s script in English, Farsi and German in an echo-less, anechoic chamber, with three speakers per language. In situ, he installed speakers to play the processed recordings inwards in a triangle formation, engendering, I imagine, a pleasantly disorienting sensation in visitors. That said, spatial location of the recorded sounds is never in question, which is not always the case with Mr. Hecker.

Chimerization is available in three separate volumes (one per tongue), which presumably offer listeners worthy approximation of the installation experience. The visuals supplied for the dOUMENTA event, while providing delirious and accurate analogue for the music, appear on the sleeves. However, whilst the sounds themselves are easier on the ear than certain of Hecker’s earlier works, the subject matter remains a little elusive to me. For safety reasons, I’ll simply quote:

‘Hecker characterizes ‘Chimerization’ as a concept derived from psychoacoustic investigations on difficult-to-define areas between language and non-language, a process focusing on the decomposition of sound and synthesizing incompatible modalities, surpassing their respective particularities without fusing them, in order to obtain a narration beyond immediate comprehension, which may be deciphered through repeated, ‘active’ listening.’

The operative adjective is ‘active’: focus is necessary if ‘sense’ is to be made of these bewildering information overloads. For one thing, the recorded script (and I refer to the English version here) undergoes extensive digital decomposition (partly a result of multiple voices merging), coming out a bit like the sadistic droid EV9D9 in Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Return of the Jedi. The more garbled sections constitute what I assume to be the ‘non-language’ matter. And even when audible, the text is a little circumlocutory for my immediate comprehension, which is not to say I’m not enjoying trying, even if I’m left wondering whether attempting comprehension is missing the point. As one of Negarestani’s admirers, author Graham Harman, put it: ‘reading Negarestani is like being converted to Islam by Salvador Dali’. In this case, it’s not Dali but Florian Hecker, and it’s probably best just to let ‘it’ happen to you.

The underlying theory appears to liken modern existence to a metaphysical game of snakes and ladders: an apposite analogy, for the game itself originated in ancient India (under the name ‘Moksha Patamu’), and reflected Hindu notions about life 1. Not quite sure where the ‘goat’ fits in though. Accordingly, key terms include ‘snakes’, ‘ladders’, ‘topography’ and ‘the abyss of modernity’ abound; all connected amidst a panoply of colourful sesquipedalians. Reminds me a bit of something similarly verbose Squarepusher did on Ultravisitor, though I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it. Still, Hecker’s carved himself a distinctive niche in electronic music: confronting our senses, aesthetics and intellects throughout and occasionally with a cheeky sense of humour (remember ‘Sun Pandämonium’s lavish, glossy green inlay booklet?). I’m in agreement with those who regard the new vocal aspect as adding a bold new depth to his work, and as verbiage goes it’s easy to surrender to. Chimerization may leave me feeling a bit slow on the uptake, but it does get much easier on the ear (and mind) with each play.

  1. I’ve DJ Spooky to thank for that one, included in his foreword to Eric Schneider’s volume on ‘Toy Instruments’.

Ghosts in the Glitch

rm452_rosenfeld_pa_hard_love

Marina Rosenfeld
P.A. / Hard Love
AUSTRALIA ROOM40 rm452 LP (2013)

At first, it sounds like a standard piece of acousmatic wrangling. An airy metallic drone, crosshatched with glitches and clicks. A field recording, the sounds of urban life, fade in and are slowly subsumed in a wavy, electronic cloud. Then, around three minutes in, a woman’s voice starts singing, rapping, murmuring, and everything changes.

P.A. / Hard Love is a reworked version of a sound installation Rosenfeld developed and toured between 2009 and 2011. Originally vocal-less, the work was a kind of steampunk sound system that enabled Rosenfeld to create kind of mutant field recordings on the fly, taking ambient sounds from where she’d set up then playing them back, often manipulated and overlaid with bits of her own voice and other aural debris.

When it came to committing the work to tape, Rosenfeld enlisted London vocalist Annette Henry, aka Warrior Queen, and Korean cellist Okkyung Lee to add textures and punch to the pieces. Lee’s contributions are subtle, submerged in Rosenfeld’s electro-acoustic collages, emerging occasionally in moments of scratchy eeriness.
Henry’s vocal interventions, on the other hand, are astonishing and transform this record from what would be a worthy addition to the canon of electro acoustic experimentation to an inspired, idiosyncratic and emotionally affecting work.

As Warrior Queen, Henry has amassed an impressive CV of contributions to reggae, dubstep and post-whatever electronica for artists in the UK and Jamaica, with a delivery capable of summoning up righteous fury to lascivious cheek. Check out her interventions on The Bug’s 2008 London Zoo album for a sense of what she’s capable of in full-on attack mode. There are glimpses of that power and range here; on ‘Hard Love’ Henry’s saucy spitting is matched by clanking dancehall kick drum that gives the shifting soundscape a thunderous urgency. On ‘I Launch An Attack’, Henry’s fluid chatting seems to be coming from another room as ragged synth lines arc across the track.

Elsewhere, Henry’s contributions evoked a kind of haunted vulnerability, floating over the mostly beat less tracks like incursions from an unknown station on a badly tuned radio. Occasionally there are echoes of Space Ape’s work with Kode 9 on the ‘Memories Of The Future’ album, but with dread replaced by anxiety. ‘Seeking Solace /Why Why?’ is a despatch from a soul lost in limbo. “Wrapped up in spiral webs… blurred images cascade in my mind” cries Henry, sounding distraught, disorientated, her vocal looped and layered by Rosenfeld. “He was the love of my life… tell me why, why, why”. On ‘ New York/It’s All About…’ offers up double-dutch style chants, as if remembered from a long-ago childhood.

Listening to this album is an evocative, unsettling experience. I feel like I’m an amnesiac wandering, lost around some future metropolis. The city is full of things I can’t comprehend, yet they seem to spark resurgent memories of some other, half-remembered life.

With P.A./Hard Love, Marina Rosenfeld has crafted a wonderfully immersive and melancholic record. It has both an original approach and a faultless execution, resulting in an album in a genre, and a class, of its own.

The Kryptokontur Factor

Here’s the third CD just prised out of the P16.D4 Passagen (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono58) box set. The story of Nichts Niemand Nirgends Nie is quite involved; originally released as a double album in 1986, it was a collaboration between P16.D4 and S.B.O.T.H.I., the latter of course being Achim Wollscheid who was the co-founder with Ralf Wehowsky of the important and seminal Selektion Records label. On this CD, we’re only getting the tracks from that double LP which were directly attributable to P16.D4, a selection process which thus excludes those tracks explicitly “composed” by Achim. However, since Achim transformed a lot of the original sounds on P16.D4’s studio tracks, it’s not always crystal clear where one man’s input leaves off and another begins. This amorphous and rather “blendy” quality seems to have permeated the whole of this record of 1985 recordings; somewhere, we seem to have lost a few rough surfaces and sharp edges, and the music / sound is generally less “prickly” than the two cactus plants I have impaled my ears on previously. However, the radical and rugged experimentation that characterises P16.D4 is clearly still in evidence. There are lots of conventional musical instruments being played, apparently – the track notes list them meticulously – but virtually nothing sounds familiar to our ears, bar the occasional moment of church organ which makes its way into the strange sonic minefield of ‘Virtuelle Altare’. Everything else – piano, double bass, synths, guitars, piano – has somehow been refashioned into various concoctions of evil, swamp-like gloop, pulsating with the life of a million teeming insects from Hell, and glowing with an eerie incandescence which we can only attribute to nuclear irradiation. One swallow brings the Spring, or at least a fatal ingestion of Plutonium.

As to “concept” and “realisation” of the music, RLW and Stefan E. Schmidt are responsible for the lion’s share of the studio tracks, although Roger Schönauer gets a credit on the highly memorable ‘My Last Words Will Be…’, a somewhat bleakified and ambiguous journey through a slow-moving fog, a yellow fog that thickens and coagulates the more we press on. It’s from the original side C of the double LP, so it’s live recordings – this particular project deploying pre-recorded tapes, played by two separate groups of participants. The use of the swimming pool as an instrument here is commendable. You could use ‘My Last Words Will Be…’ to induce a cheese-infested dream that would alarm any one of Windsor McCay’s Rarebit Fiends. This process-heavy album culminates in the only way it can – by recycling elements from the rest of the double LP in an orgy of reprocessing, and accordingly we get the pre-programmed chaos of ‘The Other Cellophane Upsurge’, where in just 8 and a half minutes RLW and Schmidt manage to make even the most solid of everyday objects appear doubtful, ambiguous and unfamiliar. If they’d been architects, they would have constructed a block of flats with disappearing floors that drop the dwellers to their doom in a pit full of bones, and ceilings that flip over 180 degrees to release a colony of live tarantulas into the room. NNNN – as RLW refers to it, for convenience – is superficially easier on the ears than the fragmented and reassembled rubble we’ve heard so far in the box, yet that sense of safety is a complete illusion. The record is in fact made even more subversive by dint of its smooth corners and gently sloping pathways; it’s a dose of strychnine concealed inside a chewy caramel. The CD release includes a 1991 piece, ‘Ephemeral March of the Dead Monks’, which was selected because it reused some of the live material from the original 1985 project. It’s coming from the same dark corner of the brain as ‘My Last Words Will Be…’, may even have some of the same content, yet is more extreme, spooked-out and ghastly than its brother, an intensified re-experiencing of that dream, only with a stronger brand of cheese.

CD1 reviewed here
CD2 reviewed here