Tagged: soundscape

Getting Through Accidentals

An astonishing outpouring of energy from Invisible Things on their Home Is The Sun (PORTER RECORDS PRCD-4069) album. The label Porter Records is often home to some far-out free jazz enterprises, but this bizarre monster has most of its clammy paws planted in the art-rock camp…the duo of American players Mark Shippy and Jim Sykes realise most of this dazzling escapade with a guitar and drums set-up, although Shippy also adds rich keyboard layers and sings, and guest player Jeff Ziegler is on hand to supply further keyboard goodiness like so much cookie dough. Drummer Jim Sykes apparently bases his work on a deep awareness of percussion methods from Sri Lanka, applied to modern instruments…given that Sri Lankan percussion traditions are said to be about 2500 years old, and at one time the culture had over 30 different types of drum, this is quite an achievement. On Home Is The Sun, there are 17 short tracks which are in fact index points for a enormous whole thing, a continual and overwhelming flying carpet of remarkable music. I think both players come from a Chicago background, with respective histories in bands Parts and Labor, Grooms, Marnie Stern, U.S. Maple, Miracle Condition, and Shorty, and have been honing this approach to their craft since they met in 2009. Impressive, and not just admirably clever; it rattles and roars with unhinged, psychedelic mayhem. Personally I far prefer this open-ended and juicy lubed-up style of playing to the tight-ass precise renditions of Om, for example. The electrifying cover art truly lives up to the music within. From 9th October 2012.

Seth Cooke realised Pneuma (LF RECORDS LF028) using just his crotales (percussion instrument, a specific type of cymbal array) on one track and a pneumatic drill on the other, hence the title. Certainly a process piece, requiring long duration; two tracks at nearly half an hour apiece; gradual shifts in timbre across continual tones. But not an infuriating piece of semi-preciousness, Cooke’s work retains a steely core of hard-edged realism and never drifts off into the clouds of ivory-tower aesthete-land, where velvet-caped fops may shower you with lilacs. If you just read about the crotales piece, it may put you in mind of soppy singing-bowl type music, but when you actually hear it it’s as sturdy as a sheet of tin; it just hangs in the air like an unyielding, brutal, fact. The drill piece is also surprising; far from the industrial noise-brutality some listeners or fans of SPK might expect, it’s an ingenious well-structured composition whose every waking moment is a vehicle for contemplation. “Drills are the aspiration of the male saga”, is all he’s prepared to tell us, by means of an obscure quote; no doubt he’s alluding to the phallic qualities of the pneumatic drill, a factor that leads most road workers to take up the job in order to cure their problems of impotence and flaccidity. There’s nothing like feeling a powerful metal shaft surging between your thighs to cure those erectile tissue problems. If Cooke can tame the savagery of this particular mechanical penis-like device, methinks he could set out a plausible plan for altering the entire mind-set of the modern world, by a combination of chemical processes and other, more occult, strategies. Given Cooke’s wide range of useful skills – he is a sound artist, percussionist who plays unusual objects, and a practising psycho-therapist – anything seems possible. From 27 December 2012.

Third release in from the Norwegian Va Fongool label, and this time we’re moving away from the high-energy high-decibel clattery rough-house parties that Eirik Tofte gravitates towards for his Oslo-based label. PGA are the duo of Jan Martin Gismervik and Fredrik Luhr Diterichson, who perform all of Corrections (VAFCD003) using just an acoustic bass and drum set, though the duo are joined by the brass players Nørstebø and Larsen for a couple tracks. Very far from jazz, music, or even improvised music – this intense, minimal stuff just creaks like broken boughs of an old oak, while sloughing its way out of the speakers like three-day old porridge. I just love the severe and sullen aspect of their sound, which makes virtually no concessions, refusing to be held hostage and turning many debtors away from its door. The pair themselves are far from being cranky old geezers though, and come to us from lively backgrounds in group playing – Moskus, Skadedyr, Sagstuen, Karokh, and the Wolfram Trio, where they both played – see here for a review of that album, also on this label. Apparently the rhythm section couldn’t make themselves heard about the blurty racket from tenor saxman Halvor Meling, so their only course of action was to have him assassinated. The Norwegian Mafia were hired to do the job, and they sealed Meling’s feet in a bucket of cement and then threw him in the Hobølelva. With “Old Hooty” out of the picture, Gismervik and Diterichson could proceed unimpeded with their new minimal plan. Sure enough, pared down to a duo of scrapey wooden and metallic noise-production using highly innovative methods, this pair have a chance to shine – or at least to glimmer like the limpid light of a pond in a heavy fog under the obscured winter sun. Arrived 23 October 2012.

We last heard from Hitoshi Kojo with his Omnimoment CD from 2012, although this unclassifiable Japanese musician is also one half of Jüppala Kääpiö, a name which betrays his likely preoccupation with modern Finnish music and its eccentric psychedelic clutter. High Tide Mirror (OMNIMOMENTO OM06 / SHINING DAY SHINE 12) contains six pieces of very accomplished layered studio working, where whatever instruments were originally used are cunningly blended and morphed into kaleidoscopes of shimmering, bustling sound. Not a surface is left unfilled in these incredibly “busy” scapes, presenting elaborate views of a colourful fantasy world. I am always deeply impressed by the surface beauty of this music at first listen, but then find my attention wandering and I begin to wonder if they really need to be nine or twelve minutes long, since little of any value is added by the duration. Instead of of 6 long tracks, it might be interesting if Kojo were to present 24 short tracks, where the intense and dazzling strangeness of his inventions could astound the listener for a precious moment, then swiftly fade away like a vanishing dream. The cover is fantastic, made of screenprinted card with a cut-out hole and a triangular flap, with sumptuous images of foliage and sealife.

Travels in my Armchair

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Ametsub
All Is Silence
JAPAN NOTHINGS66 N66CD003 (2012)

Ametsub is the Tokyo-based musician and producer, hailed in 2006 with the perfect debut album released by the respected Progressive Form label. All Is Silence is his third CD published by the Japanese Nothings66 label which is quite new on the scene, but which has already impressed the post-IDM crowd with its multifaceted Duskscape Not Seen compilation and further releases of Sketches For Albinos and Moshimoss fame. Throughout those five years, Ametsub achieved appearances on many prestigious festivals and performed with such great artists as Plaid, Fennesz, Alva Noto, Vladislav Delay etc. – his talent gained necessary experience and now is in full bloom, resulting in the exceptional work he did with All Is Silence. The combination of floating melodies and melancholic mood with spacious and aloof beats leaves us with the sense of a dreamy place, where everyone can find his hidden thoughts, and becomes clear and appealing. There is the sort of contemplation stimulated by sonic colours and atmospheres, situated by harmony and ending up with the nostalgic sadness. What really make it different from the other IDM sounding efforts is the peculiar use of field recordings, giving us the sense of travelling and never-stopping movement. The compositional techniques are also far from the standard and boring computer programming – the prepared piano and taped sounds arranged through the old fashioned recorder makes the listening experience kind of unique and unforgettable. If you like soundscape-oriented electronic music with some beats thrown in, you should check out this stuff before exploring the new Tympanik Audio releases schedule.

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Budhaditya Chattopadhyay
Eye Contact With The City
GERMANY GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 108 CD (2013)

Oh yes, the Gruenrekorder label turns 10 this year, and through this decade it gains the deserved reputation as one of the finest European labels dealing with field recordings and electronic music utilising field recordings. Operated by German sound-artists Lasse-Marc Riek and Roland Etzin, Gruenrekorder has released over 130 albums up to this moment, and most of them are highly interesting for all of you phonography lovers. All these releases are on digital format (CD, CDr or downloads), so you can expect outstanding recording quality with each new release, but also very special aesthetics of listening to the world surrounding us, and wonder how musical these ordinary sounds from everyday life can be. One of the most recent outings is the new album by Budhaditya Chattopadhyay – sound artist, audiovisual media practitioner and researcher from India who currently based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Based on the field recordings made in Bangalore (the capital city of the Indian state of Karnataka), it became a sound/video installation-project involving the audio from old reel-to-reel tapes found at the city’s flea markets. What really differentiates this work from other published field recordings is the narrative quality of music, which flows continuously for about one hour, forming the massive soundwalk without any certain direction, guiding us only by some strange crash/squeak-like sounds and distorted voices. There’s also a bit of processing over there, but not in a soundscape manner, just to sustain certain sounds and create a sort of hypnotic alignment. If you have heard the Buildings New York album by Francisco López, you will feel some similarity in structure. At times the soundflow receives a very ambient-like sonority, ending again with strange Eastern harmonisation and a definitive musique concrete quality. So you see, the music here is something that’s always changing but with no overall progress, just like a state of mind. Interesting album, not to miss out if you like to travel in your armchair.

The Voyage Continues

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Kamil Kowalczyk
Nova
PROTOTYP PRODUKTIONS LTD pplcd02 (2012)

Now in his second decade of computer composition, Nova is Kamil Kowalczyk’s third release since starting his own label, Prototype Produktions, in 2011. It continues the predecessors’ survey of a similar palette of spatial atmospherics with a curiosity almost scientific, though being more continuation than innovation one might consider the title a misnomer. The space-themed track titles of these cosmic meditations supplant the science fiction themes of (album #2) ‘Atmospherics’ with science fact. The music exhibits shades of familiar electronic work, from Pan Sonic to Boards of Canada, whose cheerless new album hums at times with the same lunar impersonality, along with hints of slow-burning cinematic forays such as Alien, 2001 and Solaris.

It is an entrancing listen, however, marked by an expansive, pulsating sound, woven into which are intermittent snatches of radio speak, transmuted into unintelligible garble, looped and reverbed into the immeasurable black void. Identifiable phrases emerge and fade to inaudible mumble like senile numbers stations signals sucked inside out. The effect places the listener somewhere between floating dream and inescapable nightmare – with an immanent, unknown aspect to every situation.

I find the formula works best with the longer tracks: ‘Andromeda’ displaying the greatest dynamic disparity of swelling and contraction over its eleven elongated minutes, while the oceanic rumble of ‘Solaris’ epitomises the penetrating intelligence of the liquid planet that imperceptibly probes visitors’ memories. The piece hums with a definite, but unspecified alien intention, slowly succumbing to entropy in its dying minutes. The penultimate track, ‘Pleiadis’, reproduces some of Pan Sonic’s hiss-serrated mechanical rhythms to pulse-quickening effect.

Being variations on a single theme – carefully crafted albeit – tracks possess little (save for volume and tempo) to distinguish themselves from one another, but the signature traits are well deployed. The dynamic oscillation between passive pulsation and supernova expansion exposes the listener to alternating atmospheres of menace and star-struck wonder. Kowalczyk could just as easily have created a single, long-form work (which would mesmerise in a live setting), though I prefer the accessibility of the 9-track format, which makes the experience more digestible. It’s a commendable piece of work, illustrating a singular patience and focus.

Two Weeks in Alert Bay: spotlight on a traditional First Nations society in western Canada


Hein Schoer, The Sounding Museum: Two Weeks in Alert Bay, Germany, Gruenrekorder, CD Gruen 082 (2010)

I never know quite what to make of sound recordings like this one as I always feel I’m only getting half of what soundscape musician Hein Schoer experienced: something like this document needs to be visual and to be seen along with the soundtrack. For me, this project would have been much better done as a combined DVD / CD package so that I can actually see the Alert Bay, Vancouver Island, environment where Schoer did his research. Looking at the photographs of the bay, the forests that border it and the Rocky Mountains in the distant background, shrouded in white cloud, I am sure this landscape and the misty weather are as much a part of the culture of the ‘Namgis Nation that inhabits this part of western Canada; one imagines that the weather here is always cool, the air always feeling slightly damp or humid and that when one looks across the bay and sees the silhouettes of dark fir forests and the mountains rising behind them, their edges always look slightly soft and blurred and the overall mood of the area seems meditative and restful.

The tracks on offer here consist of field recordings of the natural sounds and wildlife of the Alert Bay area and of the activities of the ‘Namgis people. There are recordings of people performing traditional rituals and playing music, of children learning their culture’s traditional songs and their native language, and of men making traditional tools and handicrafts while the radio plays in the background. All very well but the listener has to take these recordings at face value and assume they are what Schoer says they are. There’s nothing or no-one on these recordings who gives a commentary on what parts of the soundtrack are about whatever the people are doing.

If only the CD had fallen into my lap and not any other material, and I were to play the CD as is, I’d have no idea from hearing the CD which part of North America and which First Nations group were being featured. There is not even a map of the area of Vancouver Island where Alert Bay is located and no information in the package about the culture of the ‘Namgis people and how it relates to other traditional cultures of western British Columbia. Having some knowledge of traditional culture areas of North America, I realise the ‘Namgis people would have been part of the Northwest Coast cultural complex in which salmon is one of the staple foods, a sedentary life-style is normal with people living in permanent wooden houses and organised in clans, and social hierarchies dominated society with the custom of potlatches to underline social status. In the area where the ‘Namgis people live, whaling would have been part of the culture. Most people outside Canada are not so lucky to know all this and would feel quite distant from the soundtrack here, not having any idea of what it all relates to.

The music is quite powerful and very rhythmic: most of the singing is done by men although there are a few occasions where children sing similar-sounding songs. There is no singing done by women but that may be because Schoer, not familiar with the culture of the ‘Namgis, did not know there might be some aspects of the culture out of bounds to him as a male; nearly every culture has some knowledge and traditions that are particular only to men, and other knowledge and traditions that only women are allowed to know. Certainly there is some solo singing here that imitates the sounds of animals and it could be this is shamanic singing, the singer attempting to contact an animal spirit for help or to gain power over some part of nature. Natural sounds include the sounds of ocean waves, trickling water and a waterfall, and there are also sounds of birds, bears, seals perhaps and howling wolves.

The CD booklet includes photographs of nature, illustrations of everyday life for the ‘Namgis people and a retelling of a creation myth in which a trickster figure called Raven steals the sun. The myth may have some meaning for Schoer who like Raven “steals” a little bit of an unknown culture to illuminate a path for listeners who may be inspired to investigate further the culture of the ‘Namgis and other First Nations people in western Canada.

Contact: Gruenrekorder