Tagged: synths

Arcane Pop

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Rothkamm
K5
FLUX RECORDS FLX16 CD (2013)

K5. Frank runs through the ramifications, numerological, linguistic, esoteric, epistemological and also, but most importantly, those pertaining to synthesiser identification. Japanese instrument manufacturer Kawai brought out a range of digital synthesisers during the 80s that included the K5, a grey box that, unusually, offered the user the ability to generate sounds using additive synthesis, still one of the lesser encountered synthesis methods even today. Having owned a (dire but enjoyed) K1 – similar to, but slightly worse than, a Roland D10 or D50 – I felt the warm glow of nostalgia for obsolete, unintuitive, obstructive and unlovely instruments that somewhere in their cold machine hearts may offer an unusual effect or hidden feature more easily and satisfyingly accessed through other hardware.

From the years 2004 and 2012 we are presented with nine pieces, titled but also catalogued by the composer using the classical opus numbering system, a conceit which points towards the electro-orchestral nature of the box-symphonies within. Atonalities, sine waves, alien drones and glissandos slide around like the shadows of Platonic solids looming in a grey pixel-mist. Indeed, these CD slices shift like a Plato’s cave Xerox of Cologne WDR produkt. No tape friction, no heat – moving images projected.

Rothkamm delights in arcane logic structure, obtuse menu systems appealing to the hermetically minded, push button accessed sub menus, office furniture taken through a black hole, laminated sheets of plastic sound extruded like one of Gen Ken Montgomery’s lamination pieces. The album a monomaniacal exploration of parameters of a single instrument, almost arbitrary and absurd, but pursued with straight-faced rigour – a sort of well-tempered synthesis module. For him, the romance of the manual – a ring binder of instructions for an instrument that doesn’t exist populated with the harmonics of the imagination.

These multiple variations on grey tones induce dreams of plastic walls, a Silicon Valley labyrinth, 3D Monster Maze infiltrated by self-replicating machine sprites, endlessly repeating cubicles, blank, moulded casings open to a Blue Öyster Cult sky populated with silently hulking Apple Macintoshes and IBM PCs, grey dots on black monitors.

There is a Californian tinge that reminds of Erik Davis’s Techgnosis tome, equally there are echoes of the endless mutations of human art generator Conrad Schnitzler. You get the feeling there could be zip discs full of this stuff and it could be churned out as quickly as printing a pdf instruction manual. And that’s a compliment in this context (in case you couldn’t tell).I regard Schnitzler as a great artist and poet of our times, reformatting and subverting, amongst other things, man-machine myths. Rothkamm’s interchangeable studies of machine symphonics share a steely grind and similarly impish humour combo. Do not be fooled by the featureless plastic exterior. Or, in fact, do be. Mr Frank Rothkamm sails a similarly lone course through the uncharted digital oceans, the winds of concept and phone-numbers for long-since-disappeared tech-support departments filling his sails, scanning the horizons, hunting the great white midi monster.

A whale of a time is guaranteed for all pop lovers. Be sure to visit the website for more floppy disc riffs on additive synthesis, sine waves and Plato. If I can quote Mr Rothkamm: ‘the K5 synthesizer is a Platonic Machine because I can personally assure you a posteriori that while working with it you do not experience any pleasure or pain whatsoever, only the numbing sensation of tedious repetition, which is quite sinusoidal.’. Amen, and enjoy!

Alone Again Or

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From Carrier Records, great record of innovative and experimental electronic music from the duo of Sam Pluta and Jeff Snyder, who perform as exclusiveOr. Archaea (CARRIER020) contains six of their recorded outbursts, such as the spiky and abrasive ‘Landing’, a strong opener which is hyperactive to the point of being almost dangerous – a child running through the rumpus room with scissors. Electronic scissors, that is. Great way to set out the stall; large variety of exciting and unusual sounds fired about like rockets. ‘Book of Dreams’ is slightly more approachable for some of its duration, weaving its way into a somnambulatory state by stealth, but also proving it’s something of a “sleeping giant” when layers from the surface peel away to reveal a teeming mass of activity of some sort – could be a termite colony eating into the floorboards, could be loose cables spurting sparks in your face. ‘Intro/Outro’ delivers plenty of gaseous wheezes and erratic coughs as it releases jets of scalding steam; if it was a kitchen appliance, this track would have been recalled by the manufacturers five years ago. There’s also the tremendously exciting ‘Pulse’, which shows on one level how the Merzbow influence is trickling down into the consciousness of certain Americans (much like High Rise and Musica Transonic created a similar mini-explosion among US rock bands some years ago). This cut is especially wild and bold in its abstract-expressionist swoops and splurges, painting gigantic coloured brush-strokes in the air. Yet compared to said Merzbow it’s a slightly sanitised and more approachable form of crazy electric noise. Then again I gotta love the extreme dynamics of it, the way the massive steam engine can be controlled, slowed down, reined in and reversed as needed, even made to dance a pirouette on the tracks with its dainty steel wheels.

Pluta and Snyder are just the men you can trust with this job, assuming you’d ever appoint them to rebuild your house. Pluta’s work is endorsed by us at TSP 112%, and his thrilling semi-improvised group compositions are recommended listening, if you want to learn about new directions in this area since John Zorn 1. On this record, he’s cutting up rough with a laptop programmed with his own custom-built software. Jeff Snyder goes even further in terms of the rugged-individualist hand-made approach, and plays an analogue modular synth which he designed and built himself. A true Gyro Gearloose type, seems he’s even built some “invented instruments” which can be used to play a warped form of early music. He probably travels around New York City on roller skates which he operates like Scalextric cars, while reading the Daily News on his home-made tablet which he built out of the printed circuits from a 1990s toaster oven and an old Etch-a-Sketch. The image inside the CD shows a photo of these two New Yorkers, heavily Photoshopped, suggesting visually how they are becoming at one with their machines, dissolving into the patchboards and printed circuits as surely as the hapless adventurer in Tron. The album title however is totally organic (non-digital) and refers to a class of microbe that can survive in very inhospitable places, such as hot springs or marshes. These mighty microbes can even make their home in the human body, which is probably what exclusiveOr would like to do – implant themselves in your system and gradually take it over. If you wish to participate in this cruel and unusual experiment, this CD is for you. From 5th July 2013.

  1. I have no idea what I mean by this. I have some vague visions of New York lofts populated with wild-eyed arty types, doing without sleep for three days, nothing but a jar of pickles in the fridge. But these words are lifted from a description by Eric Bogosian of his early performance art days.

High Speed Pursuit

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Palm /|\ Highway Chase
Escape From New York
AUSTRIA SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP028 LP (2013)

Certain music improves in a moving car: a phenomenon that’s landed me a few lemons over the years, purchase-wise. Over time I’ve learned to check my initial enthusiasm with a sober second test-drive, usually on YouTube, before taking them off the lot. A similarly auspicious first encounter was followed in just such a manner by Spectrum Spools label head, John Elliott, who was driven to release the present recording after losing it to some tunes during a winter burn through Ohio in 2009. A spin on the ipod some time later further revealed that the music could knock productivity up a few gears, and thus began the drive to put it out. But by Elliott’s account, it seems to have been a confounding process, full of wheel-spinning, detours, dead ends, poor directions and only the faintest of signals from the composer himself; all adding to a sinking, ‘road to nowhere’ feeling. But Elliott got his ‘tangible artefact’ after four-odd years of perseverance; his sense of accomplishment adding to esteem in which he evidently holds the record.

And reasonably so, for these nine, nimble, synthesized nibbles amount to more than just a happy Sunday drive. Palm /|\ Highway Chase – a vehemently vintage vehicle – inhabits the outskirts between the blood-splattered dance floors of Umberto and the long stages of fondly remembered Sega games like ‘Outrun’. Inspired by and named after John Carpenter’s ‘80s thriller, which was followed up by a less well-received LA foray, the LP too has eyes glued ahead, from the urban chaos of the Big Apple to the tainted promise of sunny stretches on the west coast, with motor vehicles as the nominal means of transition (‘Street Hawk’, ‘Desert Driver’, ‘Ghost Cars’ etc.). As MIA soundtracks go, it could well have assumed its rightful place on the Death Waltz label, were it not for the fact that its vintage is but illusory.

To these ears it’s still a well-tuned proposition, even if originality is entirely in abeyance. Much of it is high-octane synth-squealing action set to an urgent throb and filtered through the haze of decaying videotape: the sort of thing you’d likely find badly synced to badly filmed car chases and climatic moments that fizzle out before the music does. There is some tasteful build-up and development though, notably during the sparse, evening drive time of ‘Dark Movie Screens’ and the darker atmosphere of ‘Ghost Cars’. And at just 26 minutes long, it’s all green lights and no traffic: definitely worth a spin.

Toxic Beach Party

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Old Komm
Ventspils EP
UK DISCREPANT CREP08 EP (2013)

Latvia’s sixth largest city, Ventspils, has been a shipbuilding history that goes back to the Sixteenth Century. The port’s ice free harbour still makes it an important transportation hub today, so a record which presents electronic music derived from field recordings made in various locations around Ventspils promises a vaguely maritime listening experience, or so I first thought. This is not the case. I failed to recognise any obvious sounds derived from water, ships, heavy plant, cranes and so forth.

An intriguing 12” ep here. Old Komm declare the presence of field recordings, broken synths, found sound and church pipe organs. The first side is peppered with vocal samples like “no other attempt was made” and CITE. Tones could have been supplied by machines from a dental surgery or the cardiology ward of your local hospital. Vintage voltage-controlled synthesisers boosted with Warfarin. The beats are minimal and sullen; they seem from another world on this side, helping as they do only to propel the sinister bass frequencies. After this, there is an interlude with what sounds like the auto-accompaniment feature on one of Leslie Crowther’s massive old one-finger Kimball home entertainment keyboards.

But then things get a bit more abstracted.

From the robot cat purr paired with feedback samples played on a broken midi keyboard on an ironing board for a stand (perhaps) could be the source of the following musical development here – and musical it certainly is – despite their heavy use of samples and field recordings, these sources are arranged in a similar way as if they were traditional musical instrumentation.

Digital water drips, digital cowbells patter, handheld digital hard-drive recorders capture rain splashing on hot tin roofs. What’s interesting here is that Old Komm have an undoubted talent for production; for example, there are some cheap-sounding general midi-type sounds here but they are buried so low in the mix that their very nature is changed from the banal to the exotic. More vocal samples but detourned this time around – only vaguely reminiscent of human speech. A colossal, possibly the world’s largest, Leslie Rotary Speaker eventually comes to rest in a power cut while a Soviet politician rants and a “choir of angels” synth preset (038 on the Roland JV1080 or similar), while a car politely beeps its horn. Something extremely low-end attempts to shred my speaker cones before the sounds of waves breaking on a beach merge with the sound of fluff on the needle on a run-out groove (not mine – I checked), in a kind of post-apocalyptic beach party for the infected.

As I turn the record over, I’m expecting more of the same on side B, but am surprised to discover a completely different view of the city.

More heavy on the field recordings, but this time heavily processed and with a melodic low-register element hung off them. Its clear field recording techniques have been employed in the pre production, but the result is open, narrative and cinematic only without the detail and verve of Mecha/Orga or David Velez, for example. But these are perhaps unfair comparisons – Old Komm present themselves as an electronic act and not field recordists exclusively.

The nicely laid out sepia-toned cover is festooned with detailed photographs by Sergey Gorsky of Ventspils port itself, and the inner sleeve displays a series of shots of the interior of a ruined building presumably somewhere therein.

A vinyl edition of 250.

Discrepant

OLD KOMM 2

Back to the Future

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Cavern of Anti-Matter
Blood-Drums
GERMANY GRAUTAG RECORDS GTR#006 2 x LP (2013)

Cavern of Anti-Matter is a project from Tim Gane, previously of Stereolab. Despite the ominous band name and moody black and white industrial photos that adorn the sleeve, this actually turns out to be highly melodic instrumental synth pop of a determinedly retro variety. Most of the songs are essentially extended grooves based around a certain repeated synth riff. Despite the album title, the synth is always the dominant instrument here, with any ‘blood drumming’ fading into the background as either minimal drum machine or simple rock beats.

Opener ‘You’re an Art Soul’ acts as a good primer for the ears. Structurally, very little happens beyond a repeated synth groove, but this just serves to emphasise the stereo panning effects and gradual changes in tone. ‘Hot Electric Insect’ presents layers of sequencer/synth riffs, sounding like banks of sci-fi computers talking to each other. Occasionally the band add some minimal guitar into the mix, with tracks like ‘Movin On Static’ featuring bright summery major chords for the chorus – all very jolly and upbeat, but the retro synth worship always moves back into pole position. There’s a distinct whiff of Giorgio Morodor about tracks like ‘Rotation and Particle Density in D’ and ‘Adventures in One Octave’, with the duppa-duppa style synths in full effect. ‘Dystopian Shopping Mall’ in particular sounds like such a homage it’s almost a surprise when Donna Summer or Russell Mael from Sparks don’t appear and start singing.

All pleasant stuff, though the most modern sounding artist I can compare this to are the mid-90’s grooves of Bentley Rhythm Ace (remember them?). In the late 70’s/early80’s this album would have sounded like a vision from an impossibly high-tech science fiction future, now it more sounds a little more like a knowing homage to the past.

Retro-Galaxies

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Synthetic Gems & Kosmische Rays

Joining a roster that includes Zombi, Zombie Zombie, and other traffickers of the well-promulgated sound of ‘80s VHS nostalgia, Emeralds deliver still-hungry listeners their 2012 swan song Just To Feel Anything (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 150): seven tracks of innocuous, progged-up electro-pop, with strong Tangerine Dream/Howarth & Carpenter leanings. These seven songs saunter between opening and end credit malaise and seem to maintain themselves once underway. Silky swells of dry-ice fog launch soaring six-string swarms, underpinned by colourful, twinkling arpeggios and punchy, 4/4 drum machine rhythms. Good work guys. You just take a rest.

I can kind of picture guitarist Mark McGuire lying on his bedroom floor, one foot on the delay pedal, as he noodles his way through John Elliot’s and Steve Hauschildt’s safety-zone drones while hankering for another buzz on the X-Box. His playing, though generally apposite, strikes me as a little too cautious and could certainly do with a little more edge. Captain Beefheart once had his band play a song ‘upside down’ because they sounded too polished. No sooner had they managed the feat (with no small measure of anger at their taskmaster), than he had them resume the original approach with their newfound ire. There’s a lesson in there.

Early recordings by the group are reported to be edgier, more collisional: an energy I find conspicuous by its absence here, presumably having been eliminated over time in the compromising pursuit of this tentative harmony. The three members are all perfectly proficient on their respective tools, and don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing actually wrong with this music. It is simply the sound of a group deep in their comfort zone, which suggests it’s probably just as well they called it a day after this one. This disc may lead neophyte listeners back to the group’s audible influences the way Fujiya & Miyagi and others shone a bit of light on Neu. Less desirably, it might prompt a reunion, which would do no one any favours.

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More Music for Music For Films

Emeralds’ Steve Hauschildt lifts the tarpaulin on a double disc extravaganza S/H (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 178) of several years’ worth of hitherto unreleased (or largely unavailable) electro-doodlings, conveniently compiled into two chronological categories (2005-2009, 2010-2012), albeit with nothing further in terms of conceptual or stylistic distinction. Abstracted from the sugary haze of Emeralds, the music comes into its own rather well, displaying a wider personality range to that exhibited in the now-disbanded main show. As these performances demonstrate, his was the Kosmische radiance that set the scene for Mark McGuire’s prog rock posturing, though I remain none the wiser as to where John Elliot’s contributions ended and Hauschildt’s began. But let me restate the chief charm of this collection: no guitars.

Consequently, the composer is at liberty to explore a limited set of approaches with a lighter touch than demanded by Emeralds’ melodramatic mandate. Usually this results in a simple and sustained, solar shimmering, on occasion kept a-pulse by a touch of light techno; at other times Hauschildt approximates the concrète/kosmische retro-galaxies of label mate Raglani, who released (I’m guessing) the earliest material featured here. The brief, versioned ‘work in progress’ feeling of numerous titles here lend the collection an Eno-esque ‘Music for Films’ flavour. To be sure, everything is an appropriately light in tone and unhurried, suggesting a cool disinterest in exigencies of perfection, as though he were enjoying a pleasant meander past the neon waves of water in the world of TRON. By the same token, the quantity/quality ratio does not always favour the discerning listener, and musical ‘events’ are certainly thin on the ground, so few things grab as much as they please. Still, if you’re studying or working from home then a more reassuring array of backdrops you could not ask for.

The Bloody Hammer

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Satanic Abandoned Rock & Roll Society – pretty powerful name for a band eh readers! It’s up there with the Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, although that Fuji bunch can’t quite live up to that name, bluster as they may with their powerful slow drones and collective long hair. Us black-hearted types have more confidence in a name like Satanic Abandoned Rock & Roll Society, although to their discredit they don’t reproduce it in full on the front cover, instead opting for an obscure acronym which indicates the typographical designer for this release is preening his own sense of cleverness instead of (to my mind) representing the music properly. Mater of fact this whole album needs to be redesigned from the ground up, starting with strong shades of primary red and black instead of these sickly grey and maroon hues. And we need at least one pentagram or other magical symbol on the cover instead of these vague rotating hexagons. Come to think of it, these visual ideas of mine are pretty trite and have already been done to death by a million no-hoper Heavy Metal bands. No wonder I never get any LP design work! My idea of a record cover for The Cramps would be a skull wearing a top hat and framed by two dice…

However spin the disc of Bloody Imagination (MIKROTON RECORDINGS mikroton cd 12) and we’re certainly not disappointed by the dense and thuddy drone-o feedback noise produced by four mighty “shoguns” of Japanese music, namely Tetuzi Akiyama, Naoaki Miyamoto, Utah Kawasaki and Atsuhiro Ito. Any listening infantryman worth their salt knows the name of Akiyama, the guitarist who dresses like a 1970s New York street dude and plays in numerous rock and improv inflected styles, and might as well carry his electric guitar in a machine gun case. Utah’s name first reached my ears when Otomo Yoshihide was getting all excited about this new “Onkyo” style in the 1990s and reported that Kawasaki played a broken synth. How better to align oneself with those two Swiss noise pioneers Voice Crack than to use malfunctioning equipment. Atsuhiro Ito is a member of Intonarumori Orchestra and Optrum. If you ever Google for a picture of this fellow you’ll notice that he’s never in public without his hat (like the guitar player Taku Sugimoto, another credited with developing the slow and near-silent performing style that was later dubbed “onkyo”), and also that he appears to be gifted in playing the fluorescent lighting tube (actually it’s his “optron” – see below). Now I want to revisit his contributions to the Improvised Music From Japan box set from 2001. Lastly we have the second guitarist Naoaki Miyamoto whose name is new to me but whose career also dates from this millennial “tabula rasa” point of 2000-2001 when the music was taken for a long walk in the snowdrifts around Mount Aino, and lost its memory.

The groovy thing about this 52-minute mo-fo (continuous playing, no edits) is that the musicians characterise their work primarily in terms of the frequencies they generate – e.g., Tetuzi dominates the high frequencies, Atsuhiro occupies the lower depths. Then there’s the instrumentation itself, the “optron” played by Ito 1 and Tetuzi’s resonator (all-steel body) guitar played with a samurai sword, to get that doubled-up effect of metal on metal. This is not “minimal” music as regards the volume or the presence, which is full-on and extremely “solid”, producing a goodly chunk of impenetrable smoke in the listening parlour. But it is also extremely disciplined, the four musicians locking into a tight unit and keeping the intensity on an even keel, without wavering for a second. What great sailors they would make, pilots of an old-fashioned tea-clipper. There are no excessive gestures or unnecessary sounds, and the musical bundle is as watertight as a full-body protective suit made of epoxy resin. As far as Rock & Roll Societies go, this is one “smart set” where you’ll be glad you signed the membership papers and paid your monthly dues. As far as “satanic” goes, this record may not exhibit the same brand of theatrical horror that we get from Sunn O))) or Black Metal records, but it is still extremely – erm – affecting, both for the bodily and mental cavities. If we regard a satanic rite as something which requires intense concentration and never admits the possibility of a mistake in the procedure 2, then this record is a masterclass in the “dark arts”. Would ya believe this uncanny production, composed and produced by Tetuzi Akiyama, been boiling in the vaults since 2004? What hath befallen the world in the eight year interval leading up to its release?

  1. One pundit on YouTube has dubbed it “Merzlight”
  2. This line of thought isn’t too far-fetched if you’re of the school of thought that ascribes the “Black Mass” to the perverted invention of late 19th-century decadents, who simply created an intellectual inversion of the Catholic liturgy.

Factual Entertainment

Russell Haswell
Factual
AUSTRIA EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 157 LP (2012)

Clocking in at 28 minutes, this is either a very short LP, or a very long 12” single (take your pick).

The record kicks off with a track called ‘Black Metal Instrumental Demo’, though if you were expecting the genre’s usual emphasis on guitars you’ll be disappointed. Instead, a glitchy, reverb-drenched low pulse stutters into play, before being joined a few minutes later by random hits from a snare drum, not following any recognisable beat. The effect is not unlike listening to a (black?) metal drummer warming up in some vast underground cavern, his legs pumping away frantically at his double kick drums. After about 4 minutes of this, a warm fuzz of synth static enters and gradually buries the drummer alive. The drummer fights back with more regular hits from his snare drum, and the synth finally coalesces into a recognisable four-note riff. Having been beaten into melody, the synth retreats (shamefully?), and the stuttering drums emerge victorious.

‘Urban nOise’ is essentially the sound of a distorted synth wrestling with itself, while ‘Killer Snakehead’ features a looped synth line held in check by a regular pulsing dance beat. Highly repetitive, this sounds like the death-rattle of an old Sega Megadrive game that has crashed and is looping itself into infinity. ‘Record Shop Day’ is perhaps the closest the record comes to ‘pure’ noise, in the free-wheeling unstructured Merzbow style. Perhaps intended to replicate sonically the chaotic hordes of punters fighting over rare vinyl? Whatever, the distorted synth sound is again very redolent of 80’s videogames. For ‘Rave Nihilation’, the sound is stripped back to a meandering distorted synth line that simply wanders around a bit before expiring.

Taken as a whole, this record is sonically uncluttered experimental noise (with a small ‘n’), with a strong emphasis on distorted synthesiser sounds. The promotional material makes a point of highlighting ‘real-time, one take’ recording techniques, and whilst this makes for a very pure recording, for this listener at least, it often felt more like a clinical ‘lab-coat’ wearing exercise than the passionate kick in the head of more emotional and ‘busier’ noise. The record ends with ‘Sheffield’, a brief live performance, featuring more manic and frantic distorted synths swooping and swirling through an echoey hall. The live nature of the recording makes this sonically inferior to the studio cuts, but ironically the sounds here seem freer and more unhinged than most of what makes up the rest of the record.

Spårring Partners

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Hooray, here’s the second record from Vrakets Position which we’ve been looking forward to since their 2011 debut release, a powerful self-titled double CD that was a real mind-crusher. The Swedish duo of Göran Green and Tommy Lindholm are in their sixties now, but since 2005 they’ve been going through a purple patch of musical creativity as they revisit a musical partnership which began in the early 1980s. The release of Spår (GALLERI 21 RECORDINGS VRAKGODS 2) in late 2012 coincides with some interest shown by an Art Association in Malmö, who commissioned a five-hour live performance from the band to promote this new release. Five hours is clearly the bare minimum amount of durational space these fellows require, as you can deduce from this album with its excessively lengthy tracks of mindless and mesmerising rock grind. ‘Så Ska Dot Låta’ is the main event, 33 minutes of non-stop musical lard, a simplistic, plodding, tumescent piece of lumpen drone-rock filled with great bowlfuls of loud guitars, hypnotic synths, monotonous bass tones, and a remorseless programmed drum rhythm. Great!

The skill of Vrakets Position is that they keep the music both simple and powerful, and never waste time with airy-fairy nonsense like chord changes, structure, solos, or other wimpy variances. And they rock! I kind of regret the way that Sunn O))) have managed to turn good honest heavy metal into some sort of occultist fine-art drone for intellectuals, resulting in a product that has retained the extreme amplification, but sacrificed everything else – starting with the beat. If you too would prefer that some of sort of backbeat were restored to the equation, then Vrakets Position are the band for you. This isn’t to say they aren’t “art music” too, but with their intensely numbing repetitions played in a no-nonsense heavy-fisted manner, they resemble the greatest Krautrock band that never were; and their insistence on the transformative powers of psychedelic drone might align them with their countrymen from a previous generation, i.e. Pärson Sound.

Also on the album: ‘Korall’, an airless, shrill and metallic piece of clatter that runs over the corpses of many like a freight train; and ‘Sweetheart’, a somewhat more restrained and lyrical chugger which showcases the croaking voice of the lead singer as he delivers fragments from the poetry of W.B. Yeats. As such, it’s a great combination of refined delicacy with brute strength – the marriage between a butterfly and a wrecking ball. Here the performance is very stripped back – you can actually hear the synth keys and drum machine instead of a wall of distorted silver flashing – and some may find it less of an irresistible proposition than the opening blaster, but it has a nice attenuated vibe that links it to the “wasted” garage rock of Les Rallizes Dénudés. Entire release is comprised of live recordings, and it’s a hefty wodge of contemporary rock noise which we recommend. From 15 January 2013.

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The Bird Sings with its Fingers

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I have a strong personal affection for the music of Algerian musician Jean-Marc Foussat, mainly because I find he’s a total whizz of invention when it comes to playing the VCS3 synth and because that particular instrument scores so high on the desiro-cheerometer of many fans (it’s clunky, it’s analogue, and Brian Eno used it with Roxy Music). Foussat has realised a good deal of his own superbly robust free-noise music – 1983’s Abbatage is a real heavyweight – and formed ad-hoc groups like Marteau Rouge and Thrash The Flash whose team members have produced gloriously unfettered and juicy instances of unrestricted noisy batterings. Alongside his work as a composer and musician, his name appears on the technical credits for many important recordings of European improvised music from the 1980s onwards, for labels such as Incus, Bead, Po Torch, Hat Art, Celluloid, RecRec, and many more. I’m always a bit baffled as to why his profile isn’t that bit higher than it appears to be, but it may be because he is just a modest hard-working fellow who doesn’t spend time on self-promotion and ego-preening vanity ads. Such a man, y’know you can trust.

As to modesty, his name doesn’t even appear on the front cover of L’Oiseau (FOU RECORDS FR – CD 01), a release which he kindly sent us in October 2012, yet it’s all performed by Jean-Marc using the AKS and VCS3 synths, and he also performs additional electronic generation, voice elements, toys, and the Jews Harp. The album is dedicated to Victor Foussat, a painter and poet (and relation?) who died in 2012, apparently quite young. That’s his photo on the front cover and a painting by him on the inner sleeve. On two long tracks, Jean-Marc unburdens his emotional state with courage and dignity. The title track is a bittersweet assemblage, composed of multiple synth recordings carefully chained together, some way from the pounding noise assault of Marteau Rouge and amounting to a heartfelt statement of very mixed emotions – mourning the loss of Victor, while also celebrating the glories of art / poetry and thus delivering a suitable musical eulogy of sorts. It’s gorgeous to listen to, a controlled and sustained meditation in electronic sound, freely moving in time and space with quicksilver changes of tempo, timbre and tone – Foussat is a master programmer, exhibits tremendous facility and spontaneity in his work, and unfailingly produces great electronic music with the speed and grace of an entire army of soldier ants. Much contemporary electronic music seems stale, clumsy, or ponderous in comparison.

‘La Vie S’Arrête’ is quite a different piece, a more discordant and dissonant “howl” generated by roaring synths and drawn from a more abysmal part of the soul; of the two, certainly the “nocturne” of the suite. In among the unhappy sighs, groans, and extended whispering utterances of the VCS3, small bursts of real-life field recordings creep in, only to be overwhelmed by the crushing emotions of the music. The sound of the crowd (children at play or a shopping mall) is rendered rather insignificant in the face of one man’s personal trauma and pain. This piece follows the same vaguely “episodic” structure as its predecessor, one segment of music overlapping the next in an intuitive programme of fades and layerings that create a steady continuum, a perfect flow of ideas. Yet you can sense the mood becoming bleak and forlorn as the sounds grow more thin and attenuated, conveying a feeling of futility where a life has indeed come to an end and the rest of us are not sure what to do next. Bird song – probably produced by synthetic methods – looms large in this piece, and the echoing repeats of these near-absurd twitterings and chatterings somehow evoke what has been lost with the passing of this painter and poet. A subtle and sensitive portrait emerges from this very sympathetic music. In between the two compositions, Jean-Marc Foussat takes one minute to read out a poem by Victor Foussat, ‘L’oiseau aux plumes bariolées’ – at which point your listener started getting a lump in the throat.

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