Tagged: vinyl

Space is still the Place


The Holistic Worlds of Wintsch Weber Wolfarth

Space, its acoustics and landscapes are foregrounded in this striking, improvised set by Swiss ‘jazz’ trio of Michel Wintsch (piano, synth), Christian Weber (double bass) and Christian Wolfarth (drums). Probable cause is provided: most titles reflecting at least nominal inspiration from the cosmological legends of El Sonny Ra, and the musicians – while not directly influenced – demonstrate a singular self-possession while stood amidst architectural ruins of mysterious provenance.

The Holistic Worlds is the trio’s second recording (of, at present, three), recorded once again in their home country (they appear unwilling to record elsewhere), where they comport themselves with the precision of a compatriot timepiece’s rotating innards (though never sounding mechanical), while entrancedly attracting planetary influences from the likes of those inhabited by the likes of Supersilent, Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and the aforementioned Saturnian emigrant. And while this isn’t to suggest we’re dealing with a tribute project, astral allusions to the great jazz satellite are nonetheless audible, be it in the garbled, synth-gilding around Wintsch’s oblique piano lines in ‘Singin’ Joe’, or in those of the ‘Mercury Tears’: an impressionistic rendering of gently cascading water that Debussy mightn’t have frowned upon. And then there are the amorphous, alien vistas akin to those beamed in on treasured recordings such as Nothing Is and The Heliocentric Worlds (the ostensible inspiration for the current album title), which are orchestrated via astringent plains of plucked piano strings, Wolfarth’s crisp, jagged drum rolls somehow both frenetic and absent, and all illuminated by solar swells of Wintsch’s synthesizer, which he seems to be playing in tandem with the ivories.

While he overshadows no one, I must confess a predilection for Weber’s stark alphabet of extended techniques for double bass, primarily for having witnessed an intense, distilled recital at a Schimpfluch showcase a couple of years ago. Though taxing for those concentrating, his inspiration and perspicacity were nonetheless remarkable, and here are perhaps better served by the complimentary company he keeps. I’m certainly grateful for the benefit of a chair this time, from which I enjoy the group’s patient structural development as it unfolds naturally into quite unnatural formations without hint of haste. The trio has since recorded again, at Willisau Jazz Festival (hatOLOGY 725, 2013), further indicating preference for home ground. Having enjoyed the material here, I should be interested in acquainting myself with the subsequent steps they’ve made.

High Speed Pursuit

PALM 019

Palm /|\ Highway Chase
Escape From New York

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.

Anecdotal Evidence


Seamus Cater & Viljam Nybacka
The Anecdotes

Armed only with a vintage Fender Rhodes Electric Piano and a mixed bag of brass and percussion, Anecdotal Records head honcho Seamus Cater, Viljam Nybacka and their chums Shahzad Ismaily, Jeff Carey and Eiríkur Orri Ólafson present a beautiful set of subterranean soul searching sad songs.

In the same way as a douser searches for water with nothing more than a pair of divining rods, Cater unveils epic songwriting from the barest means. Despite years living in the Netherlands, Cater’s voice, despite not being completely free of inflection or Essex / East-End mannerism 1 is, however, engaging and clear and this is to his obvious advantage because the stories he’s got to tell on this record are certainly worth listening to.

The content of each presents a starting point for fruitful and fascinating research if you’re that way inclined. Cater’s publicity, I suspect, will probably wax lyrically about his British folk music family roots and the weight of such a history – I am aware that there is a contemporary resurgence of interest in British folk revivalism by our nation’s more broadminded youth but I’m not sure that this is essential to the existence of this record. In demonstration of his own contemporary folk-music credentials, Cater’s previous output has included a touring project with experimental banjo artiste Uncle Woody Sullender which resulted in a record on Dead Ceo called When We Get to Meeting.

One thing I must commend Mr Cater on is bringing the fascinating and obscure 1970s conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader to my attention on his very first song. He goes on to document the notable parts of another five historic figures’ lives to edifying effect. He does this in a poetic way with his lyrics and with the stripped back arrangements he employs on the limited palette of instruments. You get the feeling that every recorded sound is given much thought – Cater even employs a man – Jeff Carey – whose sole job on ‘Bas Jan Ader’ is simply stated as “reverb”.

‘Bas Jan Ader’ could be as much about Donald Crowhurst, another lone sailor who disappeared at sea six years before Jan Ader. Minimal Rhodes and drums. The line “…the second half of the trilogy / was to be left incomplete” refers to the fateful voyage being part of an unfinished piece of work by Jan Ader. Cater is indeed a skilled wordsmith albeit blessed with a slightly mannered vocal style; on the line “blow, blow the man down”, he sounds like he’s got a mouthful of soft fruit. On the end, the Morse Code for “Mayday!” is played on one-finger reed organ.

On the next track, ‘Muybridge Last Stand’, the duo utilise jaunty Rhodes piano paired with a muted trumpet. Cater has written some nice wonky lines like “when we touch / I’m such / a klutz”. The trumpet and horns are written and performed by Eiríkur Orri Ólafson.

Cater states ‘The Folk Music’ is about Ewan MacColl and the 50s-60s folk revival. Vocals and Rhodes only to start. This puts me in mind of an obscure uk band called Red Peal from the early 2000s who used a similar format to great effect. An accordion joins in. and a ukulele? Cater sings “who found the folk music? / who sang the folk music? / who made the folk music?” This prompts the question what exactly does Seamus Cater stand for? Is he a folk archaeologist or is he just interested in the trend for imagined neo-folk utopias?

The first track on side two is ‘Early Riser’. This one is about the ever-popular Salford painter LS Lowry. Cater can’t help but put in a dab of humour and a stroke of irony; “…I died nineteen six seventy / And Salford ain’t a place you want to be / But I heard they got / A new gallery”. While on the third track ‘The Piano’, “…Prokofiev was reportedly trying to outlive Stalin but didn’t manage…”

It is perhaps a bold move to release something like this in today’s market – i.e. a truly meaningful, understated yet emotional and personal version of popular song in an age of massive-scale live television trial by ordeal, such as X-Factor and The Voice not to mention the heinous new Westlife album and so forth. There’s a beautiful double-tracked harmony on the line “…you have been selected…” on ‘The Softest Horns’. Cater enunciates in a similar way to Syd Barrett or Robert Wyatt – I don’t mean he sounds anything like these singers – they all sing in their own voice/accent/dialect/whatever; not in the way you’re “supposed to” these days.

Vinyl edition of 500 of which this one in front of me is number 52, and includes a digital copy download code.

  1. At the time of writing, this could be said to be on-trend in popular song post Kate Nash.

Star and Crescent

Kaffe Matthews was the heroine of “real-time” live processing in the late 1990s, with her lively and spirited electronic transformations of improvised music which she did with LiSa software. She kindly sent us a copy of Yird Muin Starn (ANNETTE WORKS AWpd002) in February 2013, released on her own label and a collaboration with the film-maker and visual artist Mandy McIntosh. It’s a fairly “cosmic” release –  the title translates from old Scots into “Earth Moon Star” – and one might almost want to label it a concept album, or at least following in the traditions of certain 1970s prog masterpieces I know so well, were it not for the highly unusual take these two artists lend to their star-gazing themes. What emerges is not clumsy Erich Von Daniken rehashed drivel, but genuinely mysterious and sometimes haunting observations about the cosmos. The verbal half of the album, penned and sung or recited by McIntosh, contains explicit various space-bound themes, but written from an oblique angle: the ode to Neil Armstrong, likening him to a wandering Odysseus figure, is especially poignant, but there is also a narrative description of a Scottish meteorite (probably read from an early chronicle) delivered in crisp and didactic terms, and an “Earth Mother” hymn of sorts embodied in the song ‘Himiko’. Matthews meanwhile approaches the theme from a more abstract and structural position, and apparently uses data derived from star constellations as a means to reprocess her field recordings in the computer – said field recordings retrieved from the Galloway Forest, natch. Did I mention the duo have been working in Galloway for about two years now? This album is just one of a series of works they’ve been commissioned to make in that area, supported with money from the Scotland Forestry Commission, and the completed multi-media works in the series include The Galloway Spacesuits and the Three Sky Gazer Chairs. Given McIntosh’s undeniable Scots accent, whose sweet tones are present throughout over half of this album, and the numerous local references scattered through the lyrical and imagistic content, it’s probably not far of the mark to deem this a very site-specific work, one where the very environment itself has been recast and reworked into music by Matthews, in ways described above. The results are totally unique, and I can guarantee you have never heard the like…the best documentary / spoken word / poetry / song+electronic music / astronomy sound-art album of 2013!

Fee Kürten from Germany is also a visual artist and sound artist, and as Tellavision she has made Music On Canvas (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR111), a 45RPM 12-incher which was released in April 2013. Given the title of this mini-album, it’s possible she regards these songs as extensions of her paintings or drawings; if she did the cover art (it’s not credited), you can see the qualities that interest her, those half-finished and tentative lines brushing some parts of the canvas, with bold gestural marks of colour in others. In like manner, these songs are remarkably bold as studio constructions: using very stark instrumentation (guitars, drum machines, harmonica, keyboards) to build a framework which leaves yawning gaps to be filled by her vocals, said vocals quite exploratory in they way they search for the hidden or implied melody in each tune, and even more allusive and hard to fathom when you start looking into the content of the lyrics. In just ten short songs, your intrigue-ometer will be bubbling around the 98-degrees mark and you’ll know it’s time for you to come out of the oven, but is anybody waiting for you with a pair of oven gloves? Probably not Fee Kürten, who’s more likely to have taken off on an unexpected three-month trip to Asia without so much as a note to the landlord. The press notes are impressed by her “minimal pop aktion”, and liken her sounds to various manifestations of 1970s New Wave Music. I found her mannered vocals a tad difficult at first, and had the impression she sounded bored and unengaged, but I’ve since come to enjoy her “abstract expressionist pop”.

Lastly we have a Kim Gordon “side project”, and while I gather that this Body / Gate / Head was pretty much a one-off performance from 2012, her Body / Head group with Bill Nace has continued to be quite productive since 2011. Glare Luring Yo (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR099) sees Gordon and Nace playing with Michael Morley, the New Zealander who is Gate and was one third of The Dead C. Their three massed guitars were recorded in Massachusetts when they performed at the “Yod Space” and at Feeding Tube. If you can get hold of a copy of this vinyl item (released January 2013), you’ll be greeted with two interminable sides of slow, desolate, guitar grind, the sickening sensation of abject doom occasionally alleviated by Gordon’s harrowing vocals. Naturally, I was appalled on first spin of this pallid horror, but now I’m digging into the frozen ground and starting to discern some of the ultra-subtle guitar twangamaroos in the fabric, which we can attribute to these thirty deep-frozen fingers at work. There’s a sort of chilling beauty within this deathly and ethereal drift, even if it’s akin to the beauty of smouldering angels dissolving in the ruins of a chapel after a nuclear holocaust. One senses that prolonged listening would induce similar effects to a dose of nerve gas. Apparently the performance took place with a film screening; all I know about Catherine Breillat’s Une Vraie Jeune Fille is that I haven’t yet seen it, but it’s reckoned to be something of an overlooked cult gem of story-less surrealism and bizarre imagery, a 1976 oddity that’s just ripe for rediscovery by today’s jaded appetites. To heighten the pleasure of whatever wide-eyed audience of hungry wraiths turned up at Florence MA, said film was projected at a much slower speed than normal. Speculating, you could say that the trio of guitarists were playing in sympathy with that projection speed, but I think it’s more plausible to say the music has the effect of slowing down the rest of the world to its own inhuman pace, just by the power of amplified ultra-chill boniness. A car crash in slow motion. Hearing this is like being subjected to the Buffer Gas beam, resulting in masses of cold, slow-moving molecules which cluster about your face and neck.

A Worm is At Work

Kink Gong is Laurent Janneau. He’s been very active recording the speaking and singing voices of ethnic minorities in Asia, China, Vietnam and Laos, and quite often contributing extensively to the Sublime Frequencies catalogue with his recordings. On Voices (DISCREPANT CREP08), he creates imaginative and unusual assemblages using these recordings of his, supplementing them with archive tapes, field recordings, electronic music, and computer transformations; in this way he creates dazzling vocal-heavy collages of sound events that never existed, but are full of drama and incident, amounting to beautifully strange music and aural portraits of a vanishing world. Or perhaps glimpses of a fantasy world, one that is disappearing before our ears even in the very telling of it. Unlike Ghédalia Tazartès, who wants to turn world music inside-out so that he can spin us fantastic yarns of the impossible, you can sense that Janneau is being very true to his source material here. The long track ‘3 Hani Pipa’ is particularly impressive, and one that’s bound to attract descriptive terms such as “shamanistic” or “delirious”. Sometimes, life truly is as strange as this. From 16 April 2013.

Another who presents us with snapshots from remote corners of the worlds is Glochids, on his solo cassette Originals (WEIRD EAR WER-002). This is James Roemer from Arizona, whose work here comprises short and extremely opaque assemblages, combining odd and rather mysterious field recordings with instrumental snippets. Roemer not only plays many instruments, but is an electronic musician and computer programmer. His locations are many and various, and he appears to have roamed South America, Chile and Bolivia, as well as picking up additional recordings in parts of North America. The press descriptions are quite specific about some of the locations, yet Glochids himself prefers to remain “evasive”, and what ends up on the tape tends towards the vague and drifty. Originals does have many moments that intrigue, but the work is rather formless in its assembly; it’s uncertain where things start or end, events or musical passages fail to gain traction, and sparkling moments end before they have a chance to pass on anything of value. All of this leads to a somewhat frustrating listen. From 15 April 2013.

From Oslo, another quality release on the Va Fongool label…the duo Skrap is Anja Lauvdal and Heiða Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck, making a very distinctive abstract noise-blart in the studio, using just a Korg MS-10 and a tuba. Synths and brass instruments have rarely created such a strange sound together in a single space. The brevity of the duo on K.O. (VA FONGOOL VAFCD004) is admirable; many of these tracks come in at around two minutes, some last even less than 60 seconds, yet these miniatures are packed with ideas and incident. Skrap claim to be partially inspired by Sunn O))), but if they are, it’s certainly not by the durational aspects of Stephen O’Malley’s excessively amplified and over-long drones. That said, Skrap don’t seem to have quite enough material to fill an entire album satisfactorily, and some of the work descends into aimless doodling. After a while you also begin to notice the rather flat and toneless quality of the recording, made by Christopher Brenna; somehow the team have yet to find a way to bring a more sculptural quality to their sounds, give them more mass or density. Even so, it’s a solid and sustained attempt at innovation and experimentation, apparently brought about by accident when the two musicians were locked in a small room with just two bass amplifiers for company (unless the press notes are being jocular on this matter). The word Skrap translates as “scratch” in English, even though the K.O. of the title might lead us to expect a scrap or fight. Related musical endeavours of Anja and Heida are Muskus, Skadedyr, Broen and Your Headlights Are On. From 20 May 2013.

Russian electronicist Dmitriy Krotevich is from St Petersburg, has released a couple of download albums for Enough Records and Treetrunk Records, and has played with Ilia Belorukov (probably a mandatory part of any underground musician’s apprenticeship in Russia). His olgoi-khorkhoi (INTONEMA int006) arrives in a lurid sleeve printed with a fantastic illustration of a red snakey monster, drawn by Solongo Monkhoorai. This is the Mongolian death worm of the title, a hostile beast which is supposed to live in the Gobi desert and emit acid or electric shocks when attacked by the incautious traveller. Although not explicitly stated in the supplied text, it’s also as gigantic as the worms in Tremors and has a taste for terrifying the local cattle. Using abstract grinding and scrapey bursts generated by his turntables and no-input mixing desk, Krotevich summons all his brooding energies to limn a sonic portrait of this beast. The menacing noises he makes start out subtle and understated, growing ever more abrasive and threatening; each track of this four-part epic broadly follows this developmental arc as to the musical construction. Gradually, he arrives at some extremely unpleasant and sickening tones, some of them quite unacceptable to the human ear, and it’s something of a relief when each segment comes to its conclusion. But the slow build-up creates a lot of tension and is quite effective; unlike the “traditional” noise artist who dives straight off the deep end into an unbearable harsh noise assault, Krotevich prefers to “worm” his way into that zone through means of patient burrowing and writhing. In short, he has become the Mongolian death worm. From May 2013.

Grün ist grau: green gets ground out on this post-industrial dystopian music travelogue


Ravi Shardja, Grün ist grau, Grautag Records, 2 x LP GTR#005 (2013)

Aye aye, Captain Shardja … green is grey according to this French improv musician who has been let loose on a bewildering variety of instruments here: electronic bass, guitar, mandolin, various hand-me-down synthesisers, a broken-down Yamaha mixing table and other musical and non-musical gadgets of varying ages and music-worthy (or unworthy) condition, to create monumental audioscapes of noisy post-industrial improv. Fear not! – the result is a travelogue through dystopian post-apocalyptic soundscapes where steel skyscrapers and other monuments to the Age of Oil now lie in ruins and are over-run by Nature exacting her due on presumptuous humanity, now long gone. While the mood of the album isn’t bleak or hopeless, the general feeling tends to be one of clinical curiosity, as if listeners have been invited as disinterested tourists to survey this devastated world as a lesson in not what to do before travelling to the next planet.

On the four tracks, each of which gets a 12-inch vinyl-platter side to itself, Shardja surveys a different part of the post-anthropic Earth: one track might pass for a quick lookaround of India, to judge from the presence of a sitar (courtesy of Jean Marcel Busson whom Shardja roped in from their band GOL to assist) which appears at various points throughout the track. The music can be dramatic in parts but it’s generally approachable and light in tone and delivery. There is sometimes a playful quality and even the most doom-laden sections never sound really very heavy or morose. The mood sometimes seems quite wry and deliberately down-played, the music appearing very po-faced at what it may be observing.

Track titles range from the absurd and amusing like “Bombay Boobies Battle” to the deeply disturbing like “Attaque sournoise du Kopassus a Wamena” (“Sneak Attack by Kopassus on Wamena”), the latter covering some sinister spoken-voice field recordings as well as some toy-box melodies that seem quite out of order here. While the music on this track can be quite jaunty in parts and becomes shrill and intense in its final moments, listeners should be aware that Kopassus refers to a crack special forces unit in the Indonesian Army that conducts unconventional warfare, counter-terrorism and special intelligence gathering activities and as such has committed human rights violations in various parts of Indonesia including Papua where Wamena is a major town. Why Shardja should give this piece such a startling title I’m curious to know: is he trying to stir up listeners’ jaded sensibilities, dulled by always expecting to be entertained by one short-lived thrill after another, or is he merely commenting in a casual, almost noncommittal way on one aspect of the chaos and almost banal repression and violence that always seem to break out in at least one corner of the globe every so often? (This would assume that human violence is something that happens because … hey, it’s human nature to be brutal and violent and we just have to live with it. Move on folks, nothing to see here. The notion that violence of a brutal and vicious kind is something we are taught through our total and involuntary immersion in modern Western culture from the moment of our birth never occurs to people.) Whether the listener can be bothered to find out what messages or non-messages Shardja is trying to convey with the various track titles (given in English, French, German and Italian) and the music they attach to is another thing altogether. At the very least, it’s disturbing that we have a track called “Attaque sournoise …” with no further explication from the artist (I admit I don’t have the actual double LP artwork which might explain a lot more in front of me) which leaves me as a listener guessing at what Shardja’s intentions may be – but possibly the fact that I have to guess may be the intention itself: it at least has roused my curiosity and interest.

Some passages in the four tracks can be very intriguing and enjoyable to listen to but on the whole this quartet can be something of an endurance test and attention levels can flag very quickly. This double LP set is perhaps best digested in separate chunks. Each track could almost be substituted for one another and you would not notice much difference. I feel a bit debilitated each time I listen to the album and I think that’s due to the dabbling and dallying out stretched out to an interminable length.

Toxic Beach Party


Old Komm
Ventspils EP

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.



Back to the Future


Cavern of Anti-Matter

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.

Killer Drone


Guiseppe Ielasi & Kassel Jaeger
Parallel / Greyscale

Two sides of pulmonary bass drones, growling sped-down tapes, and winter birch tree arteries of atonal synth – a kind of dystopian In C. Both these pieces are live documents of a new duo performing firstly, with all analogue equipment in Paris in October of 2011; the second, with a digital set-up this time, in Oreno the following June.

Giuseppe Ielasi runs Senufo Editions and has releases on Erstwhile, a 7” boxset on Holiday Records, and has contributed his mastering skills for certain releases on the UK’s excellent Consumer Waste label. Kassel Jaeger, I understand, has previous on Editions Mego, Senufo Editions, Unfathomless, and Antisolar.

The first side, designated Parallel, has tentacles like a giant deep sea octopus surfacing through the spume in horrific slow motion to drag an unsuspecting clipper to its watery end. There are bodies in the water but vital signs are barely registering. The flooded ship’s radio is producing tones that could be fractured Morse code or the reverb-tails of demonic tuning forks. Suddenly, the performance sounds weirdly digital – like there is the presence of software, but we are assured it is all analogue equipment being employed here. Then there’s the presence of what sounds like processed wind-buffeted microphones or the overheard heartbeat of something too near and too unspeakable. There is the sense that machines are at work here; but rather than helpfully and obediently carrying out the musicians’ sonic wishes, they are unstoppably macerating something organic. Tapes run backwards in one channel with digital artefacts running in the other. Fizzing, burning? Are they physically dismantling their machines in real time? I’m sure I can hear cassettes being manipulated/maltreated in the background.

Later, knives are heard being sharpened in an isolated tone-composition. Dangerous levels of moisture build-up on the leaves of plants, tendrils; excess oxide build-up on monolithic tape heads. The familiar and comforting sound of pitched down church organ, while the bearings on the capstan wear down and squeak.

Parallel is a massive, killer, sabre-toothed drone. Like the gates of hell are yawning open while the fragments of electronic pop song whip around in the maelstrom only visible now and again; like when anything accidentally gets sucked into the mammoth turbines of a hydro-electric plant – it doesn’t stand a chance. This is not quiet music; it’ll take your head off. Complex digital flutterings. Reinforced concrete stretches to breaking point, exposing the rusty reinforcement within, tarmacadam bubbles, masonry condenses and vaporises. That kind of thing. About as heavy as electro-acoustic improvisation gets these days. Warm and cold fronts collide. Or occlude. Whatever, once you sit this on your turntable’s platter you’re in for stormy weather.

The flip side, Greyscale is described as “…more laptop oriented”, and this is the performance from Orena, and is apparently only the second time Ielasi and Jaeger performed together. Here are sounds derived from rotation, possibly. Curiously, of the two, this one sounds more “live” to me despite the stated presence of laptops. New and devastating uses of DSP processing and mid-air refuelling. Satellites communicate; distant choirs transmitting from the 11th Century. Ruined abbeys protected by glass boxes – if you want to have a nosy around, its ten pound a punter into the pocket of the National Trust. Sounds grabbed from synthesisers combined with close-mic’ed table object manipulation. As regards an uninformed guess as to possible techniques employed, a lot of rubbing of the microphones themselves perhaps? A radio telescope being demolished slowly in remote woodland. Nature pushes back. Creepers creep, a briar curls over an abandoned stone cottage. If you sit in your car and fall asleep every time you visit a place of interest, it is no wonder your local knowledge is so poor. Just tell me which lay-by you’re going to be in and I’ll come and pick you up. They’ve mic’ed up a snake’s nervous system. Whoa. Back in the room. You’ve probably guessed that this is far more ambient to my ears than the Paris side. And all the better for it.

Another Green World


BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa
Góða Nótt

Murky results from a piece of serendipitous endurance recording which mortally challenges the musicians’ minds and bodies, if you believe the snow-bound PR for this slab of worrisome and isolating drone-creep. Indeed, there is a cheerful account of being trapped in the studio in a particularly heavy snow storm on the editions Mego website. Nilsen and Stilluppsteypa somewhat matter-of-factly say this: “…so we decided to work on new recordings influenced by the situation.” Harrowing.

The first side of this long-player strongly evokes a feeling of growing unease. The music is a type of crawling, dark ambient affair, cataloguing ghoulish nocturnal manoeuvres; lunar orbits shifting, transient mortality; distended roots systems taking up brackish water. Saturated ground, saturated tape. Stunted seasonal growth. Weird shapes in the gloom. Time to break out the isopropyl alcohol and clean those heads? Abstract and mysterious concepts are suggested by this music. The sound is crisp and expensive. Clearly they’re using quality outboard in their icy, frostbitten studio facility; here and there a nice vibrato effect. But psychic rations are dangerously low: this music is more wary, and less exuberant, like a young tearaway grown old looking back over a meaningless, hedonistic life at the onset of dementia. Tired, sad, but confused and embittered too. It seems to me that the influence of Ligeti is noticeable in some of the drones used – a lambent echo of the paranoid presence of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or, it could just as easily be the sound of your central nervous system amplified through the PA system on the main stage at any major European music fest. Things you’d rather not know about happen in the distance; hidden by the dust and ash from a million volcanoes. Here be percussive sandstorms, and giant reptiles’ intestines rumbling. Disorienting. High voltage supply voltage lines act as perches for tropical birds. Shortwave radio transmissions almost blot out a very quiet and disengaged vocal right before the run-off groove.

By contrast, the flip is a film of speeded-up crane arms circling around a (sub)urban horizon. A beleaguered vessel far out at sea. A slowed-down, super-annuated organ grinder; his aging monkey’s final breath. Storm clouds gather. The thermometer drops, and the monkey is watching Tron with the sound off. The inaudible digital screams of dying computer servers in an overheating machine room on a distant planet. Fifty years of accumulated dust ignites. The first violin section of the London Philharmonic all wearing skinny black jeans and fluoro-orange Crocs as they are led into the cryogenic chamber. Sheet metal peels back like tin foil as the cockpit shears off and turns to face the wrong way. Barometric pressure is measured by the tonne. Four blows of the lump hammer. Music you can barely hear, like it’s coming from the other side of the planet. Even its creators seem a little disorientated by the results, stating “…as we doctored the tapes of our recordings we seemed to have created weaknesses in space and we developed a total, complete darkness finding ourselves out of this world, travelling without moving, into the flickering green light.”

Cover images made by Franz Graf.