Invisible Trees / Invisible Birds

Double CD of minimal lengthiness from Spiracle on Ananta (HELEN SCARSDALE AGENCY HMS 017). Disc one is quite ecstatic with its slow and syrupy minimal droning creating a mood which dare not disturb the tranquil summer airs. Disc two seems to repeat the same sonic underlay while layering something far more gritty and urban on top of it, much like a space rocket taking off in incredibly slow motion. This is the work of Japanese composer Hitoshi Kojo, and has something to do with the artist’s rather grave insomnia problem. If you have ever greeted the rosy dawn through grit-filled eyelids and found your mind racing with unlikely ideas, this collection will not only appeal to you, it may even act as a balm. I see this was released in October 2009 but I only just received it last week.

From same label, another minimal delight in the form of Do-Undo (In G Maze) (HELEN SCARSDALE AGENCY HMS 018). The droning viola work of Julia Ackhardt, one of whose peculiarities is that she often plays and records exclusively in the key of G, has been reworked and cross-fertilised with strange spatial field recordings by the sound artist Manu Holterbach. Julia actively encourages others to make whatever secondary use they see fit of her recordings, and Holterbach has certainly picked up that gauntlet with dispatch and zeal. While one has encountered the delirious effects of live music mixed with urban sound-events before (for example, an excellent if hard-to-find LP by Tamio Shiraishi and Sean Meehan on the GD Stereo label), this single-minded release is one of the most successful endeavours we’ve yet encountered in that area. It is also somewhat reminiscent of the mysterious records of Coelacanth, also represented on this label, although of course it’s more obtrusive and more explicitly “musical”. Quite gorgeous, whichever ear you bend towards it first. As ever from this Californian label, a very limited pressing with fine hand-made cover art inserts.

Premier UK sax improviser John Butcher is making radical leaps forward with his remarkable music. I was highly impressed with his Resonant Spaces work where he took part in a rural-psychogeographic event, wholeheartedly throwing himself and his brassy lung into remote caves and bunkers in unknown parts of Scotland. On Invisible Ear (WEIGHT OF WAX WOW 03) he’s created a dozen short pieces alternating between solo and multi-tracked saxophone playing, using amplification, feedback, and very close microphone placement. The results are fit to be regarded as modernist compositions (much in the same way that Rhodri Davies has taken his harp beyond improvisation and into a serene realm of minimalist composing). The consummate skill in his playing and the astonishingly unusual sounds wrought from Butcher’s sax are one attraction of this release, but I also like the compactness of it; most of these crystal-sharp gems are packed into taut 3 or 4 minute episodes, acting like a dose of pure vitamin C for your brain. I’m also pleased to report that Butcher doesn’t appear to be succumbing to the temptations of “Onkyo” music or reduced improv. Issued in a handsome gatefold package with inner sleeve and notes by David Toop. An excellent piece of work which I recommend.

Music For The Ears (WESTERN VINYL WV075) is another superb minimal statement by the creator Rolf Julius, an important German sound creator and gallery installation artist who has been active since the late 1970s. This item, No 1 in the Small Music series, was recorded in 1979 and offers two sumptuous and beautiful long pieces ‘Song from the Past’ and ‘Music on Two High Poles’. From what I can gather he’s the sort of gifted genius who can make small interventions in any indoor or outdoor space (a room, a gallery, a forest) and transform everything by creating – or revealing – a small and wonderful sound which is so compelling you’ll want to stop and contemplate it for days. I see the Fringes Archives label in Italy has also released a set of his early works, but it seems if you start collecting these versions now (nice sturdy card wallets) they will build up into a handsome boxed set which you can treasure. Totally marvellous.

Got the third release (CDR #3) in a series by the Finnish mystery project Chemins, which you can only procure from their website. One twenty minute track called ‘The Ovary Of Future’ is simple droning music perhaps created by layering acoustic instruments and pouring the results through various digital filters; not un-nice, but not particularly memorable either.

We’re certainly having a very minimal morning here. Richard Chartier‘s A Field For Mixing (ROOM 40 RM439) is a release that continues this artist’s apparent penchant for creating lengthy ultra-quiet and wispy grey field recordings that barely exist on the edge of everyone’s hearing. The two long pieces here pay homage to his friends and collaborators Steve Roden and William Basinski, namechecks which may help orient the listener as they attempt to navigate through these misty stretches of nothingness. The first (48 minute) piece was assembled from field recordings made in America, Europe, Japan and Australia. It always puzzles me how it is possible to find such near-desolate stillness and zones of supreme silence in our bustling and overcrowded globe. Perhaps we should find some solace in that fact, as we nurse our fears of global warming and overpopulation.

Impressive as Chartier’s music be, it feels like he’s trying to build something enormous and “monumental” with his over-stretched works. At some times I prefer a scaled-down approach such as that of English player Michael Rodgers, who on his Twilight, Birds (LOST LIGHTS LL01) mini CDR is making much more intimate and modest observations on the beauty of nature. The release is packed in a printed envelope with colour photographs. Using camera, field recordings and very simple guitar music, Rodgers concentrates on documenting a single phenomenon – birds in the trees singing at twilight – and with his straightforward, clear statements offers a very attractive alternative to the conceptual grandiosity of of Chartier with his “notions of space and sound density” and “newly defined acoustic spaces”. An appealing and integrated handmade package (150 copies only) of visuals and music from this former co-owner of the micro label TwoThousandAnd.