The Black Island

Superior piece of sound-sculpture scaping whatever from Robert Schwarz on his Double Negative (GRUENREKORDER Gruen 176) LP. We noted him in 2015 with the impressive album The Scale Of Things, and he’s doing much the same here – field recordings, for sure, but also much in the way of analogue modular synthery, and probably a lot of cooking and baking in the studio too. His method is to start with the documentary recordings then assemble his boxes of modular synths around them in some way. It’s not a careless assembly, and there’s some intention that the electronic parts are mirrors of the natural parts. “Complex structures that resemble nature’s contingency as their inner logic” is his aim, according to the assessment of Stefan Militzer.

While the field recordings are fetched from parts of China, America, Finland and the Philippines, the actual locations are not directly relevant to Schwarz I would guess; he’s not especially interested in revealing truths about the state of the world, but he is interested in the transformations and block-shifting he can wring when he’s festooned inside his audio laboratory. There’s a lot of effort and care in these pieces and it’s really paying off; you can feel the weight, gravity, scale, and dimensions pressing down upon you, also sensing the cosmic rays beaming in from outer space while you behold these many strange transformations. Nature is turned inside out and becomes something impossible, while still retaining the core of some natural truth which we humans can still perceive and understand. There’s also a lot of the menace and danger we heard on the previous record; by now Schwarz seems to be implying that the entire universe is not to be trusted, one thing can easily be another thing, and we should be wary of appearances as we make our way across deserts, ice floes, jungles and rivers.

At one level, this Austrian composer could be said to be following the “classical” musique concrète plan, that of taking recordings of things and turning them into a strange, tape-based form of musical endeavour (even if I suppose it’s far more likely he’s working with digital editing than with tape). I say this because moments of the LP do remind us of the finest recorded moments of Pierre Schaeffer and His Pals, and may even be trying at times to emulate those warm and creaky backwards-sideways groaning effects that used to pour out of the doors of the GRM. At the same time, there’s a passage on side two which could easily be mistaken for avant-garde techno or Cologne glitch, with its dubby bass thrum and crinckling repetitions of abstractamoid out-thereness. In short a very texturally rich and rewarding listen with nary a moment of dead air or wasted space on its tightly-compacted grooves. From 11 Jan 2018.