Central Java / Inner Rings

Got a couple from the Elevator Bath label in the US, home to superior art-drone and sound manipulation…the one by Matt Shoemaker is called Brengenging Sala (eeaoa062), and it brings together a clutch of recordings made 2013-2015. I had no idea Shoemaker died in 2017, which saddens me – I happened to meet and interview him in Seattle when I made my trip there over 20 years ago. He was very gifted in the field of computer music, manipulating his tiny samples of sound in the Apple Mac which tremendous patience and skill. An example of that kind of mosaic approach could be heard on Warung Elusion, which was released on the Trente Oiseaux label in 2002.

The tracks on Brengenging Sala are a considerable advance on that item, though – the overall approach is much bolder and dynamic, making the early work seem rather tentative and precious. I guess there are a number of techniques at play – samples and field recordings, digitally-manipulated feedback, and “pure” electronic tones, all blended together and arranged to deliver maximal aural contrasts and surprising sound events. On the strength of the work here, no doubt that Shoemaker had at last won his spurs as a serious composer, with the act of composition taking place (presumably) inside the computer. The music here was intended for use in a film about Solo, a part of central Java in Indonesia; we’re told he had a real attachment to this part of the world, not unlike fellow Seattle adventurers Rob Millis, Jesse Paul Miller, and Alan Bishop. Matt Dunning was the director making this documentary film, and although it’s unfinished and unreleased, we now have these pieces of music available to us, music which does indeed convey a lot about this region and its unearthly beauty. But it’s also filtered through Matt Shoemaker’s reflections and outlook, and it arrives to us imbued with a deep sense of melancholy longing. For further clues, see Matt’s colour photos which adorn all six panels of the CD digipak. A good one.

The Edge of the Circle (eeaoa063) is by Susana López, a Spanish creator from Murcia who also does visual art and performance besides being an experimental composer. Never heard her before, but she made a lockdown album for this label called Crónica De Un Secuestro in 2020, and also moonlights in the all-analogue improv duo Listas Futuristas, plus she put out a file-based record of her music and movies under the very loveable name of Susan Drone. López draws inspiration from minimalist greats such as Eliane Radigue and Steve Reich, but she’s striving for some sort of transformational experience with her work…she puts together field recordings with vocal layers and electronic layers, and aims at wreaking a profound change in the nature of the fabric of reality itself.

The Edge of the Circle is, I guess, more ambitious than her previous outings and can be regarded as a coherent complete work in five parts, a “sound cycle” as the press notes have it, and “a narrative … of five concentric rings”. I like the idea that the music has enough force to draw us into the centre of something, like a journey to Earth’s core, but the listener must be patient as these slow-moving and carefully-formed segments slowly release their power. López also provides the colour artworks on the digipak panels, and although a lot of the imagery defaults to the abstract form of a circle (suggesting everything from atomic particles to heavenly bodies), there are also recognisable human and animal forms in the pictures. Likewise, her music contains just enough recognisable audible elements to give the listener enough of a foothold; although she transforms (quite radically) everything that passes through her hands, she doesn’t get lost in an array of digital effects and processing tools, remaining focussed on her artistic vision. Fave cut so far for me is ‘Black Circle’ with its ominous tones, though ‘Swarm Of Drones’ is pretty intense too and has a great title.

Both the above from 22 June 2022.