> Archive > Music Review 06

2 July 2000

Ayr Unit
Marcel Duchamp: Erratum Musical
Fennesz / Zeitblom / Rantasa: Music for an Isolation Tank
Bernhard Günter: time, dreaming itself
Friedrich Jürgenson: From the Studio of Audioscopic Research
Mimetic Mute: Positive
Various: Touch 00
Dandy Jack and the Cosmic Trousers
Darren Copeland: Rendu visible
Richie Hawtin / Thomas Brinkann: Concept 1 96:VR
Thomas Köner: Kaamos


Mouthmoth | moth6 | CDEP

The latest release from Scottish electronica label Mouthmoth is more post-rock than electronic. Ayr Unit presents 3 longish pieces (totalling 23 minutes, each track with equally long titles) for guitar, drums and treatments. The first, "The moving finger...", is a drifting and smooth drone piece. A steady stream of sound that is peaceful and meditative as it begins, but as it slowly builds it becomes louder, with darker sound elements rising to the surface, suggesting something perhaps unsettling on the horizon. The second track has more of a leisurely tempo, with gentle drumming and strumming of guitars against a backdrop of electronic sounds and occasional hiccups in the rhythm. Just fantastic. I must admit that the third piece loses me a bit, with definitely more of a post-rock feel. After a gentle introduction it suddenly erupts into a swarm of harsh beats and guitar screeches. These are the sound elements which guide the listener through the rough patches of this unruly landscape. Despite my misgivings about the third and final track, this is a most commendable EP from Ayr Unit. I wish those first two pieces would just go on forever... Limited to 100, so act quickly. [Richard di Santo]



MARCEL DUCHAMP: Erratum Musical
Sub Rosa | SR 183 | CD

Though Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) dabbled in musical composition, he is lesser known for his musical works than for his visual art and writings. But this is a fact that Sub Rosa has been actively changing in recent years. First, a collection of interviews, readings and compositions for voices and harmonium was released in 1994 as The Creative Act. Now six years later we see the release of Erratum Musical, a project consisting of musical works only, performed by Stephane Ginsburgh on a Bösendorfer piano. The principle of these works is simple: choose any keyboard and draw each note at random, but with the constraint that all notes must be struck and none can be struck twice. The potential number of variations for a keyboard of 88 keys is almost infinite, yet still quantifiable. This CD presents seven variations of a single draw. These combinatorial wonders range from 3 minutes to 36 minutes in length, the notes being struck with varying frequency and effect. The result is strangely meditative, and on repeated listening the pieces begin to cohere in unexpected ways, which is strange for a completely random composition. The principle of Erratum Musical was first published in 1934 (though the concept dates back to 1912-15). The result is like a pangram for music, but instead of having a sentence that exhausts all the letters of the alphabet, you have a musical composition that exhausts all the notes of a keyboard. Pangrams of varying lengths are common enough ("The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog"), though the value of a pangram increases in inverse proportion to its length: a "perfect" pangram is a text of 26 letters including all the letters of the alphabet without repeating a single one. I expect, then, that Musical Erratum is a perfect musical pangram for the keyboard. As an aside, it would have been interesting if we were presented with 88 tracks on the disc, each consisting of a single note on the keyboard being struck. Using the "shuffle" function on the disc player, the listener could experience more (but certainly not all) of the possibilities of this principle. Maybe we'll see this when the shuffle capability is perfected, purified of its inevitable delays and hesitations during playback. As it remains, however, we have a fascinating work in potential, which if ever realised would present more music than a single person could possibly listen to in a lifetime. File next to Raymond Queneau's Cent Mille Milliardes de poèmes. [Richard di Santo]



FENNESZ / ZEITBLOM / RANTASA: Music for an Isolation Tank
Rhiz/Mego | 007P1.0 | CD

I must admit that the concept behind this release escapes me somewhat. Music for an Isolation Tank is "an acoustic approximation of Oswald Wiener's legendary 'bio-adapter', phase 1". What is the bio-adapter? I'm not quite sure. We're given little information in the leaflet, but most revealing is a cryptic description of the bio-adapter by Wiener himself. Let me quote this passage in full:

The bio-adapter is in its fundamental form, arguably, the first distinct sketch for a total solution of the world's problems. It is the opportunity of our century: liberation of philosophy through technology. Its purpose is to replace the world that is presently a totally insufficient function of the existing environment as transmitter and receiver of vital information (food and entertainment, metabolism and mental thought processes) under our own direction and to better fill our individual life's purpose, than can the everyday, now antiquated, so-called natural environment. In its effect the bio-adapter can be compared to a highly bred uterus which could meet the most complex needs of highly organized individuals. It can interpret the nervous system of an individual and convert these interpretations to impulses.

So the bio-adapter is a replacement for the natural environment; an isolation tank that is able to respond to and fulfil all our physical and cognitive requirements. So I am left to suppose that the piece that we are presented with on this disc, as an "acoustic approximation" of the bio-adapter, is meant to offer us at least some hint as to what life in the bio-adapter would be like. The suggested listening position is lying down, with lights dimmed, and with the use of earplugs (!). The volume is to be equal to that of your heartbeat. The sounds on the disc are much more quiet than I was expecting from Fennesz, who here is working with Zeitblom and Rantasa (two artists with whom I am unfamiliar). The sounds are sparse, subtle and have surprising arrangements, the listener never knowing what quite to expect next. I didn't feel that the music was able to respond to my physical or cognitive needs, though I sincerely doubt that that was the intention here. I suspect that if I had employed "underwater speakers" (do these things even exist?) and used the earplugs like they suggest, the virtual isolation tank would have been more readily achieved. But then again, I expect that listening to any composition with quiet, abstract sound structures using earplugs and in a quiet and relaxed environment would produce the same "isolationist" feel. Still, an intriguing concept, one that probably would have benefited more had they included more information in the leaflet.

Music for an Isolation Tank is the first of the "project edition" of the RHIZ label, self-admittedly "dedicated to the research for that which we never will attain". The series documents the fundamental concerns of music theory: "questions of reception and perception, of the social context in which music occurs, the role of the composer and the listener, the settings and the situation in the presentation of music." This project sounds extremely promising, so keep an eye out for future editions in the series. [Richard di Santo]



BERNHARD GÜNTER: time, dreaming itself
Trente Oiseaux | TOC 003 | CD

The latest offering from Bernhard Günter takes on the theme of "time, and the notion of slowness". One long track is comprised of a number of movements, which are more like "moments" in time. The divisions that mark these moments are more noticeable than in Günter's previous work, as if he were presenting us with a film of brief images following one another in a slow pace, one image slowly focusses into view, then fades to black... Some of these "images" last only a few seconds (or DIMs as he would put it), and others are longer, and move on with a steady, slow pace. The sounds are delicate and subtle constructions that have an almost sinfonic feel. Quiet, meditative and mysterious. A stunning work with a strange visual effect, which to me says less about time and the notion of slowness than it does about sounds being rendered visible. Highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]



FRIEDRICH JÜRGENSON: From the Studio for Audioscopic Research
Ash International [RIP]/PARC | PARC CD3 | CD

"I was sitting here with an enormous jigsaw puzzle brooding in despair over the problem of whether one could assemble a more complete picture from all these fragments. I had never before been so touched and captured by any other urgencies than by these mystical connections, literally floating in the ether." — F. Jürgenson

This album is a follow-up to The Ghost Orchid, released last year on Ash International in association with PARC. In addition to presenting a series of original recordings by Konstantine Raudive, The Ghost Orchid also came packaged with a lengthy booklet of essays and an extensive bibliography on the subject of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP). EVP consists of mysterious and inexplicable voices appearing on tapes, with messages in either known languages or in polyglot (a combination of known languages). These voices, often thought to be those of the dead, are often barely perceptible in the recordings, and when and if they can be understood, the messages themselves are often cryptic and enigmatic, requiring further interpretation and investigation. For this second release, PARC (the Parapsychic Acoustic Research Cooperative) in association with Ash turn their attention to Friedrich Jürgenson, one of the earliest pioneers of EVP research. Jürgenson, trained as a painter, singer and musician, bought a tape recorder in 1957 to record his own singing. According to the liner notes, he started to notice "some strange phenomena: inexplicable fade-ins and fade-outs on the tapes; abstract visions and telepathic messages". Attempting to record birdsong in his garden, Jürgenson found more voices and messages, including a message from his mother, and it was at this point when Jürgenson abandoned all other pursuits in order to investigate this audio phenomenon. He continued to use the tape recorder as his medium, but later switched to using a radio, after one of the voices told him to do so (this is were the whole thing gets a bit dubious for me). Jürgenson, who died in 1987, has left several hundred tapes of recorded material. The recordings on this CD are just a selection. On the CD itself we hear Jürgenson's own voice introducing the recording, followed by his evidence of the phenomena. Music, voices and sounds are buried beneath thick layers of static and hiss, often addressing Jürgenson directly. For what it's worth, I am not one of the devotees of the theories behind this research, and am naturally skeptical of this so-called "phenomenon". Very often these sounds are barely audible, and if I wanted I could read any number of words into them. So it's no wonder the person doing the recording hears languages of which he is familiar, and voices addressing him by his own name, etc. And yet this is still an intriguing field of research, worthy of at least some attention. These sounds may not be voices from the beyond, but they still exist, true or not. If you are looking for an introduction to the world of EVP, I suggest you go to The Ghost Orchid first, which is more of an introductory publication. Audioscopic Research is more for the EVP enthusiast. Nicely packaged in a plastic wallet with large cards and a booklet of biographical information and detailed descriptions of the recordings. [Richard di Santo]



Moloko+ | PLUS 032 | CD

Mimetic Mute is the solo project of Jerôme Soudan, a drummer with classical training but who performs with such industrial and experimental outfits as Von Magnet and Column One. Well here's a collection of tracks that range from bizarre and concrète ambience to more hard-edged industrial rhythms and noise. Let me here and now praise Soudan for his versatility and ability to present such an impressive mixture of styles and moods into a coherent whole. Its diversity makes Positive similar in spirit, though not in overall sound and effect, to Multiphonic Ensemble's Cirque CD, previously reviewed in these pages. Voices, sounds and atmospheres come out at you from nowhere, dark rhythms develop or erupt in full force amidst more surreal sound collages, fragmented whimperings, radio announcements and disconnected conversations swirl in and out of the mix. This is the world of Positive. There's some great production work on this disc: the sounds are very crisp and clean, almost tangible. This is the sister album of the aptly titled Negative, which is being simultaneously released on Prikisnovenie in France. Even if it's a little on the dark side (for me, at least), Positive is a commendable solo effort, leading the way to a hitherto undiscovered post-industrial landscape. [Richard di Santo]



VARIOUS: Touch 00
Touch | t_zero_0 | CD

The latest Touch sampler presents a mixed bag of exclusive tracks from various artists on the current Touch roster. The diverse soundworld that is the Touch label is always wonderfully represented on their samplers, and this latest edition is no exception, and is perhaps their most successful sampler to date. Ryoji Ikeda opens up with some smooth ikedian frequencies, and Daniel Menche follows with an exceptional piece of low rumblings, breathing in deep subterranean dimensions. Chris Watson provides the punctuations on this compilation with 3 pieces spread at various points on the record, each of which is quite unlike the usual nature recordings he is known for: each piece presents hypnotic chants from around the world (Morocco, North Ethiopia...). Thomas Brinkmann is also here, with a nice, crisp and minimal rhythm construction: totally unlike the Soul Center series, this track is one of my favourites on this disc. Mark Van Hoen returns as Locust here with his own take on more experimental forms of pop music, with absolutely stunning results which build on the styles found in 1998's Morning Light. Van Hoen is curiously missing from the Scala lineup for their track "Breaking Point", however, and it shows: the piece has very little in common with the miraculous density and compositional integrity of Compass Heart. The trouble with the Scala track is its lack of direction: it begins in 4AD mode, with light and dark synths and timpani, then shifts suddenly to a flurry of jazz percussion and noise, which then finally subdues into a driving rhythm and the processed vocal stylings of Sarah Peacock, then shifts again for a final high-frequency shriek which doesn't seem to fit at all into the piece. Geir Jenssen aka Biosphere contributes a short piece in the vein of his incredible full-length Cirque, released earlier this year on Touch. Philip Jeck presents a 10-minute piece of quiet loops for the turntable (his instrument of choice), and AER present two tracks of mysterious ambience and bizarre broadcast messages. Excellent contributions from Mika Vainio, Hazard, Richard H. Kirk, Tobias Frere-Jones and others make this a diverse and rewarding listening experience, the promise of great things to come from Touch. [Richard di Santo]



Rather Interesting | RI 034 | CD

Released on Atom Heart's Rather Interesting label in 1996, Dandy Jack's first solo album is a little marvel of housey beats and quirky electronica. First it should be noted that Dandy Jack is not Atom Heart (or at least, it would really really surprise me if he is). His two solo records on Rather Interesting are in fact the only non-Atom Heart releases in its catalogue. Dandy has also put out a few albums with Pete Namlook on Fax (Silent Music, for example). Cosmic Trousers opens up with a narcissistic intonation of "I love me", but soon enough breaks into a mellow house rhythm that builds rather nicely. Favourites here are "Insect Commander" with its incessant entomological rhythm, and "Binal True" which closes off the album in full force with the most club-friendly track in the lot. The intricate sounds and strong rhythms in this music remind me a little of what Mouse on Mars achieved a couple of years later with Autoditacker, and especially so with the electropop inflections in Dandy's track "Angels Without Faces". I'm sure this record sounds great in public spaces (I'd really like to see how this goes over at a club), but it really shines at home as well, with the loudspeakers or with headphones, or even in the car while on a long drive, with the sun beating down on you in the mad rush of day. The mellower rhythms and smooth atmospheres of "Loser Bar" or "Super Ambient" provide some appropriate breaks to the more uptempo flavour of this record. Check it out and give yourself the gift of groove this summer. [Cristobal Q]



DARREN COPELAND: Rendu visible
empreintes DIGITALes | IMED 9841 | CD

If Bernhard Günter's time, dreaming itself struck me as having an acutely visual effect on me as a listener, then Darren Copeland's Rendu visible takes this theme and makes it his most explicit concern. Drawn from entirely environmental sounds, the pieces presented on this disc are rich aural textures suggesting a most intricate visual environment. Sounds of rushing water, the wind, clusters of birds, voices, cars, and a host of other mysterious and visually suggestive sounds populate the three works on this disc, composed between 1993 to 1996. For all their aural wonder, these recordings remind us that even if we are standing in the apparent "quiet" of a desolate wooded area, if you start to pay attention you realise that what you perceived as quiet is actually full of life and sound.

In the liner notes to the disc, Copeland describes his theory that "a composition using real world sounds is able to re-awaken latent visual imagery in the mind of the listener, as if this disc was really an empty canvas or a fresh stock of film, [where] soundscapes furnish the listening imagination with a magical lens for viewing invisible worlds." Indeed. And this accounts, says Copeland, for the ubiquitous visual analogies used by so many acousmatic composers in the titles or program notes for their works. Copeland takes this notion one step further, though. He seems to have an implicit desire to stimulate specific visual images and meaning through his works, though he admits his limitations:

[I]t is virtually impossible for me, at the present time, to stipulate what visual image or associated meaning is being evoked for any person at any particular moment on this disc. Not until credible studies are undertaken about the imagination's ability to visualize from sonic sensory input alone can I comfortably approach composition outside the realm of musical abstraction.

But this for me represents a darker, more autocratic side of musical expression that I prefer not to endorse. To accomplish this wish of being able to stimulate specific visual responses in the mind of the listener is to rob the listener of his autonomy, to rob him of the chief pleasure of listening, which, like reading, allows the listener to make free associations and respond to a piece on his own terms, contributing to an open "dialogue" between composer, music and listener. This idea takes the concept of musical rhetoric - which, of course, is already an immensely suggestive medium, which already directs the imagination in extremely powerful ways - one serious step further. A step I'd rather not see taken. You can set up your piece in whatever manner you like, build the most contrived listening environment, feed your listeners with descriptions, images, and suggestive sounds. But let the listener explore what he is given at his own pace, and with the freedom of his own perception and sensibilities. Otherwise, what you're left with is a row of rotting cabbages. Hardly what you'd call a listener's utopia. [Richard di Santo]




You may, by now, be aware of the infamous CONCEPT series of twelve inch Vinyl releases put out by Richie Hawtin a few years back. Ultra-minimal, and representing something of an exercise in self-indulgence (if reports are to be believed), my observations of people's reactions to them led me to believe one of two things: either the music was simply above their heads, or like all great rock and roll legends before him Hawtin's head had finally made its way up his own back-side (metaphorically speaking, of course). Being the non-dj kind of person that I am, and not having bought one of those big black shiny round plastic things they USED to put music on for some years, I never did get to hear any of the original "concept" singles. Thankfully though, for CD listeners, the tracks were compiled and released on disc. Enter CONCEPT 1 96.

In addition to CONCEPT 1 96 (Hawtin's own mix compilation of the singles, CONCEPT 1 96:VR is a collection of tracks selected from the original set of twelve's and presented in a new way from that which was originally intended. The work is a collaboration of sorts between Richie Hawtin and Thomas Brinkmann (who, like Hawtin, is himself rapidly becoming a household name). In a sense, Brinkmann has done his usual and produced a series of tracks using only Hawtin's CONCEPT vinyl releases as source material. The only other hardware involved is Brinkmann's custom-built, dual tone-arm turntable on which the records are played (at a considerably reduced speed from what I gather in the sleeve notes). Of the two arms playing simultaneously on the same record one is panned right, the other left and each uses a different pick-up needle. The result is sort of an interesting doppelgänger effect where you hear something, and a second later you hear it again somewhere else, and altered very slightly in quality (a bit like seeing double with your ears or witnessing the same moment in time twice from a different perspective).

On first listen to this CD I didn't quite know how to react. I enjoy Hawtin's Plastikman and old FUSE material immensely, but this left me somewhat disoriented. Not prepared to give up on it so easily I gave it some rotation over a few days, each time being drawn further into it.

Generally, the tracks seem even further stripped down than Hawtin's previous, already sparse skeletalisms. Eventually the simple metronomic rhythms around which the originals were based become a natural background element of the space into which they're being played. It's similar to the way ambient can "fill" a room, however here the aesthetic seems placed more on the passage of time via the tic-toc of some solid-state time measuring device, than on any kind of space creating textures. Closer listening however, can reveal a whole host of nuances particular to Hawtin's original rhythmic sensibilities, brought to light through Brinkmann's intervention. The slow head-nodding beats definitely create a vaguely hypnotic sensation. Not easy to get into at first but definitely rewarding after a couple of listens, this CD reminds me of some of the Chain Reaction CDs (particularly Porter Ricks' Biokinetics with its tiny skittery poly-rhythms). Minimalist puritans have the option of reducing the music even further by turning one side of the stereo down, who could ask for more! [Kevin Doherty]



Mille Plateaux | MP 49 | CD

I first became interested in Thomas Köner's music after reading a comparison made in The Wire magazine between his work and that of Japanese minimalist tone-merchant Ryoji Ikeda. It is true that much of Köner's work often seems to revolve around one variant of sound drawn out into long swells of resonance - much like that of Ikeda's plain sine wave tones stretching to the horizon as heard on his truly amazing +/- CD, but here the similarities end. Where Ikeda often opts to leave his sound dry and up close, Koner prefers to bathe his productions in vast amounts of reverb, creating huge spaces for the mind to wander and listen.

Released in 1999, Kaamos continues the notion of space, not as in "outer-space" but more of "open-space". As with his previous works, the sound here is a take on gradually expanding clouds of sound, imposed over rushing arctic-like blasts of wind. Occasionally the the softly shifting textures hidden beneath (sometimes hinting at almost classical overtones) are intermittently punctuated by Köner's signature low rumbling "gongings" the size of icebergs. Overall the work has a very powerful isolationist feel about it. The last track, "Tabula Smaragdina" is a live affair recorded at the Auditorium du Louvre in Paris in conjunction with a film work produced by Jurgen Rebel utilising modified projectors and hand-painted film loops.

Stretch your hearing into the distance Köner creates. Great played late at night when all is quiet. [Kevin Doherty]





The Incursion Music Review was published and edited by Richard di Santo from 2000 to 2004. All 75 issues can be accessed in the archive. Please note that we are no longer accepting submissions or promotional material for review.

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