30 July 2000
Elixir's second album (their first, the Phobos Incident was released by Language in 1997) is a collection of dark rhythms and explorations of the more hip side of electronic music. The music sets a host of orchestral themes to the more modern language of loop effects, drum rolls, break beats and techno rhythms. These tracks are nicely produced, though this record offers nothing new in the realm of electronic-fusion music. Most of this record sounds a lot like records that were coming out in 1996-7, when DJs were rediscovering leitmotifs from the back-catalogues of the world and looping them in time to house rhythms and break beats. To see this kind of thing being released today, and on Sub Rosa of all labels, is a little disappointing. In the places where I found this music to be more successful, I also found it to be reminiscent of other records I have heard before. Most of all it reminded me of DJ Olive's illbient outfit We, circa 1997's full-length As Is (on Asphodel), with its combinations of dark and eerie atmospheres with break beats and drum'n'bass rhythms. The tracks on Music Mathematics Magic use a whole catalogue's worth of orchestral music, all immediately recognisable but (sadly) only one of which I could positively identify. The fifth track, "Create a Confusion", uses the catchy melody from Falla's Ritual Fire Dance to great effect. The music on this disc is dark, but the substance is light. If you're into simple recycling jobs, than this record will probably suit you. If not, you'll have to look elsewhere... [Cristobal Q]
"If ever there was a battle," says Christof Kurzmann, "it must have been the one between the guitar and the computer." And so we have Schnee, a new collaboration between Kurzmann's (g3) computer and Burkhard Stangl's guitar (acoustic and electric). But when I begin listening to this disc, the thing that strikes me most is that this music is far from representing any kind of "battle" or conflict. From Kurzmann, a soft flutter of clicks with smooth and pulsating tones; from Stangl, the delicate plucking and scraping of strings. Together these make for a rather harmonious coupling, the two elements never intruding on the other's space. From what I can tell, Kurzmann refrains from performing treatments of Stangl's abstract fretwork, and this is rather a good thing. The two players are presenting their own sounds separately but together. If things seemed more harmonious with the first and second tracks, the third introduces a certain density, if not a kind of aural violence, into the picture. The electric guitar becomes more prominent in longer chords, and the computer presents a thick and crowded environment, perhaps suggesting the uneasy relation of these two sound elements. But track 4 returns to the harmonious, with a long piece that reconciles these contesters and gets the final word on this conflict. Although there's little in the realm of mood creation here, these tracks are carried by some very nice production work, accentuating the delicate and crisp sounds with some kind of objectivity. An intriguing collaboration deserving of repeated listening. [Richard di Santo]
RENÉ LUSSIER / MARTIN TÉTREAULT: Qu'ouïs-je?
The solo disc by René Lussier presents fourteen improvisations for electric guitar as they were recorded in 1998, without any sort of montage or overdubbing. Lussier utilised eight microphones for the recording, giving these improvisations the appearance of a more elaborate montage. A diagram shows where the microphones were placed. Most of them are placed at various points in the room, some mono and some stereo, but the eighth microphone was placed outside of the recording room! Improvisations for guitar are by no means a rare commodity in the musique actuelle scene these days, and it has taken me some time to be able to listen to this record and approach it with some degree of objectivity. That being said, at first I didn't find much that was very intriguing when I first listened to this disc. A certain playfulness in the performance and the interesting use of the 8 channels were all that I could see. But when I approached this disc again, it suddenly opened up (or, perhaps it was I who suddenly opened up) revealing much more than the mere playfulness I had suspected. Only then was I able to perceive a more deliberate method in Lussier's playing and a certain richness in the wide range of sounds that issue forth from his axe. Lussier is an accomplished innovator in dreaming up new methods and techniques for guitar improvisations, and, though not particularly to my taste, these 14 tracks are certainly food for thought.
The second disc is a collaboration between Lussier and Martin Tétrault, with Lussier on "daxophone" and Tétrault on synth, pick up and boît à rythme. 19 tracks inspired by musique concrète traditions, or anti-traditions, depending on your perspective. For some reason, each track title carries the suffix "ure" (Augure, Nature, Mixure, Culture...) and defines the theme for each composition. Recorded in 1998 - this time in the Radio Canada studios in Montréal - this collaboration is a surprising clash of two radical improvisers working together to create 19 soundworlds of varying moods and themes. Lussier and Tétrault contribute whirrs, whistles and grating sounds corresponding to the particular theme of the composition. For instance, "Nature" sounds like a virtual forest complete with clusters of birds and the rustling of leaves. Light contrasts with dark on this disc with the threatening sounds in "Tellure" or the warbling and growling of "Aventure". The sounds throughout the disc range from very loud shrieks to quiet rumblings, but mostly things comfortably lie somewhere in between. Lussier and Tétrault work extremely well together, and they have succeeded in creating an inventive and unique record. Recommended for the adventurous. [Richard di Santo]
I am usually hesitant when I see front and centre warnings on a disc's packaging to "Play it loud!!". I guess I don't really like being told how to listen to something. If I like the recording, you can be damned sure I'll play it loud. If it's not something that's clicking with me, you can bet I won't be blasting it at the recommended decibel levels.
This recording, however, does demand your attention from the second you hit Play. A low (frequency-wise, not volume-wise) crackling, steadfast rumbling takes centre stage on the first track, Radox. For about 14 of its 19 minutes, you are treated to its attention-grabbing sonics. After the first 14 minutes, things quiet down some, and attention is drawn to the vocal snippets that were hinted at earlier, as well as some street ambience and a deconstruction of the previously dominant rumbling. I did hear what seemed to match quite closely a section of :zoviet*france:'s digilogue release in this first track though, which seemed something of a surprise. The second track, Tabit, follows a similar form to Radox, making use of more pulsating cadence techniques. It also switches gears past its halfway point to become more abstract and more dynamic, with more voices and some beautiful high frequency tones that have been filtered and manipulated. The next and final two tracks are significantly shorter, but follow a steadier path than their predecessors followed. Plenty of static and hiss close out the disc, more random in nature and lacking the bassiness of the first three tracks.
I'm not really sure why there is a warning on the disc that "prolonged or repeated listening is not advisable" - I've heard much more extreme recordings that would benefit from this advice. Alas, Schick has felt the need to warn you about this, so please leave it to me to tell you to avoid any and all warnings or recommendations printed on the minimalist packaging, and just enjoy the noise in all its glory. [Vils M DiSanto]
For me, this has probably been the most anticipated record of the year. Originally released on Towa Tei's Akashic label in Japan, El Baile Alemán has now been picked up by Emperor Norton in North America and Multicolor in Europe. Señor Coconut is Uwe Schmidt (aka atom, Atom Heart, LB, et al). Probably his most ambitious project to date, El Baile Alemán presents latin interpretations of Kraftwerk classics. Yes, this is latino music, in all its steamy and sensuous glory! Classics like "Showroom Dummies", "Trans Europe Express" and "Tour De France" are translated into a full range of merengue, cumbia, cha-cha-chá, and baklán rhythms, and let me say right off the top that this has been done with astonishing success. The incredible thing is that these renderings very often sound like the performance of a live ensemble: at times you truly do forget that this was all made with samplers. The production work is fantastic, the constructions are so natural, which is doubly surprising considering not only the cold and impersonal nature of Kraftwerk's original compositions, but also because Atom's music is usually populated with clusters of clicks and edits, evidence of its binary genesis (only in Tour De France and Trans Europe Express has this tendency survived).
But these renderings do more than just have fun with an ingenious idea. They also say a great deal about the original compositions themselves. Considering that El Baile Alemán is a completely programmed album (assisted only by three vocalists), it raises questions regarding the nature of what is "true" or "authentic" when it comes to presenting such natural and acoustic sounds. What surprised me most about this album (putting aside the sampling acrobatics) is how well these Kraftwerk classics suit their latin doppelgängers from a structural point of view, as Atom has gone to great pains in order to preserve the structural integrity of the originals. They are done with such astute craftsmanship that they leave me to have fun with the question of which was the original, and which the interpretation.
Some notes about the tracks themselves. One of my favourites is "Trans Europe Express", here rendered as a traditional cumbia rhythm. Some of the coolness and mystery of the original composition is preserved with a cradling bassline that rocks steadily back and forth. Trumpet, sax, maracas, claves, and a full percussion ensemble renew the vitality of tracks like "Showroom Dummies", "The Robots" and "Music Non Stop". The sweet melody of "Neon Lights" sounds like a sentimental love song as a slow cha-cha-chá, and "Tour De France" is sure to set the dancefloor on fire with its steamy merengue rhythm. Señor Coconut puts the fun back in the Autobahn in an hilarious and clever rendering of Kraftwerk's classic. Accordions that bounce weightlessly suggest a light and care-free road trip, and a infectious percussion solo that would make you swear as to its authenticity, put this track on the top of my playlist. This music must truly be heard to be appreciated.
Atom Heart surprises me with every new release, and just when I think he could never top himself, he does so with great success. El Baile Alemán is no exception. Much more than a musical curiosity, this superb album gets the highest possible recommendation. [Richard di Santo]
Thilges 3 is Armin Steiner, Gammon and Nik Hummer. These three founded Thilges in 1996 in order to explore the possibilities of "live performance electro acoustic installations" utilising only analogue synths as their sound source and engineering equipment. Thilges 3 stress the importance of live performances, and their innovations with developing sound performance systems emphasise this importance. Some notes on their activities explain that "the rapid motion of sound patterns combined with the free movement of the listener provides a completely new access to rhythmic electronic music. Through this approach the listener is in a position to create his/her own sound and rhythm patterns". So this being said, there are certain limitations implicit in presenting this music on a prerecorded disc. But still, if the architecture of the venue is a factor in and of itself with regard to how the music is received/perceived by the listener, than every room where this music is played could potentially render a different effect on said listener. Anyway, all potentiality aside, the music on this short little disc of 21 minutes is an intoxicating cluster of developing and evolving rhythms composed of a full range of clicks and whirrs. In short, this is superb rhythmic electronica, made with little ornament but with great attention to detail and sound dimension. Thilges also have a subscription service for their CDs (Saumarkt is their third release, the previous two are available through their web site), so check out this innovative trio and keep your eyes peeled for a concert appearance near you. [Richard di Santo]
Save for this record, I am completely unfamiliar with Hervé Castellani and his work. Flamme was released on Trente Oiseaux in 1998. One long track of extremely low-end sound and soft surface noises, very quiet, like having your window open a crack, so that you can hear only the occasional sounds of a branch beating on the bricks, the rustle of leaves, a sudden shock of sound, ... I use these words as an analogy only, as the sounds on the disc are not all natural, though most of them were probably recorded using contact microphones (with this sort of thing it's often hard to tell just what we're listening to). So, content to listen blindly, I've been listening to this disc for the past month, on and off, and each time I discover new sonorities in the silence, new shapes in the crystalline mass, new wrinkles in this vast white sheet. Some of these sounds (shifts in the hiss, swift movements, a crackle here, a short breath there) are so quiet that they are barely perceptible even at a high volume. The low-end rumblings are also very soft and delicate. A quietly provoking record for the careful and patient listener. Highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Sounding like a fresh recording of some lost jazz classic, The Cinematic Orchestra have released a sublime recording full of plenty of richness, inventiveness and playfulness to pull off something many others seem to be attempting but cannot attain. Released in 1999 on Ninja Tune, the disc spans a multitude of jazz stylings without sounding like it's trying to be retro - more like the real thing. It's got some wonderful contributions on it, specifically some great percussion and saxophone work. The tracks run at generous lengths, which give them room to breathe and have that feeling of spontaneity about them. It truly sounds like a great jam session, even though there's plenty of overdubbing and mixing evident on closer inspection. "Ode To The Big Sea" is a case in point: dashing percussion, mellow brass tones and a high-flying soprano sax all work together to bring a cohesive flow to the proceedings, but there is some drum work on this track which distorts at precisely the same spot with every strike of that note. Evidence of electronic tampering? Most likely, but I love that it slides in and out without drawing too much attention to itself. Unlike Flanger's Templates release, which seems a more open attempt at meshing the natural with the artificial, The Cinematic Orchestra seems to be more interested in creating a natural sound environment with minimal electronic 'interference'. Of course, we've got some artificial vinyl crackling evident here and there, and some processed voices thrown in for good measure on tracks like "Channel 1 Suite" and "And Relax!". Sampled from some ancient recording, or created specifically for this release? Difficult to tell in these cases. One other production note: the majority of these tracks have been recorded in glorious mono, or with as little stereophonic tinkering as possible. When a wider stereo mix is utilised (as in "Channel 1 Suite"), it's almost immediately noticeable what was not necessarily present up until that point on the disc (track 4). This truly is a great disc, and I recommend it heartily. [Vils M DiSanto]
I have the distinct feeling that Bill Laswell will not stop producing his "translations in dub" until he has covered all musical genres and styles. Opera, celtic music, Miles Davis, Bob Marley,... the list goes on and on, and every month sees at least one more release in an almost infinite and homogeneous pile of records.
Laswell's records all sound great. They all use top notch equipment, the bass runs super deep, the grooves are strong, the ambience is non-intrusive and "easy". These are all great qualities in a record, I admit. But how many records does it take to prove a point? I'm afraid Imaginary Cuba adds nothing new to the Laswell institution, adds nothing new to interpretations of Cuban music, and I fear that it is just capitalising on the sudden resurgence of Cuban music these days thanks to Ry Cooder's more commendable efforts. Usually I can at least grant Laswell the benefit of the doubt because he's a master with mixing his style with whatever music he comes into contact with; but here I find that the blending of traditional Cuban music with his dub effects is a far cry from harmonious. Though maybe this comes as a result of my familiarity with Cuban rhythmical structures. There are some styles that just don't mix well, I'm afraid. Or rather, there are some projects where you're just going to have to work a little harder at making a successful record. Goodness, even some of Laswell's drum'n'bass (direct from the Oscillations series) makes it in here, completely out of place and carelessly plastered overtop a jazz drumming session. 5 minutes of source recordings and 5 minutes of dub grooves, followed by 5 minutes of echo and ambience. Lather, rinse and repeat ad infinitum.
On the surface, Laswell's projects are admirable for their breadth. But once you peel off the first layer, you see the same structures repeated and there is nothing salvageable in his entire body of work but maybe 2 or 3 hours' worth of original music. [Cristobal Q]
Released in 1996 on the now defunct Side Effects label, this was supposed to have been a melding of two brilliant minds at work with another: Adi Newton of Clock DVA and T.A.G.C. along with Andrew McKenzie of The Hafler Trio. The two had collaborated frequently before this was released, Adi helped out on H3O's Masturbatorium, Fuck, and Mastery Of Money releases (among others), and Andrew worked with Adi on Negentropy and DVA's Transitional Voices and Bitstream releases.
The two, when together, have produced some awesome results. Any of the above-mentioned releases are standouts in experimental music history, so it was with great anticipation that I had first received this disc. To say it was a major disappointment is perhaps a little harsh in retrospect, but there really was nothing very new presented on this release, apart from its concept. The sounds contained within have essentially all been heard on H3O recordings previously released. The first track is just about 1/3 of the entire Masturbatorium release, with a bit of an extended closing. Other tracks are merely segments from Mastery Of Money or Kill The King.
That being said, these are some of the most striking sections of those releases - though to hear them out of their original context does not do them much justice. There are some awe-inspiring acoustics on this disc - recordings with such depth and perception, they have never been matched by any like-minded artists out there. Take, for example, the fluttering tone on "Biological Wavelength". It sounds like a theremin that's been stretched beyond its extremes, but it's so carefully manipulated and well-recorded that it will have the ability to drop your jaw without you even knowing. How it moves through the frequency scale so smoothly is beyond comprehension. But such is the nature and purpose of the lowly Psychophysicist, one would imagine.
Perhaps this disc works as a primer for those unfamiliar with the sonic experiments of these two artists, or for those who may only know of Adi's DVA output, but for anyone who's already a fan of H3O like I am, this disc can only disappoint. [Vils M DiSanto]
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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