> Archive > Music Review 10

27 August 2000

Alejandra and Underwood: Notebook on Cities and Clothes
Kim Cascone: Parasites
Cleaner: Solaris
Cyber Zen Sound Engine: Moonscapes: How Stones Become Enlightened
Bill Frisell: Ghost Town
Kaffe Matthews + Hayley Newman: Pointy Stunt
Hazard: North
Serge Minnen: Sublimation
Rapoon: Fallen Gods (Cidar)
Steve Roden: Crop Circles


ALEJANDRA AND UNDERWOOD: Notebook on Cities and Clothes
Audioview/Lowlands | AUDIO 009 | CD

Audioview is a new sublabel of Lowland Records, which, as the company rhetoric has it, is "dedicated to dislocated electronic turbulences". Notebook on Cities and Clothes is a collaboration between Alejandra Salinas and Aeron Bergman, two of the founders of the Lucky Kitchen label (on which Salinas has released her Home Tapes 10"). Borrowing its name from a documentary by Wim Wenders (although I think here the connection ends), this album presents a series of live recordings prepared over the past year and presented at various points in New York, Stirling, London and Paris. Both Aeron and Alejandra introduce each piece by addressing the listener and saying a few words about the sound sources and recording locales. I must say this is an admirable and distinctive feature of this disc; it's refreshing to hear these introductions, which make the experience of listening to these sound sculptures more familiar and personal, and make the recordings themselves seem innocent and naive. The sounds on this record are sometimes pure source recordings from the artists' travels in various cities across the world, and sometimes processed and arranged soundscapes. Diverse landscape textures are heard in their concert from the Changing Room Gallery in Stirling, Scotland, which is one of my favourites here because it moves steadily with subtle touches and variations. Dense atmospheres and tape loops populate the final performance from Batofar, Paris. In between can be found a host of source recordings, folk music, conversations, street noise, interference and more, making the experience of listening to these recordings as diverse as the experience of recording them. Notebook on Cities and Clothes presents some very intriguing sounds, arranged and presented in a unique "home made" format making this a splendid new disc, unassuming and completely lacking the pretensions of more "academic" recordings. [Richard di Santo]



KIM CASCONE: Parasites
Anechoic Media | a001 | CD

Former Silent Records boss Kim Cascone has founded a new corporate entity called Anechoic Media. Parasites is his inaugural release under this new imprint, and has been pressed using a new square CD format, with the equivalent playing time of a 3" disc (approximately 20 minutes, give or take). In spite of its unconventional shape, it plays fine in my disc player (I'd be cautious about putting it in one of those slot loading players, though). The disc is divided into 20 tracks of varying lengths, and each track presents abstract textures and dense digital sounds. It may seem odd to describe in this way, but many of these sounds are rather synchronous with listening to my computer's processing sounds, as the sounds of my hard drive contents being indexed was a perfect and inconspicuous accompaniment to the sounds on Cascone's disc. All kidding aside, though, these tracks are filled with minute digital sounds layered in dense clusters, adorned only occasionally by more smooth textures. Mostly the arrangements are abstract, rarely rhythmic, and keep the listener attentive and never completely sure what to expect next. The 20 minute format suits these compositions very well, as anything longer would have demanded more of a structural development which these miniatures lack. Although I can appreciate this onslaught of minimal aesthetics in the world of click electronica, I would have appreciated some liner notes with this disc. I find that there's a bit too much pretence in naming a track "parasite for Deleuze" and not saying anything about it at all. Deleuze is a name that is circulated with amazing frequency these days, and most often with little relevance to his ideas or influence on rethinking modern media. Not that I'm accusing Cascone of using Deleuze as a selling point for his disc, but rather making more of a general observation about such groundless name dropping. In spite of this one possible failing, Parasites is an excellent cluster of miniatures, hardly groundbreaking, but potentially promising great things to come from Cascone. [Richard di Santo]



CLEANER: Solaris
Metropolis Records | MET 171 | CD

Ooh, this is bad. The latest incarnation of Daniel Myer (Haujobb, Newt, Forma Tadre) sees an embarrassing array of terrible "industrial dance" tunes circa 1988. Thing is, this is brand new stuff, circa 2000, produced, mixed and recorded by Myer "at home". I suppose this is a reinvention of his Cleen project, which I actually liked; and there were some upbeat numbers with heavy leanings towards Depeche Mode and early Ministry. With this release as The Cleaner, he covers such ultra-futuristic themes culled from a handful of sci-fi flicks and books he recently decided to sign out of his local library: Solaris, Gattaca, Neuromancer and 1984. And those are just the track titles! Good God man, please don't try to pass this off as a light, entertaining record covering such simplistic themes. This is all stuff that (and I can't believe I'm about to say this...) Front Line Assembly covered in much more stunning fashion than The Cleaner does here, and they did it fifteen years ago. Embracing the future and sci-fi is one thing, but please put some thought into it. Here are some fine lyrical excerpts for you to chew on:

the holy, splendid chaos around
your name saves your screen
no one realizes your identity
this gentle romance between you and the machine.

Or what about Myer's snarling rendition of the classic line: "This is a test of the emergency broadcast syyyyyystemmmmm" on the track "Mimoid"? Powerful stuff. Granted, some of the tracks have some catchy melodies behind them, but the effect of a Bowie-esque tribute on "L.S.D. Eyes" is lost when the awful vocal stylings are layered over top. As Myers himself has penned in the chorus of the opening track "Gattaca (Schizo)":

the conspiracy of noise
no challenge for your mind.

Unfortunately, the lyric comes full circle on this release, and you will certainly find nothing to challenge your mind here. Stay away from this one. [Vils M DiSanto]



CYBER ZEN SOUND ENGINE: Moonscapes: How Stones Become Enlightened
N-light-N Records | CZ 0357236 | CD

Cyber Zen Sound Engine is a Houston-based electronica/ambient duo consisting of GraceNoteX (keys, percussion, programming, treatments) and Smith6079 (guitars, synths and percussion). Thanks to the assistance of Nerve Net (the Brian Eno fan list), Cyber Zen has been able to rise from obscurity and present their commercial debut album. From an evolving two-and-a-half hours of drifting ambience and rhythms (originally composed for an art gallery in Houston), the duo extracted certain passages and created 13 distinct pieces out of them. The music on Moonscapes certainly derives its influence from Eno's ambient work and from more traditional forms of electro-ambient music from the mid 90s. The music is calm, drifting and quiet, and is generally quite pleasant. Smooth sweeps, electro rhythms and some gentle percussion sections add a nice effect to the overall mix and keep things varied and interesting. One of my favourites here is "Lucas Somniorum"; with its slow rhythm and complex sound layering, it's deliberate movement evokes a long drive down a desolate highway at night. The slow tinkering of a piano invites introspection in the arresting track "Severed Son", a beautiful arrangement using some eerie vocals - inarticulate, deep, and clouded by echoes. Although some of this album falls into certain ambient trappings and banalities, it's very well crafted and is clearly a labour of love. And yet, I would have liked to have heard some more depth in the soundscaping, more dimension in this mix that remains largely two-dimensional and flat. The sounds float there, drifting, quiet and soothing, but none of them are quite tangible enough for me to really feel or grab on to. Only occasionally (as on "Severed Son" or "One Divine Neuron", for instance) does the sound break free and capture a certain concrete quality which marks this record's best moments. I'm curious to see how this duo will develop their sound with their next release, and maybe we can look forward to a break from their reliance on this "nerve net" vision of what "ambient music" is supposedly all about. Moonscapes is an album that will certainly fit in well with the Fax Label crowd, and with fans of the New Composers, for instance, who similarly are producing such pleasant, inconsequential ambient music. [Richard di Santo]



Nonesuch | 79583-2 | CD

Ghost Town is the latest solo work from the accomplished jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. A one-man guitar ensemble, Frisell handles all of the fretwork on this disc, performing on electric and acoustic guitars, 6-string banjo, loops and bass, and using a Lexicon LXP 1 and an Electro-Harmonix 16-second delay for effects. The album is an intriguing collection of compositions, mostly original, all evoking a quiet countryside, by night or by day, a ghost town, or an imaginative contemplation of the horizon. Much of this music would have easily found a home in David Lynch's idyllic film The Straight Story, with its broad and sweeping landscapes of the wide prairie, cornfields at dawn, autumn colours at twilight, and always the long and open road. Apart from the original tracks on this disc (which number 11 out of 16), Frisell also offers us interpretations of Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now", Hank Williams' "I'm so Lonesome I Could Cry", and three other compositions by A.P. Carter, John McLaughlin, and Edward Heyman with Victor Young. Although these interpretations are quite original in their approach and fit in well with the over all moods of the disc, I appreciate the fact that there are only 5 of them. Frisell shines most when he's working with his own material; his fretwork is more suggestive, more expressive. Such as the tranquil opening piece "Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa", the impressive delay effects in "Outlaw", or the darker moods of "Variation on a Theme", the latter of which carries a certain weight and a suggestion of impending danger, a dark cloud looming overhead. This isn't music that demands your attention, though it certainly succeeds in capturing it anyway, which is surely a beautiful thing. Recommended for your long and lonesome nights. [Richard di Santo]



Audioview/Lowlands | AUDIO 006 | CD

Pointy Stunt documents three live performances (one in Vienna and two in London) of this innovative collaboration between Kaffe Matthews and Hayley Newman. Hayley supplies the basic sound sources for each of the performances using three different recording and performance techniques, while Kaffe samples, processes and manipulates these sounds in strange and unexpected ways. For the first performance Hayley wore a full body suit made of velcro and wired with 14 microphones, thereby making every one of her movements audible. The results are pretty much what you'd expect from a performance using velcro as its central sound source, though Kaffe interjects with a number of outbursts and incursions from her computer which add an element of surprise to the piece. The second performance, "Shoes", has Hayley wearing a pair of stilettos with motors in their heels and standing on a large box which has also been wired with mics. This piece moves along very quietly (surprising considering the sound source), with smooth high-frequency tones accompanied by occasional clicks and clunks which provide the punctuation. Very soothing. Now, the third performance is the most ingenious and varied of the lot. It's all over the map in terms of moods and sounds; it is sometimes intense and bustling, at others calm and serene. Incorporating abstract audio textures, samples (water, music, voices, etc.) and a funny little song about shoes, this final performance marks the creative climax for this collaboration. Pointy Stunt is a diverse and innovative recording documenting three very inventive approaches to performance art. I look forward to hearing more from this duo, or at least more from Kaffe Matthews, who proves to be a sprightly and talented wizard with her sound processing techniques. [Richard di Santo]



Ash International [R.I.P.] | Ash 4.5 | CD

There is a definite sense of urgency here. For this work Benny Nilson (recording as HAZARD on Ash International, a "dead" sub-division of the much revered Touch record label based here in the UK) has seemingly scanned up and down the audio spectrum to locate that specific set of tones able to convey sensations of quiet isolation, suspense, even occasionally menace and threat. Then, setting the depth control to "hang" - explores this dark territory whilst conjuring up barren (as possibly inferred by the cover?) landscapes, desolate but still somehow steeped in shadowy intrigue and mystery.

As sinister as this may sound, the work still makes for a comfortable, enjoyable listen - immersing oneself in the sound is very much like watching segments of a well produced suspense or horror film, vignettes where plot and narrative are secondary considerations to simple undiluted atmosphere. In this sense, for the most part, HAZARD does well to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Noise passages add to the mystery as unseen (and for the most part unidentifiable) elements just "off screen".

Among the standout out pieces, "The Vibrating Room" suggests a darker take on Geir Jenssen's Biosphere vision - eastern European voice snippets captured from the airwaves superimposed over a tightly controlled, hovering, threatening hum. A predictably repeating "slow-beat-techno-motif" creeps in during the track's later half, but I can forgive its intrusion in lieu of the sheer girth of the drone providing the foundation for the piece.

Other high points include a more enclosed space created in "Absence or Presence", wherein deep tones hold steady at no-nonsense subharmonic resonances, the hiss of steam venting from some unseen leakage point, more remote exhalations conjuring up gaseous clouds of hot vaporous sound in the room next door. Various bits and pieces intermittently scrape, grate and clunk off each other as some large, old rusting machine groans and turns over a cog in one of it's clockwork wheels.

The following track, "Transport" plays counterpoint to the menace, and sees more gentle tones flowing under a soft metallic chiming. The disc's final piece, for some apparent reason (which, of course, eludes me) is a second visit to the scene of the "Absence or Presence" although this time the sign on the door of the old steamhouse says "Wound/Impact".

Overall, without ever becoming overly bleak or tacky in its approach to darkness, this is an excellent offering exploring the starker side of ambient electronics, presented with a supporting cast of well chosen strange unquantifiable acoustic samplings scattered throughout. [Kevin Doherty]


SERGE MINNEN: Sublimation
Tangram | TC 3029 | CD

Inspired by the sacred musical traditions of the middle ages and the renaissance, Serge Minnen has been composing mostly vocal music for a number of years, and his "vocal graphisms" have been heard at a number of festivals and conferences throughout Europe. His music has always emphasised text and vocal composition, which led to his development of a diatonic modal system. I couldn't find much information about Minnen, though there seems to be an implication that in addition to this emphasis on text, he is equally fascinated by mathematical structures, which I suppose goes hand in hand with polyphonic compositions. Sublimation was released by the avant-garde label Tangram Records (also the home of Bruno Letort, Zelwer and Limborg, among others) in 1996. The album's texts are filled with references to the sacred and arcane ("Gloria", "Linga Sharira"), to alchemy and medieval lyric traditions ("Sublimation", "Le chant de la Sibylle", "La mort d'Iseult"). The music blends some superb vocalisations with the music of the lute, positive organ and viol da gamba. Accompanying a host of virtuoso vocalists - led by mezzo soprano Solange Labbé and altus Steve Dugardin - is the vocal ensemble Ex Tempore. The music is a marvel of ingenuity and precision; Minnen has reproduced with stunning effect the styles of medieval polyphony, and yet the impossibly tight arrangements also suggest an inevitable modern perspective on the traditions they draw from. At times the music can be a little overwhelming, as there are no instrumental breaks in the hour-long disc, and taken as a whole the compositions can leave you wanting an intermission to gather your bearings. In addition to this, unless one is truly rapt in the vocal motifs of these compositions, their repetitions and variations can sometimes get a little tiresome for an album of this length. And yet, despite its shortcomings of potentially exhausting the listener, the whole thing wraps up in a conclusion that could not be more breathtaking; a perfect climax of Minnen's unique polyphony brings everything together. In fact, it's the conclusion alone which breaks slightly from the central vocal motifs of these compositions, building on them, breaking from them and finally coming to a full and final stop. Remarkable. Or a great relief, depending on your perspective (and I must admit I have gone either way with this album). If you enjoy medieval and renaissance vocal music, or on the other hand if you enjoy the music of, say, Arvo Pärt, Penderecki or Gorecki, you'll find Sublimation to be a challenging yet rewarding recording. [Richard di Santo]



RAPOON: Fallen Gods (Cidar)
Staalplaat | STCD 094 | 2xCD

Recently reissued by Staalplaat as a double-CD encompassing Cidar, previously available as a DAT-only release, this 1994 release by Robin Storey (ex-:zoviet*france:) brings together his usual sound sources in a typically unique and satisfying manner. From the throaty intonations mixed with the woodwinds and repetitive rhythms on "Sanctum", to the tabla loops on "Fallen Gods", which loop in such a way that they strike you as being somewhat off at first, but your ears quickly become accustomed to this non-standard looping technique. The first disc suffers somewhat around the center (i.e. it doesn't travel anywhere new or inspiring), it quickly regains a strong momentum with the final three tracks. The first of these, "Khomat", has a note in the liner notes about there being an "additional vocal source by Khadija Lourlham", but for all my intensive listening, I cannot discern any voice within this beautiful small track whatsoever! Strange, that. I just hear the succulent plucking of strings playing in a live atmosphere.

The second disc, Cidar, sees a little bit of a shift in the Rapoon sound, but it's difficult to explain what that shift is a result of. Perhaps there is a sparseness evident in these tracks due to fewer sound sources or reverberation techniques used in the mix. Some tracks are rather mediocre: "Noord" is one example, with its choral synth waves that hum and haw and go nowhere at all. But overall, Cidar is a nice addition to the original release of Fallen Gods.
Overall, this is quite a nice package, with over two hours' worth of Rapoon's transcendental sound odysseys to keep you mysteriously entertained. [Vils M DiSanto]



STEVE RODEN: Crop Circles
ameublement d'oiseaux | Ad'OC 971 | CD

Previously, Steve Roden has been an acknowledged "visual" artist. Although true (Roden does indeed have both credible history and a substantial body of work in the field), his endeavours in the fields of audio design and sound installations - sometimes produced under his "in be tween noise" moniker and other times under his own name - are gaining him a reputation as a prolific exponent in the world of conceptual listening also.

Crop Circles, released on Bernhard Günter's "ameublement d'oiseaux" imprint (a subdivision of his pioneering Trente Oiseaux label), was presented as a piece at the Malibu Art Ranch in California. A single track, it clocks in at roughly 42 mins. and is based around Roden's (now familiar - but rarely predictable) microphone abuse tactics - the sleeve notes inform that the sound was generated by sampling and looping a mic interacting with a speaker. Do not, however, be lead to believe that this is any kind of audio barrage or feedback noise assault. Those familiar with Roden's previous projects will be aware of his somewhat more delicate approach to sound production, and the crackles and thumps generated by his manipulations on this work (a very gentle experience indeed) are in keeping with most of his audio releases. The sound, which seems both repetitive and organic at the same time, is structured around subtle loops which appear to form out of the noises of the microphone coming into contact with solid surface. As the piece progresses, this creates a nice bed of sound over which Roden slowly introduces various other elements. More distinct clunks, soft scraping sounds, and some remote high pitched tones flutter in and out of the listener's perspective, as thick (but never muddy) bass tones creep about the room, fading to the fore then the back again achieving a very relaxing effect. Utterly engrossing when listened to consciously, equally effective played at low volume as background element (especially with CD player set on "repeat"). One of the best I have heard from him yet. [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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