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24 September 2000

Augur: A Slender Thread of Silence
Cog / Polmo Polpo: s/t
Dot Wiggin: s/t
Hayes Harz: Unlimited Power By Wire
Mirror: Front Row Centre
Oval: Ovalprocess
Roedelius & Alquimia: Move and Resonate
Sigur Rós: Ágaetis byrjun
Ned Bouhalassa: Aérosol
Current Ninety Three: Soft Black Stars

Richard H. Kirk: Virtual State


AUGUR: A Slender Thread of Silence
Alluvial Recordings | ALL 006 | CDR

These recordings were inspired by a statement made in a lecture by the Jungian scholar Robert Bly: "All great works of art contain a slender thread of silence." Steve Brand aka Augur has taken this statement and made it his central theme for this release on CDR by Alluvial Recordings. Composed using a variety of sound sources (location recordings, flutes, toy piano, chimes, tapes, microphones...), each piece begins in silence, and builds slowly on that foundation. In the first track, minimal tones, sparse clicks and crackles, and a deep drone create a cold atmosphere. The second track begins with all the quiet of a still and sullen night: crickets chirp, an owl passes by, the silence remains. Then slowly, out of the night, the sounds escalate and intensify, the chirping of crickets turns into the buzzing of bees, the tranquil setting comes to life with great intensity and darkness. Rumblings, shufflings, smooth frequencies, the sounds of objects being moved around, the soft cries of a kitten... these are what compliment the void of silence throughout these five intriguing recordings. These pieces are beautifully produced with subtle compositional touches, perfect at a low volume, but even better with the volume turned up. Following this release on Alluvial, Augur has just released another two records, also on CDR (and available from Soleilmoon). The work of an artist full of ideas and talent, this record leaves me very curious to hear more. [Richard di Santo]



Audi Sensa | AUD 001 | 12"

Audi Sensa | AUD 002 | 12"

Two excellent 12 inches from the new label Audi Sensa, founded in 1999 and operating out of Toronto, Canada. The label is committed to producing limited run releases (each pressing is limited to under 500) and each with hand made covers. The focus of this group is on electronic music, and these two records are excursions in the realm of minimal house. The first is a reissue from Cog and Polmo Polpo. Deep minimal grooves, minute sounds that bubble in and out of the mix, and textures of hiss occupy side 1, and quirky loops layered in polyrhythms make up side 2. A nice cradling rhythm closes the record off. Dense sounds and complex repetitive structures make this a very unique record indeed, but (for better or for worse) it's still quite reminiscent of the minimal house that has come out of the Chain Reaction school of thought in recent years. The second record titled Dot Wiggin is a collaboration between the late Todd Fox and Sandro Perri (Polmo Polpo). This one continues with the minimal deep house groove that is heard in the first record, but this one's much more dub-influenced, enjoying strong affinities with Pole and Kit Clayton. This one's my favourite of the two releases, maybe because it's less "heavy", not as dense in its sound, and characterised more by its shifting hiss, deep bass and its bare, stripped-down rhythms. ... Not for everyone, but if minimal club grooves are your thing, you will not be disappointed. [Cristobal Q]



HAYES HARZ: Unlimited Power By Wire
Harz Records | HZCD 1 | CDR

Fourteen tracks of improvised electronics constitute the debut album from Hayes Harz. The disc begins in full force: a maelstrom of blips and bleeps which at first seems chaotic, but soon thereafter reveals a burgeoning rhythmical structure beneath its seemingly random exterior. Imagine a combination of, say, Tetsu Inoue's Psycho-Acoustic CD on the Tzadik label (spontaneous bursts of abstract electronics) and the structural logic of Autechre's tracks on ep7 (which begin in abstraction, soon to reveal their dominant rhythms). Play this music loud or not at all. These grating sounds are probably meant to dig right into your ears, to nestle deep inside your head, causing a strange sort of catharsis. "Unlimited Power" indeed; I think Harz has successfully redefined what the term "power electronics" can signify. The energy of this music never rests; although there are some tracks which aren't as emphatic or forceful, the energy level never really drops by more than half a point. The fourteenth and final track is probably the most conventional of the group, or at least it tries to be, but even this isn't saying much. It's melody fights to become the dominant feature of the score, but it is constantly flanked by a barrage of sounds, uneven and intrusive, that breaks it up or tries to push it out sight. Just remarkable. A very powerful and intense debut, recommended for the adventurous. [Richard di Santo]

+ [RIP]


MIRROR: Front Row Centre
Die Stadt | DS25 | LP

Mirror is Andrew Chalk (ex-member of Organum and co-founder of ORA) and Christoph Heemann (ex-HNAS and otherwise prolific sound artist and engineer). Front Row Centre picks up from where they left off with their previous releases Ringstones (Some Fine Legacy) and Eye of the Storm (Streamline), presenting 70 minutes worth of drones and sound textures with all the detailing and subtlety characteristic of these two artists. And yet Front Row Centre is much different from the previous releases, both of which were more constant and smooth, like one giant wave stretched over the entire length of the compositions. These new pieces move with a slow, sinfonic pace, with dramatic shifts reminding me in places of Heemann's Days of the Eclipse CD (on the Barooni label), yet at a much more audible level. The volume escalates, the sound intensifies, then drops suddenly, shifts suddenly, and yet still never breaks off from the underlying drone, never losing that basic undercurrent of the piece. This music is full of surprises and subtleties, and after listening to this record over the past two weeks, I am still finding new details. This one's limited to 700, and comes packaged with a beautiful print of sandy-textured artwork by Andrew Chalk. Highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]



OVAL: Ovalprocess
Thrill Jockey | THRILL081 | CD

I must admit it took me a good while to warm up to this release. Full of grating nervousness, this recording seems like a jittery old soul, a being who knows he belongs of this Earth, but does not know why he is here. Eleven unnamed tracks form the structure of this release, hovering at around three to five minutes apiece. The sounds are harsh, and at first seem totally random in nature. After a good number of auditionings though, structure can be seen amongst the chaos. Sounds vary from backdrops of wavering, shrill tones to botched CD playback experiments.

As I understand it, "Ovalprocess" is a piece of software developed by Oval (Markus Popp) that is meant as an interactive tool for use in a live atmosphere - one in which the audience can actively participate with the audio information preprogrammed by Popp. Somehow it manipulates the information for the user, but still comes out sounding like something Popp would have created in the studio.

The sounds on the disc are at first quite cold and clunky. But after a while a certain warmth exudes from them that makes you wonder how you missed them the first time around. There's an awful lot of buzzing and clicking in here, but the mix is very thick and plentiful. Each track has its own pace, and some tracks just seem like slowed-down versions of the tracks before them. If that is indeed the case, then the slowing down of things encourages a closer inspection of the minutiae that bring the project together in its entirety.

Seemingly more a concept disc due to its behind-the-scenes elements, Ovalprocess works beyond that scope due to the earnestness and warmth inherent in the sound. A definite unique form of sound has been created by Popp, one that begs further exploration and interaction on the part of the listener. And perhaps with a commercial release of his software in the offings, that may be more plausible than it sounds. [Vils M DiSanto]



ROEDELIUS + ALQUIMIA: Move and Resonate
Prudence/BSC Music | 398.6557.2 | CD

Legendary electronics composer and ambient "godfather" Hans-Joachim Roedelius collaborates with the singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Alquimia on Move and Resonate. The basic recording material by Alquimia was reworked by Roedelius and Eric Spitzer-Marlyn at "The Hitbox" in Austria, but involved a continuous "toing and froing" before the work was finally completed. Alquimia is originally from Mexico but now takes up residence in London. Her solo work is characterised by her innovative vocal techniques, heavy sound processing, ambience, droning, synth-sweeping, and a strong "ethnic" component deriving from her interest in Mexico's pre-Columbian musical traditions. Roedelius once remarked to me that when it comes to comparing the works of contemporary composers, Alquimia will be "one of the most regarded for her abilities, complexity and authenticity", and I have no doubt that he's right.

The opening section of Move and Resonate sounds much like an anthem, like something you're likely to hear at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. The lyrics of "Voces de mi tierra (Voices from my Homeland)", telling of the enchantment of rhythm and song, are an homage to Alquimia's origins and musical roots. Roedelius offers some nice effects and sounds in the first movement, which then gives way and dissolves into a darker rhythm, at a walking pace, with the accompanying sounds of shakers, flutes, and electronic interference. This second movement is excellent, and opens into a reading of a poem by Arthur O'Shaugnessy called "We are the Music Makers". The words of the poem (spoken in at least 3 languages by both Alquimia and Roedelius) are subject to various manipulations and layerings which (for me, at least) sound surprising for these two artists. The poem, which takes Shelley's view of poets being the "unacknowledged legislators of the world", concludes with a fitting metaphor on the cycles of history: "for each age is a dream that is dying and another that is coming to birth". This long interlude then returns to the anthemic motif of the opening movement, but this time using the lyrics from O'Shaugnessy's verse in its refrain. My favourite track here is "Olinia Mo", which is divided into four parts. It begins as a Mexican folk song, sung in a language unknown to me (perhaps Nahuatl?), with traditional instruments (clay flutes, ocarinas, clay drums, pots, timbales, etc.) and with only minimal electronic accompaniment. It then moves into longer, more ambient and drone-inflected movements full of night sounds, bird calls, sad flutes, and various percussion sounds amid a non-intrusive wash of synths and electronics. This piece is superb, reminding me a little of Jorge Reyes in places. The final track on the album, "White Dream", is a tranquil conclusion to the proceedings, with Alquimia providing some beautiful vocal harmonics over smooth waves of sound. Overall the album is an interesting blend of two distinct sound worlds, only sometimes innovative and challenging, at once both familiar and new. The mood that prevails over this release is optimistic and inspirational; this music affirms with unshaking confidence the role of the music makers, the "dreamers of dreams". I have already seen what Roedelius can do (his musical opus is varied, original, and a marvel of self-expression); this music makes me all the more curious of what Alquimia, for her part, is capable of. And I have the distinct feeling that we have seen only a fraction. [Richard di Santo]



SIGUR RÓS: Ágaetis byrjun
FatCat Records - fatcd11 | CD

The latest full length from the mysterious Icelandic group Sigur Rós finally gets a reissue and is now available at a lower price. This record took me completely by surprise when I first heard it back in June of this year. Staying at a friend's apartment, I picked up the sleeve, which to me was unintelligible: I had never heard of the group, and could barely make out the writing on the sleeve or in the liner notes, which were all written in Icelandic. I put the disc on, and the most mysterious sounds issued forth - dreamy vocals awash in the gentle echoes of backward guitars - and then just as suddenly disappeared into a dark and low rumbling. The second track, a little less otherworldly, confirmed that I was indeed listening to an album that I could never forget. Leaving the disc behind (and forgetting to ask my friend about it), it took me a few months to put the pieces together and identify the group as Sigur Rós, of which very little seems to be known. I think the fact that I know so little about this band, together with the aura of mystery that seems to surround their music and their aesthetic (just take a look at the artwork on their website), is an integral part of this music's allure for me. Strange atmospheres, together with strong post-rock and psychedelic leanings sometimes reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins (though I must confess a true comparison would be impossible - Sigur Rós and the Cocteau Twins are as different as night and day) make up these 10 songs. The vocals seem full of sadness (do the lyrics reflect the pain and anguish apparent in these voices?), accompanied by beautiful strings, the intonations of an organ, the echoes of infinite guitar, dark and lonely drums and the caressing of cymbals. Often quiet and dreamy, the music will sometimes erupt into louder, more hard-edged sections (as in track 5), but even these eruptions are full of anguish and frustration.

I have the distinct feeling that this album will be my first and last from Sigur Rós. This kind of enchantment could not possibly survive a follow-up (which only seems imminent as the band grows in popularity). So let's leave things here, at the end of an album that is sure to go down in history. [Richard di Santo]



empreintes DIGITALes | IMED 9840 | CD

Acousmatic composer Ned Bouhalassa, born in France but now making his home in Montréal, has been active in the promotion and production of electroacoustic music for a number of years. Aérosol presents various works composed and recorded from 1990 through 1998, and comes packaged with liner notes on each piece by Bouhalassa himself. Sponge-like, Bouhalassa absorbs elements from a diverse array of influences (cinema, visual art, techno, environmental recordings, ...). His music is full of difference and variety. Each sound playfully moves through the stereo spectrum (an aeroplane in the sky, the buzzing of insects, the crackles of a digital landscape), and it's unlikely you'll ever hear the same sound twice. Each of these compositions take on their own themes and compositional techniques. The first, "Jets", explores the idea of an automated sound projection, where sound is perceived as moving "in an almost intuitive manner". "Constramment (autoportrait)" is a selfportrait expressing the artist's anomalous memory and his state of mind on turning 37. Clearly evident in this piece is Bouhalassa's love of techno music, for occasionally a thumping bass or a rhythmic interlude will force itself into the otherwise abstract sound environment. The next piece, "Attraction", attempts to express any number of attractions in life and in art. Recordings of acoustic sources were put through the hoops of digital processing and traditional musique concrète techniques. The final piece is my favourite here. "Bouffé délirante" (Maddening Exhalation) is described as "an attempt to realise what has been coined 'cinema for the ear'." There is, as is characteristic of all these compositions, a complex array of sound sources and moods. But what I like most about this piece is the way it jumps suddenly from one "scene" to another; a smooth intonation (from a cello? a violin?) will suddenly be cut and move into a whole new sound structure, only to return back again, clumsily, at a later moment. Bouhalassa calls this a "jump-cut gesture"; these interruptions are like film montage for the ears, breaking up the narrative or moving it along. There are no words, but the sounds tell a story all on their own. This is music to provoke your imagination and make your ears tingle with excitement. [Richard di Santo]



Durtro/World Serpent | 042LCD | CD

Beautifully packaged in a neat digipak with paintings by Mr. Tibet himself, Soft Black Stars is a fairly recent record for Current 93 (it was released in 1998). The usual gang comprised of David Tibet (words), Michael Cashmore (music) and Steven Stapleton (sounds) is joined by Andria Degens (who recorded her own solo album recently under the name of Pantaleimon) and Petr Vastl, who tackles violin, viola, mandolin and flute. Christoph Heemann provides some input here as well, in addition to co-producing and mixing the entire album (his influence can be perceived in the clarity of its acoustic silences). But the real star here is Maja Elliott's performance on piano, the instrument which by far dominates these twelve sorrowful songs. The music, arranged by Michael Cashmore, is a combination of original compositions and adaptations of older, more classical works (I could only positively identify the source of one: track five is an adaptation of the traditional French melody Une jeune fillette). Most of the tracks are for solo piano, others for a duet, and still others with melancholy touches from various other instruments (viola, guitar, etc.). The music of each piece carries a slow, sad mood, provoking introspection and quietude. Every time I listen to a record by Current 93 I am taken more and more by Michael Cashmore's arrangements (admittedly, sometimes I wish David Tibet would just step aside for a while, and let the music shine on its own). Soft Black Stars is no exception, showing Cashmore's undeniable musical talents (his work can also be found under the name Nature and Organisation). And I'll give credit to Tibet for allowing the music some breathing room on this record: he doesn't step in until the second track, and in most of the pieces he speaks slowly with a number of breaks, complimenting the utter stillness and beauty of the music. Tibet's "wall of words" on this record carry his characteristic wit and wordplay, his sentences full of rambling clauses (a grammarian's nightmare), tinged with sorrow and loss. The words roll off his tongue with simultaneous ease and hesitation, as if he were waiting for just the right moment to enunciate his premonitions and musings. Everything culminates in an unforgettable finale, a profound mix of drones, piano and guitar, recalling the musical motifs throughout the record and breaking new ground by introducing some very haunting and unsettling sounds. And yet everything remains still, the night is all motionless and every sound creeps softly about. Maybe it's just the way the soft black stars are hanging in the sky tonight, but this album makes it onto my list of essential listening for being an exemplary Current 93 record. [Richard di Santo]



RICHARD H. KIRK: Virtual State
Wax Trax! Records | TVT7218-2 | CD

Released in 1994, this groovy little release by former Cabaret Voltaire star Richard H. Kirk steadily blonks along in its own rhythm and time. Devoid of any real techno trends in its construction, Kirk creates a world of nicely melodic, mostly downtempo numbers packed with looped constructs and worldbeat samples. The disc gets underway with a slower number that builds in intensity and then settles down again, replete with repetitive radio samples and a locked groove buried underneath. The disc's tempo picks up about three minutes into the second track ("Frequency Band"), where a nicely understated melody hums along over top of a choral synth group. This seems to set the pace for the balance of the disc -- no overbearance on Kirk's part per se, just a mostly pleasing disc of soft tunes and inoffensive grooves. Perhaps that's why there's no real "challenge" to listening to this disc -- it's pretty much a smooth and straightforward release. While some of the track titles evoke a sense of playfulness ("Come", "The Feeling (Of Warmth & Beauty)", "Lagoon West") and political influence ("Worldwar Three", "Freezone", "Clandestine Transmission"), there isn't much in the way of musical experimentation or even any real breadth from start to finish. There are some beautiful moments: for instance the magical choral sample in "Freezone", and the little recurring four-note melody that creeps into almost every track on the disc (a very nice touch that is!). Kirk's sound palette has never been bold or brash, and that palette of his is present on this disc as it is on his most recent ones - a matted sound that evokes a certain amount of restraint whilst exhibiting signs of warmth and fullness. He doesn't go for the jugular, he's quite content to make his musical remarks in a very low-key fashion, and still reel you in just the same. Overall, a very enjoyable disc, free of any dated trends in its construct, and very nicely paced and produced. A little more in the way of sonic excursions would have been welcome, but as it stands the disc sits quite nicely in my humble little collection. [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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