8 October 2000
This self-titled, self-produced and self-distributed debut from the improvisational ambient outfit ARC is a document of live recordings made in 1999 through 2000. ARC is (A) Aidan Baker on guitars, flutes and voices, (R) Richard Baker on drumset and percussion, and (C) Christopher Kukiel on djembe, percussion and decks. The music is what they call "experimental- dark-ambient- neo-tribal", which I would say sums things up rather nicely. Ambient textures from Aidan's guitar interact with the sometimes driving, though often uneven rhythms from the two percussionists, creating impressive atmospheres that are at times calm and serene, at others dark and threatening. The pieces are free-flowing improvisations, the musicians interact naturally with each other and seem to feed off of one another intuitively and with great ease. Probably the darkest track here is the third one; rough guitar and percussion textures accompanied by a bizarre narrative using an eerie voice from some computer speech program. Although little rough in places (which I suppose is part of its charm as spontaneous improvisational ambient music), this is an intriguing debut, recommended for fans of more percussion-based ambient music, or for those who enjoy ambient guitar textures. [Richard di Santo]
L. GAAB: History All At Once
Based in the town of Chico in northern California, Larry Gaab is producing some pleasant instrumental ambient music. These two CDRs, self-produced and distributed, offer a generous helping of his work. Don't be put off by the soft "new-age" appearance of the homemade packaging: the music is much more diverse and rich than this tag implies.
Resurrections opens up with some warm ambience and synth-work, reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti's more inspirational scores. The tracks move in a steady pace, there are no sudden shifts or any real surprises. What this album does offer, though, is a rich soundworld that is quite easy on the ears, yet still somewhat provoking for the mind. Rich textures and smooth soundscapes abound, for me this music largely invokes some of the ethno-ambient projects from the Amplexus catalogue.
History All At Once is probably the more varied of the two releases, offering up a diverse array of moods and sound textures. Deep poundings of a drum and smooth waves of sound combine with the shifting of warm and cool atmospheres in this music. Sometimes invoking a desolate landscape, a threatening storm, or the feeling of an impending tragedy, the overall feel of this record is in sharp contrast with Resurrections, which on the whole is characterised by a more positive mood, comforting and gentle.
In short, these two albums present some finely crafted analogue ambient music, sure to be a hit with old-school ambient heads. Although this music doesn't add much to the age-old ambient equation, there are still some beautiful moments here worthy of attention; Gaab's music should have no trouble fitting in with Eno-philes or fans of the Amplexus label. [Richard di Santo]
Here's one for the collectors. Recorded around the time of Lahore & Marseille, a double-disc EP released in 1998 on Soleilmoon, we have a re-visitation of that characteristic sound, and instead of it being spread over two EP-length discs, it's spread over 140 minutes and three discs instead.
The big, distorted beats are front and centre here, with moments of respite few and far between. When those moments do occur, they emerge as the most powerful and hypnotic points on the disc. Take, for instance, the last two minutes of the track "Izlamabad Carpet Boy". All of a sudden, the five and a half minutes of crunched-up beats come to a grinding halt, and we are treated to what feels like utter silence -- a stringed instrument is plucked away over a dark and hypnotic drone, peppered with crackling vinyl. It feels like you've been walking over a safe terrain, and then you realize... you'd better be careful for what could lie beneath your feet (and once you view the photo on the rear of the disc, this all comes full circle).
However, these moments are limited on the disc, and for the most part things run pretty much "on safe ground" for Muslimgauze fans. The first disc is the heaviest of the three, the second disc borders on being a little too much, even for a die-hard like myself. The obviously improvised keyboard notes plainly played over top of the beats sound childish and sketchy, at best. This has not been a fault of his in the past -- sketchiness is one of Muslimgauze's endearments -- but here things get to be a little much, especially around the latter half of Disc 2.
The third disc, a thirty-minute version of "Lahore", with the subtitle "Extended Version - Speed Up", is a non-stop assault of a pummelling backbeat, with at first very little to distinguish it apart from the original version. But things change to great dramatic effect about halfway through, and this disc is perhaps the most engaging of the three.
Once again a beautiful package has been put together by Staalplaat for this release (hand-numbered and limited to 700 copies), and they have fit three discs inside a single-sized CD package. The third disc is the most difficult to get to, as you must snap open the jewel case to extract the disc from its position in behind. Silk-textured paper and black text printed directly onto the jewel case showcase Staalplaat's undying devotion to this artist, packaging each release as a unique treasure.
Your Mines In Kabul is a worthwhile release on the whole, but one that is really meant for the collectors. I suppose it could have been edited down to two discs (some might say one), but when it comes to Muslimgauze, the case has never really been "less is more". [Vils M DiSanto]
Dean Roberts, best known for his explorations into guitar drones and feedback (see especially All Cracked Medias and And the Black Moths Play the Grand Cinema on Mille Plateaux and Ritornell respectively) has joined forces with composer and sonic improviser Werner Dafeldecker, founder of the influential Durian label (www.durian.at) for this new release on Erstwhile Records. For this recording, both musicians perform on guitar and electronics, along with occasional percussion on a hi-hat placed between them in the recording studio. The disc is divided into two tracks titled Rock and Roll, Parts 4 and 5. The first track is a short preface (a total of 10 minutes), introducing a marked tension between sound elements. High pitched whistles are pitted against the gratings and scrapes of guitar textures. The second track runs for precisely 30 minutes, and is characterised by a movement from high to low, from tension to harmony. Couched in a bed of silence, high frequencies whistle at various pitch; crackles, pops and waves of electronic sound interact with scrapings and pluckings of guitar. In the opening minutes, it sounds as if these two sound elements (guitar and electronics) are being played against each other, as if they are competing for dominance, or conversing as if trying to win an argument. But about 13 minutes into the piece, a certain harmony sets in, the tension disappears into a gentle strumming of strings and a calm electronic accompaniment. In answer to the higher pitched frequencies and sounds of the first half of this recording, a stunning bass drone kicks in, rising as if from the silence itself about 20 minutes into the piece. From this point on it's the lower frequencies that dominate the piece, fluctuating and shifting through various intonations (reminiscent of a bass gong) and exhibiting a striking depth and dimension in the sound. It's a marvel listening to the interplay of elements in this recording, and the developments throughout these improvisational pieces are full of details and surprises. In short, another fine release from the Erstwhile catalogue. [Richard di Santo]
Cologne residents Carsten Schulz (C-Schulz) and Hans Juergen Schunk (Hajsch) have created an incredible collection of nine aural miniatures on this self-titled (or untitled) CD, the first offering from either artist in years. Clearly breaking new ground, the music on this disc goes beyond ambient, beyond electroacoustic, beyond all things "Cologne", and into new and undiscovered territories. Using field recordings, concrete sounds and a vast array of acoustic instruments (harmonium, accordion, piano, clarinet, saxophone and guitar among others), this innovative duo has created nine completely unique soundworlds of such depth and precision, I cannot give this music enough praise. From the field recordings and thick ambience of track 1, to the quiet and contemplative layers of drones on track 5, to the scrapings of window shades which suddenly give way to reveal a quiet and isolated sound pocket with only a faint rustling and the muted whistling of birds in track 9, each piece describes something new, tells its own story, has its own narrative technique and its own musical language. I've returned to this disc a number of times in the past two weeks, and each time I am especially drawn to track 6. Shifting surface sounds of bricks being rubbed together are placed overtop a foundation of low rumblings, which then suddenly shifts to the sounds of a crackling fire and passing conversations, blended seemlessly with the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar, smooth drones and harmonic intonations. Utterly beautiful, and only one track in an album that comes highly, highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Here's what could definitely be referred to as a grab bag of a compilation. Don't go into this one expecting a certain style of sound to be presented like I did. Many compilations these days try to be "representative" of a label's roster of like-minded recording artists, and usually end up sounding like they could have been recorded by the same group of people. Here we have a definite hodge-podge of styles, ranging from the comical to the quirky to the more experimental side of things. Meant to act as an introduction to the European market of what's going on in Japan these days apart from Aube or Merzbow (or Towa Tei!), we have 29 tracks from (for me, at least) hitherto unknown artists such as Kuknacke, Computer Soup, Noise Ramones, and Smurf Otoko Gumi.
Smurf treats us to a scratch-infested festival over top of a tempo-changing beatbox circa 1983. Other tracks in a similar vein include The Hair Stylistics track, "Mr. Do The Right Thing", with its recurring quirky beat track placed between dissonant sonic excursions. On the flip side of the coin are tracks like "Closer" by Susumu Yokata, with a wonderful bell gonging harmoniously over a peaceful background ambience. It reminded me of the quieter moments of an old Japanese fave of mine, Vasilisk (one of my "whatever happened to...?" bands). The lengthiest track on this disc belongs to Christophe Charles, and starts off on a similar path to Susumu's track, but is much quieter overall. Those two tracks set the stage for the final numbers on the disc, which are less showy and more introspective.
Each track on the disc is quite short the bulk of them run between one and three minutes in length, and this leads to a rather choppy-feeling compilation overall. Some wonderful moments are here for sure, but with such short tracks, it's difficult to ascertain whether or not you might actually like to hear anything more by any particular artist. If only there were more tracks like Christophe Charles' one, which runs over seven minutes, this might be a more useful compilation. As it stands, it makes for a rather entertaining listen, but beyond that, it would be difficult to get into any further. [Vils M DiSanto]
The latest compilation from the small yet impressive label run out of Santiago de Chile, specialising in more beat-oriented electronic music (of the post-industrial, post-techno variety). With contributions from the likes of óxido, cáncer, aéreo, punto raya, adn, robosapiens and others, this is a fine collection of harsh beats, quirky rhythms and intriguing beat patterns. My favourite track on this disc is "strom" by cáncer (aka Jorge Cortés, one of the founders of the label) which presents a 'storm' of beats and snare-drum textures, an unstoppable barrage of beats creating a complex rhythm overtop a smooth dark atmosphere. Fantastic stuff. Another notable contribution is the opening track by óxido called "verdes", characterised by an uneven rhythm structure that builds nicely with layer upon layer of rhythmic elements. Some tracks are more playful and quirky (aéreo, robosapiens) while others are darker, presenting harsh rhythms and hard beats (punto raya, cáncer, adn), while still others are more downtempo, relying on more ambience and waves of synths (sk30, sembe). In all, this is an excellent primer for this label's activities, and is worth checking out if you're craving some nice crunchy beats either for the dancefloor or your livingroom. Definitely a label to watch. [Richard di Santo]
So begins Nurse With Wound's Who Can I Turn To Stereo, released in 1996. These words, spoken in a faux-Italian accent, probably by John Balance, inaugurate a bizarre and perplexing narrative that acts as our guide through this equally surreal aural landscape. Dark, steady-paced rhythms come and go amid a mass of eerie sounds and vocal manipulations. The percussion loop from Thunder Perfect Mind (released in 1992) also reappears here as one of many recurring motifs throughout these 12 tracks, though here it is accompanied by some indecipherable singing (by Rose McDowell? it's hard to tell, there's a host of collaborators on this album making all of these touches hard to identify), giving the rhythm a more exotic feel. Shocks of sound, rhythms, singsong voices, drones, screeches of guitar, submerged noises and kaleidoscopic sounds populate these tracks to great effect. Steven Stapleton (aka Nurse With Wound) is a master at creating surreal landscapes and unsettling atmospheres, yet he always manages to preserve a strong sense of humour. His touches are unmistakable, and his influence is easily recognised. Stapleton has enjoyed a long working relationship with David Tibet and the Current Ninety Three gang, and has been involved in many collaborations over the years with the likes of Coil, Stereolab, The Hafler Trio, Aranos, and more recently with Volcano The Bear. His contributions on the Legendary Pink Dots' album Malachai: Shadow Weaver Part 2, for example, made it one of their best and most remarkable records in their 20 year history. Who Can I Turn To Stereo is probably not the best Nurse With Wound record out there, but I find that I do return to it from time to time, which must say something about its staying power and ability to reward with repeated listening. But then again, it also appeals to a particular side of my musical palette which some days I find somewhat difficult to rationalise... [Richard di Santo]
More evocative sound environments from California resident Kent Sparling, an active visual and recording artist producing his own brand of ambient music. Released in 1997, Route Canal Diary is his debut full length (his follow up CD Under New Manna was just recently released). Six haunting atmospheres wrap themselves around you and fill the empty spaces of your rooms with their striking moods and thick ambience. The fire crackles calmly amid some tinkering on rhodes piano on the tranquil night-piece "During Shooting Star". Darker moods erupt with "Passed" and the opening track "Fellahin Snapshot", the latter of which carries a forceful and brooding rhythm and a deep drone. Things enter pretty deep territory on the epic "Good Posture", which rings in at just under 30 minutes and features some accompanying electronics and drones from Jeffrey Foster. This one's stunning and surreal, reminding me of Lustmord in places (post-Heresy), or even something of Randy Greif with its dense and opaque sound. In all, an exceptional debut from Kent Sparling, who is clearly a distinctive voice in the world of ambient music. [Richard di Santo]
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.
Please credit Incursion.org and the author when quoting from any content on this site.