> Archive > Music Review 15

5 November 2000

Augur: Xibalba
Control Z
Sussan Deyhim / Shirin Neshat: Turbulent

Jeff Kaiser / Ernesto Diaz-Infante: Pith Balls and Inclined Planes



Various: lockERS
Clock DVA: Man-Amplified
Gilles Gobeil: La mécanique des ruptures


AUGUR: Xibalba
Manifold Records/Pyrrhic Victory | apvcdr3 | CDR

Taking its inspiration from a story in Mayan mythology describing the journey to the underworld of twin deities Hunahpu (the first) and Hunahpu (the second), Xibalba is one of Augur's most recent releases, published by Manifold Records/Pyrrhic Victory. The music was recorded live to CDR "in honour of the new millennium and :zoviet*france:" (in this way it looks both to the past and the future). In addition, Steve Brand (aka Augur) used no computers or noise reduction software for these recordings. Instead, he uses flutes, ocarina, small violin, location recordings, drums, bells, voice and tapes. From this catalogue of instruments you'd think you were getting a collection of trance-like ethno-ambient tracks, but far from it. Augur presents a series of abstract soundscapes with a diverse and intriguing soundfield. This record is very different from A Slender Thread of Silence (released a few months past on Alluvial), which appropriately emphasised the element of silence in its arrangements, each movement developing slowly with subtle shifts and evolving sounds. Xibalba is by contrast more noisy and uneven, the sounds utilised are quite often harsh and grating. Yet these recordings haven't lost Augur's appreciation for subtlety, nor his ability to surprise his listener. Grating and bowing sounds combine with strange vocal manipulations and chirping (track 5), a quiet chorus of sound builds slowly (track 6), percussions flutter amidst a dense layer of industrial noise (track 7)... each track offers a unique arrangement of intriguing sounds, some of which admittedly taking their cues from the more adventurous :zoviet*france: recordings. Another fine release, expertly executed, from an innovative artist with a rapidly growing discography. [Richard di Santo]



(Re)Aktion | (RE)9 | CD

Control Z, launched in 1999 by the French recording label (Re)Aktion, is "a global, musical and virtual project". As it is described in the promotional literature, "the idea was to create an immense electronical composition which would reunite approximately 50 musicians scattered throughout the world and unknown to one another". That being said, Control Z is not a compilation, but a "global work", amorphous and not broken down into tracks representing individual contributions. The entire work is instead divided into four tracks. Although a list of participating artists is provided (sorry, but I don't recognise any of the names on the list), their individual contributions are impossible to identify. The division of tracks instead corresponds to a "rhythmic part, an atmospheric part and a noisy part", with the final track presenting the original samples the musicians used to construct their own sections. Each participant received 10 samples chosen randomly from a base catalogue of 100 sounds. In addition to a particular length requirement, the only constraint was that the participant needed to utilise all 10 samples. Each participant could then manipulate the sounds in any manner they saw fit, as well as add any other sounds into the mix.

The result is a peculiar hodgepodge of techno-driven rhythms, harsh sounds, spontaneous shifts, violent cut-ups and heavy loops. The music jumps all over the place, never resting in a particular spot, genre, tone or mood, in spite of one or two leitmotifs. Of course, this was inevitable for a composition utilising such a magnitude of contributors. I'll be the first to admit that this was an interesting idea, ambitious and full of new challenges, but my impression is that the final product is not entirely successful or satisfactory. The tracks seem too haphazard and aimless, as if the final product wasn't a "global work" at all, but an immense recycling box where the objects have all been mixed up without rhyme or reason. Also, their breakdown of the tracks into rhythmic, atmospheric, and noisy doesn't really hold up; the tracks each have equal proportions of these elements (although it is true that the first track is predominantly rhythmic). Listening to the final track, a catalogue of the original 100 samples, puts an interesting gloss on the work as a whole, given the diversity of the original material the musicians had to work with. This final track is what justifies the rest of the disc for me. Without it the complete work wouldn't have made much sense.

Overall, Control Z is an intriguing and ambitious project, commendable at least for its initiative if not for the final outcome of its endeavours. [Cristobal Q]



Eyestorm | CD

I first heard Sussan Deyhim's voice on Sahara Blue, Hector Zazou's homage to the poet Arthur Rimbaud. I was immediately taken by her innovative vocalisations, by her ability to make me feel that her voice was burrowing somewhere deep inside me, as if she were expressing something of myself which was completely esoteric and internalised. Since then I have been following her career wide-eyed with wonder, anticipating each new release with growing admiration and enthusiasm. The most recent of which proved to be the most rewarding of all: Madman of God (on the Crammed label) is a collection of acoustic interpretations and experimental variations of traditional Persian melodies and poems.

Sussan Deyhim has in recent years been working with Shirin Neshat, a video artist and photographer born in Qazin, Iran. Their work together resulted in four art installations, the soundtracks to which are documented here: Fervor, Soliloquy, Rapture and Turbulent (winner of the Golden Lion Award, Venice Biennale 1999). This disc is published by the London-based online artspace Eyestorm.

Music, says Shirin Neshat, has become an integral aspect of her work, and her collaborations with Deyhim have been most rewarding. She explains that Deyhim "comprehends my concepts on the most intuitive and intellectual levels. She has consistently delivered compositions that each time astonish me in how perfectly they accompany and strengthen the film without ever overpowering or undermining the importance of the image or the narrative." Of course here, in CD format, we are witnessing the opposite of this effect. The disc comes packaged with only a small group of photographs or stills from the installations, so that essentially what we are given here are the soundscapes divorced from the images for which they were written and arranged. Sussan Deyhim describes these soundtracks as "romantic journeys into a deep zone, searching for universal, sonic metaphors to evoke a language from [Shirin Neshat's] silent narrative abstractions; creating a space which travels beyond referential codes and transcends into the hyper-real, the surreal and the timeless."

The music on Turbulent is a collection of soundscapes comprised mostly of elaborate vocal samples, incorporating only minimal instrumentation. Deyhim herself sings on a generous number of tracks, each of which seems more abstract than concrete (the tracks are not arranged into conventional song structures here), but overall the music has more of a collage structure. Her voice is able to achieve some incredible feats, but, as I have described in my review of Madman of God, always in a manner which is more than simply vocal gymnastics. She carries in her work the weight of musical and vocal traditions (from Iran and elsewhere), but builds on these, manipulates them, and manifests something completely unique, modern and immediate.

With the assistance of Miguel Lopez (providing some of the programming and mixing), Deyhim has culled samples from across the globe, but most prominently she has incorporated vocal samples from the Arab world. She quotes at length from Ali Jihad Racy's Ancient Egypt (on Lyrichord Discs), Aka Gunduz Kutbay's Turquie - Le Ney (on Naive Records), as well as field recordings from Marrakech and Kurdish songs recorded in Mardin, Turkey. To give you a sense of the breadth of vocal samples, Deyhim has also incorporated into her soundscapes traditional music of the Inuit, music from Burundi, Tibetan Ritual Music, and the Catalonian Cant de la (utilising Jordi Savall's most excellent rendering). The arrangements are often complex, kaleidoscopic and circular; the music carries a sense of immediacy and urgency which makes the experience of listening seem quite intoxicating, as if we have tuned in to a simultaneous broadcast of all the traditional voices of the world, en masse, communicating with us from all sides. Turbulent is a tour de force of sounds and voices, demonstrating that Sussan Deyhim's talents go beyond vocal innovations and into the realm of abstract sound collage. Highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]



JEFF KAISER / ERNESTO DIAZ-INFANTE: Pith Balls and Inclined Planes
pfMENTUM | 005 | CD

Two multi-instrumentalist improvisers and California residents collaborate for the first time on this disc of eight improvised compositions. Jeff Kaiser (trumpet, flugelhorn, electronics, voice) is a seasoned trumpet improviser and composer, and the founder of the Ventura New Music Concert Series. Ernesto Diaz-Infante (acoustic guitar, voice) is an active performer, improviser and performer, with a well established discography to his credit. The music is an eclectic mix of electroacoustic textures, prepared acoustic guitar, horns and voices. There are some truly fascinating pieces here. "The Unreasonable Power of the Diagrams", for example, has an incredible quivering vocal track overtop the flutterings of flugelhorn and the scrapings of guitar. More quivering sounds, guitar strings and haunting electronics (which when put all together sound like a chorus of buzzing bees) populate the stunning track "She Surreptitiously Introduced Colored Shirts". Serendipitous, spontaneous and spirited, this is an intriguing and rewarding release, pushing the limits of composition and performance while challenging the listener's preconceptions of what improvisational music can be. Recommended for the adventurous. [Richard di Santo]



Harz Records | HZCD2 | CDR

Pelagius is the second release for California based label Harz Records, following hot on the heels of Unlimited Power by Wire, the debut album from Hayes Harz released a few months ago. The lore in the liner notes has it that Pelagius is an evasive historical figure (from the 4th to 5th centuries A.D.), of whom very little is known. If I remember my medieval philosophy correctly, the historical Pelagius, founder of a group of intellectuals in Rome appropriately called the Pelagians, got into some shouting matches with Augustine over the role of divine grace in the affairs of human free will. How important any of this is in relation to this new CD is up for some debate; there's nothing medieval, theological or theosophical about this music (at least, nothing that I can detect).

Unless my old ears are deceiving me, my guess is that Pelagius is a nom de plume of Hayes Harz. Thus must be Harz; it's as if we are dealing with the same narrative voice, but set within a different storyboard structure. As with Unlimited Power, the energy level of this music remains high (with only a few breaks and mellow moments), but this time the structures are less abstract, with an emphasis more on rhythm construction. Not that this music doesn't have its share of abstraction. The same burgeons and reburgeons of electronic sounds are here (clusters of sound bubbling up as if from all sides and at all angles), and you can easily accept these clusters as the fundamental constituents of the rhythms themselves. Using a host of electronic sounds, percussions, samples, and even some guitar, Pelagius arranges his musical structures in innovative and compelling ways. Like Calvino's Palomar trying to isolate a single wave on the sea, we witness a cluster of sound "rise in the distance, grow, approach, change form and colour, fold over itself, break, vanish, and flow again," and yet we are still never quite sure where one cluster ends and the other begins. Each one of the 14 tracks here is spontaneous, captivating and intriguing, making Pelagius another very strong release from Harz Records, definitely a label to watch out for. [Richard di Santo]

+ [RIP]



Soundician is Odette and Kit Johnson, a duo recording instrumental electronic music from a little back room in the north of England, "trying to bring some sense to Our world via the medium of sound". This CDR is a completely homemade production, and collects a series of tracks that are also available as Liquid Audio files from their website. Odette composes and performs the music, while Kit does the mixing and production work. The music most often takes the form of gentle ambient-electronic music (often with strong old-school Eno-esque leanings), probably made exclusively with analogue synths. Textures range from smooth waves of sound to more rough patches, melodies are sometimes quirky and at others are mellow or meditative. The tracks do cross over a number of musical territories, yet still they never branch off far enough so as to make Soundician's compositional voice unrecognisable. Smooth waves of sound and a gentle percussive rhythm makes "Obsidian" one of my favourites here, along with the circular melody of "Sleepwalker". Soundician's debut is a charming record of inspired and inspirational music, clearly a labour of love and the result of a great admiration of retro-ambient music. [Richard di Santo]



ERS Records | ERS 12/07 | LP

Here is a very inviting release comprised of a massive collection of artists, an unprecedented amount of tracks, and all with a nice homegrown feel to it. Here we have an LP with 162 individual locked grooves contained within. Wow. Talk about a wide selection. There are fewer contributing artists than 162, as many have supplied multiple loops/locks for the purpose of this release. Among the roster are: Radboud Mens, Twilight Circus Sound System, Merzbow, Zion Train, S.E.T.I., DJ Spooky: That Subliminal Kid, Goem, John Duncan, Zbigniew Karkowski, Stilluppsteypa, Artificial Memory Trace, and numerous others.

Each locked groove contained on this LP is very short, probably no longer than two seconds of material each, yet the good ones can sustain interest for minutes at a time (or longer, though I haven't been quite so brave as to let them linger into the hours...). Musical styles covered range from pure noise to pulsating sines to breakbeat to dubstyle to clicks, pops, and everything in between. The recurring 'theme' seems to be the dub tracks, and with due reason -- they work very well in this rigid repetitive environment.

It's funny how when you begin listening a particular loop and it sounds one way, a way you think can not change in your brain because you know the locked groove is just that, but then a transformation occurs somehow, and you hear the loop in a different way, with entirely new elements that mysteriously become apparent. One track which this happened to me was #45 on Side A, by Studio X called "The Shortcut". At first, it's a basic, peppy industrial loop, and then I noticed "the voice", which seemed to get louder and louder. Strange.

At first it's very difficult (nay, impossible) to follow the track listing provided on the sleeve as to who created each loop, but then you notice the spacing of the grooves on the record, which have been grouped into slabs of ten very tightly woven clusters.

Granted, not every loop here is a gem, some you will bypass rather quickly if they don't click with you, and that's guaranteed. Some grate, some pierce, some placate, but overall it's a most intriguing collection. There are some brilliant ones here: Laughing Stock impress with a full-sounding jam, Stilluppsteypa trick your ears quite nicely, Artificial Memory Trace fire seven at you in short succession, and Francisco Lopez is up to his usual inaudible tricks.

A truly interactive, involving experience, and much more enticing than any like-minded digital venture could ever hope to achieve. A must-have. [Vils M DiSanto]



CLOCKDVA: Man-Amplified
Contempo | CONTEDISC 182 | CD

The follow-up to the groundbreaking classic Buried Dreams, ClockDVA's Man-Amplified was released in 1991 on the Italian Contempo label to a critical mixed reaction. Those looking for the hardened DVA style of "The Hacker" were disappointed. Those looking for the sex magick of "The Sonology Of Sex" were also let down. But not this reviewer.

In many, many ways a far superior album, Man-Amplified excels in depth, production, and outlook. With more of a singular theme evident here, DVA were able to cull together a masterpiece which never strays from its path.

Beginning with an audio snippet from George Lucas' "THX-1138", the stage is set for a futuristic tale of machines, love, and intelligence. Adi Newton's voice is perfect as the robotic, monotonic machine in the opening title track. "Techno Geist" impresses with its subdued programming techniques and pleasing piano tones that carry through the chorus, "man is a machine that goes beyond". Who else but DVA could (or would) rhyme the lines: "the cybernetics of time" and "the symbiotic rhyme"?

Other highlights are "Bitstream" with its data stream packets and again, a soft piano over top of the rumbling bass line. The cross-panning techniques utilised in the instrumental segments of this track, the hushed female breather echoing in the distance, all lead to a beautiful production aesthetic which was hinted at in Buried Dreams, but fully realized on this disc. "Fractalize" is a unique tale of love told against the backdrop of fractal theory (!). As strange as it sounds, it works in a touching way, and the instrumentation, complete with high-frequency tones, is quite ornate in its construction. A definite audio fractal has been created here, 'round about two and half minutes in. A much better job than Eno did with a similar theme on his Nerve Net disc.

The disc comes packaged with ten mini-essays for just about each track on the disc. The essays (though riddled with minor typographical and grammatical errors), are meant to supplement the tracks, not explain them, providing the listener with further points of reference that influenced DVA in the creation of the disc.

This is one of my "desert island" discs, one that I would not like to be without, and I can only give it my highest recommendation. [Vils M DiSanto]



GILLES GOBEIL: La mécanique des ruptures
empreintes DIGITALes | IMED-9421 | CD

Comprised of eight compositions dating from 1985 through to 1993, La mécanique des ruptures (The Mechanics of Cleavage) was released in 1994. Gobeil describes his compositional technique as being similar to that of medieval stone-cutters, "who would strike rock, making it 'ring' in order to judge its worth for construction". He further describes that his sound material "is subjected to restraint, to enormous pressure, until it finally sunders, shatters, transforms -- brought to its breaking point".

Fitting words indeed; each of these compositions carries with it feelings of intensity, tension, and urgency. The sounds are reaching critical mass, and seem like they're going to break at any moment and explode right in our faces.

The first piece, "Le vertige inconnu" (The Mysterious Vertigo), takes as its theme "the essense of solitude", but on the contrary doesn't feel very solitary. Bursts of concentrated sound alternate with quieter moments of field recordings and incidental noises.

"Voix Blance" (White Voice), featuring Suzanne Binet-Audet on the ondes Martenot, is an extremely dramatic piece with a stunning sound dynamic. Abstract tones and concrete sounds fill a three-dimensional space that shifts in rapid motions, presenting first one scene, then another, creating a work of immense drama and movement.

The third piece features the dynamic improvisational talents of René Lussier on electric guitar. The piece, explains Gobeil, "consists of a succession of very dense and expressive scenes, a suitable foil for the guitar's vibrant, playful gestures". As good a description of this piece as any.

The fourth piece, probably the most ambitious and unique among this grouping, incorporates a text and scenario by Lyette Limoges, an intriguing and complex radio-play, full of mystery and compelling imagery: "The sun was setting. I saw an angel and it took flight, while all around lions tried to hold it back but... and then it became dark." I was really drawn into this piece, which runs just short of fifteen minutes, and yet still manages to occupy a substantial psychological space in the listener.

Further into the disc we find the tightly arranged piece "Rivage" (Shore), which utilizes "untouched sounds" from an urban environment. The ondes Martenot makes another appearance in the seventh piece, and "Traces" closes the disc off with further bursts of intense sounds and sharp movements.

Intense, noisy and complex, La mécanique des ruptures presents a series of very compelling and challenging works. Essential electro-acoustic music that is sure to keep you from sitting still for even a moment while listening. [Richard di Santo]





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