> Archive > Music Review 20

4 February 2001

Absorption: Flat EP
Burnt Friedman: Plays Love Songs
Åke Hodell: Verbal Brainwash and other works
Polmo Polpo: Acqua / Oarca
Weasel Walter/ Lonberg-Holm / O'Rourke: Tribute to Masayuki Takayanagi
Various: Bip-Hop Generation Volume 1
Various: El Formato is the Challenge
Various: LANding
Soliman Gamil: The Egyptian Music
Higher Intelligence Agency / Biosphere: Birmingham Frequencies



Absorption is Peter Beddow, who is joined on this EP by Matt Knoth, Bob Green and David Revelli. I first heard Beddow's music on the excellent Owasso Night Atlas compilation on the Infrasound Collective label. The track from this compilation, "Dead Slow", is also on this 6 track, 35 minute EP, and is still one of the star tracks in this collection. Part dub, part electronica, part post-rock, these tracks are dominated by strong, almost aggressive drumming and a deep deep bass, full of electronic incursions, rough guitar textures, atmospheres and distortions. There's also a seventh bonus track here. "Saved", a remix of a Bowery Electric tune, provides an ominous ending to the proceedings, as the words "you've been saved... this time" are sung with a soft whisper. This is music for long drives at night; or rather, music for a descent to the network of passageways beneath a sleeping city, a place that defies the passage of time, where the rhythms of day and night are irrelevant. Beddow is making some strong, distinctive music, deserving of some major label attention. Also worth checking out is Absorption's website, with a nice multimedia element and an intriguing narrative about the London underground. Recommended! [Richard di Santo]



BURNT FRIEDMAN: Plays Love Songs
Nonplace | 718752730525 | CD

Burnt Friedman returns with the follow up to Con Ritmo, released last summer on his own Nonplace label. This time around the theme is love, and Friedman approaches his theme with characteristic wit and ingenuity. The liner notes (always an entertaining part of Friedman's records) speak of "soft, intricate rhythms, romantic synths, a seductive piano, a lone guitar and beautiful voices...", and, though on the whole these words are comically misleading, these elements are indeed integral to this music. The dub elements are still there, and the music carries Friedman's distinctive jazzy dynamism. The music is quirky, structured freely and full of buoyancy, handclaps and bizarre grooves. Sampling various elements from the likes of Shelley Hirsch, the Electronic Art Ensemble, Sun Ra and Lenny Tristano, and joined by Joseph Suchy on guitars, Friedman does his best to paint for our listening pleasure ten tracks depicting the many facets of love and lust. From passing romanticism to fleeting descriptions of sex toys and fetishes, Friedman touches on all but the domestic pleasures of his subject.

Along with a handful of instrumentals, there are two spoken word pieces. The first, "It Hurts!", or "the boy with the broken arm", is about a teenager's thwarted attempt to get into the place where he works. When I think more about it, the narrative probably works as a metaphor for the boy's sexual frustrations as a teen, and there's a certain comic eeriness to the tone and mood of the piece, enhanced by the boy's voice which sounds like an adolescent Peter Lorre. The second narrative is "Tongs of Love", with a reading by Black Sifichi. This story, more articulate than the previous one, describes another thwarted encounter with love and lust, as the narrator is enchanted by a girl sitting across from him on a boat, "all Japanese and sleek like a walkman with skin and flesh". Just as the narrator is enchanted by the girl sitting across from him, so was I enchanted by his story, making this one of the most compelling pieces on this record.

There are some great tracks on this album, and if I'm to fault it for anything it's that the album as a whole doesn't cohere as well as it might have. With Con Ritmo, for example, there is an undeniable and organic flow to the pieces; one track followed the other with the natural ease of waves on the sea. But here the tracks seem disjointed, with only a few exceptions, as if we're listening to a collection of singles rather than an organised full-length record.

Friedman's recent work has been remarkable, and especially so since the inauguration of the Nonplace label and his activities with Atom Heart as Flanger. He has an undeniable talent for constructing compelling jazzy rhythms and improvisations, mixing them with elements of dub and latin music, and creating a sound that is instantly recognisable, and yet remains dynamic and shifting. Oh, and did I mention his sense of humour? Check out the Nonplace webspace for more. [Richard di Santo]



ÅKE HODELL: Verbal Brainwash and other works
Fylkingen Records | FYCD 1018-1-2-3 | 3CD

This monumental 3CD set is the authorised edition of the collected text-sound compositions by the Swedish avant-garde composer Åke Hodell (1919-2000). It documents no less than 17 compositions conceived between 1963 and 1977, an immensely creative period in Hodell's career, completely remastered in new digital transfers under Hodell's own supervision. Hodell had dipped his hand in many disciplines (text-sound compositions, radio dramas, visual art...), and is recognised as an important figure in the Swedish avant-garde. Admittedly, though I have heard his name being tossed around in more academic discussions, this is the first real contact I have had with his work.

To get a better idea of what is meant by "text-sound compositions", since it seems that Hodell was quite particular as to what he classified as such, I turn to the liner notes by Torsten Ekbom: "In a text-sound composition, music, electronically treated sound material, lyrics and dramatic text are combined into an individual hybrid form, which it turns out offers surprising possibilities for development." The first disc in this set consists of Hodell's antimilitary phase. Compositions like "General Bussig", "Structures III" or "Law & Order Inc.", use, manipulate and deconstruct the sounds and words of the military to turn it against itself. One of the more intriguing concepts here, in "Structures III" (1967), Hodell authentically and chronologically represents the development of man's weapons of self-destruction from both world wars. Presenting a series of repetitive blasts, machine gun fire and explosions, Hodell represents "an authentic acoustic progression" of the the development of weaponry in the first half of the 20th century. Further along, witness how the sounds of the Stockholm ferry, when placed in the mythological context of crossing the river Styx, transforms into Charon's boat, crossing over the river of forgetfulness and into the terrain of the underworld. The eerie foghorn blends with a chorus of crows, manipulated and looped, making way for a more minimal musical movement constructed by a simple beat and cut-up fragments of an organ's intonation. Following this, in "Cerberus, the Hellhound" (1972), we are at Hell's gate. Hodell cleverly blends Dante's "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here", and the more terrestrial "mind the doors, please". Or consider the "Spirit of Ecstasy, Racing Car Opera" (1977), featuring the sounds of various Fiat, Mercedes and Bugatti models through the years.

There's a lot to get through here. Fylkingen Records has compiled an exhaustive (and exhausting) collection of Hodell's innovative works. This journey isn't an easy one; Hodell's social criticisms and antimilitary leanings are not the stuff for a relaxing afternoon's enjoyment. These compositions are difficult and dense, and weigh heavily on the listener, if not for their sounds on an aesthetic level, than for the moral demands they place on the listener, who is compelled to participate in the dialogue. Hodell provokes you to respond to the brutal realities of military conquests and to accepted ideas of social order. As many of the "text" components in the compositions are in Swedish, I fear many of these ideas are lost on anyone (myself included) who doesn't understand the language. Still, for anyone interested in the development of academic avant-garde composition, or the use of loops and minimal arrangements, this release will probably be welcomed the world over. [Richard di Santo]



POLMO POLPO: Acqua / Oarca
Audi Sensa | AUDI 003 | 12 inch

This impressive 12" is the latest release from the Toronto based label Audi Sensa, committed to pressing limited run vinyl in distinctive, handmade silkscreen sleeves. Polmo Polpo is one Sandro Perri, and his specialty is minimal rhythms and submerged sounds, à la Porter Ricks, latter day Kit Clayton, or even Vladislav Delay. This 12" brings us two new tracks from an artist I would (quite frankly) really like to hear more of. The first is "Acqua", a solid dancefloor rhythm submerged in rich layers of hiss, feedback, and dubstyle interference. An incredibly energetic piece, unrelenting from start to finish. The second track, "Oarca", is not so much for the dancefloor as for the chillout room. Things begin in the abstract; aquatic sounds and crackles give way to a burgeoning loop, which then gives way to another, and still another, creating a laidback rhythm full of details and a cacophony of little sounds. Another strong release from Polmo Polpo. Maybe there's a full-length on the way? [Cristobal Q]



WEASEL WALTER / LONBERG-HOLM / O'ROURKE: Tribute to Masayuki Takayanagi
Grob | 208 | CD

Masayuki Takayanagi, "the Japanese priest of noise", was the first to use the table-top guitar for his sonic explorations. His legacy in this field is undeniable: Otomo Yoshihide, Keiji Haino, and surely the trio responsible for this CD have all been inspired by his work. Drummer and guitarist Weasel Walter (of the Flying Lutttenbachers) takes the helm for this project, and is joined by the prolific, ever-present Jim O'Rourke on guitars and Fred Longberg-Holm on cello. The disc presents music from two recording sessions, from 1996 and 2000 respectively.

Ok, now there's not really much to say about the music on this disc, except that this is pure noise; brutal, dense, spontaneous, unforgiving and unrelenting noise. I'll have to admit that this is an aesthetic that usually doesn't find me asking for more, and I should further admit that it has been a true challenge to be able to wrap my head around this release. This is music first and foremost for the performers, I think. The audience is an afterthought. But perhaps this is wrong, and the very fact of a listening audience helps to legitimise this music. Weasel Walter provides some lucid and lighthearted commentary in the liner notes. He explains the appeal of this music:

Since I became fully embroiled in esoteric music forms as a teenager it looks like I have unwittingly prioritized intensity, speed, kineticism, velocity and extreme emotional outpouring as primary attributes I desire in art. The concept of creating works with seemingly superhuman energy levels and endurance (creatively and physically) is appealing to me as an attempt to conjure a state of transcendence.

Transcendence through speed, energy, multiplicity, and endurance. Or so it is for the performers. But what of the listener? I'll admit that this music has an intellectual appeal (and for this reason I enjoy talking about it and writing about it), but practically speaking, I can't imagine listening to this music very often at all. Do I fear transcendence? Hardly, but I do tend to shy away from bursts of noise and energy with what seem to have little or no structure. If transcendence is at all possible through music, I'd more likely believe that it would rather take place through highly complex and artificial structures.

I should add that there is a footnote to this release. The fifth and final track is not a noisefest at all, but is a quiet, subdued and digital ambient piece, guided by a deep atmosphere and sprinkled with delicate static and binary imperfections. This last piece (by Weasel Walter, "visigoth of binary deicide") totally surprised me, and as I waited for that final outburst of noise that never came, I thought about this CD as a whole, and of my experience listening to it. This music really pushed my tolerance; at about the fourth track I would often lose it, feeling extremely anxious and claustrophobic, wanting desperately to put an end to the experience. It occurs to me that the fifth track is the perfect antidote for these feelings, and plants me once again on firm ground. Weasel Walter has done a wonderful job packaging this release. Through his liner notes and a surprising conclusion, he has turned something that is extremely esoteric, inaccessible and extreme into something that is an articulate challenge for both the intellect and the senses. [Richard di Santo]



VARIOUS: bip-hop generation v.1
bip-hop | bleep 01 | CD

A very fine compilation here from a new label out of France calling itself bip-hop. It has gathered for itself an impressive roster of contributors to the first of its new quarterly series of compilations. This one was released in November of 2000, and by now a second volume should soon be available.

There are six artists presented here, each contributing around ten minutes of music apiece. From the USA we have Marumari, who starts things off in a very pleasing manner; stylish beats and catchy hooks are laid upon his two tracks in fashionable form. Similar to Boards Of Canada/Autechre/Frog Pocket (oh my, what have I just done?) in their structure, these two tracks get the disc off to a splendid start. Next on board we have Germany's Schneider TM, who sounds a lot like Oval on his single track here. The sound is very full, with a substantial layering of noise over top of a rhythmic backbone. He displays a fine sense of sound stretching, compressing and manipulating over the course of his nine minutes on this disc. From Italy we then have Massimo, who impressed us with his Minimo release on Staalplaat late last year. Here he offers up two more tracks of start-and-stop glitchiness, all timed to a wonky metronome. Goem is next with a nine-minute track called "comp negen", which, with its patient analogue tweaking, is the most subtle and dramatic piece on the compilation. France's Ultra Milkmaids, previously unknown to me, quietly go by with a mystic meditation. Last on the disc is the United Kingdom's Phonem, who provides us here with two upbeat and complex numbers. They're filled with derivatives of drum 'n' bass, though it's hard to link that music to what's going on here. Plenty of rapid-fire drums and such, and much of it is indeed in-your-face, but still with a step back taken for experimentation.

I appreciate the fine liner notes included in the compilation, which set out to give an informed background of each of the artists involved, along with a mission statement from the label itself. Too often in this genre things are stripped bare - one often yearns to know more information than is given - so it's nice to know the geographical and recording background of the contributors here. A duly impressive first release from bip-hop, and I do look forward to see how the series progresses in the future. [Vils M DiSanto]



VARIOUS: El Formato is the Challenge
Alku | 13 | CDR

El Formato is the Challenge is the latest various artist compilation from the Barcelona based label/guinea pig Alku. 13 tracks from 13 artists, with a total run time of just over 13 minutes (did I mention the catalogue number is 13?), and includes contributions from the likes of Chicks on Speed, Alejandra & Aeron, Kit Clayton, arg, Felix Kubin and v/vm. The concept behind the release is to "defy Murphy's Law and its close relationship with computer science". Listening, it doesn't do much good to try to follow the individual contributions here, since the tracks range in length from 4 seconds to 4:14, and most of them mix into one another to make any kind of separation irrelevant. Thirteen entertaining minutes of shifting and surprising static sounds, digital noise, clicks, crackles and pops. There are some interesting incidental notes here as well, and behind every contribution there seems to be an amusing story to tell. For instance, the track by Alejandra & Aeron from Lucky Kitchen was originally a quicktime video and was never meant to be an audio only piece (since this isn't an enhanced CDR, we're left to guess what it might have been like). The track by v/vm was made by scanning the cover image and feature article on Scanner from the August 1999 issue of The Wire, and then converting these images to sound files. As the liner notes humorously suggest: "the following question has been raised: is the resultant sound as pretentious as the article itself?" In all, a charming little disc full of digital antics and surprising turns. [Richard di Santo]



Triton | 3854860692 | CD

This CD documents events that took place in 1999 at the LANding-Electonic Culture Project, an exhibition accompanying events at the Tyrolese Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum. A group of Austrian artists gathered together and transformed the museum into a "technoid synod of disciples" advocating the use of computers and sampling in music and the arts. The CD contains audio contributions by Voice Crack, Fon, Thomas Feuerstein, Frans Graf, Markus Manner, Alois Huber, Bidner/Martinek/Schön, Mayer/Wazac and Franz Pomassl. The booklet contains an essay (in German) by Thomas Feuerstein on "Techno culture between aviatarics, avatars and atavism", as well as visual contributions from some of the artists involved.

Abstract electronica, sine waves, vocal cut-ups, clicks, tones and rough textures open up to more accessible rhythms and sounds. The tracks range from more harsh soundscapes (via tracks by Feuerstein) to more gentle rhythms (as in Markus Hammer's "Assembler"), and to cosmic blips and bleeps (Huber's "CSI"). Mayer/Wazac get things moving with a dark electro rhythm, complimented by the breaks and beats from the two contributions by Martinek/Schön. Voice Crack do what they do best and create a wonderful piece of abstract digital tones and textures using their cracked everyday electronics. This piece by Voice Crack, along with two dynamic contributions from Fon and a long digital drone from Groiss titled "Something", a remix of a piece by Frans Graf, are among the most notable tracks here. There's an underlying darkness, an aura of mystery, of post-industrial (and even post-techno) alienation in all of these contributions. I have to admit that some of these tracks leave me feeling cold, and I can be neither passionate nor completely dismissive of them. In all, though, a fine collection of the darker side of experimental electronic music coming out of Austria, but not much more. [Richard di Santo]



SOLIMAN GAMIL: The Egyptian Music
Touch | TO:7 | LP

Two records by the Egyptian composer and musicologist Soliman Gamil were released by Touch in the 80s. A few years ago, when copies of these records sold out, Touch decided to collect the best tracks from these two releases, add on some bonus tracks as a lure to those who had already purchased the previous two LPs, and release them on one CD titled A Map of Egypt Before the Sands.

Released in 1987, The Egyptian Music (why there's a definite article in this title, I'll never know) contains 12 pieces of traditional and classical Egyptian music, steeped as they are in a rich cultural history spanning the centuries. Mostly these are pieces for small ensembles, exploring the use of traditional Egyptian instruments (kanoun, sinsimia, rababa) with Sufi melodies and citing various Egyptian folk traditions. There is also a handful of orchestrated pieces which for me seem to blend both eastern and western traditions. Although these are mostly instrumentals, there is one vocal track on the record ("Pretence and Destiny"), which in its weary chorus of men and women is suggestive of both prophesy and ritual. It's easy to see that Gamil had composed for the cinema; many of these pieces move along with a cinematic pace, and listening to these pieces I can easily imagine the accompanying images of a vast desert, the flow of the Nile, or a cluster of weary travellers making their marks across the sand. Many of the pieces are like "scenes", or vignettes that end suddenly, as if to fit into a particular cinematic time frame.

One of my favourites here is "Sufi Dialogue", a dialogue for lute and kanoun with an incredible performance on tabla, pulling me in with its deep and resonating bass. Also "Rhythmic Dialogue", for the allure of its unrelenting rhythm on tabla and doff, and "The New Nubia", an improvisation for sallamiya, kanoun and trumpet. Gamil may be a string player at heart (he is a virtuoso on the kanoun), but I find the most compelling instruments here to be the percussion, since there is a strong percussive element in each of the three pieces I cited above as being the most memorable for me. The sound quality of these recordings is a little muffled, which at first (if I remember correctly, all those years ago) was a little disappointing. But I must admit that later this very quality lent itself to the overall charm of this music. At once distant (in time and in space), but so near, this is incidental music with a universal voice. Gamil does something more than interpret Egyptian musical traditions and structures; he creates something new out of them, something pleasant which appeals to both oriental and occidental sensibilities, music with a strange charm and a gentle, lyrical voice. [Richard di Santo]



Headphone | H002 | CD

A collaborative effort between Geir Jennsen and Bobby Bird, this release is inspired by the architecture and life of the city of Birmingham, England. These recordings were first played in October of 1997 at a special event held inside the rounded building in central Birmingham known as The Rotunda. The CD contains 48 minutes of music as well as extra short films in Quicktime.

The music on the disc is very serene and beautiful, it fills the space around you with pleasant tones and ambience. The recordings were apparently put together in one week's time - Jennsen was invited down to Bird's home of Birmingham for this purpose one week before the performance. The results do not sound at all like they were so hastily assembled. Things do run rather smoothly throughout the course of the disc, as there's nothing that will jar or otherwise unsettle you. The sprightliest number is the closing track, "Midpoint", which is the only one that feels as urban and dense as the city itself must be.

If, as one of the short films exclaims, "architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space", then the music here is also a very simple means of exploring this time and space. The time is stretched, the space is stretched. You can envelope yourself in it, or you can turn it down and place it in the background. The same with architecture - you can equally turn down its importance, but it will always be there affecting you.

With regard to the short films, only one is documentary-style, that being "Postcards From A City". It showcases a handful of citizens and their favourite buildings in Birmingham; for instance the Odeon cinema or the central library. These are not necessarily buildings with any degree of architectural prowess, just places where people have memories and experiences, directly or indirectly related to the structure of the building. The other films are more experimental clips set to excerpts of music on the disc. Panoramic vistas, slowly undulating water scenes and flashcut editing sequences all contribute to a cohesive and tactile release. The interface is clean and simple, but the films are quite small and sound quality is less than first rate in these Quicktime segments. I wish there was a way the CD audio could have been extracted in place of the heavily compressed version we're presented with. Oh well.

What memories will people have of the Rotunda building that night in 1997, when this music was first exhibited? It must have been quite the vivid evening, as it was the first time the building had been opened to the public. The 250 invited people must have walked away with an undeniable sensory experience that perhaps changed their view of the very city in which they live. Those of us who could not be there on that night now at least have a taste of that experience in the form of this release. [Vils M DiSanto]





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