> Archive > Music Review 21

18 February 2001

William Basinski: Watermusic
Aaron Bennett: Live at Luggage
Gunshop: \nø
CM von Hausswolff: Operations of Spirit Communication
Geneviève Letarte: Chansons d'un jour
Pan Sonic: Aaltopiiri
Steve Roach / Jorge Reyes: Vine - Bark & Spore
VARIOUS: Docking Sequence: BSI Campaign Vol. 1
Steve Roach / Vidna Obmana: Live Archive
Asmus Tietchens / Vidna Obmana: Syrenia 2


MMLXII (2062) | CDR

A certain flavour of composition puts emphasis more on what could be considered "hang-time" than "narrative". Some pieces don't necessarily have to "go" anywhere in particular, their existence is simple enough in that it presents a mood, a moment, a place and encapsulates it. Think of still-images for the ears as opposed to moving-pictures for the eyes. The latest offering from William Basinski (previously: "Shortwavemusic" circa 1998 on the Noton label) is one such work.

As an audio exploration into this hovering suspension-fluid-photography, Basinski presents Watermusic. Composed last year, the piece utilises what seems to be a form of generative music technique similar to that employed by Brian Eno on his "Systems Series" works, wherein the compositional factor is comprised of the simple interaction between a limited number of carefully calculated cycling motifs, designed to create a form of self-perpetuating music. Basinki's piece, however, allows for much more randomness and unexpected event happenings than may be envisioned by this coarse description. His dense textures and softly pulsing tones continually drift around one another in gradually shifting plains of sound, creating new and constantly evolving variations on the piece's the theme, yet never deviating from what defines its essential sentiment.

Watermusic is comprised of one sixty minute segment taken from an extended experiment in this type of complex algorithmic layering. The shifting tones and intermingling harmonics found here represent only a small glimpse of what was undoubtedly a much larger work. The layers reputedly ran for weeks on end, carefully monitored by Basinksi, his finger poised on a "record-button", waiting patiently for opportune moments when the the interplay between elements would truly begin to glow.

Again, very much the soundtrack for a place as opposed to a film, the beautiful scene is set by gently swelling low end bass tones. Lovely soft pulses caress one another, intermingling to create something both flowing and floating at the same time. A fluttering arpeggio off in the distance dances like a butterfly through the warm haze. As time proceeds the various layers composing the "arrangement" fade in and out of focus, ultimately revealing a complexity to the work only apparent upon complete immersion in the sound - the shifting events are gradual and understated enough so as not to break the uncompromising take on tranquility, yet organic enough to allow for things to evolve nicely throughout the work's hour long duration. Focused listening with eyes closed can reveal a vast motionless vista stretching farther towards the horizon than one might perceive from mere passive background listening (however Watermusic works equally as well in this mode also, filling any room with a comforting glow). It's evocative, yes, peaceful certainly, and easily avoids comparison with the usual generic ambient by a milestone.

The lullaby application is an obvious choice - headphones in bed recommended. Sweet dreams. [Kevin Doherty]



AARON BENNETT: Live at Luggage
ADBSound Records | CD

Live at Luggage presents a set of improvisations by saxophonist Aaron Bennett. With the exception of track 3, which is a duet with vocalist Kattt Sammon [sic] and track 6, an interactive performance with the audience, these are all improvisations for solo soprano sax. Bennett demonstrates his mastery of his instrument with great ease; he's a versatile player with an undeniable sense for jazz improvisation. His sax can be sweet just as it can be menacing; there are many moods and textures here, from the melodic playfulness of track 1 to the more experimental structures of tracks 2, 4 and 5. The duet with the vocalist Kattt is, above all else, playful; their dialogue can be both conflictive and harmonious; although they seem to complete each other's sentences, my impression is that one doesn't always complete a sentence with its intended finale. Harmonious, yes, but there's a lot of playful bickering going on here too. The final track proves to be an interesting experiment. The audience members were given toy instruments (shakers, kazoos, etc.) and (I can only assume) they were asked to interact with Bennett's performance in whatever way they saw fit. The result is an unusually quirky and spirited piece, which must have been a lot of fun for the audience. Overall a very fine disc, full of creativity and skill, and demonstrating Bennett's flair for improvisation and having some fun with his instrument. [Richard di Santo]



C.I.P. | CD03 | CD

Gunshop is the collaborative project of Joe Mason and Jason Soliday, two Chicago-based sound artists creating improvised sound works for rewired and broken electronics, toys, effect processors and household appliances. Their methods are probably comparable with those of Voice Crack (Norbert Möslang and Andy Guhl), who use "cracked everyday electronics" in their compositions to great effect. Although this is their debut release, Gunshop have been performing together since 1997. Released last September, '\nø compiles seven tracks of shifting and intense sounds, completely improvised and teeming with activity and spontaneity. Subtle tones, distant radio voices and delicate whistles blend with more harsh and abrasive bursts of noise in these tracks that range from quiet and minimal to more explosive sound collages. And yet overall it's their attention to detail and the subtlety of their sound material which I find most compelling, the quieter moments on this disc held my attention much more than the more abrasive sections. Nicely done, and comes packaged in a unique static-free sleeve. An excellent addition to C.I.P.'s growing catalogue of challenging and innovative music. [Richard di Santo]



CM VON HAUSSWOLFF: Operations of Spirit Communication
Die Stadt | DS31 | LP

Making his home in Stockholm, Sweden, Carl Michael von Hausswolff has been experimenting with sound for nearly 20 years (his releases can be found on Ash International, Sub Rosa, Fire Inc., etc.). This much anticipated vinyl-only release is based on the research of Friedrich Jürgenson, a Swedish-based researcher of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), whereby inexplicable voices mysteriously appear on tapes, with messages in either known languages or in polyglot (a combination of known languages). For more information on EVP and Jürgenson's research, consult the two records released by Ash International in co-production with PARC entitled The Ghost Orchid and From the Studio of Audioscopic Research, released in 1999 and 2000 respectively. I'm not sure of the precise connection between Jürgenson's research and this new work by Hausswolff (there are only a few distant voices to be heard on this release), but I suspect the relation is more conceptual than it is obvious. This work was composed in Stockholm in the spring of 2000, and is comprised of recordings made over the course of two years at various venues and events.

On this release, Hausswolff constructs some of the most hypnotic and captivating music through what seems to be a layering of multiple tones at various frequencies. The album is comprised of two long tracks, with a total runtime of about 47 minutes (and unlike a fish out of the water, this music survives indefinitely in the mind after its actual playback). Long and austere drones blend with distant sounds (voices, machines, motors, birds, a distant train...), and occasionally we'll witness a shuffle, a sudden movement sometimes just barely within earshot. The drone is the current for this music, and it carries you through many different "scenes". The volume falls slightly, then intensifies, new sounds are introduced, a distant motor, an outdoor garden. All of these elements are complimented by the inescapable crackle of the vinyl, and slowly you find yourself completely immersed in this sound world, sensitive to every new sound, to even the slightest change in volume. This is music for close listening, and returning to it one finds more details and complexity in its sonic structures.

Limited to just 700 numbered copies, and packaged in a smartly designed gatefold cover (with photographs by Hausswolff himself). An essential release that's not to be missed. [Richard di Santo]



GENEVIÈVE LETARTE: Chansons d'un jour
Ambiances Magnétiques | AM 084 | CD

Chansons d'un jour is Geneviève Letarte's second album for Ambiances Magnétiques (the first, Vous seriez un ange, was released in 1990). Letarte (voice, keyboard, accordion) is a singer, performer, poet and novelist (her latest novel, Les Vertiges Molino, was published in 1996). She is joined on this release by Claude Fradette, an accomplished instrumentalist and arranger (electric and acoustic guitars, bass and a fabulous dobro) who also shared most of the composition and mixing duties with Letarte. Joining them is Normand Guilbeault on doublebass, Serge Boisvert on trumpet, and the versatile Pierre Tanguay takes on drums and percussion.

The most surprising thing about this release is it's ease of style. This album is really bordering on the conventional, which wouldn't be too much of a statement were it not for the fact that Ambiances Magnétiques is renowned for presenting some of the most esoteric and challenging musique actuelle around. Letarte's musical vision is filled with gentle and compelling melodies and rhythms calling on the traditions of the tango, waltz, jazz, folk and the blues. Her voice is soft and sensual, her lyrics are uncompromising and poignant. Take, for example, the slow and sad blues rhythm of "Je ne tremble plus"; its lyrics are an intimate portrait of pain experienced and surpassed:

Je ne tremble plus / J'ai assez couru / Au coeur des morseures / Assez nettoyé le sang / Versé par les scorpions / Assez attendu le mots / Qui ne venaient pas

I do not tremble anymore / Too often have I run / To the heart of wounds / Too often have I washed the blood / Spilled by the scorpions / Long enough have I waited / For words that would never come

From "J'ai marché", with its sweet melody, the tango rhythm of "Moi je cherche", or the closing lullaby of "Flou comme la nuit" with a wonderful and jovial performance on the dobro, Letarte has created a charming and intriguing album, full of poetry and inspiration; a nice accompaniment to a quiet afternoon of réflexion et nostalgie. [Richard di Santo]



PAN SONIC: Aaltopiiri
Blast First | 9148-2 | CD

With this, Pan sonic's fourth full-length release, I think they've finally hit the nail on the head. It's a remarkable disc, full of many gentle nuances and handled with absolute control. Seventeen cohesive tracks that take you from subtle gradations in minimal sound to all-out rhythmic exercises that play out in militaristic fashion.

Where their last release, A, had an instability about it (I felt it meandered aimlessly as its tracks progressed), Aaltopiiri seems to have been grown from a different seed entirely. Perhaps with Mika and Ilpo working on so many solo projects over the last while, it's given them a chance to develop their styles individually, and now that experience culminates on this fine release.

Where the previous emphasis for Pan sonic has been in the extremes - harsh tones and assaultive beats - the emphasis here seems to be on tonality and sensitivity. They've pulled out their reverb units and put them to very good use on the tracks "Ããnipãã" and "Ulottuvuus". The results are intensive and it's difficult to pull your ears away from them. Another standout track includes "Reuna-Alue", which features a common thread of a sound found on the disc; the sound has the feel of a jet airplane flying off in the distance. To me, it sounds the way a Jon Wozencroft (Touch Records) design looks.

There are also a good number of rhythmic pieces to get your heart racing: "Vaihtovirta", "Kone", and the closing number "Kierto" all keep time with previous Pan sonic pieces done in this form. "Kierto", especially, closes the disc out in such fine form, and its dramatic ending definitely cements this release as an undeniable classic.

While not as extreme as previous releases, Aaltopiiri still ensures that Pan sonic will keep its place in the history books. Very highly recommended. [Vils M DiSanto]



STEVE ROACH / JORGE REYES: Vine - Bark & Spore
Timeroom Editions | 5 | CD

Steve Roach has been captivating fans of ambient music for years; his passion for creating evocative and complex sonic structures has fostered his commendable and pioneering output, often transcending the clichés of "ethnoambient" and moving into more adventurous territory (and for this, he shares a similar stage with Vidna Obmana, his longtime friend and collaborator). This new release, on his own Timeroom Editions label, is a collaboration with Jorge Reyes, best known for his ethnomusicological approach to music making with a special emphasis on indigenous and shamanic traditions from his native Mexico. It was good to hear from Reyes again, after he has spent some years in relative obscurity (once a very active composer/musician, he hasn't released a project in years). If you are at all familiar with the work of these artists, you will recognise that all of the elements are here on this new album. From Reyes: traditional percussions, body rhythms, vocals and flutes. From Roach: haunting echoes, beautiful synths and ambience. These elements flirt with each other and blend seamlessly in these seven long pieces (over 70 minutes worth in total). Rhythms rise and fall; they carry you on their backs and take you to strange and wonderful places full of mystery and tradition. Although there are a few stronger rhythms here ("The Holy Dirt" and the incredible "Healing Temple"), mostly the mood is more suggestive than it is direct. Rhythms are implied, movements alluded to, the sounds of the rainstick, the striking of drums, distant chants, drifting harmonics, echoes of voices and songs from the past all lend a fabulous mystique to this music. The disc ends with a final flutter of percussion from Reyes disappearing into the silence. This album carries a fitting epigraph (with the same alliterative charm as "the medium is the message"), always known and yet it seems long forgotten: "the music is the medicine". [Richard di Santo]



VARIOUS ARTISTS: Docking Sequence: BSI Campaign Vol. 1
BSI Records | 015-2 | CD

Here's a dub-friendly compilation disc from Portland's BSI Records, a relative newcomer to the scene. Included are tracks from the label's roster of artists: Sound Secretion, DJ Spooky, Muslimgauze, The Rootsman and Raz Masinai. Also included are several like-minded artists: Twilight Circus, Jah Warrior and Black Faction.

The disc teeters between some very well done music and some so-so material. Highlights include the Muslimgauze track (exclusive to this comp), which runs a measly two minutes in length, but impresses with its super-tweaked strings, tinkling bells and wailing peacocks. Phase Selector Sound have a great sound to their track here, lazy-day dub in its finest form. Acoustic guitars add a nice touch to the proceedings. Sound Secretion's contribution wouldn't sound out of place on the Asphodel label. Heavy on the scratches and hip-hop beats, it's one of the few non-dub tracks on the CD. Raz Mesinai (a.k.a. Badawi)'s track is another great one, heavy on the strings and heavy on the atmosphere, it's taken from his new disc The Unspeakable.

Some of the weaker tracks include the one by He-Man Meets The Rootsman, with its rat-tat-tat beat and silly vocal stylings. I actually couldn't stand this one on first listen, but I'll admit it's slowly grown on me. The same could not be said about the only other vocal track on the disc: Onry & Oldominion's track does not belong here. DJ Spooky's closing number starts off in very fine form, it's like dubbed out dub music. Then it switches a few gears and never regains its initial momentum.

So on the whole, BSI looks like a nicely varied label, and doesn't pigeon-hole itself into only promoting dub music here. That's the common thread, but not the whole yarn. Rather enjoyable overall. [Vils M DiSanto]



Groove Unlimited | GR 038 | CD

Syrenia / Musica Maxima Magnetica | Syrenia 2 | CD

Here we witness two very different collaborations with experimental ambient composer Vidna Obmana. These two records not only showcase the different sides of Obmana's work (from the traditional to the experimental), but they also demonstrate two very different modes of collaboration, since one is the result of spontaneous live performances and the other is a collection of studio reworkings of basic sound material.

Released in early 2000 on Groove Unlimited, Live Archive presents a series of live recordings made with Steve Roach throughout 1997. These two frequent collaborators rely on their "mutual passion and instinct for travelling in the soundcurrent", and describe the process of live collaboration as "communicating with each other blindfolded, focusing entirely on the sound appearing in the moment and being exchanged back and forth". For me, one of the most telltale pieces here is "Two Reptiles", recorded during the open-air Verucchio festival in Italy. The percussions pound like a great thunder; deep echoes, harmonics and a shifting didgeridoo move through this piece with great momentum. Like a couple of conspiring snakes in a deep chasm (the "two reptiles" of the title?), Roach and Obmana fold their sounds around each other as their elements twist, turn and writhe in perfect balance. These eight tracks are generous in length and succeed in creating captivating and organic soundworlds. This is first class ethnoambient music with a slightly experimental edge and a unique sound dynamic.

The second disc, recorded in 1991-92 and released on the Musica Maxima Magnetica sublabel Syrenia, is a collaboration that may at first seem less likely. Although they both share an innate passion for experimentation, Vidna Obmana's ambient stylings seem a far cry from the abstract sound manipulations and loop effects of Asmus Tietchens. And yet they use these differences to their advantage, creating a complex soundworld full of details and unique to both of their bodies of work. Tietchens opens up the disc with "hydrophonie 13a", and sets the tone for the entire disc. There is no gentle introduction here; the piece begins immediately with its barrage of dense layerings, heavy ambient loops and a bizarre and shifting undercurrent of gurglings and little sounds. What follows are three pieces entitled "vot" (1, 2 and 3), in which Tietchens gets the final mix on basic sound material recorded by Obmana. These pieces, very much like the first with their dense sounds and heavy, tolling loops, create opaque soundscapes which seem to be fully submerged as in a deep sea. There's a great wealth of sound elements on this album. Listening, my attention will often isolate one stream and then another, and returning to this music kindles a new appreciation for its subtlety and richness. Obmana gets the final mix on only one track here, the final piece "Vanishing Habitat". It is immediately apparent that this is Obmana's work from the way the piece begins; its gradual rise from silence contrasts with the more abrupt openings of the earlier pieces. With its main sound source of clanging bells and resonance ("in that muffled monotone"), the piece brings to mind a stanza from Poe's "The Bells", which, as a description of this piece (and in fact the entire album), does it more justice than I ever could:

Hear the tolling of the bells -
Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.

Two incredible records of diverse, complex soundscapes. Highly recommended. [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.

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