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4 March 2001

Ashera: Colour Glow
Steffen Basho-Junghans: Inside
Nathalie Derome: Les quatre ronds sont allumés
Daniel Gardner / Adam Marshall: Domestic Appliances
Günter Müller / Taku Sugimoto: I am happy if you are happy
Martin Saint-Pierre: Le voyage oublié
Sierra Romeo: distßra
Various: Ambiances Magnétiques Volume 5: Chante!
Wire: It's Beginning To And Back Again
Various: Four Ways Of Saying H3O


ASHERA: Colour Glow
CDAW 2000-9 | CD

Based somewhere in Australia, Ashera is an ambient group comprised of Antonio Wright (instruments), Caroline Wilson (vocals) and Adriana Korkosova (vocals). Their specialty is in producing pleasant, unassuming and gentle ambient music for playback at low volumes. They are keeping in line perfectly with these comments quoted on their website from Ambiance for the Masses: "Speaking in broadest terms, Ambient music is pleasant and melodic, not entirely unlike New Age, but usually much more deliberate and experimental (ie. unmarketable). I reckon that Brian Eno, one of (if not The) pioneer of the style, stated that Ambient music (in its purest form) is not so much designed to be listened to, but rather, to be heard." And so we have Colour Glow, a collection of generic ambient tracks best heard, and not listened to. Turn the volume up and you'll only be made aware of the inescapable banalities in Ashera's synthetic soundscapes and naive melodies (making it difficult to locate that fine line between this and new age music), but with the volume safely kept low, you've got a nice sonic "colour glow" emanating from your speakers. Warm synthetic washes, drifting siren-like vocals, gentle melodies... it's all here, never pushing the envelope or challenging the listener, but presenting some nice background music as an effective substitute for candlelight. My feeling is that this isn't enough; instead of presenting generic ambient music which observes all the established rules but contains little if any originality (it feels like I've heard this record a hundred times before), perhaps Ashera should be looking forward to new possibilities within the ambient genre. These guys seem talented enough; let's hope that with future releases they'll make the bold leap from mere imitation to a more inspired creativity. [Cristobal Q].



Strange Attractors Audio House | SAAG002 | CD

A new disc of compositions by Steffen Basho-Junghans for solo acoustic steel string guitar. Self-taught and inspired by the new folk traditions as exemplified by John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Peter Lang, and a school of others from their Takoma Records homebase and elsewhere, Junghans has been performing and composing on his instrument since the late 70s. The compositions on Inside, in three movements, are long, hypnotic works for solo steel string guitar that play with minimalist, blues, and (new) folk traditions, but which never completely nestle into one genre or style.

One of the most unsettling things about this album, however, is not the music but the promotional zeal surrounding its release. In his liner notes to the disc, Byron Coley unapologetically insults other performers in the industry in a tone that is both elitist and condescending, and uses these insults to prop up the ego of Junghans. Here's a taste:

Many composers and players are hacks, telegraphing their intent with moves so banal that they lack real meaning for anyone with half a mind. Junghans (like Connors and Robinson) communicates oceans of joy and fear and sorrow and transcendence without cheapening his language.

Let's not kid around here, Junghans is no saviour to acoustic guitar music. These notes are a cheap attempt to deify him and surround him with an aura of genius which is totally out of place, and this is all done at the expense of his "fellow artists". These words aren't meant to educate, they are meant to condescend. The record is fine on its own. Let's just leave it at that. [Cristobal Q]



NATHALIE DEROME: Les quatre ronds sont allumés
Ambiances Magnétiques | AM 088 | CD

VARIOUS: Ambiances Magnétiques Volume 5: Chante!
Ambiances Magnétiques | AM 085 | CD

Two releases of contemporary songwriting à la musique actuelle from the notoriously genre-defying Ambiances Magnétiques label.

The first disc, Les quatre ronds sont allumés: Chansons parodisiaques, is my first contact with the Québec-based chanteuse Nathalie Derome. She is joined on this recording by the versatile René Lussier (a seasoned regular on the Ambiances Magnétiques label) on guitar and his now infamous "daxophone", as well as Guillaume Dostaler on Rhodes and synths. The songs are a strange, almost carnivalesque blend of styles, playing on the conventions of pop, jazz and cabaret, among others. Derome's voice bounces around in so many directions, and is able to create just as many moods; in one moment she can be reciting a rapid fire of lyrics and the next she'll be sounding a haunting and more abstract song. The instrumentation is superb, though difficult and unconventional; I really enjoyed listening to Dostaler's spirited keyboards and Lussier's schizophrenic guitar. A meeting place for three bizarre and innovative artists, this album grows on the listener with mysterious charm.

The second disc commemorates 15 years of song on the Ambiances Magnétiques label. Chante! collects 18 previously released tracks by the likes of Diane Labrosse, Nathalie Derome, Michel F. Côté, René Lussier, Papa Boa, Les Granules and a host of others who have demonstrated that the avant-garde and traditional songwriting have ample room in which to mingle. The compilation is an eclectic mix of styles and genres (feel free to put an presumptuous "avant-" in front of any the following terms: rockabilly, popular, jazz, big band, blues... you name it and it's here). Peculiar, funny and spirited, this is a vibrant compilation that will surely be welcome by anyone interested in turning songwriting traditions on their heads.

NB: Unfortunately, the only problem with both of these releases is the lack of translations. Of course, providing a translation might defeat the purpose of most of this music, but at least some context would have helped a listener like me, whose french language skills are lacking the versatility and fluency necessary to understand the compressed idiom of these lyrics. The lyrics obviously pique my curiosity and so I end up spending half my day wrestling with what little french I know, studiously bent over my dictionaries. That being said, much of this music will be lost on those lacking a working knowledge of french, so buyers beware. [Richard di Santo]



Medik Records | 001 | CDEP

The debut release for the Medik Records, a new electronica label based in Vancouver Canada. Daniel Gardner, the label's founding member, is joined by Toronto's Adam Marshall on this 6 track EP. The tracks effectively blend quirky electronic rhythms with conventions in minimal techno, accompanied by some smooth atmospheres and occasional vocal samples. The first four tracks (recorded using a simple multi-track) are nicely constructed and carry some catchy rhythms (see especially the fabulous track 4, or witness the interplay of a gregorian chant sample with a happy and jazzy bass rhythm on track 1). Tracks 5 and 6 are a little more adventurous in terms of the sounds that constitute the rhythmical elements (some excellent sound sculpturing in track 6, for example; a nice bass tone couples with complex synth cut-ups), but these also carry solid yet light techno rhythms ready for the dancefloor but are great even for raising spirits in your hip and happenin' livingroom. Limited to a press run of 500, and highly recommended for a quirky, quaint and toe-tapping techno fix. Definitely indicative of fine things to come from Medik Records. [Cristobal Q]



GÜNTER MÜLLER / TAKU SUGIMOTO: I am happy if you are happy
for4ears records | 1140 | CD

The latest offering from Günter Müller's for4ears label brings us another dynamic collaboration between two established improvisers. Taku Sugimoto's work on guitar is haunting and compelling for its emphasis on the silences between the sounds. He strums, plucks and scrapes his strings with slow deliberation, full of pregnant pauses and beautiful silences. For this collaboration, recorded by François Dietz in the autumn of 1999, Müller accompanies Sugimoto on electronics, MDs and selected drums. He fills in the silences or emphasises them to varying degrees. Flutters of digital noise, static, bass tones, low growlings and abstract percussion work form the basis of his subtle contributions. The moods vary from piece to piece, but over and above all there's a certain thoughtful tranquility and minimalism throughout the entire record. This music captures your attention and your imagination. The listener fills in the silences with his thoughts, and is surprised by every turn and every sound. Highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]



MARTIN SAINT-PIERRE: Le voyage oublié
Tangram | TC 7045 | CD

Innovative percussionist and musical anthropologist Martin Saint-Pierre presents his third album with Tangram Records. With a runtime of just under 30 minutes, Le voyage oublié presents an unforgettable percussive maelstrom in two movements. Assisted in the mixing room by the versatile Bruno Letort, and relying solely on a set of Cuban bongos (some overdubbing must have been necessary), Saint-Pierre is able to conjure the most incredible sounds: "he bangs, slaps, taps, rubs and scratches with fingernails", producing an overwhelming wealth of sounds and textures. Voices and dialogues appear sporadically throughout the pieces, and shifting, dark drones and atmospheres (surely these are synthetic sounds?) loom over the unstoppable stream of thunderous percussion (and I do mean thunderous; the earth seems to tremble with this music played at high volumes). Beyond ethnoambient, beyond world music, beyond the anthropological, this is music with both energy and resonance. The rhythms don't entice you to dance so much as they encourage you to break out of yourself and join this strange initiation rite, this voyage of sound. Stunning work, and highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]



FWD | 2003 | 12"

A very impressive four-track 12" released late last year on Stefan Robbers' own FWD label (Robbers, along with Eindhoven are Sierra Romeo). The great thing about this 12" is that it feels like a full-length release. I think it's mostly to do with the tempo that shifts from start to finish, from each track on Side A to each track on Side B.

Side A has the rhythms: peddled beats, wonky plucked synths and distinct timing variances. Some very neat audio trickery exists on the title track, "distßra". A little like Autechre, but less chaotic and showy. The second track, "expira" is more basic in its structure; its beatbox stylings exhibit a steadfast approach to sound.

Side B gets underway with some structured ambience on "korvak". Then the background begins shifting and moving like a sitting boat not anchored at sea. Variances and harmonics are introduced, and the pace never slows down. The final track, "saranp" is the quietest of the lot - it features trembling tones set against each other in a quiet battle of wits.

The fresh sound from this Netherlands label is most welcome, and not knowing what to expect I was duly impressed. A very nice cut of vinyl was used as well; there's very little in the way of crackles to interfere with the music here. Definitely one label to keep an eye on. [Vils M DiSanto]



WIRE: It's Beginning To And Back Again
Mute | 773516-2 | CD

Released in 1989, this hybrid disc of Wire's live performances in Chicago and Portugal and the studio treatments thereafter, occupies a strange space in Wire's history. To some, a major disappointment, to others an invitation into the world of Wire. "Eardrum Buzz" was a bit of a minor hit, and introduced many new people to their unique sound.

I always rather enjoyed this disc - it had a certain endearing quality that I could never quite put my finger on. The mix of strange atmospherics and catchy hooks put the disc somewhere between Cabaret Voltaire and The The. The vocal style is honest and laid-back. The music is programmed to be mostly unemotional, especially on tracks like "Illuminated" and "In Vivo". In other, quieter tracks, like "Public Place", the music sits and stares at you, bringing forth acoustic guitar strums and backward windy ambience to your ears.

Highlights include the aforementioned "Public Place", "Boiling Boy", and "Over Theirs". In each of these tracks, the oftentimes surreal lyrics ("lock up your hats") instill a sense of discord amidst a pressing, militaristic beat. There are a handful of disappointments as well: the instrumental "Illuminated" could have been recorded by Greater Than One and released on Wax Trax. And having "Eardrum Buzz" repeated as an extended version late in the disc doesn't improve on a certain lack of cohesiveness on this disc.

The disc still sounds good twelve years after the fact - a little stale in spots, but enjoyable nonetheless. Excellent engineering work and crafty lyrics give this release some decent longevity. [Vils M DiSanto]



VARIOUS: Four Ways Of Saying H3O
Hushush | HSH01 | CD

When I picked this up shortly after its release in 1999, I didn't quite know what to make of it. A tribute disc to The Hafler Trio? How bizarre! And on a newfound record label out of Canada? My oh my! Tribute discs abound in popular music, so I was intrigued to see how the participating artists would pay homage to the legendary Hafler Trio. Would these be cover versions? Hard to fathom the idea. Music inspired by? More likely.

Four artists are named here: Aube, Lilith, P.A.L., and Propeller. Each have created a fifteen minute soundspace for the purpose of this compilation. Japan's Aube gets things underway in typical Aube fashion - he has crafted a sound piece using only glass as his source material. The glass has been broken into electronic shards, and it sounds very processed; rhythmic even. This is not glass in its raw state, rather it's been twisted to a nearly unrecognizable form. The Hafler Trio have been known to take recognizable, everyday sounds and treat them until their origins are mere remnants.

Lilith's track, "Tributorium", is a little more chaotic than Aube's. He mimics H3O's hodge-podge approach to sound design, throwing in a little industrial hum here, some high-frequency harmonics there, and splicing them together wherever it suits him. It's too bad the sounds used aren't more extreme - the juxtapositions sound more like gently rolling hills versus H3O's preferred sharp cliffs.

P.A.L., known to me primarily as a raw industrial sound and beat generator, has elected to work with two sources of sound for his fifteen minutes here: H3O's Ignotum Per Ignotius and A Bag Of Cats releases. This is the track that sounds most like a Hafler Trio piece, primarily due to its spirit, which is to mix and match and splice and dice 1- and 2-second bursts of sound together. Even the smart title of the track, "When You Thought Your Hard Disk Was Going To Die", is in direct reference to a voice sample from A Bag Of Cats. Very little is done by P.A.L. to alter the source material: it sounds pretty much exactly as it was recorded by H3O.

Propeller's track, "Mouths Like Bailing Twine", begins in a quiet, contemplative mode, and is ideally positioned after P.A.L.'s bit of heavy-handed audio editing. A true gem of a track (but sounding more like :zoviet*france: than H3O) its approach is far more flowing and mesmerising than the rest of the tracks here. A definite stand-out.

And then there's the mystery track. Track #5 is uncredited and not referenced to in the packaging. Rumours have it this is by the Hafler Trio himself. It certainly starts off sounding like it could be. A severe and high-pitched intermittent grating takes center stage for the first four of its fifteen minutes. This is followed by some deep clonking and then a hush falls over the proceedings. A low, deep hum elicits a powerful strength, as if a microphone was held close up to hydro power lines. The acoustics on this track certainly elicit comparisons to H3O, but it's still hard to say for certain who it is that recorded this. Fearing any further embarrassment, I'll stop my guessing at this point and just enjoy it for what it is - a deep pleasure, shrouded in mystery. All in all, a very worthwhile disc, and one that has definitely grown on me since I first heard it almost two years ago. I think after my initial thoughts of "what's behind this crazy concept?" passed, I found that the disc holds its own place in my library, and doesn't necessarily require shelving beside H3O for maximum enjoyment. [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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