18 March 2001
ALEJANDRA AND AERON: Haunted Folklore One: Ruinas Encantadas
I'm thinking of Lisbon Story, a film by Wim Wenders. Its protagonist, Philip Winter (played to perfection by Rüdiger Vogler), is a sound man; he records and manufactures sounds for films. We see him explore the city of Lisbon with his eyes closed. Instead of looking at the city with his eyes, he "sees" it through its sounds; microphone in hand and wearing headphones, he explores the sounds around him, chases some, and lets others come to him. The film quotes the mercurial poet Fernando Pessoa: "In broad daylight, even the sounds shine". For me, these sequences capture the pure joy of listening, the essence of capturing sounds with a recorder (as a camera captures images) and the enchantment of everyday sounds.
It is this very joy, this enchantment, this zeal to capture sound, song, and the everyday that Alejandra and Aeron must have been experiencing in their travels through the province of La Rioja in northern Spain over the course of three years. Listening to these two new records, which are each in their own way documents of or responses to these travels, these folk songs, these quotidian sounds, I cannot help but feel their joy second hand.
The first disc, Folklore Volume One: La Rioja, is an "audio portrait of living folk music in its natural environment", recorded in numerous locations (villages, bars, streets, mountains...) in and around the province of La Rioja. Alejandra and Aeron shy away from using the term "complete" to describe this portrait; they prefer to regard these recordings as snapshots of music which is very much alive. The disc is divided into three parts. The first features songs and sounds from quotidian life. A woman singing while cooking, sheep bells, or a song sung at a friend's wedding -- all form part of these snapshots from the Riojans' daily life. The second part features music from the summer festivals and traditions, and the third and final part collects music from winter life. Church bells, choirs of song, and a host of folk musicians and singers lend their talents to these recordings. In the end, what we have is a series of snapshots of folk traditions that are very much in decline; these songs are dying out, resisted and ignored by the younger generations in La Rioja, which makes this project even more poignant as a celebration of these traditions and songs.
The second disc, Haunted Folklore One: Ruinas Encantadas, is a work made while Alejandra and Aeron were still immersed in the sounds of La Rioja. Unlike Folklore Volume One, this is not a "document" or an "aural portrait" of folk traditions, but this is rather a creative response to these traditions. Processed samples from their source recordings (manipulated, looped, etc.) blend with tones both delicate and harsh, ambience, drones, digital edits and abstract electronic textures, creating a surprising and original work, unique in that it is a work inspired by the memories and traces of traditional Riojan life as both Alejandra and Aeron experienced it in their travels. In this case, the adjective "haunted" for this project is a perfect fit.
Both records come highly recommended, and even though they are two separate recordings they compliment each other to perfection. La Rioja is packaged with an informative text about the aims of the project, with commentary about the tracks and the recording process. Both discs are packaged in beautiful canvas sleeves. [Richard di Santo]
Based in the San Francisco Bay area, Tom Nunn has been designing and building original musical instruments since 1975. His latest album, Burning Palms, features a series of 10 free improvisations for the Octatonic T-Rodimba. This original instrument was constructed from a large plywood board with 33 threaded steel rods bent at 90 degree angles attached to the board in groups of 11, forming v-shapes. The pitches of the steel rods alternate away from the centre of the "v", similar to the construction of a mbira (thumb piano). There are also three "zing trees" attached to the instrument, which make a gong-like sound when struck, and all manner of finishing nails, bolts, and discs, each of which are fitted to produce particular sounds at varying pitches. Truly this complex instrument is a marvel of ingenuity, even if it does seem to be of completely esoteric design.
In his performance, Nunn uses a variety of playing techniques. From using stick mallets, combs, needles, picks bows and his fingers, Nunn has created an instrument manufactured for improvisation. Virtually every performance, every variance in technique, will open up new possibilities. The results are an eclectic mix of textures, moods and melodies. The disc opens up with a rather pleasant melody, reminiscent of more traditional music from the T-Rodimba's ancestor the mbira. What follows is much more abstract and "free": drones, scrapes, pluckings and strikes on the T-Rodimba's steel rods create textures and melodies that range from ambient to melodic, or from peaceful and intriguing to merely irritating. In all, an interesting album which functions more as a curiosity than anything; the improvisations are interesting but, if not for the fact that I was trying to imagine a live performance on this one-of-a-kind instrument, they otherwise probably wouldn't have commanded much of a lasting impression. [Richard di Santo]
CENTROZOON: The Divine Beast
Touchstyle guitarist Markus Reuter has worked with Ian Boddy (of Dub Atomica), the Europa String Choir and String Unit. He has also just released another solo record, Digitalis (on the Hypnos label), which seems to be making waves (metaphorically speaking, of course) within the ambient community. I know precious little about the touch guitar, though I do know that performing on it recalls not so much traditional methods but resembles more the technique of playing a Chapman stick (but by no means does the touch guitar sound like a Chapman stick). The Longest In Terms Of Being, his latest full-length, was composed and recorded entirely in real-time. This is "active" ambient music, by which I mean ambient that demands your attention and participation. Like the work of Steve Roach (with which Reuter's music has definite affinities with its attention to sonic echoes and reverb), Reuter creates rich and compelling sound environments which refuse to retreat into the background. You want this music to be in the fore, in front of you and immediately around you. From the more audible drift of the opening track "The Abolition of Death", to the liturgical "Confirmation" with its organ-like intonation, or "A Clue To Reality", where the sound nearly disappears from view (making you scramble for your volume control, not wanting to loose sight of it), this album is a wonderful introduction to Reuter's unique sound, and comes highly recommended.
The Divine Beast is a promotional teaser circulating in anticipation of the forthcoming album The Cult of: Bibbiboo. Two tracks are included here with a total runtime of just over 20 minutes. Centrozoon is the collaborative project of Markus Reuter (on touch guitar) and Bernhard Wöstheinrich (synths and percussion), who are joined by an auxiliary staff comprised of Derek DiFilippo (mixing, treatments), Paul Verma (support) and Philipp Quaet-Fasken (digital editing). Shifting ambience mixes with dark rhythms and hard beats mixes with drifting and varied guitar textures. The first track climaxes in a chaotic blending of these three elements of ambience, beats and echoing guitar, and the second track moves into more cosmic electronica with a rich soundscape full of details, tones and rhythms. If this preview is any indication, the full-length should prove to be an interesting album with a dark edge and a unique sound.
It appears that both of these releases are self-produced and self-distributed, although I believe that the new Centrozoon full-length is currently in search of a label. Visit their website for details. [Richard di Santo]
Mikrosport is the latest offering from Reto Mäder, aka RM74 (not to be confused with Marcus Mäder, founder of the Domizil label). The digital soundscape opens up to incredible dimensions on this release, by which I mean that the sound dynamic seems to exist in three dimensions, sounds are tangible and place themselves in different parts of the room during playback. These tracks are brimming with creativity, and it is clear that Mäder has mastered the use of micro-sounds and abstract tones, having realised that not only do you have to learn how to manipulate sounds, but you need to manipulate your listener through these sounds. Moods vary, rhythms come and go, clicks, crackles and clusters of sound are subject to an erratic yet meticulously choreographed ebb and flow. Consider the track "fallüps" in which a simple keyboard melody is pitted against sharp electronic tones which force their way into the sonic foreground. Or the play of micro-elements in "pönderat", where digital gurgles and cutups meet with delicate tones and static. Or the rapid fire of strange and sharp digital textures in the latter half of the track "killapsen". Mikrosport, by its very title suggesting a sort of exercise in playfulness and ingenuity, rewards its listener every time; if you're paying attention, you'll surely discover new details and continue to be surprised by its complexity. Highly recommended for the adventurous and careful listener. [Richard di Santo]
Thilges 3 return with another short release of rhythmic and minimal electronica. Precisely 20 minutes in length, Johanna Zyklus is the soundtrack for an installation by German artists Marc Weiss and Martin de Mattia (M&M) for the Marstall in Munich. The installation incorporated six projection screens displaying six distinct visual narratives, while all six screens were surrounded by this score by Thilges 3. For this recording the trio of Arim Steiner, Gammon and Nik Hummer tried to reflect the sixfold nature of the installation by incorporating six simple soundscapes into a single composition.
Thilges 3 is one of the most talented electronic collectives to surface in recent years; their specialty seems to be in creating short yet impactful releases. Their discs are often (if not always) comprised of one track, usually with a run time of 20-30 minutes, and defined by a resistance to settle into a single rhythmic structure. Their music is full of shifts and complex arrangements of minimal clicks, tones and beats. Johanna Zyklus took me a little by surprise because of its use of smooth synths and ambience in combination with their digital clicks and rhythms; some samples of dialogue also appear sporadically throughout the piece. In other words, there was more of a dark mood in this release than I was expecting. In fact, this project sounds dangerously similar to something we might encounter from Autechre, circa the Garbage EP. Even though Thilges 3 incorporated six soundscapes into this composition, the overall impression is light as the piece goes through a number of effortless transitions. They compel you to move your body to their unusual rhythms, and to wrap your mind around their complex arrangements of clicks and incidental noises. Nicely done. [Richard di Santo]
I Love Fantasy features exclusive tracks from Aerospace
Soundwise, Evol, Felix Kubin/ Klangkrieg/ Reznicek and Sachiko M. The
disc is accompanied by some text by the artists, providing a perplexing,
mysterious, and sometimes funny context for the pieces.
From Barcelona, Evol may or may not have an affiliation with the Barcelona-based electronica label Alku. This track is by far the strangest one of the lot, and is accompanied by a bizarre story of a couple's misadventure in India regarding an animal's mistaken identity. And so we hear squeals, snorkeling, barks and whimpers together with incursions from minimal electronics -- the fun never stops with this one.
Track 3 is a collaboration between Felix Kubin, Klangkrieg and Reznicek. Waves of ambience and noise, electronic loops and strange sounds, creating an eeriness and surrealism reminiscent of Nurse With Wound. A kaleidoscopic piece that sends you reeling with a general feeling of disorientation and vertigo.
Sachiko M, one of the most innovative electronic improvisers around, provides a 10 minute exercise in high frequency harmonics. Piercing high-pitched tones shift around and combine with each other in a way that knocks you off your feet at first, and then strangely you grow accustomed to it, and couldn't imagine yourself listening to anything else.
A great new compilation from the folks at Lucky Kitchen, full of variety and innovation. [Cristobal Q]
I've spent quite a bit of time with this CD lately, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it. Minimal, though not in the same vein (vain?) as Plastikman, it's rather on the same wavelength as Pole or Vladislav Delay. Tomas Jirku injects a freshness and uniqueness through his sound excursions here. He plays with low-end beats and pulses, miniscule bits of sound, and fairly constant backgrounds. This project was initiated through Jirku's uploading of MP3s to the Notype web site, where he would then rework the files, thus keeping them in a constant state of flux. When the experiment was over, he went through all his uploads and reworked them for this release. Highlights are tracks 2, 3, 7 and 11. In track 7, the deep and heavy chunks of bass are recorded so that they purposefully overpower the stark hiss and hum in the background, and the results are simply wonderful. Jirku is definitely an artist to keep an eye on. Variants was released in the fall of 2000. [Vils M DiSanto]
A project of Mark van Hoen's released in 1997, this classic album always manages to stir feelings of wonder and amazement with each new listening. Complimented by guest vocalists Holli Ashton, Mel Skye, Craig Bethell and Neil Halstead, this disc features some great, tightly arranged music and sensual vocal work. There's a pop sensibility at play here, but we're not talking Delerium. The music is mysterious and heavily layered (featuring van Hoen's trademark hiss variations), yet it still manages to sound alive and energetic. The pace is superb, with some ear-catching short numbers in the last half of the disc. "Clouds At My Feet" manages to bring things to a standstill in its 1.5 minutes of clever sound design, and things pick up again quite quickly in "Summer Rain", with a tastefully subdued jungle sequence pulsing away in the background. You can't help but smile at the ingenuity of it all. The disc works on so many wonderful levels, Locust is obviously a labour of love for van Hoen. When Holli Ashton enunciates every possible nuance of the line "That someone is waiting: the girl with the fairytale dream" towards the end of the disc, you know there is a passion at work here: a passion in the music, in the vocals, in the disc as a whole. It shines through in almost every track here, and it is a thing of beauty. [Vils M DiSanto]
Released in early 2000 on the C.I.P. label, all sales for this compilation are donated to the Howard Brown Health Center Cancer Quality of Life Study, which is a unique body in breast cancer research in that it is the first to compare social factors between lesbian and heterosexual women with breast cancer. The disc comes packaged in an oversized sleeve and includes an "inspect yourself" pamphlet.
The compilation features eleven exclusive tracks from eleven contributors, including tracks from irr.app.(ext.) (probably best known for their work with Stilluppsteypa a few years back), Coeurl (one half of the Chicago-based outfit Gunshop), Negative Entropy, John Wiese, Brutum Fulmen, Vertonen (C.I.P. founder Blake Edwards) and others. Bhreus Kormo compiles some impressive works of abstract electronica and noise-composition. Among my favourites here is Coeurl's track "nothing, but a certain palpable numbness", which divides into two parts; the first with micro-clicks and digital clusters and the second with a deep and roaring bass cadence. Irr.app.(ext.) create a complex and nightmarish construct of three-dimensional electronics, found sounds, whistling and metallic noises. A dark drone undergoes a number of transitions, metamorphoses into a helicopter-like sound, and then returns to its dark intonation in Seam Pith's contribution, "tube within a tube (edit)". Other highlights include some smooth frequency harmonics by Seafoam and Vertonen's compelling track "Moire", composed of dense ambient loops, underwater sounds and various sonic manipulations. Some very nice work. The weakest moments on the disc are also its noisiest (for my sensibilities at least); Skin Crime produces an explosion of piercing and loud static sounds and feedback shrieks in their track "Cursed"; Bran (another plight of medic's...) Pos supplies a chaotic noise piece which undergoes a series of transformations until it finally puts itself out of its misery. The moods, styles, techniques, and most of all the sounds represented here are across the board (some more successful than others, as is the case with almost all various artist compilations), but what remains consistent is a passion for experimentation and originality in sound sculpting. Nicely done. [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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