15 April 2001
Jeffrey Allport returns with a second 3 inch CDR on his own Celo Recordings label, run out of Victoria, Canada. Solo Percussion follows his excellent collaboration with Tim Olive released earlier this year. On this very short release (five tracks with a total run time of just over 14 minutes), Allport explores percussive textures and techniques. The recording was made direct to DAT, using no overdubs or effects, and so what we are presented with here is a performance in its "pure" form. No editing also means that any incidental noises, or the hiss of the contact microphones, remain intact, becoming a part of the improvisations as a whole. Allport's sound palette is one of gentle shuffles and subtle sounds, admirably respecting the silences on which all sounds are borne. He employs a number of techniques in order to provoke a wide variety of sounds from his instruments (shuffling, scraping, tapping, resonating). One of the peculiar qualities about this music is that it seems so ephemeral; its gentle sounds blend with the incidental noises of my own listening environment, and since it's such a short record, it seems to pass through space and time with little impact. The sounds work on you so softly that they almost seem not to exist at all, and yet this is what makes this little disc so successful. A short exercise in the transitory, the mutable, the ephemeral nature of improvised music. [Richard di Santo]
René Bertholo, born in 1935, is best known for his work as a pop-art designer in plastics and as the co-founder of the KWY group (founded in the late fifties with Christo and Jon Voss). Until now, his best kept secret was that since 1973 he has been experimenting with electronic music through the creation of original and programmable machines. The "Makina", as Bertholo has dubbed his electronic invention, has seen many forms through its continuous development over the years. Um Argentino no Derserto, the second release for the new Portuguese label SIRR.ecords, documents 20 years of experimentation in 18 tracks recorded at various stages in the Makina's development. This is the first CD to document Bertholo's musical works. Of his music (or "Mosik" as he calls it), Bertholo writes: "I wanted to 'play' a different kind of music from what we hear on records and tapes. I am not trying to imitate sounds made by the instruments we are familiar with today, but, if a similarity does exist, I am not going to turn my back on it."
The Makina is composed of two parts. The first "allows the programming of a fixed electronic memory which we refer to as the program", and the second contains the sounds of various "instruments". It is this second part, which is itself comprised of a number of units containing samples of noises made by birds, frogs, mini-samplers, percussion, voices and other instruments, that provides the output during a performance. These samples are modified, filtered and programmed to output through six loudspeakers positioned around the performance space. The results are striking, and quite unlike anything I've ever heard. Bizarre rhythms, sharp textures and tones, unexpected turns and sound samples often filtered beyond a state of recognition populate these 18 tracks documenting Bertholo's unique "Mosikal" vision. Most of the tracks are short (with the exception of the closing track "Fado do mar"), exploring their own peculiar vignettes or their own rhythmic or a-rhythmic sound patterns, often ending abruptly and in midstream. Let Um Argentino no Derserto reassure you that the spirit of innovation and experimentation in electronic music is indeed alive and well. This CD is an incredible document that comes highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Hailing from Argentina, The Lens Cleaner Trio is Jose Marchi (guitars), Marcelo Aquirre (percussions and voice) and C.D. (electronics). This LP has its genesis in a live improvised session performed in July 1999 at La Confiteria Humana Durante. The recordings were then disassembled and subsequently reassembled in the mixing room by C.D., "constructing new sound shapes from the various puzzle pieces". The result is what C.D. calls "electro-acoustic rock". The first few tracks on side A are more faithful to the original recordings, with little reconstructive work done on them; dark drumming (fluttering and nimble, with a hint of jazz) is mixed with rough textures from guitar, warped electronics and tape manipulations. The arrangements become more distorted and incongruous the deeper into the LP we go. The balance of elements is lost in place of an anomalous ebb and flow. Echoes of Marchi's guitar will take to the fore in a burst of cathartic energy, answered by the manipulations from C.D.'s processor (sonics which can sometimes last for minutes on end) or a flutter from Aquirre's dense drumming. The finale is an unforgettable maelstrom where all the elements fold upon each other in a final bout of chaos and convergence, thanks to C.D.'s unrelenting hand at the mixing table. Due to its status as a reconstituted improvisational work, these pieces are full of details, unexpected turns, winding roads and blind alleys. C.D. + Lens Cleaner is an impressive record that rewards with every listening, full of originality and a passion for the complex. [Richard di Santo]
Listening to Houdini, the fourth album from Peter Miller aka Perpetual Ocean, I was reminded of Tales of Mystery and Imagination, a musical homage to the writings of Edgar Allan Poe by The Alan Parsons Project released in 1977. The connection is not a literal one (Houdini has nothing to do with Poe's work), but both albums share a similar poetic spirit and a zeal for exploring a variety of musical genres and themes within a single package. This is also true of their shared ability to suggest something out of place and time through music and poetry. This is the mood through most of Houdini, where poetry meets magic and songs tell stories with universal application. There's a strong "global" groove in this music; hand percussions, new age pipes and ambient sonics mix with strings, samples and analogue synths. But really, this album sounds like something straight out of the 80s, an imaginary soundtrack to a fantasy film like Legend or Dragonheart. That being said, this album is more new age than anything: its rather heavy-handed use of analogue synths attempts to capture a certain "timelessness", complimented by lyrics rife with metaphor (witness the imagery in "Opal"). Occasional strings and woodwinds (as in "The Mariner's Chart") break things up a little, as does the campy computer voice in "Incantation" (featuring Victoria, a voice familiar to anyone with a Mac), the rhythmically arranged birdcalls in "Barsoom", or the Paul McCartney-like strains of Mark Callaghan on "Limes". When one considers the album as a whole, there's so much diversity it's really difficult to pin down and give it a name. Let it suffice to say that if your childhood was filled with dreams of magic and fantasy, this album should manage to strike a few nostalgic chords. Otherwise, it's a nice fusion of styles, occasionally clever, but mostly it loses its momentum through its characteristically new age sensibility. [Richard di Santo]
Staalplaat presents the latest instalment in its Material series of specially packaged EPs. To call it "microwave" doesn't really do this series justice, since it admirably seems to shift gears with every new instalment. This refusal to tie itself down to a single style or genre of electronic music, complimented by the ambivalent definition of the material series as being one of "microwave, glitch, or whatever it's called music", is refreshing in an industry which seems to be becoming more and more savvy when it comes to packaging and selling its products than it ever was. On Orquesta del Arrurruz, Pimmon presents six tracks full of impact and activity. No minimal grooves here, no house rhythms or sparse clicks and cuts. The disc opens up abruptly and in full force with a digital chorus, a dense layering of tones and static sounds. Not until track 3, "tener a mar callado", a haunting soundscape of cold electronics and distant atmospheres, does the intensity recede. And yet the energy in this music remains charged. Pimmon's sound palette is extremely rich, his sense of detailing and layering of digital elements is phenomenal. The disc runs just over 30 minutes (probably the longest instalment in the series), and yet it achieves so much and carries a great impact on the listener. Nicely done. [Richard di Santo]
Lee Ellen Shoemaker, aka The Tunnel Singer, released her debut record, Inner Runes, in 1995. Since then she has released another three albums exploring the use of audio reverberations in song. All of her records are recorded live and on location at various points where soundwaves behave in complex and peculiar ways. Night Skies, her latest, was recorded in a U-shaped tunnel in Port Townsend, Washington, a mortar magazine built during the first world war. The effects of the location are astounding. Shoemaker's voice, light and angelic, is carried in a complex network of omnidirectional reverberations. These echoes are carried on for great lengths, often becoming indistinct from the original vocal strains themselves. The mood is ethereal, gothic even, recalling medieval chant or a distinctly liturgical setting. Shoemaker's ethereal voice is accompanied by a Tibetan singing bowl and moon harp, the sounds from which are also subject to these same reverberations, though their presence is clearly more localised in the performance. The only thing I found lacking in this recording is in the production work; I would have liked to have seen the omnidirectional soundwaves manifest themselves more dynamically during playback. I felt that the full range of stereophonic sound was underutilized here, as if this massive U-shaped tunnel was no larger than the size of my home speakers.
With its thematic emphasis on transcendence, night skies, inner worlds and astral consciousness, this music is certainly bordering on new age (treading that volatile ground where ambient ends and new age begins), and it might be easy to mistake it for such. In this respect The Tunnel Singer has much in common with the work of Alquimia (vocalisations with strong electronic and ethno-ambient elements) and Jim Cole's haunting overtone singing (another manifestation of vocal ambient music). But once you bend a careful ear to these strange and enchanting reverberations you'll be caught up in their path, not knowing from whence you came or where you're headed. [Richard di Santo]
Commemorating the 10th anniversary of Anomalous Records, this Seattle-based label and distribution centre has released a new collection of exclusive tracks from Mirror, Jonathan Coleclough, Jeph Jerman, Monos, Mike Shannon, Richard Lerman and others. The [un-]common theme for the project is nature; each track explores in some way a natural sound environment or theme. Jeph Jerman opens things up with a bizarre audio close-up of rain and wind beating on a tree. The inimitable Mirror (Christoph Heemann, Andrew Chalk, and occasional member Andreas Martin) impress with a track disguised as a field recording; distant chimes, incidental noises, creaking wood, shuffles and an impending drone that quits just as it emerges into the fore. Damien Bisciglia aka Agog contributes the most grating track on the LP with bizarre shrieks and buzzing sounds (according to the press release these are "water babies", though I imagine this is what you'd get if you mixed a pigpen, a nursery and a fly farm together in the same audio soup). Climax Golden Twins contribute an excellent piece of delicate crackles, muffled voices and what just might be the sounds of rain falling on tree leaves. Highlights on side B include bowing and scraping sounds from Jonathan Coleclough, as well as a babbling brook and bird calls recorded by Darren Tate aka Monos (who is also a member of Ora with Andrew Chalk). Dave Knott closes things off rather nicely with a field recording of an approaching storm, which unfortunately gets cut off by a premature cut in the vinyl.
Whether these artists have taken a closer look at natural elements with the use of contact mics, or whether they've taken a step back to capture natural elements within a greater or more artificial environment, each of these contributions takes a sharp look at the natural world, perhaps inciting us to listen a little more carefully the next time we're walking in the woods or listening to the rainfall upon the trees or the city's rooftops.
The LP comes packaged in a handsome sleeve designed by Anomalous founder Eric Lanzillotta and features a series of beautiful black and white photographs by Rachael Jackson. [Richard di Santo]
A masterful work released in 2000 by Montréal sound artist David Kristian. This release is full of such wonderful subtleties and a frequency range that will give your tweeters and woofers a well-deserved workout. The sounds laid out are minimal: drone-like, but eerily shifting at all times. The term "room tone", by its technical definition, refers to a recording made on a film shoot of pure ambient sound of the location, later to be used by the sound mixer as fill-in to ensure a consistent sound through the length of a given scene. Left untreated, room tone is not much to listen to - it is the strictest form of ambient "music" one could ever hear. Kristian uses this premise as a starting block for the sounds on this disc. A quick check through his supplied (and very detailed) equipment list reveals not a single microphone amongst the plethora of oscillators, synthesizers and processors. The room tones generated here have all been artificially created by Kristian in his sound lab. Small crackles of sound bustle over top of the deep and sinking vibrations. Intensity builds at a slow but calculated pace - a subtle shift here and there can throw the proceedings into a menacing inferno of sound. This is room tone for a David Lynch dreamscape. Subtle rhythms and sequenced segments crop up periodically to ensure a fluid pace to the disc, but they never overpower; they merely attempt to distract you from the pulsing oscillations below them. Kristian seems to have all the right tools at his disposal, including a technical prowess with which he wields a definite cinematic flair for drama, for power and for sound aesthetics. Room Tone is a stupendous example of prime sound design. [Vils M DiSanto]
I will admit that the work of Stefan Betke has grown quite a bit on me since I was first exposed to his work on 3. On 2, Betke has crafted a lively set of numbers, and keeps it short (under 34 minutes). Bubbling crackles, pops and echoed chord strikes are the substance over top of the simple yet hearty bass lines. Dubbed-out reverberations are spirited and plentiful, and the all the pops keep in time with the proceedings like metronomes on acid. Factor in the minimal red packaging, and it all comes full circle: simple elements make for a simply enjoyable whole. The tracks vary little from one to the next from a structural standpoint, but there are enough variations to make for an enjoyable listening experience. Catchy melodies and a haunting simplicity is what keeps me coming back for more. [Vils M DiSanto]
Subtitled "Music For Mondophrenetic", this recording was created for a multimedia exhibition in Brussels in July of 2000, with visuals by Herman Asselberghs, Els Opsomer and Rony Vissers. Described by the contributing parties as "a global catalogue of the banal", the primary focus seems to be the groupings of eerily similar apartment complexes on the outskirts of many major urban centres. Toop has taken this setup and crafted his sounds accordingly with what seems more like synthetic sources rather than field recordings and found sounds. Track titles range from "21st Floor Discotheque At 4am" to "Nocturnal Service Shaft" and "Disposal Chute Inoperative". If I'm right and these aren't found sounds, it seems that the track titles came first and the sounds were created after, for some of the audio uncannily captures the essence of what the titles suggest. Take "Disposal Chute Inoperative" for example, where the sounds echo a hollow, metal-lined chute in some ridiculously high dwelling. For this reason, some of the recordings are a tad obvious. Put on the track "Air-Con Function" for instance, and you can be virtually guaranteed to hear a synthetic interpretation of air being forced through a ventilation shaft. Each of the thirteen tracks are quite static, and for that reason this music probably works better with the visuals in the exhibit than on its own on this disc. Sub Rosa has done a nice job with the packaging here, reproducing a paneled, colourful montage of these banal buildings in the fold-out booklet provided. On its own, the music on this disc probably won't win you over, but a visit to the Mondophrenetic website and perhaps a download of one of their screensavers might begin to pique your interest. [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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