> Archive > Music Review 27

13 May 2001

Michèle Bokanowski: Trois Chambres d'Inquiétude
Encomiast: Winter's End
Jim Fox: Last Things
Illusion of Safety: ...odds
Land Speed Record: On a Racetrack
Mirror: Islands
Vert: Nine Types of Ambiguity
Various: Couchblip!
Marc Chesterman & J Kennedy: Drumsmachine
Zoviet*France: Just an Illusion


MICHÈLE BOKANOWSKI: Trois Chambres d'Inquiétude
Elevator Bath | eeaoa 07 | CD

Trois Chambres d'Inquiétude (Three Rooms of Unrest) is a three-part composition originally performed in 1976 at the 6th International Festival of Experimental Music in Bourges. At that time Michèle Bokanowski, who had been experimenting with electronic composition, was composing primarily for live performances and for film (for examples of her more recent work, please consult her other two releases on Metamkine and Empreintes Digitales respectively). The fact that this composition dates back to 1976 is a source of some amazement for me; had I not been given this information I never would have guessed it. This is a piece of history which seems like it's only minutes old, let alone 25 years. The three "rooms" of this composition are each structured in complex arrangements, a montage of manipulations, samples, loops and effects. Loops are layered incongruously, sometimes meeting in time, but never for long. A dark undercurrent appears for a minute, and then regresses into silence. The second piece is the longest of the three (it occupies 13 of the composition's 27 minutes). It begins with microscopic sounds, soft clusters of clicks and pops, and then a dark drone loop introduces an uneasy mood, a heavy sound like breathing carries you through a dark passage... The piece goes through many transitions, each of them surprising, compelling and mysterious. There is an undeniable sense of unease throughout the entire composition (witness the short breaths in the third piece, for example), which befits the title's reference to inquietude or unrest, and yet despite this unease (or more likely, because of it), I found the experience of listening to this record to be extremely engaging and rewarding. Limited to a press run of 1000 copies, Trois Chambres d'Inquiétude comes highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]



ENCOMIAST: Winter's End
Lens Records | Lens 0003 | CD

This is the debut full-length from Encomiast, a dark ambient trio comprised of Ross Hagen, Nick Paul and Samantha Balsam. Eight long tracks create a dark, opaque soundworld where the shadows enfold every space. This music reminded me in places of Lightwave's Tycho Brahe and Mindus Subterraneous, two albums which are characterised by a similar dark and dense atmosphere. To this end, Encomiast will surely appeal to fans of dark ambient releases found on Fathom/Hearts of Space and Hypnos. Winter's End is a lot to take in with one sitting; the mood is quite dark and oppressive, so I often found that midway through the disc my impulse was to resurface for some air. Yet Encomiast have created an intriguing work; they exhibit a mastery of their elements and an undeniable sense of atmosphere and ambient sonics. There are many details buried deep in the dense fog of synthetic washes and loops which await the listener's attention, and as such this makes for an intriguing release for its wealth of detail, in spite of its dark and murky spirit. [Richard di Santo]



JIM FOX: Last Things
Cold Blue Music | CB 0001 | CD

L.A.-based composer Jim Fox presents two long compositions, released on his own Cold Blue label. The first, "The Copy of the Drawing" is a long composition (nearly 40 minutes in length) of electronic textures and drifting ambient sounds. In the liner notes, Christopher Hobbs describes this piece rather well as "embryonic music, soft, edgeless, without form, sounds drifting through time as clouds drifting through space." A whispering voice (Janyce Collins) carries you through the length of the piece, reciting fragments from mysterious letters addressed to two scientists at Mt. Wilson Observatory between 1915 and 1935. The voice is almost inaudible and yet the words are still largely discernible. Fragments, thoughts and stray words are recited in a quiet tempered whisper that mesmerises the listener into a strange state of calm. At one point the voice says "danger lies in the abstract", and it's as if the voice is warning itself - these words and phrases are more often abstract than coherent - yet it remains to be seen: exactly what is the inherent danger in abstraction? The second piece, "Last Things", is a composition for bass clarinet (performed by Marty Walker), pedal steel guitar (Chas Smith), glass guitar (Rick Cox), piano and electronics (Jim Fox). Twenty minutes of very compelling sounds and textures, dramatic, dark and mysterious. I've always harbored a special fondness for the bass clarinet, and here, accompanied by the rolling of the piano's lower keys, dark electronic atmospheres and the echoes of a pedal steel guitar in the distance, it creates a savoury mood of contemplation, stillness and mystery. Stunning work.

This release marks the re-emergence of the Cold Blue label, which hasn't been active since the early 1980s. Two other releases (by Michael Byron and Chas Smith respectively) have quickly followed this one, and both will be reviewed in future issues of Incursion. [Richard di Santo]




Self-released on CDR and limited to just 200 copies, ...odds, as its title suggests, documents odds and ends from live performances and studio work, all previously unreleased. Illusion of Safety is Dan Burke (often in collaboration with a diverse group of artists), and for years I have held his work in very high esteem (consider the monumental Of & The double-CD on Soleilmoon, or Fin de siécle on Korm Plastics). The first piece is a collaboration with Theresa Marin Nakra, a violinist he met just minutes before this live improvisation took place. The results must have really surprised these artists; the piece takes a number of surprising turns, and there are some remarkable textures and moods here. The droning and plucking of the violin is accompanied by Burke's manipulations, samples and sonic textures that range from subtle to more abrasive throughout this long (18 minute) piece. What follows this piece is a three-minute remix of a longer composition to be released later this year on La Galette Integriste. This track sounds like what it is; a fragment, or a compressed representation of a larger, undisclosed whole. Next up is "Paradise (is) unlivable", a long drifting piece of dark ambience and shifting textures; it begins with some beautiful tones, but soon turns into a disturbing and abrasive atmosphere. Tracks 4 and 5 were used in an art installation by Dave Bush. The first is by Chris Block and presents dense loops and a dramatic atmosphere reminiscent of :zoviet*france:'s work circa Just An Illusion (see below). The second, by Dan Burke, shifts between field recordings of street sounds and an andean music concert to harsh textures and sharp manipulations. The final two pieces are from a concert that took place last year in Chicago, Burke's first attempt at using his laptop in a public performance. Successfully showcasing the many sides of Illusion of Safety's relentless experimentalism, ...odds certainly covers a lot of ground; adventurous, dark, innovative and highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]



Honey Records | HON 11 | 10"

Land Speed Record is Mike Chylinsky, who is joined on this 4-track EP by bassists Jeff McElroy, Brad Shenfeld and James Bennett, as well as multi-instrumentalist Andrew Cvar (who handles bass, keys, guitar and drone box on the track "monster truck"). The EP begins with some commentary on performing a jazz riff, and what ensues is a collage of riffs, broken by various interruptions, PA voices and interferences. The second track, "monster truck", contains some deep bass playing, droning organ and muscular drumming, and is a pleasant post-rock dub exercise. Side B brings us another rolling rhythm, layered motifs for electric guitar, sitar, uneven loops, radio voices... really all manner of interferences and static, but the rhythm keeps on rolling strong. The fourth piece is a bittersweet lo-fi ballad, where the lyrics suggest a pseudo-country theme of heartache and weariness. The EP finishes off with a short outro for guitar and hiss. Pressed on clear vinyl and nicely packaged, On a Racetrack makes a nice contribution in mapping the strange hybrid of jazzy-electro-post-rock music. Do visit Land Speed Record's nicely designed webspace below for some slick eye candy and info. [Richard di Santo]



MIRROR: Islands
Die Stadt | DS 37 | 2LP (+7")

Mirror began as a collaborative project between Christoph Heemann (of HNAS) and Andrew Chalk (of Organum), They have now been joined by mult-instrumentalist Andreas Martin, whose collaborations with Heemann have been documented on the notable Memoirs of a Lepidopterist double-CD released by Robot Records in 1999. Islands, their new double LP on Die Stadt, contains four studio tracks on the first LP plus a recording of a concert they gave in Texas last year on the second. Mirror has amazed me with every one of their releases. Their records are always presented in beautiful packaging, very limited press runs and each one has never failed to fill me with wonder at some of the most mysterious and compelling sounds I have ever heard. This new work is no exception; these sounds seem to breathe and expand far beyond the limits of my sound system. On the first LP, beautiful deep drones unfold, surrounded by a gentle rainfall which introduces the "islands", and which you also return to as the LP comes to an end. The final piece ends abruptly and in a fashion listeners of Heemann's work will be accustomed to - in a climax of dramatic sound (in this case the sounds of rain) intensifying and then suddenly cut to silence. The live performance on the second LP continues in this vein. All three players perform on guitars (processed in ways to make the sound sources almost unrecognisable, save for the scrapings of an ebow, occasional rough textures and a returning motif on sides 3 and 4), and here as on the first LP the sounds echo and warp into stunning drones, scrapings and harmonies. The three members of Mirror seem to have a direct access to the void; their music is the dynamic soundtrack of the view from here, a bridge over the void ("un ponte sul vuoto", as Calvino has written), and like the steps of this bridge, intervals of emptiness open between sounds and echoes.

Limited to 1000, 500 of which are pressed on blue vinyl, and 150 of those 500 come packaged with a bonus 7 inch of exclusive material available only through Die Stadt's mailorder service. Very highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]



VERT: Nine Types of Ambiguity
Sonig | 17 | CD

"Music plus noises, then? No, the noises have liberated themselves and no longer merely annoy; rather, they enhance the tonal body comprising melody, nostalgic evocations of disrupted beats and the ornament of clef symbols."

So goes Adam Vert's description of his music as it appears on Nine Types of Ambiguity. The latest friend, touring partner and label-mate of Mouse on Mars follows up his much bewildered-at and praised EP moremooseicforme released a couple of months ago with this anticipated full-length disc. Imagine a mix of early Mouse on Mars (teeming with activity, rhythms and quirky melodies) with the army of sonic children's toys witnessed in RM74's playful Mikrosport CD (released on Domizil earlier this year), and somehow you might be able to approximate the energy and feel of this record. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Adam Vert makes his home in a "barely converted" children's nursery in Brixton, South London. On Nine Types of Ambiguity, Vert must have been having as much fun making this music as we're having listening to it. Complex rhythmic structures abound, a host of sound clusters, harmonics, scrapings and melodies infiltrate the soundscape at every opportunity. For example, "Last night from a bus I saw" begins quietly with a mellow mood and quiet sounds, and then it erupts into a harsh yet sustainable blast, which then recedes into a charming accordion-like melody and gentle dub-like rolling rhythm. Vert has created a wonderful album that piques your interest and makes you alert to every little sound; it's music that never appears the same way twice, is not afraid to laugh and have some fun, and keeps you entertained for its entire duration. Enjoy. [Richard di Santo]



VARIOUS: Couchblip!
Couchblip! | Blip 001 | CD

Couchblip! is a new label based in Sydney, Australia, specialising in electronica allied with the "schools" of early-period Autechre and the retro analogue quirkiness of Rephlex Records. This is their debut release, and features contributions from three artists at Couchblip! HQ: Bloq, Robokoneko and Disjunction Reunion. The tracks range from mellow downtempo to more uptempo electro grooves, each one making clear references to the music on Warp and Rephlex. The aesthetic doesn't shift much from one artist to another; they present a sort of unified front when it comes to their musical references and structures. Distorted beats, naive melodies, atmospheres, vocal manipulations and analogue blips create music that is quaint, nicely arranged and comfortably retro. Great music for driving or for doing the housework (!). Favourites here include Robokoneko's quirky "Sojourn", Bloq's dynamic "Oscar in Dub II" and Disjunction Reunion's "Chocolate", which closes off the disc rather well with its giddy rhythm and jaunty melody. Because these three artists have bent their energies more on imitation rather than experimentation, this record doesn't shine as much as it could have had they broken even slightly from this well-established tradition of electronic music. Still, it will be worth keeping an eye on the folks at Couchblip! who will be following this release with a regular schedule of full-length releases. [Richard di Santo]



Is Land Sound Imprint | Is L 002 | CDR

Is Land Sound Imprint is a small New Zealand based label committed to exploring experimental and improvised music. The label, founded by John Kennedy, is a showcase for innovative and challenging music representing what is happening in Auckland outside the mainstream and which doesn't get much attention outside of local studios and performance spaces. Recorded in various stages from 1996 through 1999, Drumsmachine is a collaborative project between two improvisational percussionists Marc Chesterman and John Kennedy. Both artists explore the possibilities of their drumkits within largely improvised musical structures. With generous references to jazz drumming and electronic improv, this duo creates six intriguing journeys into hitherto unexplored percussive territories. Drumsmachine is an exercise in nimble drumming, polyrhythmic structures, textures, percussive ambience and electronic manipulations (the latter comes courtesy of a sampler and drum machine). This album works on you quietly; never imposing itself aggressively into your personal space, it rather grows on you in increments. Excellent work, and deserving of a much wider listening audience. Check out Is Land's webspace for more details. [Richard di Santo]



:ZOVIET*FRANCE: Just an Illusion
Staaltape | STCD 005 | CD

Released in 1990, the first edition of Just an Illusion is a disc packaged in an immaculate wooden box imprinted on front and back with characteristic :ZF: ink patterns. Unhook the clasp, raise the lid and behold the disc and insert, the latter of which is printed on a thin and fragile slice of wood. This is truly one of the most unique and special packages, and indeed the material and aesthetic of the packaging compliments the sounds on the CD to perfection, which are also dominated by a wooden, organic, and primitive feel. This album was recorded throughout 1989, and represents an extremely creative period for Robin Storey and company (none of the members are actually named on this release). Primitive percussion loops, strings, exotic chants, opaque ambience, flutes and motifs with a flavour of third-world ritualism are the elements which dominate these fourteen tracks. The sounds just wrap themselves around you; the complex arrangements, rich dizzying harmonies, the cadence of loops and dense atmospheres in this music mesmerise and transfix the listener from the first moment. Throughout the years, I have often returned to this record; the listening experience has always been enriching and every time I have left with different and evolving impressions. As far as I am aware, this first edition is no longer available through conventional channels. Staalplaat has reissued the disc and this second edition is readily available through their mailorder service, packaged in a less spectacular carton sleeve. [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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