27 May 2001
Music for Nights Without Moon or Pearl collects three pieces of new music by New York based composer Michael Byron. These recordings were made with the participation of David Rosenboom, who conducts Calarts New Century Players in the the first two pieces and performs solo piano on the third. The first two performances, composed in 1998, feature an eight-piece orchestra featuring two violins, viola, cello, contrabass, two pianos and a synth. The first piece, which gives the album its title, builds its momentum slowly (over its runtime of just over 18 minutes). The strings are played pizzicato throughout; first one instrument, then another in a dramatic layering effect. The synth waxes new age throughout, with short waves of analogue sound taking you through the entire piece. The pianos are played in short hand-rolls, first in the lower range, then in the higher range of notes. The sounds build and the mood intensifies, the pianos seem to become more impatient, restless as the piece develops. An intriguing exercise, although more like sounds to make the listener slightly uneasy, to bring him slowly out of complacency and into an awareness of a world that is, above all else, an anxious one. The second piece takes a different tone. Almost as a relief to my ears and nerves, the strings are played arco, sustaining their notes and refraining from the unnerving pluckings heard in the previous piece. The pianos punctuate with sharp notes, the strings shift regularly, the piece never quite reaching a climax or changing its direction dramatically. The final piece, "Entrances", was composed in the mid-seventies and recorded in 1982. A composition for solo piano, this work builds itself into an intense wall of dizzying sound, with nary a moment of rest.
I must admit that I couldn't warm up to Byron's compositional voice in any of these three pieces. I couldn't shake a feeling of unease and discomfort throughout these performances, which may very well have been the point here (there is no statement of intention), though I sincerely doubt it. An endearing, if slightly out of place "fan letter" from Richard Teitelbaum printed in the sleeve proclaims this music to have "such power to (en)lighten the soul" and to lift spirits, but I couldn't find any of this here. Challenging surely, accomplished without a doubt, but for me this can't be the stuff of enlightenment and healing. [Richard di Santo]
Two musicians living in Nova Scotia collaborate and release their first CD together on Dérapages à cordes. Both Arthur Bull and Daniel Heïkalo are accomplished improvisers and guitarists, and they have each worked in diverse musical environments. This disc is a recording of a free improvisation, without any editing or overdubs, in eight movements/tracks. Bull takes on the semi-acoustic, slide, ebow and prepared guitars, while Heïkalo handles acoustic, classical and prepared guitars as well as cittern, percussion and bizarre vocalisations (gibberish chanting) in one of the tracks. Their collaboration is a strange blend of styles, moods, and suggestions. Hints of classical motifs blend with blues-grass suggestions and the more dominant abstract textures both harsh and subtle. The pieces are teeming with activity and creative energy, a stream of energy which it seems could never be spent, and it's a relative joy listening to these inspired performances. A number of surprising moments and a wealth of details keep me on my toes throughout playback; bursts of percussion, scrapings, and harsh strikes on the guitars are effectively juxtaposed with approximations of melody and traditional playing. There's never a dull moment here, though I'll admit that on occasion it may be difficult to discern any method to the madness. This will definitely appeal to fans of the more esoteric and challenging releases on the Ambiances Magnétiques label. [Richard di Santo]
Daniel Heïkalo's Endroits Inquétants (Worrisome Spaces) is a solo work which will see its commercial release at the Festival de Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville this summer. For this release Heïkalo presents four pieces of electroacoustic sounds and musique concrète, displaying his talent for assembling sound collages and treatments without using any synths or samplers. The first piece, "Le Fantôme d'un Piano", presents a dark, nightmarish collage of sounds and noises, all created using a derelict piano frame. He uses a combination of unmodified source recordings and completely transformed sounds throughout this dark and disturbing piece. The second track, "Autres Voix", is an exercise in the digital editing of choral music combined with manipulated sounds from percussion, recorders, pump organ and Arthur Bull's prepared and electric guitars. The third piece, "L'Hommes des Rails", is an homage to Heïkalo's father and to all others who spend their lives in noisy industrial environments. This sound collage has, as Heïkalo himself describes it, "a decidedly industrial tone" although none of the sounds are industrial in origin: "it is all a metaphor created from voices and instruments". The fourth and final piece is a composition based on the children's melody "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", assembled using a host of sound sources (from piano frame, choirs and hand drums to furniture, zithers and music boxes). The results are truly confounding, and not as dark as the previous three pieces, though it certainly has its share of dense and concrete sound material.
I will be the first to admit that Endroits Inquétants is a difficult journey; its sound sculptures are dark, dense and difficult. Heïkalo's treatments are very intriguing but at the same time quite esoteric; my responses to this music vary from being captivated to perplexed, from having my interest piqued to making me feel more uneasy, looking for air pockets and breaks while listening. Let it suffice, for the time being, to say that Heïkalo is a demanding creative presence; his sound works offer some extremely challenging environments for the adventurous listener. [Richard di Santo]
An extremely bizarre release from David Jackman, originally available on cassette in extremely short supply back in 1996, and now brought back to life by Die Stadt for 700 copies on CD.
The setup Jackman instills through the cover art is haunting, and really quite disturbing. A decrepit, monochromatic image of a room laid bare but for a phrase in German decorated on the wall in calligraphic lettering: "Verhalte dich ruhig", which translates as "No noise" or "Behave calmly". The photo turns out to be an image from a latrine in the concentration camp Birkenau (Auschwitz II).
Juxtaposition will be required once the CD is played. Where one might expect to hear a harsh terrain of sound, or perhaps a contemplative study in dealing with the subject matter suggested by the cover art, one is instead presented with rather sweet sounding orchestral strings. The strings are then composited into a pastiche of sound - layer upon layer of recurring thematic sections from orchestral works. I recognized a section of Schubert's "Ave Maria" - a small portion of it repeated every few minutes or so, buried within the mix. Other sections sounded familiar too, though none were instantly recognizable to me. Even Schubert's extract took me a good while to identify.
There are two tracks on the disc nearing 15 minutes apiece, and both are seemingly identical. In fact, I would be hard pressed to find out if there are any differences whatsoever in these two pieces. Checking between tracks at identical time points revealed no discernible differences. A duality, to be certain, and one that is echoed in the booklet (more a leaflet in this instance). Inside the booklet is the cover image mirrored. Jackman is winking at us. There is something that differs between tracks 1 and 2, and one day, perhaps, it will become apparent.
In the meantime, I will ponder the delicate intricacies of the mix, the invisible differences in the tracks, and try to get a grasp on the overall picture of this release. This definitely ranks as one of the most mysterious discs in my collection, and comes highly recommended. [Vils M DiSanto]
Jliat has recently unearthed three tracks from his early experiments with tape loops, synth and a sequencer. The first is a "found" piece from 1973, and offers a rich soundscape of layered, backwards-sounding loops and what is probably an alto sax fluttering in the opaque waves of sound. Track three follows in a similar vein, minus the saxophone, and with a stronger sense of synthetic ambience with dominant sounds from an analogue synth (the Synthi AKS) and sequencer. The second piece, sandwiched by the two longer tracks, is only 25 seconds long, and consists in a brief cluster of cut-ups of voice and found sounds from around the studio. The entire disc runs for a mere 12 minutes, but makes an interesting "single" - a short look at audio experiments from over 25 years ago, from an enigmatic figure in experimental music.
James Whitehead, aka Jliat, has recently launched (or perhaps only updated) a website that houses three lectures in mp3 format. The lectures, recited by a computerized voice, are on the subjects of post-modernism, the history of western philosophy and James Joyce's Ulysses respectively. These lectures (thoughts, theories...), as well as this new 3 inch disc, are definitely worth exploring. [Richard di Santo]
Klunk, a collaborative project between Joe Gilmore, Ed Martin and Michael Clough, present twenty-five minutes of improvised minimal electronics recorded live in Leeds earlier this year. The group describes their music as "the absolute abstract nature of sound, sound as abstract object, as pure algorhythm [sic], as natural sinewave flikker". Clicks, crackles, tones and atmospheres weave together forming a work easily characterised as cinematic; the listener unravels the sounds like the plot of a film, each new element as surprising as the last. Delicate strings and eerie sonorities are punctuated with sharp clicks, sinewaves, pulses, static and fluttering sounds. This music - a-rhythmic and abstract - works its magic slowly; these artists aren't in any hurry to express themselves (in spite of the short length of this performance), and one gets the feeling of both improvisation and deliberation from this work, which never becomes intrusive or harsh, but remains pleasant and intriguing. Nice work, and another fine release from ooze.bâp records. [Richard di Santo]
Recorded live at a concert in the Lagerhaus (Bremen, Germany) on 17 December 1999, Kontakt der Jünglinge 1 is the first in what promises to be a series of live recordings by this collaborative project between two of the most influential and dynamic names in experimental electronic music. One long track, just over 45 minutes long, evolves and takes over the listening space almost immediately. I've been listening to this disc periodically over the past two weeks and every time I find I'm listening closer and closer to it, turning the volume up and holding it there, allowing the soundscape to completely envelop any other ambience in my environment. It usurps the sound, the space, and the hour from anything else that may have previously had claim to them. As the piece begins, a deep bass tone resounds in more or less regular intervals, with all the force of an intense thunder. Surface sounds, tape hiss, manipulations of source recordings (rainfall? a babbling brook?) begin to appear, a dark drone shifts its way into the scene, leaving a haunting echo in its path. By the end of this most captivating journey, in a wonderful climax, Köner and Tietchens create an immense rainforest of sounds, teeming with activity, crackles and static. The intense sounds of birds and insects (although these don't sound authentic, they are more likely approximations of natural sounds) come to the fore in an unforgettable conclusion, the resounding bass tones from the opening sequence returning to bring the piece full circle. The disc comes packaged in a simple but elegant sleeve and is limited to a press run of 500 copies. Don't miss one of the most engaging projects released this year, and let's all hope that the promise of a series of releases from Kontakt der Jünglinge was made in earnest. [Richard di Santo]
Released in 1999, Hz documents a series of live performances which took place in October 1997. The always adventurous and engaging Dan Burke, aka Illusion of Safety, here teams up with Thomas Dimuzio, an electronic sound artist probably best known for his releases on RRRecords (Sonicism) and Odd Size Records (Louden). Both artists have reputations for creating dark, nightmarish post-industrial sound environments, and this is exactly the sort of thing we're given here in ample doses. One hour's worth of some of the most dark and disturbing sounds to issue forth from my hi-fi in recent months, Burke and Dimuzio have assembled a collection of imposing sound environments. Burke performs on electric guitar, processors, tape, radio and objects, while Dimuzio handles sampler, processors, loops and feedback. These free-flowing pieces range in sound from low-end rumbles and deep industrial noises (the loud hum of large machines) to walls of feedback and noise loops. Brief glimpses of hard industrial beats flash before your ears on two short occasions, but are soon quashed by the enveloping drones of noise. Once you reach track 10, with its imposing and unrelenting wall of dense static, you can pretty much say there's no turning back.
The disc ends abruptly and in mid-stream; you're left hanging over the edge of a vast precipice, abandoned to the once-familiar silence of your home you thought you knew so well. The truth is, you found something incomprehensibly comforting in these sounds, this noise, this audible darkness. It occupies the space and fills your lungs, so in such a short time you grew accustomed to this nightmare, probably just in time for Burke and Dimuzio to sever the umbilical cord so suddenly, leaving you helpless and in silence. [Richard di Santo]
Last year, Un Caddie Renversé dans l'Herbe, aka dj cuit b, released this short collection of tracks for ooze.bâp's "perzooked series", dedicated to "irregular loops and sound drift devices". Un Caddie... performs on turntables, software, microphones and minidisc, and here on Totlop Pak (self described as "a percussion meandering manifesto") we witness a collection of no less than fifteen short tracks with a total run time of just under 35 minutes. Un Caddie keeps things playful and dynamic throughout this music, restless even, with an emphasis on digital processing, all manner of percussions (jazz, electro, ethnic, abstract) and vinyl sound sources (scratches, surface crackles). From an impressive bass rhythm (track 4) to abstract jazz drumming (track 2), or from violent audio cut-ups (track 8) to post-hip-hop breaks (track 9), every track offers a completely different world of sound, each packed with nonstop activity until the disc abruptly (and one might even say prematurely) ends. Totlop Pak (which I think also marked the debut for the Barcelona-based ooze.bâp records) is the sort of release that can be all things to all people. Refusing to stay in the same spot, to pigeonhole itself or remain stagnant, this is a record defined by its sharp contrasts, and really it's quite incredible how many elements this music actually contains considering its relatively short duration. Packaged in an original sleeve design made of a durable rubber-like material and limited to a mere 200 copies, Totlop Pak is not to be missed. [Richard di Santo]
Pimmon, aka Paul Gough, must have an obsession for static. Sometimes arranged in a dizzying array, sometimes cool and minimal, and somehow managing to cover everything in between, these sounds play with your ears and tickle your sensations. As with his recent release on Staalplaat's Material series (Orquesta del Arrurruz), Pimmon here demonstrates his mastery of arranging densely layered sounds within abstract clusters and aural "scenes". We're not dealing with your (by now) standard clicks + cuts; no minimal house rhythms or dancefloor pulses are found here. Pimmon's palette is far more abstract, having assembled a multitude of sounds here into a collection of varied and dynamic "scenes", grouped in the CD's track listing into three sets (a division which is probably more conceptual than practical). There are as many sharp transitions in this disc as there are individual tracks. There being no less than twelve of each, this record is packed with activity and surprises. You won't be sitting too comfortably in your favourite easy chair listening to this one: Pimmon keeps you guessing and on the edge of your seat, enjoying every moment yet never knowing where the next track will take you. Perhaps this disc is best understood not as a uniform whole but rather as an encyclopedic work, a work of multiplicity rather than uniformity. Listening, one gets the feeling of sensory overload; there's so much to take in, so many static sounds and abstract clusters which have sometimes made me uneasy while listening but at others have made me feel exhilarated with such a wealth of detail.
Since Assembler was conceived to be an ongoing release to include remixes and additional material, Fällt has posted additional mp3 components on their website. The site now features additional material (one-minute audio fragments) by Pimmon as well as SimpleText audio lock-grooves (one-second audio fragments) by sound artist Otaku Yakuza and based on Pimmon's work on the Assembler project. [Richard di Santo]
A very fine compilation released in 1997 by Sub Rosa in cooperation with Touch Records. It's one of my favourite types of compilations - a select group of artists are here contributing lengthier pieces as opposed to too many artists contributing pieces that are often far too short.
This disc gathers the talents of Directions, Atom Heart, Bisk, Seefeel and AER. The theme, as you may have guessed, is water and architecture. Some beautiful photography is included in the accompanying booklet by resident Touch designer Jon Wozencroft. From massive waves to serene cloudscapes to linear detailing of architecturally inspired vistas, the photos are gorgeous. (Yet for some strange reason, it seems that the paper stock used here by Sub Rosa does not do the photos justice - Wozencroft's work just looks that much better on Touch paper! But I digress.)
Things get underway with Directions' piece "enCode". Central to this track is its unconventional drum pattern, with its reverberations and reversals keeping things at an interestingly unsettled pace. Atom Heart impresses once more with his eleven-minute track "Space is sanity". Strange sounds are knocking, and threaten to develop into something more sinister. A deep grumbling is added alongside some staccato strikes of synthetic clicks. The track switches gears a number of times, taking us through some improvisational jazz noodlings and ambient stretches of peacefulness. Atom has not designed for us a claustrophobic space here at all - it is "good" space. Bisk treats us to some nicely cut-up jazz recordings which are kept very raw in the mix on his three tracks here. Treated and all dressed to be sure, but their origins are not kept a secret. His best contribution here is the first, "Circular Sound". Seefeel spoils us with two lushly sensual numbers circa 1995. I just love their sound here - full and deep, accented with minimal layerings and female utterances. Finally, AER provide three tracks influenced by airspace communications and various earthly sounds, among which finally appears some water! Their closing track, "Requiem for a globe" ends the disc in very fine form. The aforementioned airspace communications take center stage over top of stuttering beeps, voices, and an unwavering synthetic chord.
The architecture here seems to have more to do with the architecture of the sky, rather than the architecture created by man on Earth. Significance is placed on the sky not only in AER's pieces, but also in Wozencroft's photos and in the overall feeling of the tracks contained within. This is an extremely well put-together disc, with some wonderful contributions by all artists involved. [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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