24 June 2001
A friend of mine recently declared the new Autechre disc "unlistenable". While I may not fully agree with his sentiments, I do find the new disc to be the most abstract thing they have ever released. In comparison to their previous full-lengths, the tracks included here are far less structured and appear to lack a certain sense of focus and direction. It's not that things meander - they just never seem to click into the right gear. You hear all the machinations: the stuttering ticks, the hip-hop abstractions and the complexities of structure are all there, but they just don't jive like they did on LP5 or (going way back now) Tri Repetae. I hate to say it, but almost every track here seems to be structured like the next one. There are no particular high points or low points, it's just a very straight line that takes you from beginning to end. It is listenable, just not engaging. A rather unfortunate disappointment. [Vils M DiSanto]
It has been three years since Taylor Deupree released a solo record on his own 12k label (since 1998's comma). This new title, occur, is the first of a two-part series, and will be followed up within a year's time by "its polar opposite" titled stil.. Inspired by the production techniques developed during his collaboration with Tetsu Inoue on last year's excellent active/freeze CD, Deupree has created 9 tracks of non-repetitive and abstract sound structures inspired by all things brief. What strikes me most about this work is its incredible dynamic range; from side to side to side, up and across, narrow and wide, these sounds occupy a generous virtual space. The liner notes suggest professional monitoring or headphone listening. With headphones the listener is made more aware of the finer touches in the music and the diversity of the sound palette - the subtle shifts and slight variances, the closeness of the sounds - and yet what is lacking with headphone use is the force of the bass tones. It's an incredible experience to feel this bass resonate deep inside your chest, and with an adequate system (and a capable subwoofer) you can achieve the best of both worlds: the intimacy of the sounds (the details around the stereo field) as well as the physical presence of the bass tones. In keeping with his subject matter, Deupree keeps things transitory on occur. Only on track 5, and very briefly in a few other places, do we witness a tendency towards repetition, but even this remains dynamic and granular. The sounds crunch and form clusters in the foreground, apparent patterns change in moments, sounds appear and disappear at a glance, and yet still Deupree manages to keep the silence around the sounds in tact. Perhaps his finest work to date, occur comes highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Featuring works of stunning beauty and simplicity, I Hear It in the Rain compiles five groups of compositions by Michael Jon Fink. Three of these groupings, "Five Pieces for Piano", "Two Preludes for Piano" and "For Celesta" feature wonderful performances by Bryan Pezzone on solo piano and, in the case of the latter, solo celesta. These pieces move slowly and quietly; they whisper to you in the night, a single solitary voice that echoes from within the silence. With its sweet melodies and chiming tones, the piece for solo celesta is enchanting. For the piece "Living to be Hunted by the Moon", Fink performs on samples while Marty Walker (who has his own release on Cold Blue) handles clarinets. An earlier piece from 1988, this composition is built from four "parallel pentatonic scales", and offers another quiet and contemplative mood with long notes from the clarinets and rich ambient textures from Fink's sampler. For the final piece, which is equally tranquil and captivating, Rick Cox performs on guitars (electric, glass and sponge), Dan Morris takes on percussion and Fink handles keys and electric bass. The intriguing and gentle textures from the guitars and cymbals compliment the guiding movement of the piece, gamelan-like in its precision and tranquility. I Hear It in the Rain is enchanting music, a quiet wonder, and another strong release from Cold Blue Music. [Richard di Santo]
CHRIS HALLIWELL: Short Stories
Two new works by the London based sound artist Chris Halliwell, who founded the CDR label Sous Rature in 1998.
Fragments and Silences from Zero Winter approaches some difficult themes around the loss of identity in the wake of long term illnesses. "The virus attacks creation, and creativity withers..." Three long pieces incorporate texts by Derek Jarman, Sylvia Plath and Chris Halliwell himself. Minimal tones and some long, quiet passages are interrupted with varying frequency by often shocking bursts of noise, feedback, or grating sounds. A series of readings are incorporated into the pieces, short passages read by three quiet voices which give the pieces their performative element. The result is an intriguing mix of electronic and concrete sounds, a sonic tension between silence and noise, between sound and text. It all ends with an eerie finale; "Embers" creates a vivid picture of solitude and loss with its quiet rustling sounds and an arresting variation on the words of a funeral rite.
Short Stories, unlike Fragments, presents a series of short pieces rather than long ones. These stories are told with sounds, not words, and we witness some of the sound elements and structuring techniques similar to what we have heard on the previous disc. Quiet sections are matched with noisy flutterings and outbursts, and yet it's the quiet and minimal sounds that dominate here. Also in contrast with Fragments, the pieces in Short Stories have less time to develop; as if composing a series of literary short stories, Halliwell compresses his language into shorter time spans, exchanging the benefits of time with those of the concise expression of ideas in sound. Highlights for me include "Soft Rupture", featuring eerie cut-ups of a sad string movement; "Dream Pathology (part 1)" with its sparse vocal edits and delicate sounds embedded in silence; and the mesmerising, crystalline reflections and glasslike scrapings in "The Art of Mirrors II".
The moods of both of these projects are characteristically sad and surreal; these are difficult journeys but well worth the effort. Halliwell has created some challenging and impressive pieces, and especially in the case of Fragments there is an abundance of ideas in his work that will reward the listener every time. [Richard di Santo]
Last month I had the pleasure to meet with Tomas Jirku at the Mutek festival in Montréal. He played a set there to coincide with the launch of this new release on Substractif, a new sublabel of Alien8 Recordings. Strangely, though, his energetic set (with its unexpected references to the KLF) had very little in common with the material on this CD. Tomas Jirku here presents four tracks (about 15 minutes each) that unfold slowly and work their magic on you with no great hurry. The music on Immaterial lies somewhere between Vladislav Delay and Stefan Betke's school of dub, or maybe it lies just outside of this comparison. Mellow house rhythms, myriad crackles, a cradling bass, atmospheres and a host of sounds treated with delay effects suggest a music submersed in deep electrically charged waters. There are no real surprises here, but the music is stunning, expertly arranged and filled with interesting details. The CD ends on a perfect note; with a long, quiet and tranquil section of hiss, atmosphere, and water sounds that lull the listener into a state of calm. Jirku is definitely in his element with this release, rising above mere imitation and moving into a realm entirely his own. [Richard di Santo]
Deep and guttural, this recording by a trio of Montréal sound artists is a triumph of power and beauty. The combination of electronics, guitar, oud and bowed bass toggle between calculated precision and improvised chaos. There is something lurking in this recording that wants out - a yearning force that dares to be reckoned with. Things commence quite calmly with "Dirt Well", but the following track, "Building A Rope" contains an incredible dynamic tension in its construction. In the track's final two minutes, all that tension is released as the rope in question is pulled to its very core in a display of undeniable auditory havoc. Other tracks teeter on this same line: utter calm versus a state of turmoil. There is setup and there is release. Things never go over the top though - they are kept in control at all times, and the music here is all the better for it. The disc closes off with the track "Radiatorhead", which pulses and throbs along deeply and without much fanfare. A strong release from this trio, who have each released some excellent solo works previous to this culmination of force. [Vils M DiSanto]
Swiss duo Andy Guhl and Norbert Mösland, aka Voice Crack, have been releasing some wonderful projects lately, as in their solo record on Emtempfuhl and a recent collaboration with Otomo Yoshihide on Erstwhile. Their use of cracked everyday-electronics within free-form improvisations has produced some incredible results. For his own part, Lionel Marchetti recently released Knut un nom de serpent on Intransitive, a work of relentless energy with its exhausting and encyclopedic collagework. The third member in this collaboration, Jérôme Noetinger, is the founder of Metamkine, a label and mailorder service, and has worked with Marchetti, Werchowski and the Mimeo collective, with recent releases on Corpus Hermeticum and Grob. Recorded in 1998 and remixed the following summer by Marchetti and Mösland, double_wash is brimming with improvisational spirit. The sounds (noises, feedback, samples, tones and crackles) are layered in elaborate yet "free" improvisational forms. Sharp contrasts and sudden bursts of energy will keep you guessing for the entire duration. The direction for each track is a constant surprise, alternating between more subtle sounds and noisy outbursts, taking you through unexpected twists and turns into a free-flowing electroacoustic soundworld. Nicely done. [Richard di Santo]
Recorded live in Bologna, Italy, Solo features ten improvisations for solo tenor sax. Edoardo Marraffa has been working with free improvisations for the past ten years, and has worked with a number of groups and musicians in that time (Specchio Ensemble, Vakki Plakkula, Tim Verne and Stefano Lunardi among others). Marraffa's sax covers a lot of ground, from harsh wheezing and chaotic grating to smooth and sweet tones, but one thing you can be sure of is his unpredictability. Each track has its own guiding principle, its own performance technique, and its own compositional voice. Consider the playfulness of "eravamo piccoli e cattivi", versus the auditory violence of "eccoti", or even his ability to coax gentle crackles out of his instrument as in "immersione"; these pieces seem to be worlds apart. I'll admit that much of this material makes for a difficult journey; free jazz improvisations have never been easy on the audience (and even less so on such as me), especially when the energy of the performance becomes more muscular. Marraffa seems to be aware of this, and matches his more muscular pieces with ones that are more calm or playful. If free jazz improvisation is your thing, you won't want to miss this one. [Richard di Santo]
The first release from a joint effort between Staalplaat and Extrapool, Brombron, the label, here brings together the talents of Stephan Mathieu (Stol, Full Swing) and Ekkehard Ehlers (Autopoieses, Auch). It's a wondrous journey into a very warm, emotional soundspace. The thirteen tracks here exhibit a certain sense of earnestness and simplicity. What better way to start things off than with the sound of fireworks? Laid over top is a plain melody played out on an organ. Other tracks feature an assortment of instrumentation: reversed drum tracks, mouth organs, melodicas and guitars. The sound of a children's chorus sounds as if it's been fed through a water filter on "turkey song". Soft forms of crackles and fuzzy distortion make their way into the mix from time to time as well. The disc wanders through these various sound sources, but always maintains this warmth about it - more so in the first half of the disc, as the second half feels a bit more introspective. Mathieu and Ehlers have crafted a very impressive disc in a short period of time (apparently recorded in seven days). It's quite evident they have complementary musical philosophies - philosophies that come together very nicely on this release. [Vils M DiSanto]
A new release for the limited edition series of Muslimgauze discs from Staalplaat. This one is limited to 1000 copies, and features eleven unnamed tracks across its sixty minutes of music. Once again, the packaging is a beauty to behold: a neat rainbow foil treatment is given to the front and back of the jewel case, with a thick-cut insert card featuring a haunting, faceless group of women. All the standard Muslimgauze elements present here, but this release sees a more steady approach to his sound. Far less of the abrupt cutting in and out he had favoured for a good while, and more of a concentrated approach to the music. He lets the sounds linger a good while longer than usual here, and while not ambient in nature, there are lingering passages of sound that surface from the mix and take centre stage. The beats take a back seat this time around, though they are still a prominent part of the proceedings. Track 9 is completely beatless, and a prime example of the drama Muslimgauze can pull out of a hat - the looped and distorted vocal excerpt is taken and twisted over a push-and-pull two-note melody. There's a soft bass thumping in the distance, and the whole piece is given a tattered reverberation technique. The tracks here are all rather clean sounding, especially in comparison to the last in the limited series, Muslimlim 028, which was more of a gritty, fuzzed-up affair. It's a direction I like to see in his work, as more attention can be given to the instrumentation and composition, both of which are in fine form here. [Vils M DiSanto]
This is the debut release for the new Berlin-based label Pong, co-founded by Merle Kröger and Philip Sheffner. For this EP Sheffner has created a series of tracks that are charged with sonic activity; rhythms, beats, tones, clicks, bleeps, samples, voices and all manner of found and electronic sounds are all packed into these six tracks with a total run time of just over 26 minutes. The first track starts things off with a frantic rhythm and cut-and-paste clippings from news broadcasts; something is sweeping over the world and its influence is unstoppable. Of course, it turns out that these are just weather reports pasted together, and it really is amazing how weather reports can sound like an outbreak of war. Track two is a short drone piece, answered by a more energetic rhythm in track 3. Dial tones, found sounds and bass tones are structured into a complex rhythm which then gives way to a fragmented drum 'n' bass interlude. The remaining three tracks each build slowly and take some surprising turns, ranging from quiet sections of abstract tones and textures to all manner of found sounds and field recordings (an aeroplane passes overhead, birds singing in the garden, rainfall, or the hum of a crowd of people). All of this with all manner of interference (electronic or otherwise). Even some rhythms creep in from time to time, found in the most unlikely of places. With all of its twists and turns, it's a wonder that Fon didn't become a full-length release. But herein lies its strength. Philip Sheffner has confirmed once more the strengths of an effective EP; the time may be limited but the wealth of ideas is endless. Nice work. [Richard di Santo]
The latest release from the one-man show that is Secret Level Recordings (with about a dozen project names and 21 releases to date on CDR between them). With the 17 Sons of Abraxas we see Emmanuel Viaud (for he is the man behind SLR) moving into more experimental territory. Long pieces of shifting loops and harmonic drones unfold slowly, finding their ever-changing and subtle rhythms, meanwhile discovering new sonic textures along the way. The first track is also one of the finest here: "[sea]" is a 12 minute odyssey of nicely layered shifting drones, rough textures that lock into various rhythms in a series of intriguing and free-flowing steps. The same can be said for each of the five tracks here, forming over an hour's worth of mesmerising ambient music. Previous projects by this artist have tended toward the more usual ambient-techno variations, but Seagulls Circle Endlessly is a more experimental work with a refreshing vision. Nicely done, and promises good things to come from Secret Level Recordings. [Richard di Santo]
This is the second album by Tennis, a new collaborative project between Benge (Ben Edwards) and si-cut.db (Douglas Benford). Europe on Horseback offers up eight tracks of compelling rhythm-based digital music, complete with glitches, tones, clicks and cuts, and some unconventional yet driving bass rhythms for both your head and some serious toe-tapping. Most of this lies within familiar territory; and though Europe on Horseback isn't genre-defying music (the sort of microwave-dub hybrid we have been seeing more and more of since Stefan Betke and Vladislav Delay have become fixtures in the current electronic music culture), this music has the advantage of being expertly crafted with an impressive sound dynamic. They also know to give their tracks some generous breathing room when there are some good ideas on the table; a few of these tracks run over 7 minutes long, and these are the ones that work their magic on me best. One of my favourite cuts here is "weakness together", with a house rhythm that moves along at a comfortable walking pace, dub-like delays and a strange heavily processed atmosphere wavering in the background. The first track as well, with its strong dub influence, moves me in an unconventional way, and the closing number opens up the stereo field nicely with some wonderful sounds and rhythms. The album is not a complete success, though, and my feeling is that a few of these tracks lacked the wealth of ideas and unique voice exhibited in some of the other tracks. Notwithstanding, however, there are some wonderful tracks here that merit of a lot of attention. Tennis is currently finishing up their European tour (on horseback?), so do check them out if they'll be in your area. [Richard di Santo]
Zeitblom presents 4 long pieces in this new 2CD set. The liner notes for the project come courtesy of Rantasa, who had worked with Zeitblom together with Fennesz last year on the installation Bioadapter (released on CD by Rhiz as Music for an Isolation Tank). Rantasa's notes constitute a short essay on the ideas and structures of Zeitblom's work, on the frictions between culture and nature, between the world of the made and the world of the born. He explains that Zeitblom created Bioplex for "artificial rooms" (but then again, are there really any natural rooms?): "Together with visuals, the music is used as a design element for a functional, cultural transition room like the foyer of a concert hall." Yet in the context of a more domestic setting, the music takes on a different influence. Listening to Bioplex In Delay is like having an installation piece in your own home: the sounds transform your living space into something new; unknown and truly miraculous. The music creates an artificial environment in which to repose, and you begin to feel like a stranger in your own home. Richly layered clusters of sounds, derived from acoustical material (like the heartbeats of visitors to the Bioadapter sound installation), are spun through the machinery of a vast series of electronic processing steps. The result is a collection of four dense environments that occupy your space but don't leave you feeling weighted down by them. They may belong to "the world of the made", but they have all the complexity of the "world of the born", leaving you with ample room to move about and explore the details and corners. Each track has it's own distinctive mark, like each natural environment has a particular scent, texture, or sound - the sound clusters move through complex structures, layer upon layer, with variations ranging from the extremely subtle to more obvious shifts, additions and subtractions. With its wealth of ideas and complex sounds, Bioplex in Delay is a wonderfully compelling work that comes highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
How to describe the music on Regarding Purgatories, the fifth CD by Dave Kerman/5 uu's? The title may refer to mediaeval-religious atmospheres (and there are some sounds of bells, metal klinging and the deformed sound of gregorian singing) but this is not the first thing to spring to my mind. It doesn't even have the dark atmosphere you might expect from this description. There are other sounds too (a toy piano? electric doorbell? tapes played at high speed?) and even a melody of the kind that you find in cheap Greek restaurants.
The main instruments played are conventional: drums, guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, piano (and some instruments I can't define), but this is not your average rock-band. Different staccato rhythms played through each other, sudden changes, dissonant melodies, unconventional singing which is not always understandable, all this mixed with the aforementioned sounds result in an original, highly addictive sound. Cuneiform calls this "avant-rock" but you could say this music is as much rooted in improvisational jazz as it is in rock. And that does not adequately describe it either... not by a long shot. You could compare this to the hectic jazz-rock style of John Zorn, or mention the names of Frank Zappa or Fred Frith, but this name-dropping does not do this music right.
Maybe it is best described by some lyrics from the band itself:
Just simply stop reading this and discover Regarding Purgatories for yourself. [Antonio Termeer]
Mark Laliberte is a multimedia artist and a founding member of Thinkbox, a media arts collective in Windsor, Canada. Released last year, Pillowscenes documents the audio component to Laliberte's continuing audiovisual project of the same name, which has been in continuous development since 1996. In its current manifestation, subtitled "Labyrinth", a series of grim photographs of male and female models posed in a state of sleep is accompanied by short sound compositions played through speakers embedded on pillows at floor level. "Sleep" doesn't seem to be an accurate term to use here; it looks more like death than sleep. These nightmarish images suggest the morbidity of snapshots from bizarre and surreal murder scenes. The CD comes packaged with a descriptive essay by Lorenzo Buj and a selection of images from the series. The compositions are dark atmospheres and sound collages with sinister, brooding moods. This dark mood in the music matches well the morbidity in the photographs. Samples, feedback, voices, breathing, distant music, a few melodic movements but mostly abstract sounds fill these 24 pieces, ranging from 9 seconds to just over 7 minutes in length (the entire CD runs for over 70 minutes). Repetitions in the samples, whether it's a phrase from a news story, a frightened whisper or a sinister growl, make for an uneasy listening experience, and I doubt whether Laliberte would be apologetic for the unease his pieces cause. Rather, this is probably the effect he's going for, and as such I couldn't conjure much enthusiasm for this project as a whole. Although there were a few moments where the sound collages were more successful, managing to pique my interest, I found the dominating sounds, mood and subject matter to be too oppressive and morbid for my interests. Perhaps these compositions work better in a more formal installation setting, but on their own the sound collages seem to lack direction, moving rather in circles than in a straight line. Challenging and relentlessly dark, Pillowscenes proves to be a grim and uneasy experience; a dark world where there is neither hope, nor light nor air to breathe. [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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