> Archive > Music Review 33

5 August 2001

Gustavo Aguilar: Looking For Aztlan
Biosphere: Substrata / Man with a Movie Camera
Coeurl / Vertonen: Split tour 7"
Paolo Giaro: I Vu Di
D. Haines: Emo
Jazzkamer: Rolex
Zbigniew Karkowski / Xopher Davidson: Function Generator
Morphine Boutique: don't dolby the bedroom composers
Pure: Low
Rotoscope: Great Curves
Wobbly: Regards
Dion Workman / Rohan Thomas: k
Various: Naked and Alone on the Celebrity Circuit
Kallabris: 81°n.b., 178° ö.L.
Seth Nehil: Tracing the skins of clouds


GUSTAVO AGUILAR: Looking For Aztlan
Acoustic Levitation / Pax Recordings | AL1006 | CD

Looking for Aztlan is Gustavo Aguilar's follow up to his solo debut Dreaming with Serpents (also on Acoustic Levitation). A percussionist with a flair for blending notated and improvised musical elements, Aguilar here presents nine tracks of diverse sounds and structures with strong "ethnic" elements. The album features only one original composition by Aguilar ("The River"); the rest of the tracks are interpretations of compositions by Phil Curtis, Jonathan Grasse, John Bergamo, David Johnson and Ernesto Diaz-Infante. Aguilar uses a host of hand percussions, drums, cymbals and also a marimba on a number of pieces. He also uses his voice, sometimes as a texture (as in the first piece, "Diaspora"), sometimes for spoken word (as in "Like a Zebra Towards the Island of Yesterday", featuring a poem by Jose Juan Tablada), and sometimes strained in song (as in "The River"). With the exception of the first piece, where the voice is used more as a texture than as a means of communication, I was not at all taken by the vocal contributions, often sounding a little out of place or awkward, and for me the strengths of this album lie in the complex instrumentation. "Us and Them", based on a composition by John Bergamo, offers a beautiful rhythm for marimba. David Johnson's "Obra De La Tierra" opens up many percussive textures and rhythms before the listener, a wonderful and complex piece respecting silence as much as sound. Aguilar also interprets "Solus", a composition by Ernesto Diaz-Infante (originally released as a composition for solo piano), and again Aguilar shows his versatility and strengths as both an improviser and interpreter. Nicely done, with a few weaker moments, but overall an interesting document exploring open compositions and percussive textures. [Richard di Santo]



Mathbat Records / Arcolepsy Records | MBAR 01 | CD

This self-titled release by the Toronto based ambient trio ARC is the follow up to their debut disc released last year on CDR. Comprised of Aidan Baker (guitar), Richard Baker (drum kit, percussion) and Christopher Kukiel (djembe, tabla, percussion), ARC works as an improvisational group, creating open-ended jams that cite space rock as much as ethno-ambient as influences on their style and sound. The strengths of the group lie with Aidan Baker's guitar textures, creating thick walls of sound, sometimes harsh and sometimes ethereal, which act as the "glue" keeping the music together. The ebb and flow of percussions remain simple; rather than exploring percussive textures (which I'm convinced would make things a little more interesting and dynamic), they are content to simply pound away, rising occasionally to assist in creating a climax or two in any given piece. The disc features two live recordings which took place at two different venues in the spring of 2001. Clearly influenced by the respective venues, the first session is louder, more aggressive and rock-oriented in style, where the second is a little more ambient. Both sets, however, are characterised by a similar, sinister atmosphere; the moods are strong and they have a way of encroaching on the listening space. ARC is first and foremost a live band; having seen them in concert, I can say that these pieces are best heard live in a performance space, so the transition to a CD release isn't without its sacrifices (not least of which is the quality of the recordings, often coming across as a bit "heavy" and lacking in clarity). Perhaps we'll see a more fully realised studio recording in the future? [Richard di Santo]



BIOSPHERE: Substrata / Man with a Movie Camera
Touch | TO:50 | 2CD

Substrata, Geir Jenssen's classic ambient album originally released by All Saints Records in 1997, gets the "remastered and repackaged with bonus material" treatment by Touch. The bonus material in question consists of Jenssen's soundtrack to Man With A Movie Camera, a Russian silent film from 1929 by Dziga Vertov, as well as two tracks originally released with the Japanese edition of Substrata. The soundtrack was originally commissioned for the Tromsø International Film Festival in 1996, and is available here for the first time. Released as a 2CD set with beautiful packaging (courtesy of Jon Wozencroft and Heitor Alvelos), it seems a little strange that this should have been released at a time when the All Saints edition is still readily available. Substrata is a quintessential Biosphere record, and, along with the more recent Cirque CD (also on Touch) it is essential listening for any ambient fan; distinctive, dream-like atmospheres, slow rhythms and narratives from distant voices carry you through this opaque, icy sound world. The second disc, Man With A Movie Camera, uses a lot of the same source material used in Substrata (as in the vocal samples, for example, which if my ears are not deceiving me, are sourced from Twin Peaks), but the structures are more tight, periodically erupting into more energetic electro rhythms, matched by the arctic stillness that characterises so much of Biosphere's work. Purists should note that the original Substrata was not restructured or reworked for this release, just remastered, which also means that unless you're a die-hard Biosphere fan looking to own his complete works, this release probably won't serve much of a purpose if you already have the original. That being said, since its original release four years ago, Substrata has quickly become an ambient classic, owing to Jenssen's unique sound, a strange, compelling world of loneliness seen through a lens clouded by ice and snow. If you have yet to be introduced to his work, this is a perfect place to start. [Richard di Santo]



COEURL / VERTONEN: Split tour 7"
C.I.P. | 009 | 7"

This split 7 inch record was produced to coincide with a tour of the west coast by these two artists. Coeurl, aka Jason Soliday, is also a member of the experimental duo Gunshop. He takes the first side with a minimal arrangement of tones, high frequency whistles and sharp sounds interrupting the flow. This impressive piece, if a little short, falls comfortably into the mold of today's microsound conventions, a quiet meditation composed of dynamic, minimal tones. On the second side, Vertonen is the sound project of C.I.P. founder Blake Edwards. His piece is vastly different from Coeurl's, beginning with a dark atmospheric loop of what sounds like muffled metal clanging. The piece takes an unexpected turn with the introduction of several high pitched whistles and shrills, which are piercing to the ears and quite unsettling as they escalate in intensity, still preserving the underlying drone as the foundation for the piece. Vertonen's track certainly rouses a reaction, though, which may very well have been the point here. One side lulls you into complacency while the other gets you up from your seat. Limited to just 133 copies. [Richard di Santo]



Vel Net | VN2001 | CD

Paolo Giaro's I Vu Di is the debut release for Vel Net, a new label and multimedia publishing house based in Bari, Italy, and founded by Mario Volpe, who also had a hand in the making of this CD (soundscapes and production). This is the fifth release for Paolo Giaro, who performs on guitars, voice, keyboards, loops and something called a "moka". He is joined by Carlo Colocci (sax), Alfredo Trebbi (double bass), Vladimir Zubitski (accordion) and Daniela Ferrati (piano). I Vu Di is a charming little record: the music remains lighthearted and pleasant, inconsequential, playful even. Drawing on neo-classical traditions, jazz, country, folk, global rhythms and motifs, the music is not characterised by a particular geographical or cultural sensibility, but is rather affected from all sides. Nine pieces in total, with only a few disappointments along the way that fail to capture my interest (the banal "Alture" or "Occhi Ridenti", for example). From the playful "I Vu Di", on which Giaro's skillful fretwork is matched by a charming vocal melody, to the more atmospheric soundscapes of "Sea Spirits"; or from the neo-classical "Fading Story" to a more standard pop track "Fuori Di Queste Mura" that closes off the disc, this album is nothing too ambitious or experimental and is just barely noteworthy, but it makes for a pleasant journey to while away the time on a warm summer day. [Richard di Santo]



Sigma Editions | 009 | CD

The latest offering from David Haines and Sigma Editions, Emo contains three long pieces of densely layered harmonic drones. This is the second CD for Haines, who in 1999 released a disc called Blither, also on Sigma Editions. I was immediately drawn to this music, completely captivated by these sonic structures, charged with energy and full of impact. In large part this music reminds me of Mirror, the phenomenal experimental ambient project of Christoph Heemann, Andrew Chalk and Andreas Martin. Like Mirror, Haines works by layering long drones of varying frequency ranges, and in their mingling they create complex harmonic structures and mysterious, captivating moods. Each piece begins softly as the sounds build and build in intensity, until finally, slowly, they fade into the silence. This is experimental ambient at its finest. Highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]



VME / Smalltown Supersound | STS045 | CD

After the release of their first two albums Timex (on Rune Grammofon,1999) and Hot Action Sexy Karaoke (on Ground Fault, 2000), Jazzkammer members Lasse Marhaug and John Hegre invited a number of artists to remix and rework their material. Rolex is comprised of 14 tracks and features contributions from the likes of Zbigniew Karkowski, Merzbow, Thurston Moore, Francisco López, Reynolds, Pita, R. Sundin and others. Jazzkammer themselves offer two of their own remixes. Not being familiar with the original material, I can't say much about how the original tracks have been transformed by each of the contributors, but I can evaluate each of the contributions on their own merits. Jazzkammer seems to work on an abstract electronic-noise-static-pulse dynamic, since all of the compositions have at least the traces of this (admittedly vague) common thread. And yet here the similarities stop, as each of the contributions is a distinct sound world, independent of the others and always different than the last. Consider the harsh cutups in Thurston Moore's contribution, or the haunting atmospheres by Reynolds, a quiet ode by López, the subtle frequencies and light touches of Alexander Richaug's piece, or a child's laughter in the track by Maja S.K. Ratkje. The transitions from piece to piece, and even the transitions within each track, are often sharp and unexpected, which makes for a provoking (if uneasy) listening experience. Yet all of this is not without its rewards. Favourites for me are contributions by Karkowski, Reynolds, Tore Honoré Bøe, TV Pow and López, but I could easily name a few more. Jazzkammer's own contributions are also among the most captivating here. A few of these contributors are new names for me, and their contributions promise possibly great things to come. Be prepared for a thrilling, bumpy ride. [Richard di Santo]



SIRR.ecords | 2003 | CD

Prolific sound artist Zbigniew Karkowski teams up with Xopher Davidson (aka Antimatter) for Function Generator, the latest disc from the blossoming organisation SIRR.ecords. One long track, approximately 50 minutes in length, was created using only extremely low frequencies (no higher than 100 hz). The result is an incredible piece of shifting pulses, rumblings and tones. My impulse is to turn the volume up and bathe myself in these sounds, really immerse myself so that I am living and breathing in them. The house becomes alive with vibrations, with these pulses which are constantly changing and morphing into new forms and arrangements. What makes this recording so successful is that it isn't just a showcase for low frequency pulses; what captures my interest and engages my senses are the tensions between pulses, the frictions produced as they rub up against each other and seem to manifest themselves physically in the listening space. The piece ends as the pulses break down dramatically, one by one. What an incredible listening experience. Truly, this album is bliss. [Richard di Santo]



MORPHINE BOUTIQUE: don't dolby the bedroom composers
Tête-à-tête | TAT02 | CD

Morphine Boutique is a joint project between Axel Boehm and Thomas André, two Berlin-based artists who have their first release here on the young label Tête-à-tête. What we are treated to is a bric-a-brac of fourteen tracks, starting with some Pete Namlook impressions and jumping to Mille Plateaux-style minimal house stylings, snappy jazz cut-ups, and many points in between. It all leads to a mixed end result; we are offered a few too many genre swaps, and not enough concentration on some of their stronger musical ideas. The track "Not To Give A Hoot About", for instance, has a catchy little melody, but ends in very short time. It is followed by a peaceful ambient number, "Naloxon", with pleasant, soft beats punctuating the choral air that surrounds them. Soon after comes "Digitalis Antidota", a fourteen-minute track of glitchy cut-and-paste mentality. A definite glut in the center of the disc, it brings the momentum down for too long a time. Things pick up towards the end of the disc, when the Boutique brings in some jazzy bass lines and some Squarepusher-style speedy beats. The final track, "Bc@e Medley" is a tumbling romp with a whimsical edge that gives a pleasing exit to the proceedings. Some definite high points and some misjudgments lead to an overall jumbled impression, but a follow-up release might see a more concentrated result. [Vils M DiSanto]



Staalplaat | STCD 149 | CD

A recent addition to Staalplaat's very fine Material series, this one makes history by being the first that is a full-length. A definite departure for a series that has been hailed for the brevity of each release up to now. Where contributions by Radboud Mens or Massimo took advantage of the 20-minute medium by punctuating their releases with staccato noises and quick cuts, Pure has gone the opposite direction here by treating us to extended sections of metallic drone work. The four pieces occupy the higher end of the frequency spectrum, and so punctuate the air with undeniable precision and tenacity. The pieces don't necessarily 'evolve', as is the case with other recordings in this genre; they permeate and never stray too far from their course. A seemingly minimal layering of buzz, fuzz and drone each play off one another to great effect. Sometimes one layer is manipulated while the others remain constant, and this is what gives the disc its permeable edge. I am left with a feeling of master manipulation on the part of Pure, who have designed this disc to linger long after its play time has concluded. An extremely well produced disc, this is one that should not be overlooked. [Vils M DiSanto]



ROTOSCOPE: Great Curves
Jester Records | Trick 015 | CD

Based somewhere in Norway, Rotoscope was formed by Andreas Mjøs in 1999. It is a collective of artists and performers with diverse musical backgrounds (from pop to jazz, from electro to noise), including Lars Horntveth and Rune Brøndbo, all of which are new names for me. Great Curves is their debut release. Joining Andreas Mjøs at the helm of this project is its co-producer Jørgen Træen, who assisted in remixing the original songs into more abstract musical structures through the use of electronic effects and manipulations. The album covers a lot of musical ground, from cut up vocal pieces with sparse instrumental arrangements, to an approximation of drum'n'bass in "The Bogota Sub", or from the harsh noisefest in the first track to an intriguing jazz riff in "Cooks Whip, Music Goes On". There's a lot of skillful manipulations going on here; Træen and Mjøs work their way with great ease through most of these tracks, with only a few less interesting moments along the way. Listening, I found that the vocal tracks are among the most intriguing here. In both "All That You Owned" and "Carpet Illusions", the voice (by Christine Sandtorv from the group Ephemera) seems to be disembodied, the words no longer connected with their meanings, reduced to abstractions, and the sounds that accompany these words are equally fragmented and abstract. With a respectful nod to the vocal stylings of Björk, Sandtorv sings a heartfelt conclusion in the final track "Traveller", before giving way to a contemplative medley for sax and clarinet. In all, an interesting record, offering yet another permutation in the blending of experimental electronic, jazz and pop musical forms. [Richard di Santo]



WOBBLY: Regards
Alku | 3" CDR

Wobbly, aka Jon Leidecker from San Francisco, has some fun on Regards, the latest release from Spain's Alku label. Presenting fourteen tracks in no less than 19 minutes, Wobbly has created a dizzying kaleidoscope of electro rhythms, bizarre manipulations and abstract cutups. He crams as many samples as he can find into these short tracks (he provides a list "for reference only" that includes names like Ice Cube and the Residents), and each track is a real flurry of activity, with only a few moments of reflection and rest. All manner of sounds come at you from all sides, and are arranged in a seemingly chaotic collage, often erupting into humourous rhythms comprised of quirky sounds. The last track is probably the most consistent of the lot, starting slowly with a solitary piano, flourishing occasionally as the track evolves into a nice mellow techno rhythm. At times this music reminded me of the playfulness found in various projects on the Sonig label (Vert or Scratch Pet Land, for example), but otherwise Wobbly is in a world entirely his own. [Richard di Santo]



Sigma Editions | 006 | CD

Two tracks of minimal tones and silences by Dion Workman (of Thela) and Rohan Thomas. They keep things asymmetrical, non-rhythmic and random, yet the pieces progress in deliberate, slow movements, one step at a time. The high pitched whistles change depending on your position in the room, the low rumblings fit perfectly in your ears, the delicate crackles and soft tones play gently around the soundfield... and for all this K has much in common with the microsound experiments of Ryoji Ikeda, Mika Vainio and others of that ilk. I'm doubtful as to whether Workman and Thomas are bringing anything new to the table, but nonetheless these are two interesting pieces that, at the very least, create new, minimal environments in your living space. [Richard di Santo]



VARIOUS: Naked and Alone on the Celebrity Circuit
Diskono | 07 | CD

The latest Diskono compilation features 26 tracks with no less than 26 contributors, edited and assembled by Diskono. The roster includes Pimmon, Felix Kubin, Lucky Kitchen's Alejandra and Aeron, Alku's Opopop, Kid 606, Black Dot Corporation (Mike Hartman of TV Pow), Aerospace Soundwise (Todd Carter of TV Pow), Hrvatski and a host of others. Some names I know and others I don't know, like Gunter Saxonhammer and Ruth Random. How to describe this disc? A real witch's brew of ingredients, processed samples, musical edits, voices (including an hilarious bit with a rowdy Scotsman), field recordings, loops, hiss, crackles, noise, all manner of sound fragments, and even some spoken word (Felix Kubin tells a strange sort of joke). All the pieces have an informal and playful quality about them, reflecting that here is a group of artists really enjoying themselves by exchanging files and having some fun with convention and sound. The end result is very fragmented, but an enjoyable journey filled to the brim with intriguing bits and pieces. [Richard di Santo]



KALLABRIS: 81°n.b., 178° ö.L.
Drone Records | DR-30 | 7"

First released in 1998, then reissued in December 2000, this 7 inch is one of the more recent offerings from the mysterious German group Kallabris, who have since gone on to release only one more record, Considération sur/sous le café on Genesungswerk. Somehow associated with the Cranioclast/CoC family, the members of this group are unknown (at least to me), but they have been releasing industrial soundscapes and nightmares since the 80s. The theme for this release is an arctic exhibition on the U-68, an issue of historical veracity argued in an accompanying essay on "the real story of the first kallabrist arctic expedition with the U-68", where it is explained that the Soviets were not the first to land close to the North Pole (romantically referred to as the "Pole of Inaccessibility"). Having never heard of the kallabrists, and knowing precious little about the history of North Pole research, I can't say much about the argument, as interesting as it surely is, so let's turn to the record itself. On one side, the navigational bleeps of a sonar sound regularly as a sharp wave, a dark drone weaves in and out with uncanny depth and impact. I tell you, this is a truly fantastic sound! Distant scrapings and soundings in the background, strange and frightening, blend with distant, fragmented voices in the midst of this underwater nightmare. On the other side, sharp whistles and tones flutter across the soundfield; they come up close then quickly withdraw. An unexpected element of melancholy from an accordion comes in, drifts away, and returns at the conclusion of the piece, now coming full circle, but not before giving ample room for the distant voices and the deep tolling of bells to roam, sounding as if the gongs are immersed in the deepest, coldest sea. For a 7 inch record, these pieces seem uncharacteristically generous in length, evident in the way they move freely and develop slowly and with deliberate steps. This is an absolutely stunning work which makes me hungry for more from this mysterious group known as Kallabris. [Richard di Santo]



SETH NEHIL: Tracing the skins of clouds
Kaon | ao98 CD

Sound artist Seth Nehil (who has worked with John Grzinich as Alial Straa and with the Orogenetics arts collective) here explores the nature of sound as texture in Tracing the skins of clouds, released on the Kaon label in 1998. Electroacoustic, musique concrète, call it what you like, this project takes a close look at all manner of sounds and aural textures. Amazingly, no contact microphones were used for these recordings, but rather open-air acoustic sources. The sources are left undefined, which leaves the imagination free to roam for metaphors and guesses as to the objects Nehil is using in these recordings. With a few words on the disc's sleeve ­ "our bodies trace the tactile tension between ground and sky" ­ we sense that there is a certain magic at work here. Close scrapings, as if dragging an object on a concrete floor, drones of sounds, seemingly stretched with effects but Nehil has been known to abstain from using any superfluous effects in his work, preferring instead to coax a wealth of sounds and drones from the objects themselves. The three long pieces on the disc are quiet, with rumblings and scrapings layered carefully in complex yet seamless arrangements (this is most clear in the aptly titled third piece, "stratus"), and the results are rather relaxing. My body and my mind are at ease with these sounds, exploring with a strange sort of calm the nuances and details in these uncanny sounds. Highly recommended, and another fine release from Kaon, with an attractive sleeve featuring woodcuts from a seventeenth century text on the history of rare species of plants. [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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