19 August 2001
Another instalment in Staalplaat's Material series of specially packaged discs of minimal-glitch electronica (by now I have lost track of how many there are currently in the series). Heimir Björgúlfsson, one third of the trio Stilluppsteypa, presents 7 tracks in 14 minutes of music. John Hudak contributes a few sounds on one of the tracks. Machine Natura (an interpretation inconsistent with the actuality of a situation), is a strange journey; the sounds seem like they are one part natural field recording and one part digitalia, and yet the line where one ends and the other begins is ambiguous at best. There are also a number of sharp contrasts in this music, and it certainly explores an impressive array of ideas in such a short period of time. If you're not listening to this in your headphones or in a quiet, secluded environment, you might think that somewhere around track 5 the sounds have disappeared, opening up in an expanse of silence. And yet, there are these short, soft sounds which gently punctuate the silence, becoming softer and softer until another sharp transition leads you through to the end of the disc. Engaging and dramatic, another fine release from Björgúlfsson and the Material series. [Richard di Santo]
Andrew Langmanis Diey, aka Black Faction, aka Foreign Terrain, is a sound designer and musician based in Manchester and working for a large part in creating soundtracks and effects for video games, radio programs and commercials. His latest CD for Soleilmoon (having previously released LP-1 as Foreign Terrain), is largely inspired by the journey in Dante's Divine Comedy. Throughout the nine pieces on this album there is a very nice sound design at work dark and dynamic although the themes are sometimes fraught with a kind of cheesy melodrama (the demonic laughter and monologue in "Virgil's Bridge", for example). I am reminded of the sort of comic book gloom, inspired by all things dark, magical and fantastic, in which I was immersed in my early teens. And in some ways these first few tracks look back to the old school of ambient-industrial music ("many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore"). The fifth track, "Sepia Indata", introduces a middle eastern flavour into the mix and contains one of the most intriguing arrangements on the album; a bewitching purr of vocal fragments and harmonies. "Afghan Front v1.1" is said to be an homage to the late Bryn Jones aka Muslimgauze, although admittedly it seems more electro than I was expecting. If my ears are not mistaken, a short sample from vocalist Sheila Chandra (from "Dhyana and Donalogue", I think) also appears briefly and well hidden in the mix. A pleasant, chunky walking pace rhythm dominates the final piece, bathed in soft strings and warm sounds. Nicely done. In all, Internal Dissident Part 1 seems to be consumed more by nostalgia than in breaking into new forms; but, like the paradigm of Dante's pilgrimage in the Divine Comedy, perhaps it is just a confirmation that one must always take one step back in order to take two steps forward. [Richard di Santo]
Deadbeat is Montréal resident Scott Monteith. Having previously released a few 12 inch records on Hautec, Revolver and Background Records, Primordia is his debut full-length release. The sounds on this album are heavily influenced by the likes of Vladislav Delay, Stefan Betke's school of dub, and the Mille Plateaux institution of minimal techno, immediately apparent by the submerged sounds, clicks, micro-dub and heavy delay effects dominating these tracks. That being said, Deadbeat is travelling upon familiar terrain, although he does manage to put his own spin on the conventions laid out before him. The pieces on this record develop slowly, and all carry that distinctive "submerged" feel, as if the sounds were processed through an dense underwater filter. Minimal yet commanding rhythms unfold from the murky mass of atmosphere and dub effects. Deep bass grooves carry you through from track to track with great effect, and crackles and drones surface in seemingly irregular patterns. The music reveals Deadbeat's acute sense of detail and his skill in developing the mood and rhythm in any given track. Although the aesthetic and style of this music runs on familiar territory, there are some new ideas and intriguing arrangements here that are definitely worth checking out. Nicely done. [Richard di Santo]
Performing on electronics, percussion, sampler, guitars and various devices, Werner Defeldecker and Boris D. Hegenbart have collaborated to create Eis 9 (or "Ice [cream] 9") for the improvisational "church" of Grob. The intentions here remain on the light side: Eis 9 is a summer album of improvisations, as refreshing as an ice cream on a hot summer's day. Sparse chords from guitar, various percussion textures, abstract electronics, clicks, tones and strange sounds both acoustic and electronic are the toys found in this vast playing field. Complex games are improvised, executed with a meticulous attention to detail and an admirable sensitivity to quiet, delicate sounds. Quiet and thoughtful nothing too heady, harsh, or difficult these are some very nice pieces, representing the more pleasant side of experimental improv. [Richard di Santo]
Oceanless is the second full length for Landing, a quartet based in Utah creating atmospheric psychedelic post-rock for the masses. Landing is Aaron Snow (guitar, synth, drums, vocal), Daron Gardner (drums), Dick Baldwin (bass, guitar) and Adrienne Snow (synth, vocals). They are also joined by David Lifrieri (guitar, vinyl loops and vocals) on one track. Landing's specialty is creating long, dreamlike pieces that seem to hang suspended in the air; a dense, richly layered psych-rock conducive to all the wanderings of the mind. Things begin mellow and contemplative, with long drones and textures. By the third track ("Rial Veed Fiir") they begin to introduce more harsh textures on guitar. Sometimes there's a little too much harshness here for my taste; if you stripped away that top layer you'd have a great piece, but with this wall of rough sound in the foreground I found it was more difficult to enjoy the beauty inherent in some of this music. Yet these moments are in the minority, as I found much of this album to be an interesting sojourn through the post-rock terrain (consider the dreamy atmospheres of "How did you feel?" or the mesmerizing chords of "Are You Gone to Vast Arc Hues?"). Even if this sort of dreamy, surreal space-rock doesn't usually find its way into my music library, this one's definitely a keeper. [Richard di Santo]
A solid release from California sound artist Marcelo Cavallari (his first as Nuisance Beacon), this disc features a series of five "cycles" of sound. The cycles feature noise-laden drones and rhythmic pulses of alien mechanics, all punctuated by wailing sirens and hissy accents. On the surface, it's occasionally repetitive, but there are always background machinations in place to propel things along. Take the track "Third Cycle" for example, with its striking foreground poundings that vary little in their thirteen minutes of assault; the background is where the details lie. The variations in reverb, hum, hiss and crackle are what create the momentum of the piece. Things settle down somewhat by the end, and what was unheralded noise at the start of the disc has evolved into a more complex layering of welcome sound waves. The final track is evocative of early :zoviet*france: work (without the folly). Pleasantly diminutive packaging completes the picture on this, a very fulfilling 70 minutes of sound. [Vils M DiSanto]
One of the latest in the Mort Aux Vaches series of discs recorded at the VPRO studios. Roger Rotor has been involved in various projects of electronic music since the 80s (Bloodstar, Myiase and Rotor Syndrom among others), from grind/noise to industrial techno, characterised by their hypnotic rhythms and improvised manipulations. Without the use of sampling or digital sequencing, Rotor (synths, rhythm, tapes, effects) is joined on this recording by Rolf Brunner (car, synths, tapes). The first piece starts things off in a more experimental vein. Bizarre sounds, like a heavily processed guitar moving about restlessly, mingle with strange manipulations that buzz around like flies, first chaotically then finally locking into a slow, complex rhythm. A dark drone underscores the surface, indicating the dark mood which dominates the music on this disc. The second piece unfolds slowly, and in the thick of a dense atmosphere comes a developing and infectious minimal techno rhythm that builds in intensity. The third and final track (these are all long pieces, with a total run time of just over 45 minutes) is the most energetic on the disc. A strong, hypnotic, industrial techno rhythm takes you right through to the end, scarred by various tape manipulations, dark atmospheres and all manner of strange cut-up sounds. In all, Rotor achieves an intriguing balance of atmosphere and rhythm in these live recordings, and I've enjoyed this record more and more with repeated listening. Another milestone in the post-industrial landscape. Nicely done. [Richard di Santo]
Co-founder of the English improv ensemble AMM (established in 1966), Keith Rowe has been an influential figure in experimental improvisation over his longstanding career. You can always count on Rowe, who performs on table top guitar, to surprise you as he explores and exploits his instrument (see the excellent CD Harsh, released last year on Grob). Burkhard Beins has been performing in contemporary and improvisation circles since the 80s. This is the first project I have heard from Beins, who is also a member of Perlonex (formerly Perlon), who also have a new release out on Zarek. Beins performs on percussion, using the drum as a resonator for amplifying the sounds of other objects. This CD brings us two studio pieces and one live piece. Bowing and scraping, abstract tones, disembodied chords, fluttering cymbals... this duo is able to provoke all manner of sounds from their instruments. Sometimes its a little tricky trying to discern which player is producing which sound. There is some very intense playing here, often moving from a beautiful and quiet expanse to a more rough-edged and audible outburst, but in all an enjoyable disc with a hint of mystery in its mood. [Richard di Santo]
Todd Carter, Brent Gutzeit and Michael Hartman, aka TV Pow, recorded this album at the VPRO studios during their first visit to Europe in 1999. Based in Chicago, this innovative trio of improvisers transcend the usual "laptop" preconceptions, employing a fair dose of acoustic and invented instruments in their living arrangements. I say "living", because it seems that this music breathes with activity and spontaneity, and yet strangely it all seems very highly organized at the same time. Clusters of crackles, high and low frequencies, pulses, processed samples, field recordings and an immense host of microscopic sounds create fascinating and dynamic sound environments. Most of this music remains delicate and in the abstract, rarely manifesting itself into something resembling a rhythm (as in "Take the Literature, Ma'am"). And yet many of these pieces have an almost hypnotic effect with their harmonic pulses and frequencies (see especially the incredible final track "American Temporary"). Amusing track titles ("There's No Such Thing As A DJ, Everyone's An MC (House mix)") add a refreshing element of playfulness to this project. A note in the press release says that TV Pow is banned from making appearances in Canada, and I wonder if this is really so... and why? Regardless, Being Nice is Funny comes highly recommended, a wonderful new addition to the always surprising Mort Aux Vaches series. [Richard di Santo]
Each of the six contributions on this compilation were originally conceived as part of the "Format 5" electronic sound art festival in Berlin. They were produced as multi-channel works for presentation in a church, but have now been reworked as stereo compositions for this release. The sound stage is particularly engaging, especially when monitoring through headphones: the range is wide open, and sounds travel back and forth with a sense of flexibility and ease throughout all the tracks here. Contributors include Golden Tone (comprised of Fennesz and Zeitblom), Signal (Olaf Bender, Frank Bretschneider and Carsten Nicolai), O+A (Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger), Wolfgang Mitterer, and Berliner Theorie (Sam Auinger and Rupert Huber). Squiggly sounds punctuate Golden Tone's lengthy track here, and considering the gorgeously wide stereo range which it starts off with, it finishes in a cramped mono mix for its last half, though not to its detriment. Frank Bretschneider's solo track is a minimal layering of slowly panning beeps and cracks set against the backdrop of a gradually ascending hum. Creepingly dramatic. Wolfgang Mitterer's piece, "Radio Fractal" explodes into action and features a resolutely haunting duet of German singers tuned in through some radio from beyond (the voices reminded me of the otherworldly voices on the Ash International Ghost Orchid release from a few years back). The compilation closes with the warm tones of Berliner Theorie, reminiscent of the more ambient moments of Biosphere. A very interesting compilation, with a definite sense of flow and kinship among the contributors. The tracks are each quite different in composition from one another, yet they form a strong and balanced whole. [Vils M DiSanto]
American composer and performer Philip Corner has had a prolific career as an imaginative and innovative voice in new music. He has been a member of Fluxus, Frog Peak Music (from which his scores are readily available) and many more (see his many releases on Alga Marghen). In 40 Years and One, XI Records makes available nine pieces of music for solo piano, all recorded in 1998 but reflecting the different stages in his longstanding career as a composer and musician. The moods vary just as the styles and performance techniques vary from piece to piece, each attempting to capture, or recapture, moments in a history of continuous musical creation. In turns minimal, contemplative, complex and caressing, Corner's compositions and performances are beautiful and often seem deceptively simple, whether expressing a brief flash of joy or an evenly moving melody which permutates a 12-tone row. They breathe of spirit and creativity, and when considering a piece like "C major Chord", with its sensual, repetitive three note triad, this music seems to be the stuff of pure inspiration. The final piece, "Perfect", is a stunning 20 minute performance where Corner coaxes uncanny vibrations directly from the piano strings themselves. The disc comes packaged with notes on each of the pieces by Corner as well as commentaries from various contemporaries and colleagues. [Richard di Santo]
Comprised of six musicians, four filmmakers and a live soundman, M'lumbo is a multimedia ensemble with its sights bent on breaking out of any preconceived notion of "packaged" music. And for this restlessness, The Nine Billion Names of God is a difficult record to pin down. Released earlier this year on the always surprising Multimood Records, the album crosses many genres and conventions (from jazz to techno, sound collage to world fusion), playing on musical traditions and breaking from just as many, creating a wild and free collection of tracks. The group performs on a wide variety of instruments, including sax, guitars, keyboards, bass, radio, percussion and all manner of devices and everyday objects (shoes, egg slicer, fortune cookies, etc.). I must admire the diversity and brashness in this music, and yet at the same time I found its melting pot of styles and constant shifting somewhat disconcerting; as if it was uncertain as to where it wanted to be at any given time (or perhaps I was uncertain whether I wanted to be where it was taking me). M'lumbo's intense hyperactivity may be inspiring admiration and praise, but I found that this music has also inspired a certain discomfort and unease, as over the weeks I have found it increasingly difficult to fully embrace this music or penetrate its restless nature. Still, a difficult journey which certainly constitutes a challenge for the complacent and adventurous listener alike. [Richard di Santo]
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