28 October 2001
Poems and Preludes presents twenty of Brian Agro's latest compositions for solo piano, interpreted and performed by Tomas Bächli. Brian Agro, born in Hamilton, Canada and now living in Berlin, released his debut CD on Percaso in 1989 titled A Hole in the Ice. Tomas Bächli, born in Zurich and now also living in Berlin, has been awarded numerous prizes for his work in promoting, interpreting and performing new music. Describing these pieces does not come easily, although listening to this music comes with great ease. Compositions for solo piano often capture my interest and imagination, although I often struggle to describe exactly what it is that so captivates me. Such is the case with Brian Agro's music. All of these pieces are short (from one to four minutes in length), and are defined by what Thomas Meyer describes in the liner notes as being largely "unremarkable". These poems, preludes and études each capture their own unique mood, theme and presence. Agro's music is a book of snapshots. The style might be described as neoclassical, reminiscent in turns of Satie or Debussy, but this is merely a suggestion, an affinity only hinted at in this music. At times the music takes flight in a sudden flurry of keys, at times it returns to the soil, sullen and slow. These pieces are at once simple and complex, remarkable and unremarkable, caged and free. Poems and Preludes is a lyrical and evocative new work. [Richard di Santo]
For his latest release, sound and installation artist M. Behrens turned to analyze and reconstitute his past works into a new structure. Elapsed Time was initially created in 1996 using sound material dating back through 1989. It was inspired by the book The Secret War by Brian Johnson, which investigates the technological war between Germany and England during the Second World War. Behrens became fascinated by the experiences of the pilots engaged in surveillance or bombing activities and of the sailors aboard submarines hidden in the depths of the oceans, and especially by their "particular sort of loneliness" which must have been experienced during these missions. In 1996 Behrens had already become accustomed to using computers as his central tool in composing his sound works, however the source material that he was revisiting at that time was largely made by using tape machines, digital samplers and effects processors. In reworking these older compositions into the structure that is now Elapsed Time, Behrens used only tape-based editing and analogue equalizers, edited with the assistance of Atom Heart in 1996, pre-mastered in 1997 and finally mastered in 2000. In short, Elapsed Time is a work with a long history, and its title carries a new significance in light of this.
Each of the seven tracks is titled after the seven years of the Second World War between 1939 and 1945. They undergo constant shifts, jumping from one sound to the next in sharp contrasts. The sounds are largely abstract, implying perhaps the circuitry behind the technology. Some of the sounds feel isolated and distant , and are probably what Behrens is referring to when he describes this music as being made "with every notion of distance and remoteness," reflecting the loneliness of the pilots, soldiers and sailors described above. Low frequency pulses, high pitched hiss, tape manipulations and found sounds of varying timbre and intensity fall into and out of earshot; each piece is as dramatic and dynamic as the last. The arrangements remain abstract; tight rhythms and conventional melodic structures have no place here. For me, the second piece best encapsulates the essence of these recordings. A low, distant rumbling creeps in with stunning vibrations, and switches gears quickly to a short low frequency burst, followed by a series of successive shifts and jumps, each new sound as engaging as the last, creating a distinct feeling of isolation and apprehension. An accomplished and introspective work, revealing new details and hidden sounds with repeated listening. Highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Maria Falling Away documents six compositions by composer and multi-instrumentalist Rick Cox, composed over the past 11 years. Cox has been an active performer and composer whose contributions can be heard in numerous film scores (Inside Monkey Zetterland and The End of Violence, among others) and in collaborations with the likes of Ry Cooder and Jon Hassell. Cox performs on guitars (electric, prepared electric, baritone electric), alto sax, clarinet and sampler, and is joined on this record by Jon Hassell (trumpet), Thomas Newman (piano), Jeff Elmassian (clarinet) and Chas Smith (pedal steel). The focal point for all of these compositions is the electric guitar; its soft echo runs deeply through all of these pieces. A lot of this music reminded me of the moods in Wim Wenders' film The End of Violence, and so it doesn't surprise me at all that Cox contributed to Ry Cooder's evocative score. The disc begins and ends with the piece "All the While Toward Us", I and II; the first features a beautiful pedal steel guitar, and the second retools the score creating a peaceful conclusion for the disc as a whole. My favourite piece here is the title track, "Maria Falling Away". Its deep drift mingles effortlessly with the slow and melancholy phrases of a solitary clarinet. Weaker moments appear on "Beige 2", which has a nice piano accompaniment but is weakened by a colorless interlude for alto sax. "The Years in Streams", which is the most lengthy piece here clocking in at 22 minutes, reclaims my enthusiasm with its chilling atmospheres and deep drones. The familiar strains of Jon Hassell's trumpet help to create a fresh atmosphere on "Long Distance", which is more like mellow dub with its deep bass and a walking-pace rhythm for electronic percussion. Listening to these pieces, one can easily see the appeal to incorporate the music of Rick Cox in a film score; its tones and timbres are subtle and suggestive, exploring a dark world where strange things are happening in the shadows. [Richard di Santo]
ORCHESTRA TERRESTRIAL: Here and Elsewhere
Two new projects by Richard H. Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire, Sandoz, Electronic Eye, etc., released on Die Stadt.
The first project, Orchestra Terrestrial: Here and Elsewhere, is a full length foray into deep ambient and orchestral motifs. It seems a surprising turn, or return, for Kirk, who in the past 25 years has moved both into and away from more conventional ambient soundtracks, As such, we recognise Kirk's sound immediately in the opening sections, a gradual drift into a calm and tranquil atmosphere, with a noticeable fringe of darkness around its edges. Apparently this project was inspired by his admiration for Wagner, Debussy and Mozart, though their influence on this music seems dubious. Calm, sweet and sad melodies carry these pieces through ambient territories, at times you think that the pieces will build on their rhythms by introducing solid beats in progressive stages (as Kirk has been known to do), but it never happens. Instead, he keeps things on a highly suggestive level. The rhythms are more implied than they are explicit, whatever beats appear are muted and softened, which makes this music all the more interesting for what it withholds from the listener. The pieces build slowly and move steadily. Dark drones blend with loops of submerged sounds and sampled/synthetic strings, exploring the realms of the deep in a manner that can be both fluid and repetitive with the presence of rhythmic, melodic and abstract loops. Music for quiet times, the soundtrack for a day of dreaming.
Digital Terrestrial: Aural Illusions might be considered something of a companion piece to the full length disc, but really it has very little in common with it. Instead of creating long ambient drift pieces, Aural Illusions is more of a conceptual piece about digital locked grooves. Amusingly, the press notes are quick to point out that this is "a lock groove record without the lock grooves", as you can play it right through without any physical hiccups. Yet the experience of listening to the two long tracks here (with a total run time of 38 minutes) is far from tranquil. Various loops cut back and forth, they lock you into their perpetual groove only to bump you out again before you become too complacent. Sometimes a loop will keep going for a minute or two, sometimes for only a few seconds. Kirk seems to have created this collage out of fragments of techno beats, harsh sounds and electronic elements. The loops themselves vary from simple to more complex, and I found that the further into the record you get the more complex the sounds that make up each loop. A loop is the most simple of structures, and yet Kirk has packed a whole lot into these little grooves. All of this jumping to and fro makes for a rather disjointed listening experience, but it's definitely a ride worth taking. Pressed on clear, professional vinyl, and limited to 500 copies. [Richard di Santo]
Here is the latest from Kozo Inada, who has two excellent and very different CDs out on Staalplaat's Material series (a [ ] and d [ ]) released in the past two years. This new disc, his first solo full length record, comes packaged with a credo from Kozo Inada, a rare thing indeed in this age of digipak minimalism. He writes how his music is an attempt to express "a feeling of harmony without perception". His creative process involves the exclusion of "all conscious sensory output" and instead he embraces "a type of subconscious realm with stillness and motion". Inada's world is one of esoteric contradictions, and in his music we discover glimpses of these paradoxes and the reconciliation of opposing forces in harmony. His sound is minimal and created using what is probably an even blend of digital and environmental sounds. One can almost discern the sounds of the outdoors, the waves of the sea and the wind against the leaves. But together with what might be environmental recordings (Inada only offers that he uses both "symbolic" and "realistic" sounds), is a more synthetic world of hiss, high frequencies and abstract tones. These four long tracks evolve slowly and with deliberate movements. The soft digital hiss appears at first a gentle and faint presence, and slowly we witness it rise and intensify, but never does it erupt into harsh noise. Inada's sound is one of subtlety and light touches, his tracks are long streams of captivating sound. The frequencies mix with the hiss that mixes with the sparse atmospheres in ways which emphasize the very quiet around the sounds. Very nice work, and highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Telecognac is the collaborative project of John Mueller, Scott Beschta and Chris Roseneau, who create a sort of captivating and surreal ambient music. These six pieces are compelling reflections on human memory; nostalgia, sadness, change and repetition are the dominant themes here. The arrangements are haunting, with orchestral samples, obscure electronics, scratches and scrapings on the surface and lush, dreamlike atmospheres that ebb and flow unevenly underneath. These sounds, which open up in grand sweeps and slow movements, have a predominantly opaque quality; they are clouded by a mist which makes it difficult to discern the details, to grasp onto something concrete. Perhaps each piece plays like an exploration of a single moment in time remembered, capturing and elaborating on all the sensations that are likely a part of such an experience. For a moment remembered can linger for minutes, even hours on end (just think of Proust, who could not stop the torrent of details hidden deep in his memory). The disc is packaged in a handsome sleeve along with six inserts, each with its own narrative. The texts are as obscure and somnambulistic as the music, and are the perfect accompaniment to these captivating pieces. [Richard di Santo]
Mak is the sixth instalment in a ten-part subscription series of three-inch discs by Thilges 3. Where we thought we might have had Thilges 3 figured out as group with an engaging sound similar in places to that of Autechre, but with more of a laptop component of clicks and cuts, they surprise us with a completely different sound and creative approach. The three tracks on this disc document "Paradox", a conceptual piece performed in January 2001 for the Museum für angewandte Kunst Wien (MAK) in Vienna. With an all-male Austrian military orchestra, the Gardemusik Wien, and the Goldberg string quartet performing in one room, the sounds of which were recorded, reworked and transmitted live by Thilges 3 in a second room. The entire performance was filmed by Ralf Jacobs, and they are currently working on a video based on the performance. The disc opens up with the sounds of the military orchestra setting up, and then the performance begins. We catch glimpses of the original sounds from the orchestra amid a continuously changing and complex rhythm which builds slowly but never fully erupts in full force. In the second piece, in which Thilges 3 occupy a less intrusive space, the string quartet is heard performing a beautiful piece by Ali Schindloffsky titled "Logos", a piece of melancholy and thoughtfulness. Track three is where things really switch gears and take off with sounds and samples culled from these performances. It begins with an intoxicating and intense electronic rhythm, full of burgeoning sounds, quick edits and incursions. The rhythm then breaks and reconstitutes itself in a more fragmented and filtered manner. Throughout the mere 20 minutes of this CD (surprising for the number of transitions contained therein), harsh and filtered sounds, the murmur and applause of the audience and the electronic wizardry of Thilges 3 are a real tour de force for the listener, and listening to this now I wish I could have experienced this performance live. Fantastic work. [Richard di Santo]
Zang:, in addition to being a distribution company in Norway, is also a musical project producing soundtracks for theatre, film, exhibitions, dance, and now for CD release, as evidenced with Transformasjoner. At the helm of Zang: is Pål Asle Pettersen and Helge Olav Øksendal. Some of the pieces on this disc feature material from their improvising projects with Frode Gjerstad (who performs on clarinet and sax), Anders Gjerde and Steve Hubback. We have heard Pettersen before on his recent solo disc of electroacoustic compositions/improvisations, reviewed in Issue 036, but otherwise all of these names are new for me. Acoustic and electronic sounds are recorded, manipulated, looped, arranged and rearranged in these fluid, freely structured tracks. Sometimes chaotic (only occasionally erupting into louder sections of noise), and sometimes looped in tighter structures, the arrangements are brimming with the sounds of percussion, sax and clarinet. Glimpses of jazz arrangements creep into the more abstract motifs from time to time. Sometimes the sax and clarinet will whine and sometimes they will wheeze and sometimes they issue forth a more melodic and soulful phrase, accompanied by found sounds, gurglings and atmospheres. The disc is short, with a total run time of just over 30 minutes, but it is brimming with ideas. And when you've got the ideas, and a compelling means of translating them into sound, you've got a record with some great possibilities. Those who enjoy the improvisational experiments on Grob or For4Ears labels should definitely enjoy the adventurous sounds of Zang:. [Richard di Santo]
A mixed bag discount compilation from London's Sulphur Records (known as Sulfur in the US). Featured here are "discoveries within and outside" Sulphur's catalogue, which sways heavily to the jazzier side of electronic music, with a few excursions into more ambient terrain. The brief opening piece from SFT gets things underway in a very inviting fashion, and the following track from Future Pilot A.K.A. vs. Two Lone Swordsman promises much, but ultimately suffers for its length and lack of progression. A couple of very jazzy numbers follow from Vertical Cat and Solo, both of which are very endearing in their composition. Jeff Noon and David Toop contribute a short track that owes to Pole for its static-filled dub quality. David Abir/Infant Reader's "Lesson One" is pleasantly dreamy, filled with pacifying bounces of sound, culminating in a dramatic (yet restrained) vocal surge at its end. The pace picks up at disc's end, with a track from Dstar (featuring MC Stainless Steele) and one more from Future Pilot A.K.A. (this time vs. Kim Fowley). Both set themselves apart from the balance of the disc, with their strong vocal content and contrasting musical styles. It leaves me with an interesting impression of the label, which was in danger of treading into territory already covered by Asphodel and others. While nothing on the compilation blew me away, there were some very good moments that made it all worthwhile. [Vils M DiSanto]
Released in May of this year on Sub Rosa's subsidiary label Quatermass, the Rip-Off Artist takes us on a frolicking journey through the more erratic side of electronica. Matt Haines is the man behind the name, and here presents us with music that is a funky blend of cut-up, send-up and straight away thievery. Sharing a common sound aesthetic with Atom (apparently Haines wrote some of the software patches Atom enjoys using on some of his releases), each track exhibits a bright and extremely animated presence. The sound quality is excellent; I found the songs to be edited together with great skill and ingenuity. There is a sense of humour present in the work that Haines is not fearful of hiding, but thankfully the disc is not reduced to being a mere comedic relic. As he explains in the liner notes, "This is not a comedy record, but I did steal from at least one comedy record." The geekish innocence of Kraftwerk's "Pocket Calculator" is echoed in the track "Gizmo", and the sound of the children's wind-up toy sample in "Push An Animal" ("I'm an orange cat! I'm a black and white cow!") are examples of the humorous overtones that are more Matmos and Greater Than One than (bad example) Weird Al Yankovic. A very fresh sound and superb technical savvy elevates this release for me, and I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more from Haines in the coming years. [Vils M DiSanto]
The Floor of the Forest, released in 1999, is the latest release by California resident Jeffrey Roden. For this record Roden found his inspiration in Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls, and indeed this music immediately brings to mind the contemplative nature of the opening passages of this novel: "He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees." Roden performs on electric bass, recorded close and with stunning intimacy. He is helped by Brandon Labelle on drums, Jennifer Hardaway (from the band Superman Loses the Girl) on vocals, and sound and visual artist Steve Roden (of in be tween noise, who is also Jeffrey's nephew) on electronics, sounds and loops. The compositions here are quiet and close recordings; they breathe of intimate spaces and contemplative moods. The bass lingers on its chords, or it strums in solitude. the drums roll slowly and lethargically, together creating something of a post-rock feel, but all very quiet and subdued. Occasional non-verbal vocals, sung in a casual, whispered tone by Jennifer Hardaway, add a further element of mystery to the equation, and Steve Roden's electronics are quiet and unobtrusive as probably the most subtle accompaniments here. Very nicely done, and an intriguing look into Jeffrey Roden's world of stillness and contemplation. [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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