> Archive > Music Review 45

4 February 2002

Barry Adamson + Pan Sonic: Motorlab #3
Koji Asano: Spherical Moss Factory
Amir Baghiri: Rooms
Aidan Baker: Letters
Big Black: Ethnic Fusion
Budapastis: La Bouche Fermée
Cascone + Chartier + Deupree: After
Richard Chartier: of surfaces
Fognode: Beat Hollow
Freiband: microbes
Gammon / Khan: Stitch
David Khan / Peter Wright: confinement & release
Peter Wright: a tiny camp in the wilderness
Main / Antenna Farm: AF_M
Various: Un tributo to James T. Russell


Kitchen Motors | km 4 | CD

Released in late 2001 on the Kitchen Motors label, this recording brings together the talents of Barry Adamson and Pan sonic in a piece titled "The Hymn of the 7th Illusion". Tracing back the history of the hymn to pagan times reveals that they were sung to the basic accompaniment of a cythara (harp). Here Adamson and Pan sonic have seen fit to update this uncomplicated setup to choir and electronics. The choir featured is the Icelandic Hljómeyki Choir, conducted by Hördur Bragason and arranged by Adamson. The arrangement comes in the form of a simple, wordless hymn, accentuated by long stretches of voice that fall softly behind the proceedings. The choir’s work is clean and pure, distant and sympathetic. It sits in ideal contrast to the electronic rumblings brought in by Pan sonic. To the overall benefit of the piece, the electronics are not so heavy as to overpower or lessen the impact of the hymnal nature of the work. It would have been quite easy to overtake the delicate beauty of the human voice with a dose of powerful electronics, but all involved have exercised dramatic restraint.

After the initial twelve-minute production, we are treated to a vigorous re-working of the piece by The Hafler Trio titled "The Illusion of the 7th Hymn". The piece is extended to twice its original length, and succeeds for reasons completely different than the original one does. Here, the basic hymnal setup is removed; the choir is still present, but it has been worked into a variety of shapes the singers would never have imagined they could be formed into. Where Pan sonic’s electronic rumblings were just that in the original, The Hafler Trio has seen fit to flip that idea on its head and create the pulsing rumbles out of the choir’s voices instead. Things become quite heated about sixteen minutes into the piece, with some attention-getting sound bursts that have been arranged into a rhythmic construct. As with the original piece, the remix also benefits from not teetering to the side of overindulgence. While it’s easier to recognize the symbiosis of the elements in the original track, the remix also works on this level, but with a much thinner line drawn between the choral and the electronic. At the end of it all, we are left with a release that is first class, with everyone involved in top form. [Vils M DiSanto]



KOJI ASANO: Spherical Moss Factory
Solstice | 26 | CD

I am quickly learning that Koji Asano, aside from keeping himself extremely busy with at least one new release every month, is also a very mercurial sound artist. Just by looking at the last three releases on his own Solstice label, we can see how Asano reveals himself to us, one idea at a time. First we have the overwhelmingly silent Spirit of the Wardrobe, punctuated by brief glimpses of mysterious sound. Next we are faced with the unrelenting, blistering feedback and harmonic noise of Crevasses. Now, with Spherical Moss Factory, a composition for violin and contrabass, we see yet another side of his work, equally drawing on the caresses of both silence and harmonic tension (although there's nary a silent moment to be found in this work).

Performed by Tomomi Tokunaga on violin and Kentaro Suzuki on contrabass (collectively the three make up the Koji Asano Ensemble), the work breaks up into two long pieces, which are in turn comprised of a series of movements. The violin weaves, dodges and whines throughout the first twenty minutes or so, restless and anxious like a wasp trapped in a glass cage. The contrabass acts as the cage for the violin, framing its movements, trying to keep it still. Just when the violin really begins to irritate my mood (its movements are quite dizzying), the piece takes a most welcome turn to a more tranquil movement with long, sustained notes. There's a discernible melancholy in this composition, enhanced by the trembling and moderately deep voice of the contrabass. This first track, with its total run time of over 40 minutes, is quite a lot to digest in one sitting, let alone the fact that even once you've got through it you still have 30 minutes of the second track remaining. But to its credit, the second track picks up the pace and contains more variations than the first, with more direction as well. It begins with a desperate quivering, suggesting a running away from some kind of imminent threat. Or perhaps it doesn't suggest the pursued so much as the pursuer in this equation. This later gives way to a busy plucking of strings, and then to softer, slower notes from both players. This second piece, in 30 minutes, encapsulates the essence of the entire composition. On its own, the second track would have made for a much stronger release, filled with possibilities and nuances. But as it stands, the stronger piece is flanked by the longer, more drawn out and cumbersome first part, which hurts the composition as a whole. [Richard di Santo]



Arya/Amplexus | Y13 | 3CD

Recorded over a five year period between 1996 and 2001, Rooms is one of the more recent releases from ambient composer Amir Baghiri. Each disc explores the idea of spaces, whether psychical, spiritual or "real". The titles of the respective discs break the subject down thematically ("Inner Rooms" – "Real Rooms" – "The Spaces In Between"). Although there are discernible differences in the moods and textures of each disc, I couldn't see how some music could be considered as representing the "real" and others the "imaginary".

The first disc is comprised of shorter tracks, ranging from tribal ambient (a droning didjeridu, the pounding of hand drums) to more dissonant atmospheres. Overtone singer Jim Cole makes a guest appearance on one of the tracks. The highlight for me is "Darker Dreams": disembodied and cut-up voices stutter desperately in a place where a cold wind blows through the presiding darkness. Disc two is more atmospheric and minimal, with longer tracks and slower movements. It's also the most successful of the three, achieving a greater coherence and depth. The crowning achievement on this disc is undoubtedly "Turning the Tide". At 24 minutes in length, it's a long and highly evocative piece of cold atmospheres and harmonic strains. The final disc continues along similar lines, but is also the least interesting and most banal of the three, combining environmental sounds with electronic touches, synthetic washes and ethnic/tribal instrumentation. There's nothing on this third disc that strikes me as being new or inventive; I seem to have heard this music many, many times before.

Baghiri might not be known for challenging our preconceptions regarding traditional-tribal ambient music — most of his catalogue fits snugly within the traditions of Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana and Mathias Grassow — but there are moments in these recordings where a latent experimental spirit can be glimpsed. To Baghiri's credit, this release carries a little more depth than some of his other projects, perhaps owing to the history and gradual realization of this project. Sure enough, there are some banalities and unadventurous meanderings through oft-travelled ambient territories, but in places Baghiri succeeds in keeping my interest with a handful of well executed tracks. [Richard di Santo]



Arcolepsy Records | AR04 | CDR

Toronto based guitarist Aidan Baker, also a member of the ambient-improv trio ARC, now releases Letters, a follow up to his previous solo effort, Element, released a couple of years ago on CDR. Baker produces sometimes ambient, sometimes more abrasive soundscapes using the guitar as his main sound source, coaxing different sounds from its strings by employing different playing techniques and running the streams through an effects console. On Letters, he expands his instrumentation somewhat to include bass, voice, and cymbals. The disc features two long tracks, each about 23 minutes long. The music, the pacing of the two pieces and development of atmospheres and sound textures show Baker to have certainly refined his craft since the release of Element. The first track goes through a number of gradual phases, from quiet droning to an accompanying and casual bassline, all wrapped within impressive layers of harmonic chords from his guitar. The second track isn't as interesting as the first, but still about half way through it reaches an engaging moment where a whispering voice comes in and the guitar moans unevenly around it. In all it's a strong work, more accomplished than his previous solo disc, and more original than his work with ARC. Definitely an artist to look out for in the future... but why wait? Letters is an impressive disc that will not disappoint fans of guitar based ambient music with an experimental edge. [Richard di Santo]



BIG BLACK: Ethnic Fusion
Mutablemusic | 17504-2 | CD

Ethnic Fusion is a reissue of an LP released on 1750 Arch Records in 1982. Percussionist Big Black, performing on tumbas and bongos, is accompanied by Anthony Wheaton on guitar. Raised in Georgia, Big Black is credited as being one of the first musicians to translate bebop rhythms to hand drums. Throughout the 50's he performed in salsa and calypso bands, and in the 60's he moved to New York to explore his burgeoning interest in bebop and develop a unique teaching method for hand drums known as "Heart Beat".

Ethnic Fusion features five pieces of varying length. Anthony Wheaton accompanies Big Black's hand percussions with admirable dexterity and charisma; his performance is strongly influenced by classical music, as phrases from classical repertoires appear and disappear at regular intervals (this is especially evident in the lighthearted and classically informed track "Jigs"). Big Black's percussion — the force of his rhythms, his energy and sensitivity to Wheaton's playing — is really something to marvel at. The simple set up of drums and guitar ensures that the focus is always on the rhythms and the playful melodies on guitar that flirt with the more dominant percussion. African-classical-carribbean-american sound-fusion? sounds great to me. An original, spirited and engaging work, reissued and admirably rescued from obscurity by Mutablemusic. [Richard di Santo]



BUDAPASTIS: La Bouche Fermée
HEyeRMEarS discorbie | HD CD003| CD

La Bouche Fermée is the latest release from a relatively new label HEyeRMEarS discorbie, associated with the Kassák Centre for Intermedial Creativity in Slovakia. Budapastis brings together two bands for the first time: Lore Bargès (mouth) and Franq de Quengo (percussion, contact mic) record together under the name Dragibus, while Zsolt Kovács (guitar, objects) and Zsolt Sörés (viola, objects) work under the name S.K.Y. Dragibus is a new name for me, but I've heard S.K.Y before, on their recent release Les Subsistances on the Avult label. Together, they make obscure, experimental improv. The liner notes speak of structuralism and semiotics, the act of communication between the performers, who "try to omit stylistic clichés and ignore phraseological conventions." True to their word, they achieve just that. The disc features two long tracks, each over 30 minutes long. None of the players or instruments really take command of the performance; they tend to share the space equally and amiably, without any obvious contentions. Amid the fluttering and stuttering of drums and cymbals, among the shuffling of objects and plucking of strings, Lore Bargès will periodically step in to whisper a few words (broken thoughts, sighs) up close to the microphone. Mostly, these two pieces are relatively quiet, with occasional fluctuations in volume and intensity. Passage is difficult, and in all the work might seem a little long for a single sitting. In the alternative, listening to one track per sitting succeeds at drawing more interest and attention. Those who have been enjoying releases of experimental improv on Grob and For4ears, for example, will find much to marvel at here. [Richard di Santo]



12k | 1017 | CD

After was recorded on the occasion of Micro_Mutek 2, an event in Montréal organized by the curators of the annual Mutek festival of new electronic music. At the end of their respective solo sets, laptop sound artists Kim Cascone, Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree decided to perform together for a final improvisational set to conclude the night's activities. This live set is the first track presented here, which is then followed by three shorter reconstructions of that material by the three respective performers. The original live piece, as one might expect, goes through a series of stages, from resonating tones and sparse surface crackles to more rhythmical sections and a dense layering of seemingly incongruous sounds. More revealing, and perhaps even more interesting than the original performance, however, are the three reworkings which follow it. Employing custom Max/MSP extensions, Kim Cascone builds a short track of dense layers; the crackles and crunches pile upon each other in succession with a punchy, dramatic effect. Rather than compressing the sounds and layering them as in Cascone's track, Richard Chartier turns his mix into an exercise of subtraction and reduction, with all the subtleties, deep bass frequencies and near silences we have come to expect from his work. Taylor Deupree completes the set, using a mix of four loops as the basic material to create new loops, and then piecing these together to form a minimal, repetitive piece reminiscent of works by Goem. One of the nice things about this release is that each of the remixes reflect an original approach to laptop/microsound composition, evidence surely that this "genre" is by no means one-dimensional or static, but rather is living and breathing with new ideas that are nowhere near running out. [Richard di Santo]



Line | 008 | CD

Richard Chartier's latest release on Line picks up from a middle ground of where his previous releases left off: most notably the much celebrated series (Line, 2000) and decisive forms (trente oiseaux, 2001). The disc features three long pieces; the title piece is followed by a "variance", which is in turn followed by a shorter work, simply titled "composition". When listened to on loudspeakers, the natural room tones seem to soak up a lot of the sounds in these pieces, and the impression is that there is more silence in this work than sound. Listening to it in headphones, a completely different world opens up where sounds, however subtle and faint, occupy so much of the sound "surfaces" that you wonder if there's any silence at all in this work. The terms commonly used to describe works in the lowercase "genre" (bass frequencies, crackles, static , clicks...) don't seem to do this work justice, although all of the constituent elements are certainly present. Taking full advantage of the stereo spectrum, not to mention a complete range of frequencies (of which extremely low frequencies are clearly favored), Chartier's work seems both organic and artificial, pulling you into its near-silences and demanding your undivided attention. It is a world I'm most willingly drawn into. His most accomplished project to date, of surfaces is a work of astonishing subtlety and sensitivity. The spaces between silence and sound have never seemed so immediate, so vast, so incomprehensible as this. [Richard di Santo]



FOGNODE: Beat Hollow
Infrasound Collective | INFCD004 | CD

Fognode:::, aka Brian Siskind, creates a late-night kind of music. A hands-on composer and performer, he performs on a variety of instruments, from drums, bass and pedal steel to synth, sampler and hammered dulcimer. He is joined most notably by Mark Fauver (another multi-instrumentalist, performing on flute, bowed acoustic bass, samples, kalimba and others), Daniel Tashian (guitar) and David Dawson (guitar, bass), among others. One of the amazing things here is that Siskind and Fauver (the main contributor on this disc) have never met in person; their collaborations on this disc are the result of file sharing across the web. And yet, it's Fauver's contributions that strike me as being the most natural and complimentary in this music. Aside from the central performances by Siskind himself, Fauver's instrumentation is the voice that in large part lends this music its sheen of mystery, solitude and suggestive calm. The disc begins in excellent form with an evocative and calming flute, gently fluttering with other random sounds around a solid bassline and slow drum-kit rhythm. This piece is a good indication of what is to follow, as the rhythm section figures largely in all of the music here, creating slow, solitary and thoughtful rhythms. The momentum is matched by a number of other strong tracks, achieving a unique blend of elements from rock, dub and ambient, with the unmistakable flavour of Nashville, where much of this disc was recorded. Another strong piece, "The Fury of a Patient Man", begins as a rich ambient texture on synth, then the drums move in with full force, accompanied by a pensive pedal steel. In preparation for this release, Siskind placed an open call to his colleagues in the Infrasound Collective for samples, loops and location recordings. These sounds were then manipulated and integrated into the pieces. It's a nice touch, adding a welcome element of surprise and a new dimension to the arrangements. In all, the music possesses an accomplished sound and achieves a strong mood fit for "the solitary traveller." [Richard di Santo]



FREIBAND: microbes
Ritornell | rit25 | CD

Ticking along like deathwatch beetles in unrelenting heat, Frans de Waard’s new disc of jittery compositions is a fidgety, yet warm and engaging release. Freiband is a new project for de Waard, who has released much before this (either solo or in collaboration with others) under names such as Goem, Beequeen and Kapotte Muziek. Citing this as "a very personal project," de Waard still deflects much of the concept, performances, track titles and even the equipment to other people (Asmus Tietchens, Freek Kinkelaar and Roel Meelkop among them).

The disc starts off with "echo", one of the strongest tracks here. It’s quite simple in its construction, with a nervous tapping effect front and center, played at different levels in the mix, each one echoing off the other in succession. Things move into calmer territory on "frozen" and "petty", as both feature gentle, rumbling backdrops to the softly popping static modules over top. There is still much tension in the air, as decibel levels slowly increase over time. The impressive editing and layering of "quiet" plays out expertly, and marks the return of the tapping featured earlier. Towards the end of the disc, de Waard introduces what I would call light melodies into the equation; maybe not the sort of melodies you find yourself humming long afterward, but they still feel quite warm to me. There are plenty of subtle touches that make this recording feel quite "personal", and I think de Waard has succeeded quite admirably with this project. [Vils M DiSanto]



Eigentone | 001 | CD

This CD is the soundtrack to Stitch, a 22 minute portrait of a southern community in Northwest Alabama. The film, produced by and shot by Sissi Farassat on Super8 and DV, documents the community's long tradition of stitching stories and daily events into quilts. I haven't seen the film, but I would expect that it contains is a strange juxtaposition of historical and contemporary elements, as the subject of the film is saturated with history and tradition, while the soundtrack is a work of unmistakably modern electronica. The title piece is by Khan, aka Can Oral aka 4E aka El Turco Loco. It's a pleasant piece of smart electro-pop with vocals and a decidedly retro feel (looking back to the 80's for inspiration). A second mix of the title track concludes the disc admirably, with a more prominent electronic atmosphere replacing the drum machine. The remaining five tracks constituting the main part of the soundtrack are written and produced by Gammon, better known for being one third of the trio Thilges 3. Integrated with some complex, multi-layered midi sequencing and sharp ambient textures are the melancholy sounds of an accordion that together capture something of the juxtaposition of acoustic and digital, of past and present, old and new. It may be a short release (at just under 30 minutes in length), but between their seven tracks Gammon and Khan cover some impressive and diverse ground with some very pleasing sounds. Nicely done. Released a few months ago, Stitch is also the debut release on Gammon's own Eigentone imprint. [Richard di Santo]



DAVID KHAN / PETER WRIGHT: confinement & release
Apoplexy | 12 | CDR

PETER WRIGHT: a tiny camp in the wilderness
Celebrate PSI Phenomenon | CDR

Based in Christchurch, New Zealand, Peter Wright produces mostly guitar based recordings, although by no means does he limit himself to performing on guitar. His projects possess an engaging and experimental spirit, full of drones, tensions and ambient sensibilities. He has worked with kRk founder David Khan since 1994, when they were recording industrial music under the name Leonard Nimoy. They have since moved on to explore more experimental territories with an emphasis on improvisation and atmosphere.

Limited to a mere 50 copies on CDR, confinement & release was recorded live in October, 2000. It features two tracks, each about 23 minutes in length. Their catalogue of instruments is impressive: David Khan performs on sampler, analogue keyboard, metal pipe, knives, concrete, oil drum and Balinese rainmaker, while Peter Wright performs on bowed electric guitar, electric razor, digital effects, screwdriver and cymbal. As they describe it in the liner notes, these pieces are all about polarities, an exploration "of boundaries imposed and relieved and of the contrast between abstract and concrete viewpoints in both life and art." In the first track, an expanse of sparse, metallic sounds opens up, the sounds appearing and disappearing in slow movements. Silence and resonance figure largely in this piece, which is in turn answered by the swirling drones in the second piece. Metallic textures and abrasive harmonies are coupled with the droning of Wright's bowed electric guitar in an intense, dark atmosphere. This later recedes to reveal a crunchy repetitive texture of fluctuating static sounds, ending suddenly and leaving you wanting more. It's an excellent work, engaging and highly recommended.

Also released on CDR is Peter Wright's recent solo disc, a tiny camp in the wilderness. Employing a host of instruments and playing techniques, from bowed electric guitars, bowed cymbals, clarinet and field recordings, Wright presents seven diverse snapshots of harmonic tensions and mildly abrasive atmospheres. With the exception of the last piece, which runs over 18 minutes long, the other pieces are shorter, between five and eight minutes each. But their respective lengths notwithstanding, Wright is a master at building an intense atmosphere from the ground up with admirable ease. Dynamic drones figure largely here: dissonant textures, tensions and metallic tones create dark, dense and mysterious soundscapes. A solitary clarinet sings its desert song, and seems to be weeping in the second track. The bowed cymbal resonates and grates with its abrasive yet alluring timbres in the fourth track. Some of these pieces end abruptly, a device might not always work to their benefit, but that is placed in sharp contrast with the gradual development in the music. This is another excellent and rewarding work from Wright, definitely a name you'll want to include in your vocabulary when it comes to discussing experimental ambient and improvisational drone music. [Richard di Santo]



Staalplaat | brombron 01 | CD

Although the release of Heroin by Stephan Mathieu & Ekkehard Ehlers predates this one, AF_M is actually the first release of the Brombron project. Initiated by Staalplaat and Extrapool in 2000, the project invites two or more artists at a time for a residency in Extrapool, an arts facility in Nijmegen with a fully equipped sound studio. They are then given the time to work on a project they had always envisioned, but for whatever reason were never able to realize.

AF_M is the result of a collaboration between Main (Robert Hampson) and Antenna Farm (David Howell and Alastair Leslie). During the course of a week at Extrapool they made a series of recordings, improvised at the end of each day. Five tracks of varying length, their work charts a place where the concrete and abstract meet, where the acoustic meets the electronic, and where sonic structures meet free forms. In all, it's a great place to be. These tracks present an engaging set, full of long quiet sections and more brief and fleeting moments of louder sounds. Crunches, glitches, crackles and pops on the one hand; tones, atmospheres and pulsating frequencies on the other; then a quick turn of events where concrete sounds (rustling, scraping, shuffling, banging) take precedence leading to yet another surprise arrangement, with new sounds building up the last, and so on... The palette is constantly evolve, the sounds constantly shift in mood and timbre, and yet the entire work has a great sense of consistency, of steady, measured motion. Through the course of these pieces Hampson, Howell and Leslie cover a wide range of ideas without turning the whole into a crowded, confused work. Very well done, and highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]



VARIOUS: Un tributo to James T. Russell
Alku | 15 | CDR

James T. Russell, an American physicist and inventor responsible for the development of the compact disc, is the man of the hour on Alku's latest compilation CD (which is actually only half an hour in length). The disc features tracks by Terre Thaemlitz, Tasunao Tone, Wobbly, cd_slopper, Discmen, Javier Hernando, Oval/Frank Metzger and Alku itself.

Thaemlitz starts things off with 35 tracks, each 4 seconds long and utterly silent with the exception of an extremely brief piano sample (less than a second long) in the 34th track. Ex Fluxus member Yasunao Tone offers his tribute with a long piece of frantic CD scratching and cut-up collage, characteristically restless and abrasive, and certainly not the most interesting contribution here. Wobbly (aka Jon Leidecker), who released a wonderful 3 inch disc on Alku last year titled Regards, provides the next piece, which sort of presents a similar concept of cut-ups as the track by Tone, but in a more succinct and amusing manner, with more of a sensibility toward rhythm (albeit highly skewered and fragmented). Next up is ccd_slopper, with a brief but excellent track of quiet and subtle electronic chimes, tones and pulses. Discmen, an outfit from Portugal who sound very much like Oval, follow with a very brief track of edits, errors and ear-friendly cut-ups. Javier Hernando comes next with a similarly subdued piece of digital cut-ups and edited sounds, followed by three tracks by Frank Metzger, one of Oval's original members and still carrying the torch by releasing projects under the conjoint name Oval/Frank Metzger. Since these pieces sound very similar to Oval's work (especially from when he was a part of what was then a trio), I guess there's no harm in keeping the name. Alku completes the set with its funny track "burning cds", in which we hear the sounds of — you guessed it — burning CDs, but in the literal sense. That's a nice little joke, and ends the disc rather well, leaving the listener with a wide smile on his face. [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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