> Archive > Music Review 50

15 April 2002

Adams / Cox / Fink / Fox
Augur: Sacred Engines
Én: OP.20302
Girl Talk: Secret Diary
Lura Kavanaugh / Ian Birse: Audio
Éric La Casa / Slavek Kwi: Fonderie.Paccard
Juozas Milasius: j.m.eilé
Panicsville / Vertonen: Coagulation
Planetarium Music: Traditional Psychedelic Electronic Music (Planet 2)
Polmo Polpo: Riva / Rottura
Scott Smallwood: Desert Winds: Six Windblown Sound Pieces and Other Works
Steinbrüchel: Zwischen.raum
Vestige Vertical
Various: Cold Blue
Various: Northern Lights Remixed I


Cold Blue Music | CB009 | CD

The latest release from the innovative Cold Blue Music label features new compositions by four new music composers from the American west coast: John Luther Adams, Rick Cox, Michael Jon Fink and Jim Fox. All of these compositions feature music for clarinet and bass clarinet, accompanied by either a string quartet or percussion and piano. Clarinetist Marty Walker, whom we have heard before on his superb solo release Dancing on Water released last year on the same label, is the central player of these pieces (many of which were composed specifically for him), accompanied by various players on vibraphone, marimba, piano, violin, viola and cello.

Composed by John Luther Adams from Fairbanks, Alaska, the first piece is also the most haunting of the group. In it, the clarinet drones expressively while the brooding piano and percussions create its dark underbelly. Michael Jon Fink's composition for clarinet and string quartet is a slow and ominous composition, the strings are strained in slow, yet seemingly tense phrases. Rick Cox's "When April May" for the same quartet of players, is also the most lyrical in the collection, featuring strong, expressive gestures accompanied by a delicate and light clarinet. The final piece, "Between the Wheels" by Jim Fox, returns to territories fraught with the haunting melancholy witnessed in the first piece by Adams, comprised of a series of phrases for bass clarinet, accompanied by the delicate tremolo of violin, viola and cello. Breaking up the main pieces on this release are two one-minute improvisations by Walker himself, remarkably quiet interludes which are placed where a more generous pause was desired for the album as a whole. In turns beautiful, expressive, contemplative and haunting, this is music that slows the listener's world to a crawl; he is thus free to explore all its wonders, both its lights, shimmering and bright, and its shadows, creeping intently over the surfaces of things. Recommended. [Richard di Santo]



AUGUR: Sacred Engines

I was introduced to Augur's music in the autumn of 2000 with the release of two excellent CDRs, A Slender Thread of Silence on Alluvial and Xibalba on Manifold/ Pyrrhic Victory. I haven't heard any new projects since then, but that doesn't mean that Augur, aka Steve Brand, hasn't been keeping busy. Sacred Engines is his latest work, self released in a limited edition of 100 and packaged in a beautifully illustrated paper sleeve. Augur creates music with a rich tapestry of sounds, yet keeps the over all aesthetic minimal and slow-moving. On the surface it might seem that not much is happening, but lean in close and you'll find a wealth of detail. His sources seem to consist exclusively of found sounds from around the house, sometimes filtered and sometimes left alone. From creaky floorboards, strikes on metal objects or glass, inaudible phone messages, the falling rain, distant sounds, close sounds, dark drones and low rumbles, you never know where he'll take you next, and each time you listen new elements reveal themselves as you had not perceived them before. The pieces range in length, but most lean towards the more generous side, giving the listener ample time to become immersed in the soundscapes, in turns repetitive and dynamic. Original, challenging and rewarding, as all good music should be. [Richard di Santo]



ÉN: OP.20302
Avult | 008 | 3"CDR

It's always interesting (but even sometimes unnerving) to see labels experimenting with how to list the artist name and release information for any given release. Some refuse any sort of markings at all, while others pile on the information, commentaries, histories, discographies, promotional blurbs and so on. Tucked inside the ink-dotted paper sleeve of the latest release from the Avult label is a small 35mm negative containing only a few markings, which I gather to be the artist and title you see listed above. Avult's catalogue is certainly growing at a steady rate; their CDR releases are extremely limited, but each one has captured a unique vision of experimental sound. This one's no exception, featuring a single piece just over 20 minutes in duration. Starting from near silence, the gentle crackle of static slowly rises, innocuously fluctuating in volume and intensity. You might not notice a low frequency drone that appears briefly amid the steady flow of static some ways into the piece, but it comes again, this time more in the foreground, accompanied by a low metallic resonance, as if someone in the distance has struck a large metallic sheet. The frequency and the metallic resonance appear more or less frequently throughout the rest of the piece, the static meanwhile rising and falling in ways that keep the listener intent on finding out what happens next in the piece. It's a nice work, short but it certainly draws you into its own headspace. [Richard di Santo]



GIRL TALK: Secret Diary
Illegal Art | I-107 | CD

Illegal art, forever the knife in the RIAA’s back, home of such seminal albums as Deconstructing Beck and Corporal Blossom presents A Mutated Christmas, returns with another insane album of culture-jamming sample madness. Illegal art is an sponsored cultural initiative, which means that it exists not to make a financial profit so much as stir up a ruckus and create "cultural profit." Mailing out CDs for free under a typical cloud of Free Speech Secrecy, and as far as I know, relying almost solely upon RTmark donations to turn out releases—brutal, satirical, wickedly intense albums of collage and sampling that usually destroy the artist under deconstruction—illegal art is a vital link in the cultural investments of the counter-culture. From the twisted brain of Greg Gillis, Girl Talk is no stranger to sonic perversity. Starting with "Let’s Start This Party Right," the album wastes no time in manipulating and then destroying strains of 2 Unlimited, and by the time "F fun Haave To" comes around with its hammered detritus of sound fragments, the sonic territory has journeyed from humourous pastiche to burnt cinders of rhythm and breaks that Kid606 would be proud of. Yet it is track 4, "What If…" which blows the album apart at the seams. First, Gillis takes Sheryl Crow’s "What If God Was One of Us" (which was originally by Joan Osborne, FYI, making Gillis’ remix pastiche a second-level simulacra—and if your afternoon is slow, punch in the title on the Net). Next, Gillis carefully splices Crow’s vocal track with gangsta rap. Result: "What if God was / A Project Bitch; Jesus / Sold Out; All the Prophets / Ain’t Selling Records"—etc. and mayhem! And the fires of Hell are burning close, hello I can smell the sulfur. Brilliant. Many of the tracks are abstract to the point of courting that nefarious "IDM" label (Tigerbeat6 keeps popping up into my head) but what makes it all good is the bright pink album cover, which looks like some early ‘90s Jem-meets-Barbie-on-uppers toy packaging gone horribly awry. There’s even a unicorn in a purple dotted outline on the back. My only criticism with this album is its style: laptop beats. The laptop effects are blatant—pitching, distortion, stuttering, various filters, etc. While this is done for maximum political effect, what makes this album a culture jam of towering proportions is not the technological tricks but the traditional wit of juxtaposition known as pastiche. Gillis has his wits about him enough to realize this, but I think the majority of listeners out there are still waiting for the IDM-sample-freaks to get past the VST plug-ins. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy the digital editing on this album, for it is well done, especially with "Fun In the Sun," which (as far as I can tell) is a break-beat scramble of Fresh Prince’s "Summertime." However, the digital caveat applies to all following this path—in today’s world of software accessibility, sounds produced by certain plug-ins become stale quickly, and it will take some work to not sound like everyone else. I am happy to say that this album stands out well enough in its pink jumpsuit with Devil’s horns to avoid this caveat. [Tobias c. van Veen]




Last November, Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse, two sound artists from Calgary, Alberta performed at the Music Gallery in Toronto, an organization committed to presenting concerts of adventurous new music. This self-released CDR documents that performance. Three loudspeakers were positioned around the audience while Laura and Ian performed an improvised set on samplers, electronics, contact mics and mixer feedback. The result is definitely an intense listening experience, and although I didn't witness the event live, it's easy to imagine the impact on a live audience. Swarming feedback, static, clicks and shifting electronic textures, manipulated at will and occasionally looped into makeshift rhythms, storm the listener like a barrage of sonic weaponry. It starts off quietly enough, but right from the start you can sense that the performance is fully charged and ready to be unleashed on the audience. From quieter passages to more intense static and feedback loops, this music surprises at every turn, and leaves me exhausted upon its conclusion. Not for the faint of heart or for those craving comforting sounds, this is rather a work that feeds a hunger for unstable, aggressive sound environments. Visit their website to check out numerous Quicktime files from their 2001 tour and their other audio visual projects. [Richard di Santo]



ÉRIC LA CASA / SLAVEK KWI: Fonderie.Paccard
Collectif & Compagnie | MTS 04 | CD

If anything can be said about this collaboration between Éric La Casa and Slavek Kwi, it's this: Fonderie.Paccard is as much about process as it is about the end result. In the summer of 2000, French sound explorer Éric La Casa made ten hours of stereophonic and multiphonic recordings at the Paccard bell foundry. With this sound material at his disposal, he created a work in three parts. He then sends the remaining, unused sound material to Slavek Kwi, aka Artificial Memory Trace, who creates his own unique work without any sort of "geophonic" context, as La Casa would describe it. Kwi creates a work in two parts. Now it is his turn to return to La Casa his unused sound material, with which La Casa then begins a new work, which is in turn reworked by Kwi, until finally the two get together to perform their works in the foundry in the presence of the workers there.

Whether we can really make heads or tails out of the process is a matter of little consequence, however, since our experience of these pieces is limited exclusively to the end result. The disc features 7 tracks in total; 4 by La Casa, 2 by Kwi, and one in collaboration. La Casa's contributions seem to preserve the integrity of the original recordings. Although I'm sure the sounds have been isolated, rearranged and layered in various ways in order to create the pieces we have here, the sounds themselves seem to have remained as pure field recordings. There are quiet moments, where La Casa seems to have captured the foundry in its most tranquil hour (perhaps in the evening when all work has stopped), and still others where you can here traces of the bells tolling, metal scraping, machines roaring. Slavek Kwi works much differently, heavily processing and editing the sounds down to the most minute fragments, or transforming them into electronic sounds, pulses, tones and textures that seem in large part divorced from their original sources, then arranging them into the pieces we have here. Each of these pieces, whether by La Casa or Kwi, or in their collaborative finale, create their own unique and fascinating sound space. They simultaneously build and take apart a bridge between the concrete and acousmatic, between location recordings and decontextualized sound, between what is real, what we perceive as real, and what can only be imagined. [Richard di Santo]



Zona | CD

Juozas Milasius is a new name for me, an experimental guitarist, improviser and composer from Lithuania. Using his guitar as his main instrument, he also incorporates electronics, organ and voice into his pieces. This collection of seven tracks captures a diverse range of styles, yet the howling, rough textures and loops of his electric guitar take centre stage, whether by repeating the same phrase (as in "Prisilietimas") or in a more improvised setting (as in "Meilé"). Beneath the guitar are some interesting electronic textures that help create these shifting and free forms. There are other surprises along the way, too: a straightforward and uninteresting techno rhythm bursts in unexpectedly in "Pajuskime Ritma"; in "Meilé," a meditative strumming erupts into a loud rhythm full of noises, screeches and feedback. The track I enjoyed the most is the finale, with a sombre organ, slow-moving percussions and a restrained performance on guitar revealing some interesting timbres. In all, it's a nice disc with a few strong pieces (plus a few weak ones) combining improvisation and composition, guitar and electronics in more or less interesting ways. [Richard di Santo]



C.I.P. | 010 | 7"

Blake Edwards is the man behind the Chicago based label Crippled Intellect Productions (C.I.P.), who also records under the name Vertonen. His latest project is a collaboration with Panicsville, aka Andy Ortmann. Packaged with some very unusual drawings, pressed on marbled vinyl and limited to 300 copies, this 7 inch features five tracks (maybe more, maybe less) of strange and surreal noises. Ortmann performs on moog, packing tape (!), organ, arp and electronics, while Edwards takes on metals, springplate guitar, turntable and electronics. On the first side, metallic strikes segue into a buoyant, bubble-like madness. On the second side, things are significantly more chaotic and unstable, with all manner of vinyl loops, static sounds and noises (electronic or otherwise) appearing in unexpected places. To add to the confusion, there's a locked groove at about the half-way point on this side; give the needle a little bump and it's back on track for a rhythmic finale, accompanied by more static and peculiar noises. It's unpredictable, entertaining, and no doubt produced with a certain lightness and refreshing sense of humour. We can almost hear them saying to each other: "Let's have some fun with it!" And indeed, the same goes for the listeners. [Richard di Santo]



PLANETARIUM MUSIC: Traditional Psychedelic Electronic Music (Planet 2)
Strange Attractors | SAAH 006 | CD

Planetarium Music is the project of one Alex Bundy from San Francisco, now living in Portland, Oregon. Bundy is also a member of the post-rock outfit Yume Bitsu. As Planetarium Music he explores the sort of ambient-electronic music that looks back to the early days (citing Cluster, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schultze as obvious influences), and fixes its gaze heavenward toward the cosmos, or that vision of the cosmos represented by broad sweeps of analogue synths. Upgrading the equipment of the 70s by using digital rather than analogue synths, along with various software tools, Bundy creates music that is saturated with nostalgia, especially for those of us who grew up listening to the works of ambient-electronic pioneers. And it holds up remarkably well as an homage to these early works. Occasionally surfacing through the more dominant synth washes are glimpses of noise (in dense layers of distortion, as in the track "Metal") and psychedelic rock (as in the conclusion to "Tribute"). Although I admit that it was nice to escape for a while into this nostalgic return to old forms, I have to look at this work as something contemporary. Although it is clear that Bundy takes a step back for his inspiration, does he then manage to take two steps forward and create something new for our time? I'm not so sure. True, his equipment is more advanced, the recording is more crisp and clear than its predecessors, and occasionally glimpses of more contemporary sounds shine through. But in the end, it hasn't really been possible for me to regard this release as something beyond a work of imitation, an homage to the early days. And maybe that's enough for some, but if an homage is what we're looking for, would we not be better off returning to the originals? [Richard di Santo]



POLMO POLPO: Riva / Rottura
Audi Sensa | Aud004 | 12"

Toronto based artist Polmo Polpo, aka Sandro Perri, returns with a new 12" on his own Audi Sensa label. Two new tracks picking up where his previous release (last year's Acqua / Oarca) left off, featuring strong, dubbed-out rhythms teeming with static and submerged sounds, but also guitars and double bass. Like his previous EP, one side features stronger rhythms while the other is more mellow and laid-back. "Riva" resides on the dark side of deep house, with sliding guitar loops and dense textures surrounding its driving rhythm; it pauses about half way through, then kicks in with renewed energy. "Rottura" (Italian for "breaking apart") is even darker, with a heavy sound saturated by delay effects and hiss. This piece has strong affinities with his last release, with its howling guitar sounding distant amid the dark beats and effects. And yet there's a certain melancholy in this music, resting heavily on the senses like the clouds on a dark and stormy afternoon. It's an excellent record, characteristic of Polmo Polpo's over all sound, deserving of heavy rotations in more adventurous DJ sets, and certainly deserving of more attention than these limited run 12" records can probably account for. After a number of strong EPs, I think Polmo Polpo is now due for some major attention. [Richard di Santo]



SCOTT SMALLWOOD: Desert Winds: Six Windblown Sound Pieces and Other Works
Deep Listening | DL 17-2002 | CD

For his latest project, sound artist Scott Smallwood travelled to the Wendover/Great Salt Lake Desert region on the border between Utah and Nevada, searching for some interesting objects and sites to record. While there, he encountered what he first thought would be an obstacle to his ultimate goal, but in an interesting turn of events it became his principal interest: the desert wind. All the sounds we hear in the first six pieces were produced in one way or another by the wind, passing through various objects, furniture, debris, the very microphones themselves. The sounds predominantly consist of deep yet continuously shifting rumblings, squeaking, crackling, rattling and whistling. It's uncertain as to whether Smallwood does any processing or rearranging of his sound material with his wind pieces, or whether these might be unfiltered field recordings (they certainly sound like the latter, but one never knows what sort of process might have been involved here). These pieces are remarkable for capturing how the wind can turn an object — a chair, for example — into something so audible. The CD also contains a few other pieces based on field recordings. "Lucin" captures the sounds of songbirds (yet the recording is laden with a noticeable hiss); "Variations on a Door (no sigh)" explores the seemingly infinite sonic possibilities of the door to a men's restroom at the ICMC in Berlin; and finally "Trojan Chant" uses the (unsettling) sounds of chanting CSU Trojan fans. (I believe the Trojans are a college volleyball team, but listening to these chants, you might think them to be some sort of fascist organization!) These final two pieces are clearly more composition than field recording, the sounds being filtered and arranged into organized clusters (or into three movements as is the case with "Variations"). In all, a very intriguing new work, and an excellent addition to the Deep Listening catalogue. [Richard di Santo]



STEINBRÜCHEL: Zwischen.raum
Domizil | 15 | 3"CD

A sound artist from Switzerland who also records for his own Synchron label, Steinbrüchel here presents 19 tracks over 19 minutes of playback time. His sound is focused on crystal clear digital sounds of a minimal nature. These might in fact be some of the clearest, sharpest most crystalline sounds I have heard in quite some time. In spite of the track divisions (the tracks run anywhere between a few seconds and several minutes each), Zwischen.raum should probably be regarded as a single piece. It begins in silence; suddenly, a soft fluttering of higher pitched digital tones, leading to another, and still another variation until there are no longer any silences between the sounds, and we hear a steady stream of beautiful and gentle tones. Higher frequencies are favoured here; the arrangements are playful, yet quiet and calm. For all its peaceful qualities, the piece ends rather suddenly, but not without first making an indelible impression on the listener and his environment. It's an engaging and compelling work that draws you in with each wave, each burgeon of sound, made stronger by its very lightness and brevity. It's no wonder that this disc was recently honoured with this year's Max Brand Prize. An exclusive mix of the sound material featured here is available for download on the Domizil website, and is certainly worth checking out. [Richard di Santo]



X-Tract | x-t 2003 | CD

Vestige Vertical is a trio consisting of Lothar Fiedler (guitars, electronics), Michael Vorfeld (percussion, stringed instruments) and Michael Walz (sampling, electronics), three German musicians and improvisers who began working together back in 1999. The recordings featured here were realized during the course of the following year, featuring occasional contributions from Boris Hegenbart (electronics) and Aleks Kolkowski (violin and electronics). The pieces are an intriguing blend of electronic, acoustic and electroacoustic sounds, woven into a series of diverse arrangements that range between one and ten minutes in length. Over all the mood is dark; the rough electronic textures and bowed strings dominate the palette with their cold and austere timbres. Occasionally, we'll witness a clamour of sounds, a rattle, a surge of hiss or a flutter of abstract textures (electronic or otherwise), but on the whole the pieces are quiet and subtle, each sound carefully touching on the surface or secretly appearing from beneath. It's a compelling and coherent exploration of challenging sounds and broad, open arrangements; experimental improv at its most chilling. Nice work. [Richard di Santo]



VARIOUS: Cold Blue
Cold Blue Music | CB008 | CD

Back in the early eighties, Cold Blue surfaced as a distinctive presence among new music labels. It released a number of vinyl records (amazingly, there are still a few records from their original catalogue available through their website), but then disappeared for a while until it was resuscitated in the spring of 2001. Cold Blue is a reissue of a long out of print anthology LP originally released in 1984. It features contributions by Jim Fox, Chas Smith, Daniel Lentz, Peter Garland, Rick Cox, Michael Jon Fink and Eugene Bowen in collaboration with Harold Budd, among others. Chas Smith, who has released two impressive solo records over the past year (Nikko Wolverine and Aluminum Overcast), opens the set with a surprisingly jarring piece for banjo and pedal steel guitar. Ingram Marshall follows with a contemplative piece for mandolin, piano and electronics. Titled "Gradual Siciliano," the piece is clearly a variation on the sort of Sicilian melody used by Nino Rota in his themes for the Godfather. An angry, thundering piano is accompanied by at first a pounding drum and then a roaring bullroarer in Peter Garland's dramatic "The Three Strange Angels." Michael Byron (who released Music for Nights Without Moon or Pearl last year on Cold Blue) contributes an intriguing piece for marimbas recorded live in Toronto. This is followed by a stunning composition by Jim Fox for piano accompanied by the most subtle contributions on electric guitar and cello; a remarkable expression of subtlety and sadness. Another intriguing piece is Read Miller's "Weddings, Funerals, and Children Who Cannot Sleep," where two speaking voices become muffled and swallowed up by Chas Smith's Serge processing. Michael Jon Fink's "Celesta Solo" plays like a quiet lullaby. Eugene Bowen and Harold Budd produce a track that looks back to the early ambient experiments of Cluster and Brian Eno (and of course by Harold Budd himself), with the distinctive sound of a guitar synth dominating the piece alongside a keyboard synth. Also included here is one previously unreleased piece for solo piano by David Mahler and performed by Bryan Pezzone; the notes are light and warm, yet the mood continues in Cold Blue's characteristic theme of gentle melancholy. In all, Cold Blue is as compelling today as it would have been when it was originally released eighteen years ago; an anthology with many voices, distinct yet united under the label's vision of presenting some of the most innovative and accomplished new music coming out of the American west coast. [Richard di Santo]



VARIOUS: Northern Lights Remixed I
Thinner | THN001 | CDR

Thinner, a Swedish label concentrating on MP3 releases of minimal techno music, has released this new CDR in a limited edition of 150 copies. The tracks are remixes of an MP3 release by Rktic called Northern Lights, and those original tracks can be found on Thinner’s website. Remixes have been provided here by a long list of artists previously unknown to me, such as Dolbys 23, Andrey K, Digitalverein, Benfay and others. Dolbys 23 contribute the first and strongest track of the group: "A Walk on Deep Snow" is nine minutes of near sonic bliss. Spaced-out ambience sits in the background of some crisp, steely accents, punctuated by deep rumblings and a steady beat. The accents always seem to be shifting, so boredom never sets in. A great start to the disc, to be sure. What follows is Andrey K.’s more conceptual cut-up style, fed through reverb units galore and deconstructed to the point where the techno is left behind in favour of mere abstractions. A few interesting moments, but perhaps better suited to a later point in the disc. The next couple of tracks are more typical, straight-ahead techno material, and not much of it will break the mold. Things pick up again about halfway through, with some crackling, low-end heavy tracks by Digitalverein and Curse. Another bright spot is the Neurotron contribution called "Rktic", which features a lazy, yet sweetly steady beat placed front-and-centre. A suitably icy ambient number by Thomas Jaldermark closes things off, and of all the tracks here, seems most suited to the theme of the Northern Lights. Think of a Tomas Jirku and Biosphere collaboration, and you have one wonderful closing number. Some rather engaging moments leave my interest piqued with this material, and I definitely think I’ll spend some time rummaging through the MP3 collection at the website. [Vils M DiSanto]





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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