29 April 2002
For the recordings of Chemin de Fer, Montréal based sound explorer Magali Babin found inspiration in metallic objects of all shapes and sizes. Through improvisation, she brings out their sonorous qualities and created a series of dynamic sound sculptures; "sculpture" is a good term for this music (or, at least it's a convenient term) because of its concrete qualities and strong textures. From deep gongs to light rustling, strange scrapings and various clamourous sounds, Babin keeps things dynamic and interesting, pursuing new ideas and sounds from different objects in each track. Very little, if any, digital processing was used in the making of these recordings. An intriguing buzzing drone pulses through the piece "monsieur et madame Watt." A beautifully rich scraping texture can be found on "l'entonnoir," a relatively short piece with such an intense character. This is followed by short "chirps" dominating the following track. The diversity of sounds and intriguing arrangements notwithstanding, the listener is able to understand from the first couple of tracks the general tone and approach to the work as a whole. This is not to say that the music is predictable; but one picks up its "language" quickly. As a result, I found myself more interested in the first twenty or so minutes of listening, finding my curiosity and attention gradually waning after a while. Still, it's an intriguing release, full of unusual tones, resonances and strikes; in short, a compelling introduction to Babin's unique world of sound. [Richard di Santo]
Beige is Oliver Braun, rapidly gaining ground in recent years with releases on the Leaf Label and Burnt Friedman's Nonplace label. His previous releases have been excursions into funky, rhythm-based electronica. This is his first release for the Barcelona based Alku label. Clocking in at just under 17 minutes, I'm only in it for the money! is a colourful collection of six short tracks of quirky electronics and odd rhythms. I'm reminded of Mouse on Mars, or the crunchy, erratic IDM found on the Mouthmoth label. The music is light, curious, with a toe-tapping step and an array of surprising sounds which are like sprinkles of colour in the mix. No dramatic shifts or surprises, just funny, smartly constructed rhythms and melodies. Short and sweet; it's a rather enjoyable release. [Richard di Santo]
Last fall we published a review of Greg Headley's impressive A Table of Opposites, a varied and engaging release full of impressive drones and shifting textures. But where A Table of Opposites used mostly the guitar as its main sound source, his latest work, titled Similis and released on his own 28 Angles label, places more of an emphasis on electronics, inspired by the onkyo style of experimental electronic improv. I would be surprised if Headley used his guitar at all for these recordings. To this end, there are such dramatic differences in the sounds and structures of these two releases, it's hard to believe that they are by the same artist! Sharp electronic textures, high and low end tones, flashes of found sounds, static and noise dominate these pieces; the quieter sections still feel charged with a strong current of energy, ready to be released at any moment. There are some stunning pulses in track 2, a piece written for Marina Abramovic, a performance artist probably best known for her works where her own body is subjected to various extreme physical conditions. Headley keeps things interesting and dynamic on this release, which captures and maintains my interest throughout its five long tracks. In just three releases, Headley has certainly proven himself to be a creative and innovative artist, moving forward with new ideas and approaches to making innovative electronic based music. [Richard di Santo]
The Hands of Caravaggio was recorded last year at Angelica, Festival Internazionale Di Musica in Bologna. The performance marked a unique collaboration between new music pianist John Tilbury (of AMM) with the now legendary MIMEO ensemble. MIMEO (Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra) is something of a who's who of experimental improv. Its current members are known as much for their solo works and various collaborative efforts as their work as a single unit. They are: Keith Rowe, Kevin Drumm, Phil Durrant, Thomas Lehn, Kaffe Matthews, Jérôme Noetinger, Gert-Jan Prins, Peter Rehberg, Marcus Schmickler, Rafael Toral, Markus Wettstein and Cor Fuhler. They perform on a variety of instruments and electronics, including Cor Fuhler's inside piano (a central figure in the piece), guitars, computers, electroacoustic devices, samplers and metallic objects. Added to their ranks is a sharp, piercing performance by John Tilbury on piano. The performance is a tempestuous fluctuation of moods and textures, from quiet and tranquil sections to dizzying and intense crescendos. The piece seems guided by a collective vision, yet composed of such dissident elements (acoustic/electronic, tranquil/explosive). It's an intoxicating and challenging set, one that defies easy description and presents a new context for the term "concerto." If you visit the Erstwhile Record website, you'll find four short but insightful commentaries on a number of ideas related to this project; on the history of the concerto, the dichotomy of conflict versus cooperation, on Caravaggio (providing a loose theme for the work as well as the basis for the cover artwork), on collective versus individual direction in large ensemble pieces. Be sure to check it out. [Richard di Santo]
MUSLIMGAUZE: Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip
Two new releases from the near infinite arsenal that is the Muslimgauze archives, one from Soleilmoon and one from Staalplaat.
Hummus comes crashing out of the gate with the track "Zebb ul ala el din," a pummeling number that is relentless in its attack. As with a lot of the later Muslimgauze releases, it's all about the beats and the shock value, and this release is no exception. Very plain packaging contrasts with the jumbled distortion of many of the tracks here. Unfortunately, Hummus is a disappointment: it takes too many turns, and is unable to lay a solid foundation as an album proper. I can see this as a collection of experiments gone awry, as there is just no flow to the proceedings. Early in the disc, a 12-minute number steals the show: it's a fluid, languid piece called "Daughter of the king of china", and is quite unlike anything Muslimgauze has recorded before. The sound is distinctly Oriental, which he rarely concentrated on, and it's a welcome excursion here. What follows are many short pieces that are unable to further develop that same atmosphere that so dominated the early portion of the disc. We are left with an empty feeling upon its completion.
Contrast that with Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip, which is a superior disc by all counts. Not only is there a consistent flow to the tracks, the production itself seems to be of a higher quality. Here, Muslimgauze has produced a more "cinematic" version of his music. Long passages of filmic dialogue traverse over the sparse beats contained within, and the results are mesmerizing. This is perhaps the strongest disc since 1997's excellent Narcotic. Perhaps it has to do with the presence of John Delf, who engineers three of the tracks here. He had worked with Muslimgauze on a lot of his more acoustic recordings. The title track is a mystical blend of reverberating strings and a steady break beat, with peacocks calling softly in the distance and live drumming played over top of it all. The results are irresistibly magical. Tracks that follow settle into the more ambient terrain that was explored on Gun Aramaic, but soon after comes a most energetic number called "Jerusalem Artichoke." Perhaps the only misstep on the disc is the track "Rent a Hookah," which has a more abrasive construction. The closing number, "Balti Utensil" is a staccato excursion that will prick up your ears before settling towards its dubbed-out final moments.
I know there are still more Muslimgauze discs slated for release this year, which is phenomenal since it has now been over three years since Bryn Jones passed away. With the situation as it currently is in the Middle East, it seems quite portentous that a flood of Muslimgauze music is set to hit us. If we can have more discs like Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip, the releases will be a fitting soundtrack to a situation Jones was so resolute in bringing his (and our) attention to. [Vils M DiSanto]
Nerve Net Noise is the duo Tsuyoshi Nakamaru (aka Tagomago) and Hiroshi Kumakiri. Their previous releases (on Meme, Zero Gravity and Hronir labels) have each been unique excursions into hitherto undiscovered territories lying somewhere between noise and techno, yet without falling onto the trappings of either. Meteor Circuit is no exception. Using handmade analogue synthesizers, they create a sort of rhythmic music that relies as much on human intervention as the unmediated behaviours of the synths' circuitry itself. I say "rhythmic" but I don't mean to imply that you will feel inclined to dance or tap your toes to this music. These strange beats shift, alternate sounds, slow down and speed up, become more or less complex with each measure. Listening, I become completely mesmerized by this music; I simply can't tear myself away, listening to these tracks for hours on end, bewitched by these cheerful oscillations. And they are cheerful; not funny or frivolous, but light on the mind; I never feel that the sounds are grating, impersonal or oppressive. Rather, Nerve Net Noise make a music that invites the listener to come closer, to become immersed in its alluring incongruities. In his liner notes, Hiroshi Kumakiri speaks of creating new life with their machines; I can't attest to whether these sounds are indeed alive, but I can say that this music is without a doubt quite unlike anything you've ever heard before. Highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Roger's back... and plays just notes. Some of you may remember Roger Tubesound from his debut, Pentatonic Surprise, released on Rather Interesting back in 1997. His peculiar brand of quirky, digital jazz quickly became one of my favourite releases that year. The music on his debut is highly structured, dominated by a strong sense of humour and digital hiccups, showcasing interpretations of jazz which are more mechanical than organic; yet each of the arrangements hint at a spirit free from expectations of what the term "jazz" might signify. This debut also uses an intriguing playback technique where the left and right channels contain sounds which are largely independent of one another, creating sometimes disorienting but always entertaining combinations. Roger Tubesound is, of course, one of the many personas of the mercurial Uwe Schmidt, best known as Atom Heart, or in recent years simply Atom. Roger's "ensemble" is, like the "group" Los Sampler's, or the "conjuncto" of Señor Coconut, but a single computer, its immense library of samples, and the guiding hand of Schmidt, its sole programmer cum band leader. Rather than presenting a series of short, closely knit, mechanical rhythms and structures, Plays Just Notes presents five long pieces with characteristic complexity but with forms that are more free and organic. The sleeve remarks that this disc is "the missing link between Atom Heart and Sun Ra," and it's not a far off estimation of this music, which also calls upon Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, and numerous other jazz experimentalists for inspiration. But clearly, Roger Tubesound forges a completely new path for jazz, as Schmidt continues to do, but along completely different lines, alongside Burnt Friedman as Flanger. The pieces are immaculately programmed; their structures immensely complex, moving seamlessly from one gesture to the next, with odd vocal refrains peppered throughout the arrangements, a small remnant from Roger's humourous debut. It's one of Schmidt's finest achievements in recent years, revealing so much more compositional and creative insight than mere digital trickery and laptop magic ever could. Highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Warung Elusion is Matt Shoemaker's second release for Trente Oiseaux, after Groundless released a couple of years back. It features three long pieces of evolving, shifting soundscapes, moving from long, open and quiet sections full of suspense to surprising crescendos of rustling, clamouring sounds. Using what seems to be a subtle combination of electronic and acoustic sound sources (found sounds, field recordings), Shoemaker builds engaging and challenging pieces, full of surprises and suspense, mysterious sounds and light electronic tones. We hear clocks ticking, metal resonating, rain falling against the window, voices muffled in obscurity, a continuously expanding sound space. Each piece seems to build on the foundation of the previous one, the atmospheres becoming more "charged" by the moment. It's an outstanding work, one that has captured my growing interest each time I sit down to listen to it, in headphones (with which you can discern even the faintest of sounds) or with loudspeakers, where the ambience of the room soaks up a lot of the nearly inaudible subtleties. Either way, it comes highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
This is the second release from Montréal's Jen Morris, a.k.a. [sic], and the disc takes many a fine turn into experimental audio terrain that is entertaining and humorous, but with dark overtones. Things begin with a test tone that put a smile on my face, as it's the sound of the azimuth leaders that would begin many pre-recorded audio cassettes "back in the day". What follows are a few excursions into darker terrain, with the track "Soon Amma." It features a droning backdrop to sounds that seem to be choral in nature, but are not clearly so. With tracks like "222s for LLP", a more casual approach to sound is taken: rhythmic twists and a wailing centrepiece contrast entertainingly in the mix. The results of moments like these keep the heavier moments on the disc from dragging things down. I was reminded of some of Randy Greif's sonic constructions on his releases The Barnacles Inside and Verdi's Requiem, that feature heavy sounds interwoven with lighter, even comical elements. Track titles such as "My Animal is Sore" and "Ouch, My Innards" are also particularly Greif-esque. I was impressed by the breadth of emotion that comes through the disc: each track seems to be an entity unto itself, yet as a whole it flows quite nicely from start to finish. It's an easy-going excursion that doesn't muddle things down or drown in its own personality. [sic] is definitely one to watch. [Vils M DiSanto]
This release marks something of a departure for Alien8 Recordings. Although the label has never pigeonholed itself into any particular genres of experimental music, I think this one might mark the first release with more of a song-based repertoire. Tanakh is a new project by Virginia based artist Jesse Poe. His debut full length, Villa Claustrophobia features contributions from Dirty Three's Mic Turner and vocalist Nirmak Bajekal (from Ravi Shankar's longstanding band) among many others, bringing an array of instrumentation bridging western and eastern influences. Right from the first moments, Tanakh sets the stage with a slow, sad rhythm, sitar, drones, and Bajekal's soothing voice, suspended as if in mid air. Next up is the simple folk-like tune "Pharaoh's Lonely Daughter," with Poe's melancholy voice accompanied by a strumming acoustic guitar, sad strings and the deep twang of an electric guitar. From here on the album follows a certain pattern, alternating between Poe's folk-like vocal songs and more abstract, highly evocative atmospheres with strong oriental/middle eastern influences. The mood of the album is overwhelmingly dark, the perfect soundtrack to a dark and stormy afternoon. It comes full circle, returning to the motifs of the first piece in its final track. There are some strong tracks here with some intriguing instrumentation (theremin, flugelhorn, harmonium...), and there are others which are less suggestive and more obviously theatrical, gothic and grand. This release would fit comfortably on the Projekt label, bringing to mind the ethereal folk-rock and quasi-oriental projects of Black Tape for a Blue Girl or Lycia, swathed in melancholy and saturated with weariness. [Richard di Santo]
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