2 September 2002
FREIBAND: See Play b/w At night
Released earlier this summer, here are three new 7 inch releases from the Plinkity Plonk label, founded by Beequeen members Freek Kinkelaar and Frans de Waard.
The Beautiful Glassbottom Boat is the new solo project by Freek Kinkelaar. The two pieces here are shimmering with light, pretty pieces for organ, chiming bells and environmental sounds. Not much more to say here, but it should be stated that these are two excellent tracks of well constructed, charming, intriguing and polite ambient music for friendly gatherings or solitary escapism.
Freiband is the latest name used by Frans de Waard, and this is the second release under this banner, after the excellent Microbes CD released on Ritornell last year. The project is centred on the act of "digitally scratching with sound" in the same manner as Asmus Tietchens had scratched with sound using reel to reel tapes on Daseinsverfehlung. Here we have two remix tracks, the first gives the Freiband treatment to the music of "some dinosaur rock group" (which remains unnamed, of course!). Of course, there are no elements of rock to be found in the pieces, but there is something of the "dinosaur" that remains. The track carries an old-school ambient feel to it (am I hearing an analogue synth here? couldn't be!), peppered with Freiband's characteristic crackling electronics. The second track is a mix of a Beequeen/Girfriends rehearsal concert, but essentially sounds unlike either band, presenting a rhythmic, minimal, and digitally pristine music that carries a rich, wonderful balance of high and low tones, of rhythm and ambience.
Girlfriends, a group coined (accurately or not) as 'post rock' from Nijmegen, has been going through some personnel changes of late, but at the time these two tracks were recorded it was a four piece band of 2 guitars, a bass and drums. The a-side features a cut up of elements from different recordings, creating an abstract yet consistent piece of dissonant elements and evocative chords. The b-side is a continuous recording, but for all its consistency it is still comprised of opposing yet compelling elements, becoming more intense and immediate throughout this seemingly open arrangement. Nicely done, essential post rock in its more experimental form. [Richard di Santo]
A fresh approach to package design makes for a nice first impression to a new Crouton aesthetic and to the recording duo of Chris Rosenau and Jon Mueller, here recording as Collections of Colonies of Bees. Printed on pages cut from stock photography books, each of the limited-to-1000 covers will be different, but mine ended up with a happy accident of pictures featuring babies, a smiling calf, and youthful plant shoots glowing in the morning sun. All this lightness certainly stands out in the recordings as well, which feature a splendid assortment of instrumentation (acoustic, lap steel, EBow and bass guitars, portamento piano, and even a Wurlitzer) interspersed with fragmented percussive treatments and "miscellaneous noises". The first track seems the most structuredits melodic, complete nature embodies the spirit behind the more abstract compositions that follow. What follows are tracks with a more improvised feel, sparse in arrangement, but no less varied in instrumentation and juxtaposition. A dark shadow is cast in the final track, "mu:rder" (the only track with a title), which features ominous cymbal strikes and downcast guitar work. It's not so much a downer, but rather a contemplative close to a fulfilling and well-rounded body of work. This release suitably impressed me: I felt an immediate comfort level when I first played it, and plenty of depth in its production that rewarded each time I returned to it. A commendable recording by all those involved. [Vils M DiSanto]
MNEM: Hypostatic Ground
Established in 1993 by Stefan Knappe (ex-Maeror Tri, Troum), Drone Records now have over 50 releases in their catalogue (a handful of which have been reviewed in these pages). Here we have three of their latest releases, continuing their tradition of releasing first rate ambient drone music on the 7 inch format.
EA is a trio based in Warszawa, Poland creating ambient (you guessed it) drone music. Much to the delight of my ears, their skills are attuned to the finer details of the drone, presenting not so much sustained sounds as something more subtle, light and slightly shifting. Such is the case on both sides of this 7 inch, which offer two distinct yet equally impressive pieces with some compelling details and a beautiful sonic palette for the enjoyment of all. Nice one.
MNEM is a duo hailing from Jyväskylä, Finland. Combining reel-to-reel recorders, analogue manipulations and layerings, they present two ambient-noise pieces. On the first side, loops, abstract sounds and blaring, pulsing noise create an intoxicating and impossible sound, the sort of noise that disturbs yet also provides an unusual cathartic sensation. On the second side they turn to quieter space, yet still dark and disturbing, these are sounds from an industrial wasteland, the distant clamour of metal, the uneven roar of machinery, manipulated and mutated into new forms. Excellent work.
NO is the project name of Jan Iwers, a sound artist based in Kiel, Germany. He presents three pieces. The first side features the title piece, recorded in 1997 and just under 10 minutes in length. It's a beautiful, shifting low-end drone with hisses, whistles and glitches resting gently on the surface. The second side features two tracks from 1998. The first, "Our Little Secret," is an exercise in cut-up samples and glitches, a disjointed but intriguing assemblage of sounds, atmospheres and drones. The final track, "Verlust," is a short piece for solo piano, and offers a sober, sombre conclusion to this excellent 7 inch. [Richard di Santo]
Combining the "traditional" linear modes of composition of what is commonly referred to as "New Music" with the use of Max/MSP to reinterpret, in real time, live performance, brings to the fore an harmonic collaboration between new technologies, the tradition of the orchestra, composition, and the possibilities of conducting live performance, while assembling pre-recorded and live-interpreted sound through the involvement of the computer mixed with the virtuosity of trained musicians. A discordant tone runs throughout these two pieces, and yet, discordia is always one step behind a mellow and haunting beauty, a stark minimalism with a backdrop of droned-instruments amidst the stabs of the abstract-piano and the twinkling-slivers resonating from the processes of Max/MSP. That one can hear Max/MSP interpreting the piano in the first piece, "Available Instruments," and at times, the recording itself, allows one to listen carefully to the interactions occurring at two levels: that of the performance and the interaction between the conductor and the individual musicians and the computer, and in the post-production stage of the mixdown by Kleinsasser. Such interaction is especially prevalent in this first piece, where distinct swirlings and eddies of granulated and synthesized sound can be heard, countering the foregrounding of the piano, creating a melodious grain-cloud of harmony that conjures discordant composition and yet in itself is beautiful and rich in its depth and intensity. The second piece, "Double Concerto," embraces a romantic melancholy, at times producing subtle drones and lapses, moving slowly and yet punctuated by sharp intrusions of the ritornelli. Max/MSP's involvement becoming more subtle against the backdrop of more traditional instrumentation. Yet, to say "traditional" in reviewing and considering this piece is a risky proposition; for despite an absence of noise or harsh, grating and dense composition, Kleinsasser nonetheless engages in a poetic reworking of a host of "traditions" throughout these two pieces.
Having listened to the preceding five releases on C74 (see Soft Albums), the label from Max/MSP software company Cycling '74, William Kleinsasser's two compositions on this release present some of the finest work so far that delves into the realm of the academic without sacrificing a certain cultural "listenability." While the definition of "listenability" should be challenged, the ability to synthesize traditions of romanticism with technological anarchic composition and the radical departure of the New Music's avant-garde should be recognised as a feat no less difficult, indeed, perhaps slightly more strenuous in the ability to move, as these two pieces do, from one tradition to the other, and at times mixing and blending several elements in the same movement. Max/MSP seems to play a dual role in these pieces, taking over from the original involvement of Miller Puckette's venerable software, pd, as both an instrument in itself and as an interpreter of produced sound. William Kleinsasser's liner notes state that
The manipulation of the piano is significantly heard in the first piece, "Available Instruments," and its effect and utilisation within the piece is mature and present without lapsing into a complete transparency. Max/MSP acts as an instrument, taking its pre-programmed algorithms and applying them to what is being played into it. The result is stunning and beautiful while redefining what beauty might mean in a world of digitisation.
At the end of the liner notes, Kleinsasser notes that
To understand how Max/MSP works in the second piece, "Double Concerto," takes a bit more understanding of the aims of the piece itself. The contrasting and ambiguous (non)resolution of the soloists with the orchestra (ritornelli, in this case, as they play fragments which form the basis "from which the entire work develops") plays with the traditional construction of the concerto. Sonically, the result is vibrant. Slow passages hum and build to crash into quick punctures of violin, cello, wind instruments, and what sounds like a xylophone. It would seem that Kleinsasser's latter paragraph applies to this piece, for at points the ritornelli instruments sound affected by something otherwordly, while at other points non-instrumental sounds drift in and out of the work. Kleinsasser says that "In the 'Double Concerto' a pervasive metaphor of separation provides resistant potential for the merger of disparate elements. In the end it remains uncertain whether this resistance persistsa poignant cloud of transient opportunityor dissolves into coherent resolution." The same can be said for the position of Max/MSP in the piece; its presence is unresolved and slightly ambiguous. Although not transparent, the play of Max/MSP within a piece that plays with the very structure of Tonic/Dominant composition in novel ways of ambiguity serves the ceaseless questioning the piece offers the listener.
Of particular note is the presence of the liner notes, which allows me
as a listener to actively engage the piece, listening for the involvement
of Max/MSP and how such software is being used by today's musicians.
Murcof's debut EP on Context this year set the tone for a melancholic, orchestral minimalism that dives head first into two realms: the sampling of twentieth century post-classical music and the territory of displaced beats. Murcof, aka Fernando Corona of Tijuana's Nortec Collective, has extended these motifs on this deceivingly complex album. By liberally borrowing haunting violin and voice solos from contemporary New Music and rearranging these powerful elements into prescient tracks of micro-complexity, Murcof has created a rhythmic core that presents a challenge to not only the discerning listener, but the skilled turntablist as well. With a meditated use of silence, the tracks oscillate through both narrative structure and an evocative call-and-response, allowing the ear and the beatmatch alike to explore an ambiguous aural area in-between a transfusion of traditions, nomadically thieving from both the European avant-garde and post-African musical heritages. The result cannot be measured, for it eclipses more than the sum of its parts. Like a bell summoning the dead, Martes is an album of necrophilic beauty, a memory of the dead and the burdened, the slave and the master. It is not enough to stress the significance of the "outside," or that which is represented as outside to the European traditions of high-art experimentalism, remixing the sacred hearts of the tradition, infusing it with a loss and a melancholy, and horror of horrors, a rhythm. The analogies to the living-dead here are not only present through what amounts to a sonic remix of the proper namein this case, the Eastern European composers Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Pärtbut a re-calling of traditions of cultural dominance, a dance remixing nothing less than the Southern American and Mexican "Day of the Dead" festivals. [Tobias c. van Veen]
Omenya is the project of brothers Mark and D.S. Davis, two American multimedia artists with a serious interest in ritual noise-ambient music. The Esoteric Perversions is their debut release. It's no wonder that the album is dedicated to Robin Storey (best known for his influential work as :zoviet*france: and Rapoon), as Omenya's music is clearly heavily influenced by his sound work. The disc features seven loop-based, atmospheric, percussive, opaque sound spaces in which the listener is submerged for over 75 minutes. The mood is dark, ritualistic, primal even. Strong, dense atmospheres float through chiming bells, water sounds, woodwinds, percussion, strange sounds in the distance and the occasional sampled voice. Imagine a more ritualistic Rapoon, a more traditionally 'ambient' :zoviet*france:, and you should have a good idea as to what to expect here. It might not be so original in terms of its style, but it's nicely done anyway. [Richard di Santo]
Michael Prime is probably best known for his work with Morphogenesis, or even his ongoing collaboration with Geert Feytons as Negative Entropy. Requiem was recorded between 1998 and 2000, incorporating a trio of sound sources into the composition: improvisations by Negative Entropy, a sound sculpture by Len Lye and the voice of Miro. On the first side we are treated to a desolate soundscape of densely layered sounds, and yet the mood remains sparse, as if you were gazing out at an immense, open space before you, and the sounds you here are of reverberations from the distances, from all sides. The sounds intensify and recede to varying degrees until they culminate in an immense, shrill drone of noise, succeeding in captivating my attention throughout, being taken in by these chilling, intricately arranged sounds. Side two offers something entirely different, feeling more like a sound sculpture than the more sustained ambient dronings and noise found on the first side, with shorter sounds, echoes, and industrial-atmospheric hisses and drones throughout. An excellent new work, and recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Remanence is the collaborative project between Brian McWilliams and John Phipps. This three-track EP, released on their own mPATH label, serves as a prelude to a forthcoming album, A Strange Constellation of Events, to be released at some point in the near future. Remanence make ethno-ambient music in the mould of the masters, Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana, Mathias Grassow et al., whose respective influences on the genre are by now quite recognisable. Smooth, drifting ambience, dark undercurrents, a babbling brook, a compelling rhythm for hand percussion, shakers and drum loops, chiming bells that provide a feeling of ritual, of spiritualism, suggesting something beyond man's reach, beyond rationality... ok, so that's the goal, anyway. Ethno-ambient music has never quite succeeded in transporting me to such heights, and yet when the music is well done, when there's an attention to detail and a certain tension in the sounds, I start paying attention and allow the sounds to wash over me in good order. That being said, these are three nice pieces presented here, nothing very original, nothing significantly new being brought to the table already filled with similar servings, but they certainly do a good job of it. So let's watch out for future offerings from this duo, who are sure to present something sonically rich and evocative in the very near future. [Richard di Santo]
At times what is required to appreciate an album is a raise in volume. It might piss your neighbours offbut some music is meant to be felt. And when the volume is high, the music enters a zone where it is not so much heard as understood. John Cage called such musical listening "disinterestedness." Although he was thinking of listening to "silence"in order to hear sounds usually unheardor the amplification of miniscule sound (the true father of microsound), the inverse, for me, can also apply: by raising the volume, our attention is drawn to the non-obvious patterns and sounds within a piece. Such a listening strategy works well with Smyglyssna. Coming across like a Warp-ish act run through an irony-blender, with cutting Icelandic IDM breakbeats warping pitched rhythms, Smyglyssna is entertaining and light while exploring the darker moodsthose fiery temperaments in the land of snowof the break. Often Smylglyssna sounds like a slowed down Squarepusher, decomposing its compositional structure into a random assemblage of blips and bleeps, slowly forming a rhythmic pattern over time. Bordering on IDM-kitsch with its use of off-key organs, Smyglyssna is not a classically ambient or experimental listen: it's closer to Felix Kubin meeting Bola in an elevator. [Tobias c. van Veen]
The first two releases from this young Paris based label showcase the breadth implied by the terms identified as the label's main points of reference: minimal, improvised, composed music. Their inaugural release, aptly titled minima-list, is an impressive various artist collection featuring exclusive tracks by Sogar, Komet, Matthieu Saladin, Taylor Deupree, Richard Chartier, O/r, Alan Licht and about half a dozen others. Moving from the click hop of Komet to the brilliant ambience of Charles Curtis and his acoustic cello, from the compelling microsound of Sol to the piercing guitar drones of Otomo Yoshihide, or from the mysterious and kaleidoscopic sonorities of Alan Licht's piece to the impressive noise harmonics of fabriquedecouleurs, it's clearly an ambitious collection full of contrasts and unexpected transitions. An excellent start that indicates a promising future for the List label.
Their second release is a new full length by Jürgen Heckel, aka Sogar. We were introduced to Sogar last year on his debut release for the 12k label titled Basal, which featured a warm, delicate form of microsound filled characterised by an acute sense for detail and mood. On Stengel, Sogar continues in a similar vein, but takes his sounds in a few different directions. Still embracing light, delicate sounds, harmonies and melodic phrases over a bed of abstraction, Sogar also embraces harsher elements and noise than on his previous release, yet still maintaining his commitment to detail and complex arrangements. And yet I found the album as a whole to be somewhat lacking, as if we are given too much to work with, too much time to explore these ideas which might well have been better explored with a handful of tracks on an EP, but I'm grasping at straws here, this is really some very interesting music, and I shouldn't really complain. Too much music, too many tracks? Well, it's a possibility. "Too much of a good thing" is a cliché that certainly carries some resonance, especially when things begin to repeat themselves, which is the feeling I get when listening to a few of these tracks. Otherwise, it's quite nicely done, and certainly confirms that Sogar is a name to look out for. [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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