14 October 2002
Ampbuzz is the solo project of one Chris Martin, a Seattle based guitarist and a member of psyche-rock outfit Kinski. With Ampbuzz he explores a more ambient terrain, sometimes a dense layering of dark drones and loops, at others presenting a more gentle soundspace in which to repose, but always charged with latent energy and electricity (these are electric guitars, after all), with the feeling that there's something 'cosmic' in the air. On the first track "Bubbles," some mellow strumming, synth washes and deep tones introduce the mood of the album as a whole. "Centre for clouds" uses an odd, buoyant sound, looped all the way through with some strange washes and static sounds creating a surreal mood, the soundtrack for some alien world. "Welcome to the ocean floor" is a classic piece of dark ambient; its rich, pulsing drone insists that you significantly raise the volume to feel its vibrations in your bones. In all, it's a nice work, not the most imaginative stuff, but a strong set with a careful, distinctive sound. [Richard di Santo]
Burnt Friedman and his assorted collection of 15 musicians from the southern reaches of New Zealand and Australia as well as the usual hideouts in Germany have jammed another serious post-dub funk record into being, this time featuring the deep-throated Theo Altenberg on the title track's vocals. It's a spaced out jam that merges the deep organic funk of a band with tight electronic production. Although apparently hardly any electronic tools were applied on this new release, its scope is for the electronic generation. Reverse the clock, flip the record: it's almost like electronic dub was the origin and then acoustic bands started to translate the rhythm into the domain of live instrumentationwhich is perhaps closer to the studio spirit of dub in the first place. In any case this record leaves us in a beautiful lurch, neither acoustic nor electronic yet "live," it is music that defies its own parameters of compositional genre. Whereas, in comparison, Ryan Moore's Twilight Circus Dub Soundsystem project maintains a dub-studio approach, it is the live oddities and detours found in Burnt Friedman's projects that keep his sound always on the edge of the warped (which isn't to say Moore's music isn't warpedit's just a different parameter of sonic dub-land). Radio noise, space signals, a melancholic harmonicait's all here in this disc designed to drown you far, far, underwater in the molasses of the drifting dub seas. Do me a favour. Quit your job, sell everything, and flee to New Zealand. Drift by to Byron Bay, buy up the stash, and then hit a white sound beach outside of Auckland. Then we're getting somewhere... [Tobias c. van Veen]
It's a sound that causes instant anxiety, yet somehow three artists have found in its numerous but always recognisable variations something musical, lying latent in its depths, something to be drawn out, extracted, manipulated, remanufactured and recombined. The ringtones of mobile phones are everywhere in the urban world; they surround our every step, they negotiate their way into every space, both public and private, and yet whenever we hear them we are always surprised, they cause a small shock on our nerves, they catch us off guard, as if we never really expect them, calling us to attention. Is it mine? is someone trying to reach me? And so, when we are confronted by Dialtones, a live telesymphony exclusively produced through the choreographed dialling and ringing of 200 mobile phones in the audience, we cannot help but sit up and pay close attention. Someone is calling, attempting communication, sending a message. Devised by Golan Levin, Scott Gibbons and Gregory Shankar, the piece was commissioned by and performed live at the 2001 Ars Electronica Festival. It's a concert in 3 parts, 26 minutes in length. The first ringtone inspires laughter in the audience, perhaps taken by surprise by its source, but the laughter quickly subsides into respectful silence, punctuated only by the occasional cough of shuffling of feet. The tones are surprisingly diverse, the arrangement strangely bewitching. I would have thought that they would be using the existing ringtones already loaded on the audience's cell phones, but part of the preparation included downloading new ringtones onto their handsets, and arranging for a fixed seating plan. The process is fascinating, and the results are a strange curiosity, a cultural artefact of our time, a complex polyphony, a unique creature. Occasionally a rhythmic loop will lull you into its cadence, transfix your attention, until it finally breaks off into a new branch, a new network of dialling and ringtones (the second part of the performance is particularly rhythmic). But in the wake of all this ringing, it remains to be seen who the callers are, and what message they might have for us. Or is there no message, no voice on the other end? it's a machine, a custom designed dialling software instrument that is reaching out to us, pulling the strings. I answer the phone but there's doesn't seem to be anyone on the other end... [Richard di Santo]
While at face value, these two guitarists (from England and Australia respectively) might appear more as pebble-tapping and dust-sifting archaeologists, austerely digging "field recordings from a lost civilization" (as the press sheet puts it), the biggest surprise of this disc is that, if they are other than two of the most singular guitar-glyph practitioners (the former inventing the darned field of tabletop guitar, the latter expanding hands-on abstractions in the face of increasing austere Powerbook-guitar technologies), they are either co-pilots of a hand-painted wafer-like silver vessel, hovering far above some as-of-yet un-uncovered rock formations and stimulating traces of un-inhaled dirt, their engine winds shimmering the leaves far below into rippling patterns, or else meteorologists with an uncanny ear for hearing cloud formations, buzzing fly patterns, frog-chirp frequencies, and luminescent radio waves. Try figuring out when they are drifting above, gazing down onto the earth's surface and when they are staring out beyond the diaphragms of space from their singular, dusty plateau, completely tethered to the dirt, but either way, the effervescent and gritty are combined succinctly by two outstanding professionals of their field. [Andy Beta]
When in 1997 Howard Stelzer was first asked by a visual artist called ks to create some sound for her gallery showing at the University of Florida, I doubt he had any idea that this request would be the beginning of an ongoing project, now 5 years in the making, and still, admittedly, full of possibilities. Stelzer began by recording ks reciting her journal entries and poetry in various environments, then processing the recordings using various tape manipulation techniques. He became more and more interested in the medium of the tape, in the sounds of the medium itself, to the point where he attempted to eliminate all traces of the voice which had been the foundation of the recordings in the first place. Years pass, and in that time Stelzer passed the recordings on to a few well chosen artists for their reconstruction. One such artist was Frans de Waard, whose notions on recycling sound are well documented in his ongoing project Kapotte Muziek. The two of them revisited these recordings earlier this year, each in his own time, in his own home, turning to the computer to aid them in their search for new sounds and structures, and the result is what they have documented here on Torn Tongue, released on the Absurd label run out of Athens. Throughout these tracks, the voice appears only as a spectre, a shadow on the sand, an opaque shape moving through the water. Thick drones, odd sound sculpting, loops, hisses and bumps are woven into compelling structures. Sometimes the original tape manipulations survive, you can hear it in the timbre and hiss, and at others the sounds have clearly been processed digitally through software filters, and so on. It makes for an interesting hybrid of old and new, of the presence of voice and the negation of that voice. And as I have been listening to this disc over the past few weeks, I have returned to it each time with my interest renewed, the experience is always a challenge, a pleasure. [Richard di Santo]
A while back, I dubbed this limited to 300 LP onto my Walkman and spent many a late night in a New York subway tunnel with this as my only companion. Nothing can make the glare of dirty tiles and peculiarly fecund puddles from slumbering bum shapes more tolerable than to suddenly be whisked away to Zenpukuji Lake in Tokyo with all these ducks, their beaks squeaking and chattering for joy as you drop them little wedges of stale bread. The clarity of each rustled feather and splish-splash is rendered life-like here, and the effect is transporting, like all good music should be. But I must add that the background voices can be destabilizing, as I constantly felt that other park goers were abruptly around me, asking me for directions or spare change in Japanese. The flip is as wonderful, as now you slumber near a swarm of (nearly-electronic) crickets in the early part of evening. Very enveloping in the higher registers, and hard to believe with each placement of scooter sound and voice that this is just pure field recordings from Mr. Suzuki, and not some expert rendering of Luc Ferrari's "Presque Rien." For those who miss the classic field recordings of the Folkways label. [Andy Beta]
Sound artist Toshiya Tsunoda takes a close look at the phenomenon of vibration in his latest release. In his liner notes he observes that the vibration of an object cannot usually be heard on its own, but by attaching something called a 'piezo-ceramic sensor' to the object which generates pressure via a weak electronic current, the internal vibration of an object changes into something audible; in other words, into voltage. Certainly an interesting method, one which brings out into the open, audible world that which normally lies hidden, unheard. Each of the nine tracks presented here is a recording of a different object, each found in a distinct location, from a metal plate fence or an asphalt road surface to a gas cylinder or a drum, on the streets of Yokosuka city, in the tunnels of Uwamachi or on a beach at Kamimiyata. Tsunoda is also nice enough to describe the events and the peculiarities of the different vibrations for each object-location-track. Many of the tracks are fascinating documents; these mostly low-end drones move dynamically through the sound field, pulsing and fluctuating gently. Other tracks are less interesting, those where the drones are more consistent with less variation, a sound akin to putting your ear to your air vents at home, a consistent hum with little interest on its own. Yet these weaker moments are in the minority, and on the whole the release is a strong and unique study of solid vibration, a conjuring of resonance from the unheard regions to those of the audible world. [Richard di Santo]
Based in Oslo, Knut Ruud is Upland, and he is out to make some complex, rhythmic and stimulating electronic music. This 7 track EP is perhaps his debut (please forgive me if I have not heard of Knut's work until now), and it's a consistently good effort throughout. The music is a combination of chunky, IDM inspired beats and moody synth work; a dark, tense soundtrack for life out of balance, for a life of mounting tension. The tracks are fairly short, filled with stuttering clicks and beats, a dense and frantic array of noises, rhythmically structured, with dark synth washes acting as the glue which makes many of these tracks cohere. But where this music is consistently good, it also seems to lack some imagination; listening, I grew accustomed to its structures and rhythms quickly, the styles and sounds of this artist are at once identifiable, without breaking far into new ground, or exploring very many ideas, repeating itself even in the short duration of the release. Nonetheless, it's an enjoyable disc that makes at least some impact on the listener, owing to its strong mood and the sense of urgency in its flurry of beats, however fleeting. [Richard di Santo]
From such simple-seeming seeds of crackling noise and buzz grow these gilded and white blossoms on the outside of this debut offering from Australian sound alchemist Brendan Walls. It's all dark monochromatic stone roses on the inside though, thorny and alien in these subtle growth patterns of rumble and drone, a suite of sorts broken into stamen, pistil, and perianth. Using only some guitar pick-ups and contact mics, Walls slashes big swaths of analog noise along the cortex, blowing the sounds about into regions usually only glimpsed by Powerbook sets, and its manual "hands in the dirt" attack is significantly more gritty and visceral because of it. Harkens back to individual tinkerers like David Tudor and Roland Kayn (or more geographically kin, Omit), but in a more scrap heap way. Individual, and perfect for the garden. [Andy Beta]
Susumu gave. He drifted gifts from across the pond of still waters. This was dangerous. Hollowed ancient cedars reflected shadows across the sequins where the gifts were pulled under by the projections of a thousand corpses aching for the eternal return and the promise of life. Susumu knew this and that it needed his soul, echoed in shards of beauty across the waters. And this he sang through repetitions of traditional Japanese instruments, each in her space. This space was given. It was given in the manner of modern music: through machines that spatialised, that took a sly glance and unfolded a new form of water and tree music.
Instrumental became the instruments in allowing the boy to play with his sinking gifts. The ancient hollowed cedar sheltered the boy and the boy gave his drowning.
The Boy gives many sounds. Sometimes, he builds house music. Other times, he creates gifts for the eyes. He performs with Philip Glass. He sung a Grinning Cat.
Genre contextualities: ambient-world-recordings-emotional-soul-travelling
[Remix of quotations by Tobias c. van Veen]
Imagine piles upon piles of compilations strewn across my desk, littering nooks and crannies, all full of songs, tracks, moments of sound, each and every one of them hoping for words... A little fanciful perhaps, but this is often how I feel: the compilation is at once, or has the potential to be, a fantastic journey through a label's oeuvre, a sampling of unheard of artists or a familiar taste of some of the best tracks from the best musicians; at other times, the compilation can be a disorganised mess, a sketch of tracks with no thread to pull them all together. Luckily, alphaform is of the former, a great collection of primarily ambient-styled tracks with a few beat-oriented jams in the middle to firm out the ground. This is a collection of music from relative unknowns within electronic music. Some are just finding their path; others know it well and strike off in original directions. Take the first two tracks, "separating oxygen" by holzkopf and "shoughm" by silent q. The first is an almost Tim Hecker-esque tone-grind that sets the stage well for a take on ambient that is attempting to redefine itself in the light of newer strategies and sounds. The second is a throwback, for me a nostalgic trip into memory lane, where bombastic, almost FSOL-like beats carve through ambient synth swashes. That the new introduced the old leads us to consider the rest of the album in a similar lightthat is, as somewhat of a battle between those pushing towards an edge, and those who are happy to reinvent the genres of old, or at least perform their movements well enough. This is more obvious when we consider the retro-IDM feel of peter creep who brings home the melody through well-produced and sliced breakbeats that nonetheless sound very similar to Bola or Plaidalthough an excellent track for what it is, I'm not feeling that a trajectory with a personal inventory and incline was forged and fired. Much the same can be said for multidimensional's tribal techno drum jam, which unfortunately is the weakest cut on the comp; and even fidget's "nag champa" and various rerefaction's "tentative anagram" make prodigious use of previous IDM conventions. But these tracks are quickly overwhelmed by the edge-boundaries: holzkpf's second and noisy track, "hagenback zoo;" the video-game metallic cuts and bangs of "hd mons" by turner of wheels; jon vaughn's clicky brilliance, "[oh] baby," which carves circles around itself in trying to find a concurrent rhythm, lost in its glitched fuzz; max haiven's minimal click-house jam, "windecks," which would be excellent for a 12" release and reminds me of some of SND's work; and the soundscape field recordings, meandering and melancholic, with touches of piano and drifting squalls, of deep space comforter's "spiritually aggressive," who walk one of the more divergent paths on the album. And sohere we are, at the end, with a collection that relistens to the ambience between new and old. What next? [Tobias c. van Veen]
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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