28 October 2002
KOJI ASANO: Octopus Balloons
Koji Asano has never washed his feet in the same river twice; his projects, released on his own Solstice label, are a testament to his commitment to discovering new roads and pathways of music, sound and composition. His most recent releases are certainly no exception, showing us two very different sides of this polygonal artist.
In January Rainbow, a piano is heard, sounding phrases that are roaming, rolling and melodic; romantic like Debussy, conjuring thoughts of the sea, of the reflection of the moon on water. And the sea seems more than an arbitrary association here, the sounds of the piano are immersed in a figurative sea of electronic sounds, of static. The piano itself seems to have been recorded as if from a distance, or from the next room, and the static sounds in which it is immersed give the double impression of old and new, that we might be listening to an historic recording from a time long past, but also the static and electroacoustic interferences insist on a more contemporary context. It is a long, single piece, just under 64 minutes in length, and without any major shifts. The phrases on piano repeat themselves regularly, a leitmotif comes and goes at seemingly regular intervals. Listening, the piece fell in and out of favour with me: I am enchanted, then I am bored; I am intrigued, then I am dismissive. The problem lies in its length, and in admitting that there is only one central idea at work here. Does the idea have enough strength to carry the listener on its back for the duration of the piece? I'm not convinced, but I also know that I walk away from this piece a little different from when I first approached it. Somewhere in this time of listening, at times paying close attention and at others ignoring it almost entirely, my mood changed, there's a new mark on the walls of this room, the sun is in a different position, the temperature outside has dropped. Are all of these changes merely incidental? Now we're just over an hour closer to January, to walking in the cold light of winter and looking on the bare branches of the trees, like the branches that grace the cover of this release. And the rainbow? I must admit I've never seen one in January...
The problem of duration is not applicable to all of Asano's projects. Octopus Balloon, for example, also presents a single piece, but is just over 33 minutes in length. Still a concept work (each of his releases can be said to tackle a different idea, set of ideas, or concept), this one is a restless and abrasive composition of harsh computer sounds. It feels like improvisation; unpredictable, surprising, cathartic, a superbly compelling work. It intensifies then recedes, it builds up a loud, asymmetrical structure then takes it apart brick by brick, sound by sound. It forms clusters, near-rhythms, jarring synthetic scratches and blisters on the silence. It's a work of violence and restlessness, of arranging sound in unpredictable and sometimes frightening ways. A new instalment in Asano's growing catalogue of sonic explorations. [Richard di Santo]
Returning after last year's graceful Mondkuchen on Morr Music, F.S. Blumm touches again on a beguiling, even-paced cycling of acoustic and slightly electric notes and tones that evolve slowly, either as the sun that rises golden in the morning or like the thin whispers of fog that overtake the moon on early autumn nights. The brighter moments recall the astute picking and shimmering of The Sea and Cake, the rhythms crisp like boots through fresh snow, while the more gentle and subdued moments near disc's end recall the loping and mysterious movements of Javanese gamelan. Aside from the acoustic guitar and trumpet, there are appearances of mbira, kalimba and vibes, which give the entire disc a peculiarly percolating folk feel. A disc to play in the late afternoon, to where there is both sunshine's free-floating dust and dusk's crescent melancholy. [Andy Beta]
The word 'coh' means 'sleep' in Russian. It's an odd choice of words, I think, for this ongoing sound project by Ivan Pavlov, since his music usually makes me sit up and pay attention, my senses becoming more and more alert to the details and arrangements, the exact contrary to falling asleep. Back in the summer of 2000, Pavlov entered the VPRO studio during a short tour in the Netherlands and recorded this album. One track, 38 minutes in duration, of evolving laptop sounds, glitches, ambience, noises, rhythms, loops, of sonic twists and turns. His sound is rich and dense, and he has a flair for dramatic development, the rhythms and mood intensifying and receding in a way that captures the imagination. It's an excellent set, abstract, rhythmic, continually morphing into different streams, moving in different directions.
Coh has numerous releases on Raster Music, also Mego, Eskaton, and an upcoming release for Idea Records. [Richard di Santo]
Words failed me when I first encountered Cage of Sand by Carlos Zingaro. Nine pieces for violin and electronics, performed in real time with only a touch of editing and mixing, and I became stoically silent in the wake of their intensity and vigour. At times tense, at others playful, yet always challenging and complex, Zingaro's improvisations are charged with electricity, latent and explosive in turns, the unpredictable electronic elements originating from inventive strains on the violin, all the while involved in its own tricks and acrobatics. The recordings for the album were completed in March of 2002. Two months later, a collective called [des]integração assembled at the Centre of Modern Art, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. They performed a set of improvisations using sound sources exclusively extracted from Zingaro's Cage of Sand. There are six core members of the group: Carlos Santos, João Castro Pinto, Miguel Carvalhais, Nuno Moita, Paolo Raposo and Pedro Lourenço. They are also joined by a seventh member, Carlos Zingaro himself, who is credited for doing 'live mixing' for the event. The live set was then edited and remixed by Paolo Raposo (who incidentally is the founder of sirr.ecords), and released in the form we see here. In these three segments, just over 30 minutes long, the group has created something entirely new from their sound source, which is barely traceable in these new fibres of electronic sound, an integration (or disintegration, if you like) of elements that goes beyond mere permutation and into realms of transformation, retransformation. Clearly, the computer has taken over the role of the dominant tool, which in Zingaro's original recordings is occupied by the violin, no matter how much space in the foreground the electronics may seem to occupy from piece to piece. Zingaro relies on words such as (re)reading, (dis)assembling, (re)interpretation, (re)cycling in his notes for this new project, and they are certainly fitting descriptors here. These new pieces are open improvisations, yet each shows commendable restraint and control; they are haunting pieces of disembodied sound, groundless, ephemeral, digital. Considered on its own or as a postscript to the original recordings, however you package it, this is still some marvellous work. Listen closely. [Richard di Santo]
Can had a double disc of remixes, Neu! got reissued properly after years of bootlegs, Kraftwerk coasts on accolades of hip-hop and electro for nearly two decades, and now Faust gets another collage album! Well, while the first impulse is to immediately leap back to 1973's The Faust Tapes, which spliced together bits of their Wümme years from 1971-1973 (somehow putting them on the Tops of Pops radar screen) into a singular listening experience as the band pogoed between noisy patches, gentle pastiches of strummed folk, and percolating tunes courtesy of some heavy tape splicing, it is an incorrect approach to take to this new, restorative work. As the former was a highlight reel of these unreleased moments in time, the newer Patchwork is much more vague, condensing and compressing their entire recorded history, released or otherwise, into a very frantic forty-two minutes.
Here all are rendered as fleeting memories, from the dismissive radio announcer Walter Adler to the giddy tom-thudding of "It's a Rainy Day" and the flickering nylon strings of "Picnic on a Frozen River." Now these moments are just floating past, as if from a near-drowned man's final memories, all mashed into new configurations and relationships to other Faustian sounds from 1971 to the present day. It streams by ever so fast, in thirty second to three minute gasps of breath, and what were once crucial moments on past records are now seen in a new, ephemeral light, bobbing past before a handle can be got on them. To those who want to hold on to the past, this will only conjure up animosity and a sense of retreating water by the three decade-old group. But those who can go with the flow will find an interesting sensation of flooding, and a new perspective on an old favourite. [Andy Beta]
Think of it as a return to old forms: Jeff Greinke returns with a new set of ambient recordings after nearly a decade of pursuing other projects and musical directions. Wide View, with the desert horizon that adorns its cover, presents nine tracks of atmospheric ambient music, all touched by discernable melancholy. The music is slow, sad, and subtle; the weight of a piece like "One September," with contributions on guitar by Eric Cooley, creates an enchanting space. Yet on the whole, I found my interest and involvement in this work to be waning; the arrangements, deliberate, steady and slow, did not completely draw me in or compel me to take much of a closer look. For me, the more traditional zones of ambient music are often in danger of slipping unnoticed into the background, or invisibly into the fabric of the curtains on the wall. We can commend artists like Greinke or Harold Budd for their aesthetic of emptiness and restraint and their command of mood, but at times these works fail to take hold of my interest and imagination, unable to take me in new directions, to make a real mark on my perception, treading that delicate balance between ambient and new age. Listening to Greinke's new release, in spite of some interesting moments, some charming arrangements, even, at times, a beautiful sadness, I can't help but feel that there's something missing, something just outside the periphery of view. [Richard di Santo]
If this record is anything to go by, Shaw-han Liem could be the happiest guy making electronic music today. You Make Me This Happy is a collection of remixes created for The Uberkids, .tape., Stella Maris, Heidi Hazelton, Girls are Short, GNG and Printed Circuit. The seven tracks are followed by an unlisted remix of a song by three very famous independent women in pop music. The sounds are warm, chock full of analogue goodness and smiles, quirky melodies, bubbles and rhythms, enough to make anyone positively giddy. The melodies hearken back to the glory days of technopop, with hardly a trace of that contemporary irony to be seen, often mixing up sweet vocal sounds with simple yet smartly constructed arrangements. In short, I found the whole thing to be quite charming, and I'll be happy to see I Am Robot And Proud performing in a local spot (for we are both living in the same city of Toronto), spreading the love and turning the darkest corners into rainbows. [Richard di Santo]
Three pieces culled from the phonoTAKTIK_99 festival and now wrapped in a very unassuming white card sleeve with a small centre cut. White noise cases the contents of the disc as well, which commence with Pita's "020599.rz," snow-shovelling huge drifts over nearly-obliterated terrain scapes, the subtle formations almost obscured were it not for his fine wrist-work, revealing odd gaps in the white sound field. Six minutes into the piece, he goes in for some channel-surfing and beat-blasting, the chores left unfinished.
Francisco López does some tube-gazing as well, but he sticks to the familiar stations that are all snow and slowly cranks it up so that the patterns and shapes of it can be more readily evident in the wide static spectrum that really gets to a blistering degree of intensity from the inside-out.
Zbigniew Karkowski's "Petrified by the Sum of Ourselves" takes us back outside, where now the insects have come out in invisible corps, piercing the frozen ear beyond the breath clouds, shattering little crystals with every step and shivering frequency, and then blowing them clear through the ear and out the back of the skull in increasing gales and swarms. Winter brain-cleaning is adequately accomplished by Karkowski. [Andy Beta]
Listening, the space around me becomes fluid. I am sitting, submerged in a thick, translucent sound. When I move my feet feel like they are trudging through mud, and the effort feels good, the strain on my lower muscles as I balance the rest of my body with counter movements. Now I'm knee-deep in this transparent, nearly invisible liquid, slowing down my movements, colouring the mood with its shifting textures, its deep, organic lows and its subtle, ringing highs. In the first few moments, abstract, testing, a warming up, the sounds morph into something gently rhythmic; a soft, metallic chiming plays politely with bass tones and rhythmic pulses. Then a sudden shock of static sounds runs like a current through the liquid of this space, making my body react and become unsettled, until new elements introduce themselves and quell the unstable elements that just moments earlier had sent my body reeling for an escape. Elements from the outside, of human traffic, "a second-sight procession," of water, of metal, of movement, interact with others that seem more synthetic, acousmatic, the sounds of the unseen, the unknown, and sometimes, now and again, a voice. This liquid I am submerged in keeps changing its colour, changing its consistency, broadcasting its movements from broad, ululating waves to sharp dense ripples. Yet now my lungs are filled by it, I notice new details in the foreground, in the distance, and I realise that I have rather enjoyed this time, spent in a challenging, shifting sound space.
Snawklor is Nathan Gray and Dylan Krazevac, and this is their debut release. [Richard di Santo]
I'm not quite sure if this is a follow up to, or a documentation of, a project originating from a few years back, but in either case, [The User] finally presents its symphony for dot matrix printers on CD. It's a performance for fourteen printers played by an orchestra of now obsolete computers conducted by a single, similarly obsolete server. The sounds we hear haven't been doctored by further editing or electronic manipulations (at least, not by very much), and it's fairly obvious while listening that this is pure printer music. Funny, inventive, even nostalgic (ah, my eyes water at the sounds that were so familiar in my youth), Symphony #2 makes for an engaging and entertaining listening experience. It isn't all fun and games, however, and there's a serious, darker undercurrent which can be found throughout the second half of the work especially, where the printers create eerie drones, loops and rhythms. I never would have thought that dot matrix printers had such a range of possibilities, of tone, of timbre. The twelfth and final track appears to me more of an epilogue for the work, perhaps even a remix or reworking of the original source material, beginning in silence then developing into a subtle, dark and pulsating drone. Obsolete computer technology never sounded so good. Next we'll be seeing soloists like Yo-Yo Ma clamouring to collaborate with this orchestra, and Hewlitt Packard vying for the same status as Stradivarius and Steinway as makers of some of the finest musical instruments around. [Richard di Santo]
A loosely gravitated compilation of sorts for the Touch label, it gives former Cabaret Voltaire/Hafler Trio member Chris Watson's luminous field recordings over to their current roster of stars in order to rework them as they will. Mika Vainio takes some fizzing dabs of flies and transmits them into a cold dark outer space, emitting low levels of reverb-radiation. Philip Jeck is a bit more ballistic, with his tracers streaking across the night sky in slowly revolving motions. Hazard moves in the spaces between the cold crinkling spacesuit and human skin heat, mixing the temperatures to a fine stasis. Taking frogs far away from the their boggy terra firma, Fennesz's "Pannonique" chirps and floats exotically above the pond, albeit too pithy for proper personal spacing. Always an alien-sounding music form, the Balinese metallic clouds that AER observes hover exquisitely, if not too precisely, in the far distance. The looping and cycling that Biosphere is so intimate with shows in the graceful ripples of "Night & Dawn," which is neither dichotomy nor dichotic, but a continuously blissful blurring of the two extremes of day. Watson's most recent globetrotting excursions, "Cassarina" and "Wolves," both bisect and end the all too brief proceedings. [Andy Beta]
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