17 February 2003
The pieces on The Envy of Winged Thingsdark, uneasy and unsettlingwere inspired by the short films of the Brothers Quayequally dark, uneasy and unsettling. The titles, like the works which inspired them, lend an impression of surrealism ('ladder-hands, flower-fingers') shared by the diverse sound sources and manipulations found in the recordings. Augur begins each piece with a generous silence, the sounds soon creeping up on you to reveal their light and shadow. A muffled voice in the distance, the chirping of insects, a thin tone, objects in motion, the echoes of sounds long forgotten, chimes, deep drones... Augur's atmospheres are filled with darkness and weight, where only occasionally one spies a thin ray of sunshine; yet even this is soon to be enveloped in cloud, covered in rain. Yet this is not to dismiss these pieces as gloomy; rather, they are consistently both challenging and experimental, compelling the listener to imagine a hypothetical narrative or visual scene to complement the sounds. Having learned that Steve Brand will soon be shedding the name of Augur, leaving that phase of his creative development behind him, I'm intrigued about his next move, about what re-introducing "Steve Brand" means, both for him and for us. Until then, I'm happy to return to Augur's caverns of myth and meaning, of ancient shadows on the wall, of echoes long since reverberating, nearly forgotten, from wall to wall. [Richard di Santo]
With the aerial photography of artist Olafur Eliasson as a reference point, Frank Bretschneider has composed a polymorphous pullback of tick-laced bass transmissions that weave in and out of unnamed components, many lasting around a minute at most for the duration of the program. Many combine gossamer-like textures with heavier rumblings, but most of the audio surfaces here are so slippery with motion; there is so little to hold on to for too long before you slip away into another chamber or room of the proceedings. Echoes and delays abound, further challenging the ability to discern time and space. Around track 7 there appear some crystalline taps with some dub-like ripples, and track 12 even has slight handclaps coming to the fore. The early 20s are particular favourites, with near-vocal shifts and frequencies that wax and wane in and out of focus. An excellent fluid. [Andy Beta]
Moving, changing locations, slipping from one environment to another, we sometimes feel our lives undergo a major shift with each transition, as if one was not the same person before, in that other place, than he is here, in this new place. A change of location, a change of mind, of style, personality, memory... Richard Chartier, who is surely no stranger to readers of these pages, recently moved from his home outside of Washington DC to Baltimore, and one might say that he too has changed, though to what extent we could never really say. Two Locations compiles reworkings of two sound installations exhibited during the past year (one in Baltimore, the other in Washington). These two pieces certainly do mark a departure for Chartier, or at least a shift in attention, as these pieces focus less on the spaces between silence and sound as witnessed in much of his past work, but instead work on the idea of building consistent yet complex sound structures (albeit within a highly minimalist aesthetic) without any empty spaces in between. Silences are nowhere to be found here, save for the break between tracks, and, however notable some might think this is, considering his reputation (whether true or not) for being a composer of silences, this is not the most remarkable feature of these pieces. These two pieces are stunning constructions, developing with a slow, deliberate pace, every new or repeating sound (a light brushing of clicks, a sudden wave of bass) touching delicately on the surfaces of things in the listening space. When listening on loudspeakers, the natural ambience of the room becomes absorbed by these sounds. With a pair of excellent headphones, as with all of Chartier's recordings, the pieces seem to change; they become more immediate, the sounds more delicate, the arrangements more detailed. Either way, you are sure to be drawn into these two locations, defined by their own architectures, cultures, streets and byways, fascinating places to be, if for even twenty minutes at a time. [Richard di Santo]
Composed over the period of one year from the summer of 2001 to 2002, from Brooklyn to Montreal, and back again, stil. is Taylor Deupree's latest solo work, a follow-up to the much lauded CD (in these pages, at least) occur. While occur is characterized by change, by keeping the compositions moving, a little restless and seemingly always in a state of transition, stil. slows things down considerably, keeping things comparatively staticor so it first seems. Turning his attention closer to loop structures and their anomalies, Deupree sets up a loop, subtly constructed with a variety of elements and beautifully balanced, and then finds a way of gently breaking from that loop to form a new one, a variation on the first... the changes are delicate rather than dramatic, and the four long pieces on the disc manage to leave an impression of a certain slowing down of time. The sound is crisp and dynamic, filling the space with a superb clarity and drawing the listener's attention closer and closer, until he finally finds himself totally immersed, lost in a loop, in a near-loop, looking for the next break to maybe find his way to yet another, or maybe leave entirely. For its conclusion, the title track features twenty-three minutes of shimmering, rich drones and textures, as still as a cold winter day, but as experienced from the warmth of being indoors; a double-impression of warm and cold, of the simple and complex, of reality and this dreamplace, however virtual, however digital, however formless, having filled my days with sound and wonder. [Richard di Santo]
Ekkehard Ehlers, whose CD reissued Plays brought rave reviews from the same sect that touted Fennesz's Endless Summer, returns with a few other contemporaries on Music for William Forsythe. At first it might seem like it could be yet another in a series of artistic homages, however it doesn't seem to be the case, as this set is a compilation of four different scores used by the Ballett Frankfurt. The first, by Meissner and Ehlers, drops us into the middle of nod-dreams of Philly "Joe" Jones, while he is on the bandstand at Birdland. Hypnotizing himself with his slow brushwork on the snare head, he dreams of clicks 'n' cuts fifty years ahead of time, spinning in and out of consciousness. The piano tinkles and loops itself, the smoke slowly curlicuing overhead, very aware of each individual strand. At eleven minutes, it's a bit too strung out, but languid sprawl is what this disc embodies, and the deluxe fold-out cover of frauleins in compact contortions and in extended stretches illustrates the music exactly. Ehlers' "Woolf Phrase" continues this unravelling thread of extension, taking a short loop of violin and relaxing its every coil and soundwave for twenty minutes of ideal limbering exercises in extremely slow-motion. "Scattered Crowd" is side one of his "Plays John Cassavetes" exactly, which is very misleading for those wondering what he has been up to as of late. Willems' contribution of "The Scott Work" is the most foreboding of the four, with low rumblings and digital noises that shake like snakes curled up to strike. It grows more kinetic from there, venting blasts of steam as it slithers about the speakers, more crescent and venomous, striking repeatedly over sixteen minutes. [Andy Beta]
-1 marks part three in an ongoing series of live collaborations between Thomas Köner and Asmus Tietchens. Recorded at the Lagerhaus in Bremen in the spring of 2001, this live session is an intense listening experience; one that, for me at least, changes considerably from one sitting to the next, although (naturally) the recording remains unchanged, depending on the listening conditions. Whether on the loudspeakers or in headphones, whether the neighbours around us can be heard mulling about or all is still, whether I turn to the disc tired from a day's work, or during a night of insomnia, or perhaps even in the first rays of morning, -1 marks its time with unquestionable force. More than on their previous recordings, this session incorporates the concrete sounds of objects, perhaps recorded and manipulated live (I wasn't present for the recording nor are there any details given as to the sound sources), a clamouring, scraping, shuffling frictions of metallic objects, perhaps, especially in the opening sections. Deep drones and the resonating roar of machines, the remnants of an industrial past, soon take over the piece, complex, dynamic, always ready to make the next shift, to incorporate a new set of sounds, voices, objects, vibrations. In working together, Köner and Tietchens are a perfect match, executing each new combination, each drone, each vibration and atmosphere in ways which inspire my imagination and intellect. There is a depth of detail here that is truly remarkable. And now, as before, I sit here ready and alert, anxious for the next instalment... [Richard di Santo]
Christoph Heemann and Andrew Chalk look distorted on the back cover, one too flat and wide, the other chopped in some sort of way. How the dry grasses ripple and contort when we're not looking at them; they seem oblivious to it, as well as the trees and their menacing aura and distant rustling. Yet this physical disorientation really has been Mirror's preoccupation all along: how sounds echo, transmutate, decay, as they move across the bay. Should they not instead be submerged deep in some watery cavern, where the coral pods are exposed, alien, vacuous and crystalline, where neither foot nor appendage so to gravity attached has ever tread?
The previous Idea record, I Paint for Love of Colour, was the group sitting by the docks with Andreas Martin, the wood planks creaking, gulls careening, and wind blowing, all watching the sunset dissolve into that soluble ocean, gradually fading out. Their follow-up on Die Stadt, Islands, in keeping with the trajectory, then must have been their "Sailing (Saline?) Record," for it was a bit salty, with a few long stretches of real sitting-in-a-boat moments, coasting and going nowhere fast in the pleasant, if mild, drone of the day.
This Solaris, though quoting Stanislaw Lem's sci-fi novel, surely has most forward in its mind Tarkovsky's masterful film (his film The Mirror must have inspired their name as well). And when it finally comes to after a brief time, it has long had the ship splintered apart from underneath it. The Ancient Mariner (aka the Listener) drifts in the self-same saline sea, and its entirety is dedicated to a most detached sensation of bobbing. Planks and canvas sails, they have long-ago dissolved and sunk away, deep beneath the surface of the sound waves. More and more distant they plunge below, mere echoing traces of a liquefying memory. All sounds emanate from the Mariner's head, if they in fact are real. There's water in the ears, and as it suspends, even the breath is salty with it. A dense solution, what Mirror is soaking us in.
Therein lies the problem of thinking this is just water though, in that the connotation is that of floating upon it. No, it's not an up- and downward motion as in some new-age nods, but a contracting and expanding, tides once inward and now turned out toward the infinite. We are sinking and elevating in this emulsion. That is the true motion of Solaris. It is an exceedingly arduous task to listen to at times, not unlike the early breaths of meditation, watching how it flows, without comment. But at some point it all opens up and seems without end.
This is what Mirror is exploring, then: this breath, this imbibing of vibrating air and salty drops of foam through suspension of sound, of disbelief. How could mono have held all that space while retaining such floodwaters of pure sound? The sound of gold, Spector called it. River deep it is, that mystical stream, that Aegean Sea. Or else like Walter Marchetti's "Nei Mari Del Sud," dropping historically burdened pianos as depth charges, its "music" imploding at such nadirs. Could this really be just piano and clarinet? It seems impossible, yet how could it be anything more than one downward motion with the keys, the other aloft with breaths outward, blowing heavenwards?
If anything, Heemann and Chalk are also of this rarified sea air, even on land, and the resonance that occurs between the sounds of gulls and waves as they slowly ebb away are truly revelatory. There are no notes here really, but there are traces in this deep-purple tide of red shift, lapping further and further out into the ether of inner space; for this is what we wait and listen for. [Andy Beta]
JGRZINICH / SETH NEHIL: Confluence
John Grzinich and Seth Nehil have been asking a lot of questions about the nature of sound, about patterns in their groupings, about the dynamics of listening, about the resonance which hangs in the air. In 1998 they made a series of recordings involving a group of people making a great many sounds, all at once, with a variety of found objects. Perhaps they found in the behaviours of sounds, when grouped and performed in this way, an analogy with the behaviours of people, in a social environment, when grouped with others of dissenting opinion, or of common cause, in any given situation, commonplace or pivotal, artistic or political, professional or casual. In any case, they continued to work on their ideas over the years, developing methods of experimentation and exploration, all the while exchanging questions and findings about their work, corresponding across continents. Stria and Confluence are companion discs that have been released simultaneously on the Erewhon and Intransitive labels, respectively, and represent the culmination of their collaborations from 1998 through 2002. Stria is perhaps the more 'ambient' of the two records, with three long pieces of deep resonances, multilayered drones and long, gradual progressions. These drones push their way through any distractions and come face to face with the listener who attempts to discern patterns in the waves, in the layers, in the long and droning resonance plates. Confluence is a very different sort of record, and for me is much more demanding as an immediate and commanding presence. 'Pneuma' climaxes in a din of metallic scrapings, multilayered, high-pitched and shrieking sounds, only to be carried suddenly on the momentum of its own resonance, as a bird which, frantically beating its wings against the current of the wind, finally finds flight and is able to course through the air with ease, wings reaching out steadily on either side, gliding on the surface of the winds in a gesture at once beautiful and serene. 'The Distant Edge' captures the tension of a gathering of dissonant elements, and if the previous track directs the listener's gaze skyward, this one returns him to the unceasing activity on the ground. Recordings from a demonstration in Belgrade were used for this piece, dominated by a feeling of claustrophobia, of chaos, of being lost in the noise, in the movements, the tensions, in the anger of one's surroundings. 'Lohme,' the third and final piece, takes a step back from the madding crowd, yet maintains a sense of urgency, of cluttered spaces, of conflict and agreement, but finally finds a place to rest, to slow down and drift slowly away, back into a recess of silence, from which all this beautiful noise was born. [Richard di Santo]
It seems like Mego is finally breaking France off some, with this half-hour LP of the leading lights on the current French electroacoustic scene. The two names I recognized are those of Lionel Marchetti and Jérôme Noetinger, and they are joined by Jean Pallandre (all three meddling with tape), Marc Pichelin (synth), and Laurent Sassi (mixing) for an apparent homage to the early years of musique concrète, leaning heavily on the styles of Pierre Henry and Luc Ferrari. It's a frenetic and kinetic session, quickly wiping the idea of devout reverence clean with transmogrified sounds, laughter, nasty jags of reverb, field-hollers, dizzy turntablism, and an odd moment of what seems like a day of skeet shooting. The heaps of incongruent tape junk are plied and slimmed by the high-metabolism of the group's improvisational ability, moving quickly over the sounds, and time burns quickly as well. [Andy Beta]
Here's a new release from two busy Viennese improvisers: Burkhard Stangl, member of Polwechsel, Efzeg, Dachte Musik, SSSD etc. etc., and Dieb13, aka Dieter Kovavic, aka Takeshi Fumimoto, also a member of Efzeg, who seems to have another project on the go at any given time. Stangl performs on guitars (both acoustic and electric) and a miscellany of electronic devices, while Dieb13 takes care of things using turntables, and two portable devices: a computer and a gramophone. Recorded back in December of 2001, eh, and its ten tracks similarly titled (eeeh, eehe, eehh, ehee, etc.), moves through the motions one might expect from these two improvising adventurers: we have odd sounds, funny guitar textures, some subtle turntable magic, a sample of an old-time radio tune, abstract electronics, sudden clusters of chaos, abrasive scuffles and slow, eerie gestures, all woven together into finely crafted pieces, executed with deliberate movements and restraint. Never do we feel that they have lost their way, carried away by the moment, by some newly discovered trickery with their instrumentsno, on the whole they keep things on course. And yet this course is filled with bumps, potholes, twists, turns and sudden drops; it branches off into strange directions, abandons one distraction for another, but always remembers the path from whence it came. A strange journey indeed, but one worth taking, at least once, if only to notice some of the details and scenery you may have never noticed before, on past journeys, adventures, roadtrips. [Richard di Santo]
There's this great part in John Szwed's So What where he describes how Miles Davis gets on Sly Stone's organ one night and starts to "voice these nine-note ethereal chords. Sly comes out of the bedroom yelling 'Who in the fuck is doing that on my organ? Miles, get your motherfucking ass out. Don't ever play that voodoo shit here. Get the fuck out.'" Taking up the gauntlet thirty years on, Ståle Storløkken, playing keyboards for the Norwegian ensemble Supersilent, would get kicked out as well, as on this, the ensemble's sixth CD, the group fully embodies the sound of Miles, circa the sprawling, mournful ambience of his "He Loved Him Madly" for the duration of an entire album. Around the eerie tones that he gets from his key clusters swirl the primitive electronics of Helge Sten and the unballasted, yet cohesive percussive clatter of Jarle Vespestad, with Arve Henriksen adding his breathy, reedy airs when the spaces appear. And as the mark of a formidable group mind at work, there is always space available in the conjured ether of the quartet, as dense or sparse as the mood turns. Although broken into six sections, instead it all flows as one, tensing into climaxing crescendos that out-plateau the more popular Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Sigur Rós moments as well as dipping into an ebbing chill that loosens all fetters of ambient sound. A protean movement that somehow avoids the easy sectors of jazz, soundscape, instrumental rock, or noise-based improv, Supersilent instead goes deep into that which is unnameable. [Andy Beta]
Veer is Frankfurt's relative newcomer, Ole Schulte, and already he is getting wax documentation on labels such as Force Tracks and Kit Clayton's own label. Like the CD packaging itself, this release commences with a white, crackling austerity that grows more present in the head, as there is a great deal of depth that is hard to dismiss, and as it spins again and again, the digital echoes and spaces are realized to be completely cavernous and without tactile bottom. Schulte's touch reminds me a great deal of some of the electronic discs that Matador began reissuing in the States back in the late nineties, such as the first Pole and the Cologne-classic from Burger/Ink, Las Vegas. His ability to shuffle his beats in ever-changing configurations with plenty of clicks and scuffs is intriguing enough, but he also has enough dub-tinted melodiousness and nodding architecture to keep it all afloat, even as he spaces it out further, allowing all his beats and beeps to take on more spherical properties. [Andy Beta]
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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