21 April 2003
One track, thirty-one minutes, an intense, mystifying drone, shifting in grinding, harmonic mid-tones, a sudden stop on the world around you, when everything ceases to be except for these sounds that hold the world hostage while they burst forth from the loudspeakers, or more immediately through headphones; this desk, these chairs, the sofa, the walls and ceiling, everything disappears for thirty-one minutes, slowly reappearing once the piece recedes into silence. Berthling, who might better be known as a member of Tape, plays harmonium, and Ambarchi plays guitar, and their performance is relentless, unstoppable throughout its duration, the frequencies shifting every so often, becoming more or less grating, more or less intense. Piercing, intoxicating and claustral, the piece closes off all the exits and grabs hold of your attention like nothing else. How you'll feel once the passage is complete is something I'll never be able to guess, although perhaps you'll find an affinity with the narrator of a mysterious text called the Xesmarism, quoted at length in the press release: "If the fields influenced my views of life in the same way they made my nerves ring, I would not recognize myself when leaving this place." [Richard di Santo]
With the second instalment in the Location Sound series on Locust Music (the first was by Keith Fullerton Whitman, the next will be by Argentinian outfit Reynols) comes a new release from AU, the duo of Jan Borchers and Paul Klaui. Each edition in the series presents one piece of continuous field recordings, without additions or reconstructions, and is then followed by a second piece, a reworking, interpretation, recycling of these recordings. The series promises 12 instalments in the course of a year. AU have chosen The Hague as their subject, the city where they live, spend their days and nights, and, more importantly, the city in which they often find themselves riding their bicycles. Their field recording (aptly titled "cycling") is a journey through the city, recorded while on their bikes, and takes you through quiet streets, and later into noisy ones, with a brass band and the murmur of crowds, and ends as the two dismount and take a seat in what is likely their favourite pub. The recording is nicely done, with some effective stereo shifting giving the full effect of travelling microphones, all the while accompanied by the gentle whirr of the wheels and gears under their feet, and the sweaking of their seats. The second piece (even more aptly titled "recycling") is an ambient retelling of their journey, in which the field recording is played again, it seems, from start to finish, but this time with numerous effects and the addition of guitar (quiet, resting softly on the surface) and synths, the sounds echoing gently, in a deep, calming wash of sound. It's a beautiful piece to be sure, but when listened to immediately following the field recordings, I can't help but feel a little disappointed, as I could guess the sounds that would come next, when the brass band will make its entrance, the voices that can be heard, in flashes of conversations, never being completely surprised at the sound elements that would come forward in the mix. Nonetheless, some very nice work, and even if it might be best if these pieces aren't listened to together, each one shines on its own merit. [Richard di Santo]
This is one of the few releases documenting the near-nightly exchanges of unclassifiable New York improv, and what strange parties they might be swapping spittle with by the end of the night. The players involved here are Drag City drumming stalwart Tim Barnes paired with DJ Olive collaborator Toshio Kajiwara (also co-host of weekly Phonomena events in subTonic Lounge) and Whitney Biennial participant and composer in her own right, Marina Rosenfeld. Together, they are as easy to grasp as electric eels, emitting metallic wire plucks and scratched-up plinks as they slither about. The twin turntables of Kajiwara and Rosenfeld provide plenty of aural undertow, swallowing up all struck sounds while revealing the ghosts and trapdoors in the space, as well as the intricate lattices backspinning overhead. When Barnes' cymbals blaze and crash, they are immediately swarmed by Rosenfeld's digitized bees, all dispersing as readily as they cluster and burst back out again. Each attack by the trio comes at the most diffuse moment, never diffident in their group gestures, be it in chaotic careening or cacophonic collapse. [Andy Beta]
A reclusive sound artist working in rural England with like-minded folks such as Colin Potter and Darren Tate as ORA, or on his own as Feral Confine, Andrew Chalk's more recent prominence (perhaps a sliver of sunlight beaming through the cool recesses to light upon his profile?) derives from his work with the similarly-attentive German artist Christoph Heemann under the prolific moniker of Mirror. It is through Heemann's own Streamline imprint that this little-heard bit of vinyl comes to exist once again. Working with what seems to be a purely Western notion of organic drone, owing little to the viscous and narcotic drones of Eastern lineage, Chalk's individualistic sound is one of the most natural and nuanced of those cast in the past twenty years or so. He offers up a sustained imminence by way of the biorhythmic breathing of these furtive sounds, revealing a universe of nuances within two strings of an acoustic guitar. Not solely in the domain of being brusque and overpowering, instead the rich tones merge with the listening body's own vibrations, giving a corporal sensation that is less of immersion, and more of an emanating outwards. There are three untitled selections on this disc, the first allowing for the slight tinkering of a mbira and source recordings of passing traffic on a winding road. The middle section is of an even greater breadth, and the pulsations gather up other small specks of sound as it moves to levitate both the mite and mighty as one. [Andy Beta]
Two unknown pieces on an unknown album, a slice of vinyl and a paper sleeve. Steve Hess and Jon Mueller, two percussionists from the Chicago area, are joined by two cellists, Jeff Klaat and Matt Turner, forming a new improv quartet known as Hat Melter (a name created out of a combination of their names). Of these four only Jon Mueller is a familiar name for me, known from his various projects which can often be found on the Crouton label. There is a silent fifth member here too, as the music was engineered by C. Roseneau. So here we have something new, two pieces of challenging, vibrant improvisation, recorded using unusual mic techniques (the drum mics were sometimes used to record the cello, catching sounds on their peripheries, for example), and brimming with ideas on tone, timbre, interactivity, collaboration. The strings are plucked, struck and bowed, while the percussions, are never static or still (they use both conventional and original instruments, from a drumkit to styrofoam being pushed through box fans), weaving in and out of intriguing combinations, playful yet serious, difficult yet alluring, and always unmistakably creative. This one's limited to 300 copies, so act quickly if you'd like to enjoy the music on this very special release. [Richard di Santo]
As if the fantastic damage of Sun Pandämonium from earlier in the year wasn't enough, Florian Hecker is already back with some of the peripheral razors left lying about from the proceedings. "Pandämonium 9 Playlist," was part of the catalogue for the "Ausgeträumt " exhibition back in 2001, but seeing as how far ahead of the curve Hecker is in terms of full dynamic structural composition, it still sounds fresh two years on. There are plenty of silences to be had here, and the side as a whole is sort of like a sketchbook. Each section of squirming sinewaves has a very spontaneous feel to it, as if he just dashed them off in a tempered fury. That they are more complicated, viscous and vicious than just about anything out on the free market is testament to his greatness. "Stocha Acid Vlook" experienced a mutation into its final twenty minute form on the CD, but it goes down somewhat easier now in a capsule-sized brutality of four and a half minutes. Also included are some curious little locked grooves to help you with your own DJ'ed drawings. So far beyond the cutting-edge of the DSP crowd that it's like he hijacked a time machine and is just taunting everyone in the field. [Andy Beta]
Kaito translates into "the one that is able to explain the universe," and as evidenced on the second in a series (the first is called Special Life), that involves a lot of delicious spaciousness. If you take the model of the universe to be something like the game of Go or that of a chessboard, rigorous in its space-time, yet infinite in its possibilities, never to be repeated, then you might just be looking at Manuel Gottsching's E2-E4 cover, feeling its checkers flicker across your nappy lids in pure bliss as wash after wash of low-keyed notes ripple across your senses. This is house music in the most ambient sense of the word, of a sort where the peaks of drums are never to be seen or reached; it's instead all about the trip along the way, and the valleys in between the ecstatic highs. Hiroshi Watanabe's touch allows for plenty of echo and unimpeded reverberation, yet the unending cascades of the notes never interfere with their brethren, and each individual sound is allowed ample space to shimmer. That Kaito is also the name of his three year old son reveals the effortless wonder and play coursing through the music. [Andy Beta]
Their widest exposure coming behind the tough opening act of Terry Riley's minimalist classic Reed Streams on the Cortical reissue, the Quebec collective L'Infonie stole the show with their gloriously chugging (and erroneously interpreted score) of Riley's In C, a clattering, beatific mess of triplets. And a mess this is too, two discs of sound possibilities that could be concocted in the cuckooed heads of Walter Boudreau and Raoul Duguay (although the collective held upwards of thirty-three folks) circa 1972.
Disc 1 is given up to the absurd opus of Paix #1-50. Bellowing about the infinite foibles of love and freedom over the course of its 50 sections, the stoned group-thought drifts through it all in a dreamy yet precise haze, all the while dosing those whose boats might float on the same streaming plane of zooted space-cadets such as Soft Machine or Faust with a fantastic sort of trip.
Disc 2 is even more curious, nimbly weaving through an honest-to-goodness Bach concerto for piano and strings before entering the sober brass of "Prelude XXII." That is soon sullied by a lo-fi tape of femme vocals mushed in by boxy drums, marching band sax, and manic screams on top. The ensemble then nosedives into some angular modern classical on "Ubiquital" that Frank Zappa fans could mistake as one of their maestro's own, with plenty of glockenspeil clack and string whimpers. "La toune platte" shows that they can swing for two minutes at most before veering off the turnpike into some orchestral foghorn pits and weird ritual dances. The laughter of the francophonic babble is lost on my ears, but its absurdity is evident enough, even as it swerves back onto the jazzy road for the final two minutes. [Andy Beta]
With A Great and Riverless Ocean, Michael Northam takes you to the centre of nowhere, a place of resolute stillness, where, in its opening moments, a soft buzzing reaches your ears, moving in slow circles, while another, higher tone reaches you over the vast expanse opening up before your senses. The swirls continue, always subdued, as if muted, mastered at a low volume so that it might perhaps be played at a level that would compliment the room tones of the listening environment, creep in slowly, inching its way ever closer and working its subtle magic, even if we're not completely aware of it. Sharp transitions, static interferences, punctuate the piece and open passages for new directions, yet we never seem to get anywhere, still the vast expanse before us, lost in the sand, in the sea, in the emptiness all around... this is truly a desolate space. Northam (who has worked with John Hudak, John Grzinich, Michael Prime and John Duncan, to name a few) has often created pieces that are both empty and rich at the same time, long drones that evolve slowly, places where travel seems almost impossible. For these recordings, Northam has used a kelp horn, a 20-string zither and a 'walfisch' computer as his sources, and even if we're never entirely sure which instrument is contributing to what vibration or tone, in the end it doesn't seem to matter, what we have is a fabulously immersive dronescape, an rich, evocative sound work in which we as listeners are left suspended, always moving but travelling nowhere. [Richard di Santo]
The Rip Off Artist is back, this time taking on the 80s hip-hop mega-mix phenomenon and unleashing a hyperactive, unholy group of tracks, retooling the beatbox for the modern age. For the the six tracks on this short but exhausting EP, Matt Haines aka The Rip Off Artist aka Plain Brown Rapper takes the familiar elements of hip-hop (the beats, the callouts, the mc egos), slices them up into miniscule bits, twists them inside out then rearranges them in unusual time signatures (unusual, that is, for a standard hip-hop release), turning out some densely layered and fragmented beatbox fun. It's music that will either make you laugh or go reaching for the needle, that will pique your interest as to just how these complex rhythms are, or will irritate your sensibility to no end for all its density and freakish cutups. For me, it's all in good fun, a fresh and twist on 80s hip-hop reinterpreted for the digital cutup kids, music with which you can feel both nostalgic and progressive, all in one go. [Richard di Santo]
Sei Miguel returns with a new release on the Lisbon based Headlights label, after last year's Still Alive in Bairro Alto, a playful yet attractive mock-improvisation for a small ensemble of experimental jazz players (see or review in Issue 053). Miguel performs mostly on trumpet, with a diversion on piano for the solo piece "Étude for Asterion." He is accompanied by a number of players, many of whom also joined him on his last record, appearing in different combinations on the five pieces documented here, ranging in length from 35 seconds to 20 minutes: César Burago and Monsieur Trinité on percussions, Paulinho Russolo on Hammond organ, Fala Mariam on trombone, Manuel Mota on guitar and Margarida Garcia on electric doublebass. Three shorter pieces, one of which is a recording of voices and what is credited as being a "water deity," accompany two longer ones, the central pieces here. "Asterion," with its African clay drum, played like random drops of water landing in a shallow puddle, its sombre trumpet and trombone, struggling with inexplicable yet muted tension, is accompanied all the while by a ammond organ, droning quietly in long tones beneath the surface, adding a beautiful, mysterious sheen to the piece. The title piece is the more unsettling of the two, with an uneasy air prevailing on the sharp pronunciations of trumpet, while Mota's guitar adds the twist of a 3-sided wah pedal, the wind gong and odd metallic percussions shuffle and resound uneasily but with noticeable restraint and the bass tiptoes around corners.... Sei Miguel achieves a wonderful energy and an ambiguous yet unmistakable mood with these pieces, filled with shadows and shifting spaces, a place of mystery where a whisper and a scream come together and the silence is as still as the very clock on the wall. [Richard di Santo]
The name Edwin van der Heide might not be so very well known, but this composer and sound artist has had a busy time in recent years, having worked extensively with Zbigniew Karkowski, Atau Tanaka and the noise supergroup Sensorband, in addition to creating sound installations and developing new musical instruments and sound generation tools. He was invited to create a new installation for the Homeport project, a part of the Rotterdam Cultural Capital of Europe events of 2001. With this project, van der Heide decided to further explore his interest in underwater sound, using the Rotterdam's Nieuwe Maas as his source location. Using 24 hydrophones (underwater microphones) placed in the water in a horizontal line along the port, van der Heide captured the sounds of the numerous boats passing by, waves of sound carried as they were on waves of water, creating a 20-minute acoustic reproduction of the spatial shape of the underwater sound. For the CD release of Wavescape, one imagines that the 24-channel installation needed some retooling for a stereophonic mix, wondering what it might be like to walk around a room with 24 loudspeakers bursting with sound from beneath the water's surface. The piece runs through some quiet periods as well as others that are much more vibrant and booming, as the waves react violently to the disturbance of boats overhead, carrying their sounds with them as they approach and move beyond the peripheries of the microphones. Van der Heide has created some fascinating, dynamic sound material, immersive in every sense of the word. Brief yet detailed liner notes about the genesis of the idea and some commentary on the nature of underwater sound also enlighten the curious listener of this compelling project. [Richard di Santo]
After the Ischemic Folks and Lilly of the Valley compilations, this comes third in a string of glass-beaded intrigue from the post-IDM (ugh! the nametag) outpost of Miami's Schematic label, continuing an interesting tangent of digital wormhole and superstring discoveries in a field that is quickly glitching and popping its way into a studious (re: non-poppable body rock) corner. Built around the label foundations of Phoenicia, Otto Van Schirach, Richard Devine, Dino Felipe, and newcomer Kiyo, they keep a mix that greases cocoa oil and aloe all over the bodacious backsides of Lego block bee-yatches, letting them slip and slickly click together into split-second cohesive patterns before the new cogs re-configure the shape of things, too tangential to grip. Sometimes the speed is out of hand, as if the fast forward button is stuck, but mostly the sounds are both dense and fucked up. [Andy Beta]
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