19 May 2003
KOJI ASANO: Piano Suite Vol. 1: Fitness Club No.
KOJI ASANO: Gondola Odyssey
An afternoon spent with three new releases from the mercurial composer Koji Asano is sure to be one of surprises, as he seems to move effortlessly from one form to another, from electronics to ensemble, from sound to silence.
The first of these three releases, Absurd Summer, explores noise textures and distortions, using what could be a guitar, or sometimes a piano, as the starting point, and working its way through various filters, distortions and edits, presenting eleven short pieces in all. There's quite a lot of breadth here, the layers seem to pile up all at once, but never remain in the same place for very long. It's a challenging set, to be sure, but its brevity and richness make this an excellent, engaging release.
Piano Suite Vol. 1: Fitness Club consists of 20 short pieces for solo piano, with a total running time of just under 20 minutes. Performed with astuteness by his long-time colleague Isao Otake, these pieces are tightly structured, with light, often sharp, concise melodies; beautiful in moments, restless in others, but never jarring or uncomfortable, and never lingering on a motif long enough to keep you in any particular frame of mind. With its undeniable vitality and lightness, Fitness Club is a lot like a children's suite, in spirit if not in form, a Children's Corner for those of us who occasionally feel none the wiser than we were when we were growing up, though we have clearly learned a thing or two about composition and tone, about life, nature and perhaps even the world.
Gondola Odyssey returns us to a sea of shimmering electronic textures in four long pieces. The title contains an unusual pairing, as one usually associates the gondola with a leisurely journey through Venice, not with a long, arduous journey of self discovery. And yet this title couldn't be more fitting; these pieces have something of both elements to them, subtle, slow movements yet harsh, often piercing and grating aural textures. Asano harnesses the full force of blistering mid-tones in these tracks, yet they have a strange double effect of being both soothing and disarming all at once. Amplified white noise, time-stretched sounds, what is perhaps a droning organ, layers of unfathomable streaming sound occupying a vastly impressive depth of field. This is a remarkable work, thoroughly engaging from first to last, and one of Asano's finest from the past year or so. [Richard di Santo]
Besides running Autumn Records, Chicago based composer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Davis has appeared on numerous compilations and has had at least one release out on the Carpark label. For my part, this short 7 inch on the Melektronikk label is the first I have heard from him, yet if I am right to believe that he also records under the name of Asterisk, then I have indeed heard some of his mellow electronic music by way of Mouthmoth Records. Here he presents two pieces, performing on an impressive catalogue of instruments: guitar, farfisa organ, melodica, clarinet, mbira, fender rhodes, glockenspiel, shakers and computer. Don Mennerich also joins him on acoustic guitar for the first piece, which starts off in a chaos of what is likely heavily processed sounds, only to break suddenly into silence and open the passage for a cock crow, scattered clusters of bird songs and incidental noises, then some sweet, mellow chords and a gentle melody, as if to say it's a beautiful morning that awaits the restless dreamer. The flip side continues on this mellow path, with sad, slow chords on acoustic guitar, a tinkering of mbira, the melancholy of a deepthroated clarinet, the soft droning of melodica. A piece of sweet sadness. Whether you're deep in thought or simply enjoying the silence of the setting sun, these sounds are something beautiful to fill the spaces in between. [Richard di Santo]
Becoming increasingly prolific with an ever-expanding catalogue of releases to his name, Ernesto Diaz-Infante (composer, improviser, multi-instrumentalist), collaborates with two Texas based artists Pablo St. Chaos and Bohol. Pablo St. Chaos had an intriguing solo record out last year, also on Lo-Bango (reviewed in Issue 048), and this is my first encounter with Bohol. Performed on prepared, acoustic and electric guitars, this is lo-fi at its darkest, presented in seven tracks of guitar drones and warped-out psychedelia, a flurry of plucking and scraping, peppered with the occasional vocal (unclear, unintelligible, drowned in dense waters of guitar chords and feedback). Listening, I had the sense that these tracks were born spontaneously, through improvisation, and perhaps even a little carelessly, as a few of the tracks begin and end roughly, ideas seem to be picked up and then dropped, or a single idea is played out ad nauseum... even on revisiting the music, in a different temperament, I found some to be more, and others less, engaging. A potentially great trio, but this first outing carries some mixed results. I have no doubt these players will shine on their next collaboration. [Richard di Santo]
How Charlie Ferrari ended up being known as "the James Bond of electronica" we'll never know, but the name's a good one, setting the right mood for his new four track EP, the latest from the always surprising Alku label. Even for the three inch disc format, this one runs short at just under 17 minutes; yet that's not to say that Ferrari doesn't keep things moving here. Now in spite of the James Bond reference, this music is a far cry from the martini-shaken neo-bossa sounds coming from the likes of Nicola Conte and friends, yet there is a decidedly playful personality at work here, suave and sophisticated, perhaps, but always ready with a mildly clever turn of phrase. Turn of musical phrase, that is. Uplifting, almost giddy melodies, polyrhythmic playfulness, contemplative-turned-cutup mediations on piano and cello, analogue nostalgia and digital trickery... it's all here, rife with sharp interferences and surprising contrasts. The first track is particularly amusing in that it was written as a tribute to the London borough of Hackney, and some of the sounds we hear are sampled from the voices of locals, digitized and morphed into high frequency hi-hats. You've got to hear it to believe it. A "digital fluke" is the reason the last track was mastered twice as loud as the others, but the anomaly is welcome... it really does sound better at a higher volume. I know almost nothing about Charlie Ferrari, but listening to this EP makes me want to change this fact: refreshing, vibrant and engaging, this one's not to be missed. [Richard di Santo]
Sound artist and CMR label head Richard Francis (aka Eso Steel) presents what is perhaps his fist release under his own name, co-released by CMR in alliance with Stateart, Germany. Focusing on the exploration and manipulation of field recordings, Francis has created these "three tracks" with an acute sensitivity to silences and the various ruptures of those silences. The fluttering incongruity of static sounds and the delicacy of faint, barely audible tones encourage you to lean in close as you listen, listening for each presence in the soundfield as you discover them hidden in the silences, concealed behind the curtains, or suspended in the air. At 21 minutes, it's a short but engaging release, an exercise for the listener to discover details, space, light and shadow, leaving us curious to listen for more. [Richard di Santo]
Jim DeJong's longstanding project The Infant Cycle recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, and to mark the occasion a small label out of Edinburgh released this three track, three inch CDR of new material recorded at various times throughout 2002. From the kaleidoscopic blend of static, feedback and a warped keyboard samba rhythm in the title track, things move to a more quiet terrain in the short piece "Radio Flower," created using a shortwave radio and "sliced vinyl record playout," with subtle touches and a random snap-crackle-pop in the foreground and eerie tones resonating in the distance. The third piece, "Applaud, It's Over," at just over 10 minutes is the longest one here. Created with an air traffic radio and some feedback generators, a beautiful, changing noise drone appears, not so extreme, but charged with enough energy and intensity to make you sit up in your chair, awakened by its challenging tones. It's an excellent piece, and a fitting end for this short disc, making a lasting impression even as it comes to an end. Now that we've witnessed the passing of this milestone for The Infant Cycle, we can safely look forward to the next ten years of creative sound making. [Richard di Santo]
Andreas Meland, in addition to being a longstanding member of the experimental trio Düplo and the man behind two experimental music labels (Safe as Milk and Melektronikk), has also been keeping busy developing his solo work. Here Norway's Humbug label presents two of his latest pieces. Side A, Lenestol, opens with waves of shimmering distortion, a piercing, static-washed drone that moves in slow curves, which comes to a halt halfway through and introduces a more tranquil and warm set of tones with digital crunches punctuating the foreground. Side B, Nålepute, is another shapeshifter, radiowaves and restless interference lead into some beautiful, shifting electronic tones, abstract yet comforting, a drone of sunlight streaming in through the windows. With a new full length on the way, Andreas Meland is definitely one to watch. [Richard di Santo]
Pressed on milky white vinyl, this split release between sister-labels Safe as Milk and Melektronikk shows us their distinct flavours (skim versus 2%, perhaps?). On side A (the Safe as Milk side), the UK based Vibracathedral Orchestra creates a densely layered, steady stream of what is likely guitars and electronics (although this quintet has no fixed instrumentation, incorporating percussion, wind instruments, etc. as the piece demands). It begins sharply and ends softly, with hints of slow melodies peppered throughout this otherwise heavy, streaming drone. On the flip side we have a track by Phonophani, aka Espen Sommer Eide. Perhaps sampling voice, woodwinds, guitar and who knows what else (an accordion?), it's a climactic piece with minimal, repetitive patterns, building itself up layer upon layer, and sounding very much as if some old electronic equipment was used to process and sequence the sounds, but then again it's probably all on a laptop, its mood coloured by a strong sense of urgency. In all, a nice double-sided snapshot from two very different artists; keep your eyes open and your ears alert for more. [Richard di Santo]
Lasse Marhaug and Tore Honoré Bøe are The Nordic Miracle, a noise outfit from, alas, Norway. Marhaug is perhaps best known for his work with John Hegre as of Jazzkammer, and Bøe has released a recent collaboration with Roel Meelkop and a solo project called Zenography. Both are also members of the Origami Republica and both had solo 7-inch records released on Safe as Milk last year (see Issue 048). So with The Nordic Miracle, they push things in the direction of pure, relentless, grating and constantly shifting noise, comprised of all the elements you might expect from what might be called a "typical noise record" (buzzing, feedback, distortions, shrieking, crashing and an unfathomable onslaught of, well, noise!), focusing on what they call "unlimited energy output." We Shall Provide compiles their first three live shows, recorded between December 2000 and September 2001. The story goes that each concert by The Nordic Miracle is based on unique themes, and the track titles on this release might be our only clues as to their subjects. The first track, titled "Bright Bright Lights" is the only unknown; the second is Bach's "Die Johannes-Passion" BWV 245, while the third is George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." If the music from either work ended up in the final mix, we'll never know, the dense layers of noise, circulating, buzzing, attacking the listener from every side, rarely, if ever, takes a backseat for other elements to shine through. True, their are openings and transitions abound, but in this case noise begets noise, and this hour-long journey is definitely a very rough ride. Brace yourself. [Richard di Santo]
Beautifully packaged in a shimmering white jewellery box, the latest collaboration between improv innovators Martin Tétrault and Otomo Yoshihide (who released 21 Situations together back in 1999, also on Ambiances Magnétiques) is an intense listening experience born from what we are told was an intense studio encounter. Disc one, Studio, was recorded direct to DAT with no remixing or reprocessing, a true collaborative session performed on turntables and electronics. Listening, it seems that the electronic elements (shifting drones, dissonant crossings of feedback and static) are the more dominant features in these four tracks, harsh and grating, surely, but also with a surprising sense of calm, of being grounded, as if on firm footing. Disc two, Analogique, is Tétrault's analogue reworking of that live session into five new pieces, using old, "obsolete" tape recorders as his tools. Things become much more restless in Tétrault's revision, with busying activity, in turns spacious and densely layered, with sounds that seem to have been torn apart at the seams fluttering to and fro. It's an incredible exercise in tape manipulation with some surprising, challenging results. Disc three, Numérique, as one might imagine, is Yoshihide's reconstruction, a single, continuous mix that was generated using purely digital tools. His treatment is charged with immense energy and momentum, a bomb ready to explode. Concrete and electronic elements collide in fierce clashes, and even as this piece remains dynamic from the first to the last, it also seems grounded by long drones behind the scenes that occasionally weave in and out of the mix, remnants of the original sessions, mere traces of the past. Dividing the release into three discs was an excellent decision for this project in particular, and not only for aesthetic reasons; the format also allows the listener a short break between sets, allowing each one to be more fully digested, thought about, remembered, before moving on to the next one. In all respects, an outstanding release. [Richard di Santo]
TU M': Pop Involved
Two of the latest releases from Italian duo tu m' explore what are clearly fresh, new directions for these singular members of the laptop generation.
Packing two releases on one LP (one on either side), Domenica / Novembre on ERS makes available recording sessions from late 2001, when tu m' was still a trio (it's former member, Andrea Gabriele, has since moved on to form mou, lips! with partner Emanuela De Angelis). The three improvised pieces of "Domenica" progress with great clarity and direction, mixing burgeoning rhythms, random clusters and ambient textures, but always with a careful attention to where the pieces are going at any given time. "Novembre" comprises five pieces of composed sound. This time they mix up the clicks and cuts with a greater attention to beats (although this certainly won't have anyone dancing), various samples and, of course, heavy digital processing, to create these frantic, jolting tracks of tension and restlessness. Challenging and rewarding, this one's definitely something you'll remember.
Pop Involved, for the Fällt imprint label Ferric, sets out to explore pop structures and themes, without sounding very much like a pop record in the end. Perhaps the pop comes from the sound sources, as these tracks seem to explore a greater variety of instrumentation than heard on previous tu m' releases. Heavy on loop structures, ever changing, evolving and constantly introducing new elements, these pieces are complex arrangements of a very diverse set of samples and sounds. Remnants of vocals and diverse instrumentations (strings, piano, guitar etc.), nearly unrecognizable in their fiercely edited state, appear throughout these tracks, which move from quiet, meditative environments (the beautiful, circular processing of strings in track 5; the mellow, gently pulsing tones of track 12) to more frantic digital behaviours (the unstoppable vocal cutups of tracks 2 and 9) and all those challenging places in between. Perhaps tu m' have deconstructed then reconstructed some of their favourite pop songs for this release? There are some truly outstanding pieces here; not your usual laptop fare, and certainly not your usual pop record either. Recommended. [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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