1 August 2003
Hervé Boghossian, who also records under the name Sol, here presents a trio of pieces under his own name, focusing on minimal drones and carefully composed music that is, characteristically, quiet and reflective. At first, the music seems to be exploring the harmonic combinations and tensions of sine waves, although interacting with these sine waves are other instruments: guitar feedback and two bass clarinets (the clarinets are performed by Matthieu Saladin and Ivan Solano). The combinations carry with them an austere quality, a muted tension; not always the stuff of calm, easy ambience, but pushing things in a slightly uneasy, tense direction. The second piece, too, speaks of this quiet tension, here working exclusively with sine waves, and focusing on the lower end of the frequency scale. It is with the third piece that things seem to converge with quiet wonder. Joining the subtle bed of electronic textures are the two bass clarinets and guitar, as before, but also a beautiful section for solo piano, performed by David Grubbs. This slow movement is simply something that must be heard; it will stop all motion in the room, it will even hold your breathing nearly to a point of standstill. Taken together, these three pieces, each with its own unique, arresting presence, makes for a truly compelling new release, an excellent addition to List's growing catalogue. [Richard di Santo]
Harmonic Colour Fields collects five pieces composed in 1996 and 1997. Taking its title and part of its inspiration from the colour field experiments of early minimalist painters (explorations and variations of a single colour on canvas), Warren Burt has, in applying that principle to sound, created pieces that are harmonically "static," though they move in very slow progressions, where melody takes a backseat to harmony and the rhythms remain comparatively simple. In exploring microtonal harmonic fields, Burt has arranged these pieces so that they represent a progression from consonance to dissonance, utilizing arithmetic as well has harmonic principles to structure and guide the compositions. He used a Roland Sound Canvas Synthesizer as well as different software (Kinetic Music Machine, Drummer, Cakewalk) in the creation of each track. If, when listening, you start thinking of the early computer drone experiments of Charlemagne Palestine, Harold Budd and La Monte Young, don't be too surprised: Burt traces the lineage of his music right down to these roots, yet also states that he has then taken these ideas a few steps further. Each piece runs over 10 minutes, and explores its own set of harmonic combinations by following very strict constraints. In slow, droning waves of synthetic sound, the tracks, the harmonic combinations, cause a stillness in the air, a transfixing aura in your listening space. Perhaps the most striking piece for me is "11:21:23 (A Drone on Mom and Felix's Birthdays)," with its slowly sliding sine tones unfolding in new, continuously bewitching harmonies. For anyone interested in minimalism and microtonal research, these recordings should be welcomed the world over. [Richard di Santo]
The summer arrived quickly this year. One evening I was sitting in my apartment, wearing a sweater and boiling a pot of water for some tea, an unmistakable chill in the air causing some doubt as to when the warm weather might finally arrive. I fell asleep curled up under a heavy duvet; closing my eyes I knew the unmistakable comfort of sleeping in an immensely comfortable, familiar bed. The following morning I awoke with a jolt, feeling overwhelmingly warm; the air was stale, hot, humid. I flung the duvet from my bed and stumbled, still a little sleepy, over to the window. The sun was shining in the streets, the trees seemed suddenly green, and my neighbours, whom I saw one by one passing by my window, were all wearing linen. How long had I been sleeping there, under that duvet? Did I wake up in another time, another place, in someone else's body? Discarding these feelings of panic, I quickly dug up my summer clothes from my wardrobe, got dressed and stepped out, feeling the first breath of the summer breeze on my face, and took a long, deep breath.
Even if things this year didn't really unfold in this way (who was this "I" in the paragraph above, anyway?), the transition into summer always comes as something of a shock. The holidays can never arrive soon enough, if you're lucky enough to have them, and yet they seem to pounce on our lives like a most welcome surprise. We pack our bags in a flurry of euphoria and run out of our homes like we're abandoning our past lives completely, and head for a foreign land, or the nearest coast, or simply someplace else, so long as the same four walls don't surround us day and night, as long as we can forget our everyday troubles, regain a certain sense of levity in our lives. And these holidays bring us that levity, though they also bring with them other things, filled with both sorrows and joys, thoughts both carefree and profound, like life itself.
But all this is by way of introduction to a discussion of a new record by Enrico Wuttke, otherwise known as Flim, out now on Beequeen's Plinkity Plonk label. Holiday Diary features seven pieces of music, a charming soundtrack for your days on the beach, for your evenings swaying on a hammock. Flim composes his music for a combination of instruments, from electronics and field recordings to acoustic guitar, piano, melodium and drums. The field recordings used here were provided by the artists from the Infrequency collective (Jamie Drouin, Lance Olsen, Jeffrey Allport and Tim Olive). A beautiful motif for acoustic guitar, a melancholic drone that bursts into blistering feedback, a piece for solo piano that speaks of something so simple yet utterly arresting, a sudden burst of jazzy drums, another drone, more piano.... Holiday Diary, I must admit, is a record that is difficult to write about except indirectly. I've listened to it in the dark, in the morning, at night, in headphones or on my hi-fi, in the car, in the pouring rain, and it fills me with something unspeakable, all the while speaking to a certain part of me that knows both sorrow and joy, the joyful melancholy of past holidays, to memories that come to the surface when I feel the summer breeze, or encounter a certain climate, a certain ray of sunlight, a patch of greenery in the garden. All that is left for me now is to give my most sincere and enthusiastic praise for this music, and I give it gladly, a true prize in my collection. [Richard di Santo]
A few months passed between the releases of Cleave and No Man Put Asunder, the first two parts in what is promised to be a trilogy from that enigmatic mood engineer known as The Hafler Trio; as surely a few months will pass between this release and that of No More Twain, Of One Flesh, the promised third and final part. During these intervals, new events occur and new memories take shape; we live our lives, see our friends, listen to music, read a new book, and more than a few newspapers, cook up something inventive in our kitchens, go for walks, work until all hours, ... in short, we continue living much as before, along the same lines, following the same, if occasionally divergent, course. I stress these experiences, the time between one release and another, because what we hear on No Man Put Asunder at first sounds remarkably similar to what we have heard on Cleave some months ago. But, as we're listening to this new record, we search for those earlier sounds in our memories, now clouded by the experiences in between, we comb through our impressions and try to uncover the truth of that first listening experience. Is what we are listening to truly the same as what came before it? The similarities between the first and second parts in this trilogy cannot be ignored, yet neither should their differenceswhich, when you resurface from listening to the second part, seem even more pronounced by the fact that you feel entirely different from when you finished listening to the first. No Man Put Asunder strikes me as being lower in tone; the drones are maybe softer, not as grating or sharp as on Cleave, but the bass rumbles ever deeper; the periodic burgeons seem even more pronounced, in which the central drone is continuously reborn, changing slightly upon each rebirth, characterized by an ever-puzzling, enthralling subtlety. But all this is grasped without having Cleave ready as a reference. Sure, it's sitting right there on my shelf, but I cannot listen to them side by side, will not dissect each recording by comparing one minute of one with that of another. I will rely on my memory, ever fallible, ever elliptical, ever elusive. I listen to each new release, by The Hafler Trio or by another, in my own way, the experience of listening is unique among the experiences of others, and, of course, even among my own. In the Treatise of Alphonso, King of Portugal (1652), the following words are written: "Now to unriddle this mystery and to propose truthes in ciphers, though they are obscure, [...] if thou commest to understand this great Mystery, have it not in thy ordinary conversation, but leave it in the same cipher." So let me leave these sounds in their rightful form, for to describe them further in the terms of such "ordinary conversation" robs them of their impact, and could never replace the hypothetical experiences of listening. Simply listen, then, and be inspired. [Richard di Santo]
I am always happy to see archival recordings of early electronic music finding their way to the surface once again (or, in many cases, for the first time), presenting us with lessons in the history of ideas, allowing us to discover our precursors, whom we either chose or inherit as the case may be. Rune Lindblad (19231991) might not be the most well known pioneer of electronic music, but his importance shouldn't be overlooked, and this double-CD set from Elektron Records and SEAMS (the Society of Electro-Acoustic Music in Sweden) is a significant step in setting this history right. Living in Gothenburg all his life, Lindblad made his first compositions in the 1950s using a couple of tape recorders along with some tone and noise generators. For his first piece, "The Party" (1957), recordings made on a wire recorder at a party were later spliced and manipulated, mixed with noise and voices from the radio, which were also recorded at the same event. The idea for this composition was, in the words of C.-M. von Hausswolff, "triggered by the experience he related when he fell asleep in Slottskogen park after a party and woke to the sounds of the environment, which for him took on the form of a musical situation." He continues: "taking reality as a point of departure and experiencing it as music is what led him to compose his first piece." A series of experimental pursuits followed, a famous failed attempt to present his music to a resistant audience (during which the audience demanded their money back in 1957 Gothenberg). Lindblad gained at least marginal notoriety in the 60s, when he began to receive invitations for collaborations and performances at burgeoning electronic music festivals. Throughout his life, however, Lindblad remained for the most part a solitary composer, preferring to pursue ideas on his own, regardless of what others were doing or the trends of the day, avoiding the arguments between the early musique concrète and electronic music schools, and creating a fiercely original fusion of experimental techniques. Rather than presenting his earliest pieces, the recordings documented on Die Stille Liebe span the years 1960 through to 1980, with most dating somewhere in between, from the 70s. This selection reveals Lindblad's diverse palette, a wide trajectory of sounds and structures: from almost melodic moments to blistering, shifting noise, or from dizzying spoken word collages to music with an almost industrial sensibility, combining concrete and electronic noises, preserving a quality of improvisation in the mix (something which was of key importance to Lindblad's method). In all, this is not only an important document in the history of electronic music, but it's also a fascinating journey for its listener, boldly experimental and wholly original. The CDs come packaged with extensive and informative liner notes and selections from Lindblad's visual works. [Richard di Santo]
Sound artist and phonographer Dale Lloyd released this recording on his own and/OAR label last year. He's had a few releases since then, so admittedly I'm a little late in getting to this one. Growing out of a fascination with distant and indecipherable sounds, the pieces collected here carry both the stillness and broad trajectory of gazing out at the horizon, capturing its essence and amplifying its resonance. These compositions were created using field recordings and voices, but also recordings of metal and wood objects performed by Jon Tulchin and Isaac Sterling. The compositions are accompanied by six short tracks of silence, ranging from 10 to 55 seconds and peppered throughout the track list, meant to extend the experience of listening, "to extend the spatial field of track occurrences," or, more simply, to give the listener pause at certain moments to reflect on the sounds contained herein. And, it should be said, this method works well. Whether listening to the disc in continuous playback or in shuffle mode (as the notes suggest), the overall impression is that I am listening to one long piece, with pauses, silences, spaces in between events. When you look out on the horizon, maybe you are greeted by the apparent silence of things, surprised by the stillness, then you might hear something in the distance, a ship on the sea, the waves, the wind through the branches, low frequencies combining in subtle turns, the sounds of which funnel through your ears and cause vibrations that you can still feel, even now, as days, months, years have passed since you heard those sounds, still alive in your memory, still resounding from the distance. [Richard di Santo]
Tomas Phillips composed this piece in the last months before moving from his home town near the eastern seaboard of North Carolina to the city of Montreal, capturing something of the quiet life he led there, but also reflecting the inevitable tensions and excitement that must have defined the experience of leaving such a place behind. Using sounds from his environment and some newly acquired software, Phillips went to work at creating On Dit, an immersive, inventive piece where stillness and motion meet, a composition that works a strange magic on you as you listen, moving from one scene to the next through seamless transitions, building a slight tension and intensity, then falling into a quiet zone once again, mixing field recordings with electronic timbres, a minimalist's garden of sound. Found sounds are treated and manipulated, or they are left as they were recordedthe quiet sounds of chimes in the breeze. Minimal rhythms rise and fall; subtle gestures and combinations tickle the ears; a leitmotif of sound occurrences marks the progression of the piece at different intervals. On Dit is truly a journey of sound, a diary, a landscape, a self-portrait reflecting a particular moment in time, a location in space, a state of being. The CD also contains data files for viewing on your home computerthree paintings and an insightful essay on the composition of the piece, its themes and, more generally, on the experience of listening. [Richard di Santo]
Sometimes, when preparing to listen to a new CD, I'll find a comfortable position on the sofa. I'll stretch my legs, put my feet up. Maybe it's already late, the stars already shining in the midnight sky. My rooms, however, are still quite dark, illuminated only by a few lamps that shine their light in different corners, refracting against the white walls and giving the space a soft, warm glow. I'll press play, and listen. The sounds begin to find their way out from the circuitry of my hi-fi and into the space around me; they reach my ears and they tickle my skin. Relaxing, curious, maybe even a little apprehensive at not knowing what to expect from the sounds, now beginning to make new impressions on me, my mind begins to unravel its tensions from the thoughts that have plagued it so throughout the day. Fragments of conversations, images, faces, street corners turned and passed, pages and pages of words, diagrams, figures unfurl before me as I listen to these first sounds: a close, immediate vibration, a rattle, a bell, a whistle. A narrative forms from the refuse of these images and sensations, converging with these newly suggestive sounds, evocative silences. A theme develops, a new scenario, a question posed to me, the truth in question, the sun streaming light into my eyes, the waking dreams of evening. All at once, I am there on my sofa, a listener listening to a new CD, this time by Japanese sound artist Sawako, and I am also in another place, reacting to other voices, other sights and sounds. After some time, with sounds like a signal, a message borne on the wings of radio waves, coded, ciphered, mysterious, I become that signal, that message. I have already crossed over enemy lines, beyond the barricades and into a strange land. Later, after new sounds, revealed silences, a piano makes its presence known, a dog barks, calling for attention, and I'm home, perhaps. I think I can hear a conversation through the walls, but resonances, harmonies, austere tensions cast a doubt in my mind. My eyes are open, after all; my ears ever sensitive, my mind alert, my imagination being guided by the sum of what lies within and what arrives from the outside. My thoughts still turning, I sit up suddenly, discover both that the music has ended and my that body feels slightly stiff. I stretch a little, just for a moment, and discover the silence once again. [Richard di Santo]
Packaged in a specially-cut unmarked sleeve made from a white translucent plastic board, this new collaboration between Keiichiro Shibuya (the man behind the Atak label) and Yuji Takahashi is an adventurous pairing between one man, known more for his work in experimental electronics and improvisation, and another, a celebrated pianist and composer, here forsaking his piano (or so it first appears) for a laptop and two pairs of vocal chords. Comprised of 15 tracks, mostly short in duration (only one track, at 10 minutes, breaks from the otherwise restricted running times), the album plays like a collection of vignettes, or fragments, with batches of glitch electronics, minimal rhythms, shifting loops and pulses, sudden crashes and static shouts, a voice speaking in Japanese, unpredictable from one turn to the next. It's a tense, sometimes playful, yet alluring listening experience, jumping from one idea to another, all the while preserving something of a united whole. The collaboration was obviously a fruitful one, these experiments revealing a spirit of experimentalism that I found to be remarkable while listening. By any means, an excellent new release. [Richard di Santo]
The second edition in Mr. Mutt's CDR Live Series brings us extracts from three concerts by Sogar, aka Jürgen Heckel. The three concerts took place in Japan (Kyoto, Nagoya and Tokyo, respectively), in January 2003. Sogar's work to date has already exemplified his broad interpretations of the microsound genre, moving freely from melodic to more abrasive passages, from rhythmic structures to utter abstraction. Here he continues to balance a fine line between these dichotomies, and he does it very well, employing not only the sounds and impressions we have come to recognize as being integral to this genre, but in incorporating processed samples of acoustic instrumentation as well. Each of the three long pieces presented here has its own trajectory, and some are better defined than others. Loops, droning harmonics, a brief melodic phrase, a further abstraction, re-abstraction, sustained tones and other, more restless ones. At times it seems as if Sogar lost sight of where certain sections were leading, or how they might unfold, getting stuck in a loop and considering the various ways of breaking from it and finding a new combination, although these moments are admittedly few. At others, it's me who becomes lost, the arrangements becoming strangely bewitching, mesmerising even. Is it possible for the artist to become lost in his own creation? Perhaps Daedalus himself, while building the labyrinth for Minos and his grotesque progeny, would occasionally drop the thread and lose himself in the maze of his own design, wandering the corridors, encountering blind alleys and dizzying turns, alone, nearly forgotten. But now it's us who are wandering these passages, and Sogar is always sure to give us his skein of thread, which we unravel as we move from passage to passage, never entirely forgotten, and guided along the way. [Richard di Santo]
Experimental trio TV Pow are joined by Gene Coleman on bass clarinet for this live session at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, one of the city's oldest contemporary art museums. The Chicago-based trio of Todd Carter, Brent Gutzeit and Michael Hartman probably don't need much of an introduction for readers of these pages; their projects take them beyond glitch or laptop status and into more adventurous electronic territories, mixing it up with various "electric instruments" not unlike the way Voice Crack employs numerous "cracked everyday electronics" in their recordings. This is, however, my first encounter with Gene Coleman, who is not only an accomplished composer and clarinetist, but also the artistic director of both the Sound Field new music festival and Ensemble Noamnesia. For this live session, with its total run time of about 26 minutes, the recordings seem to have been made exclusively by mics positioned at various points in the performance space. Even the electronics have a spatial quality to their timbres here, capturing sine tones and various electronically generated sounds as they appear in space rather than trapped in the circuitry and wiring of the machines which create them. At times, we hear movements on the stage, or even the click of a mousea cause followed by its immediate effect: a soft, high frequency tone. The ambience of the stage couples with the electronics which then couple with Coleman's bass clarinet, a striking and tense presence causing frictions in the sound space and conjuring a certain gravity, a dark undercurrent throughout the two pieces documented here. At the Renaissance Society is a short but alluring recording, inspiring the imagination, causing a slight chill on the skin, and a certain sense of wonder. [Richard di Santo]
I listened to Silence Resounding, a new release from microsound-minimalist composer Miki Yui, while it was still raining. I was, of course, sitting safely indoors, warm and dry, sheltered from the summer rain. Even while wearing my headphones, I could hear a little something of the rain gently beating against the trees, the rooftop, the windows. These sounds, which could have gone unnoticed, now, when faced with the muted soundtrack of a record such as this, it became clear that they were blending effortlessly with the subtle tones and combinations moving directly into my ears from within my headphones. I closed my eyes, and forgot the rain. I forgot the headphones, the bed, the lamp, the house I was in. I forgot Miki Yui. I discovered a new space in the time I spent with these recordings, with its own geography, its own mythology. I discovered some alluring and evocative sounds, resting gently on the waves of silence, electronic sounds mixed with environmental ones, mixed even further with the sounds of my own environment, making the experience of listening entirely unique. Some pieces are, naturally, more compelling and original than othersand Miki Yui seems at her best when working with sine tones and harmonic combinationsbut on the whole it's an excellent work, attempting to draw a map "between acoustic landscapes and amorphous memories," creating a unique listening space in which to rest, travel, discover new details, if only for a while, before the rain passes. [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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