1 December 2003
This is the first work I have heard from London based sound artist Keith Berry. The first piece presents a series of "scenes," appearing then disappearing, passing us by as we travel on the golden boat, as we imagine ourselves drifting on the river, we open our eyes and close them, see things, dreaming still others, formulate narratives, impressions, respond with emotion and intellect, consider the journey, the sounds, the trees along the shore, reflecting calmly on the moving stream. Three more pieces follow, shorter but still belonging to the same journey, the same logic of sounds. Berry uses field recordings, electronics, piano, perhaps other instruments and objects, and has created a set of strong compositions that reveals its details slowly, rewards the patient listener, invites you to stay a while, dream with it for a while. Stillness and movement, light and dark: these are the elements in this compelling journey, certainly at home in the company of other Trente Oiseaux releases, although it clearly cuts a distinct, engaging path. [Richard di Santo]
As I stepped past the doors, the party seemed to be the same as all the others. An evening in Frankfurt, a gathering of anonymous faces, friends, colleagues, strangers, lovers. Who was I, and who were these other people gathered here? For what reason did we find ourselves under the same roof, exchanging looks, words, and embraces? The din of conversations had already reached a pique level, and if you weren't paying attention to one string of words in particular, the entire bar seemed to be consumed by an indistinct drone of voices. And only voices, along with the clinking of glasses, the movements of the doors as others arrived or stepped out, the shuffling of chairs. It took a moment or so, but soon enough I noticed someone sitting at the piano, a few electronic boxes within reach, busy making some last-minute preparations. When the performance began, suddenly, as if conjured from thin air, from those first few notes, those first few moments, the music, the piano, the conversations, interferences, voices, those bodies and their movements all at once became parts of a single whole. A fly on the wall became silent. Ekkehard Ehlers, who was recording the event, looked pensive. Further into the evening, after more wine had circulated and a few groups became even more relaxed, their tongues more loose, their throats more susceptible to laughter, others sat quietly around the piano, clearly enchanted, and still others seemed distant, as if they were already far away from that place. Someone recognized two of the songs from previous records, but all the others were new to our ears. When it was all over, we looked startled, as if we had just been dropped from the sky. Was I among the enchanted, or among those who circulated the room with their incessant chatter? Was I even aware of the music that had been drifting through the air? Was Adam Butler really performing at this event? If so, was Adam Butler the same as Vert, a name probably better known to most of us, or was one sitting at his home in Cologne while the other was here, now chatting with one of the girls? And who was I, and was I really there at this party in Frankfurt, a fly on the wall, a barfly, a chatterbox, an enraptured listener, or was I still in Toronto, listening to the recordings of these events while I sat on my sofa, as comfortable as the cat on my lap, as complacent as I ever was? [Richard di Santo]
RICHARD CHARTIER: Overview
Perhaps the first thing that should be said of Archival 1991 is that it's not entirely an archival recording. Originating as two compositions from 1991 that were made with analog and digital synthesizers, Chartier revisited them earlier this year and used them as source material for the single piece presented here; and though this is a new work, Chartier points out that he has "attempted to maintain the general aesthetic" of the original recordings. The result is one long piece, an icy, minimal drone that moves through various, slowly shifting stages, even if at times we feel that it is unchanging, the cold, desolate air brings with it new sensations, variations, at different intervals. It's beautifully bleak, and an excellent drone piece, showing yet another side to Chartier's evolving sound world, even if it does represent something of a look back in time. It puts the winter in your home, it transforms your floor into an arctic bed, your sofa into a snow belt, your table and chairs into a magnificent iceberg. Pull on your woolies, close your eyes, and press play...
Overview, released on his own 3Particles label, is a collection of previously released tracks and rarities, appearing on labels like Line, Meme and Trente Oiseaux, among others. Some of these pieces were commissions for exhibitions, others are edited parts of larger wholes, and here in particular is where this collection has its single, yet—it seems—central failing. With much of Chartier's work, which is all about immersive, minimal environments, thematic approaches and careful listening, this collection is something of a failed attempt at approaching synecdoche, of making the parts representative of the whole. In some ways, it's like having a novelist select chapters from his books and then publishing them together in a single volume. Reading these chapters outside of their contexts makes for interesting, if disjointed, reading, yet we're clearly not seeing the big picture. Chartier's work is best received in the context of completed works, and this "best of" format, although offering an impressive, flowing, and representative cross-section of his work to date, doesn't quite manage represent his work in the best possible light, and his work certainly deserves some proper attention. Those who haven't heard his work before might like to start here, though I would certainly recommend any of his proper releases, especially those on Line, as ideal starting points. [Richard di Santo]
KENT TANKRED: Transmission II
Released in conjunction with a live performance at the Lagerhaus in Bremen, this limited-run 7 inch features an exclusive track by each of these three artists. Perhaps John Duncan's "The Gossamer Dispatch" on side A can be seen as the little cousin of his extended work on shortwave radio, Phantom Broadcast, released last year on All Questions, but has its own timbres that seem to be of an entirely different lineage, where a droning tremolo and a dense, slowly changing and harsh atmosphere clouds the listening space mysteriously. C.M. von Hausswolff's "The Way the Breeze Lays" is a spoken word piece recorded in Stockholm earlier in the year. It's a surprising, almost surreal narrative about a man named Breeze Williams, a corpse, and numerous, tiny forms of life. Hausswolff's reading is also compelling, even as he hesitates and slips slightly on the occasional word, his voice carrying the story well and bringing the listener right into this strange little world. Leif Elggren's short finale, "The Cobblestone is the Weapon of the Proletariat, No. 8," is a harsh, pulsating noise for electronics and voice, but sounds perfect after the spoken word piece, like an epilogue, a noisy commentary, something to shake the listener out of the strange and thoughtful complacency the piece by Hausswolff piece engenders. Excellent work from everyone involved, a short but beautiful document.
If you were lucky enough to be at the Lagerhaus event, or if you can grab one of the first 100 copies of this record, then you would also be treated to a short but excellent CDR by Kent Tankred called Transmission II. A single piece, just under 25 minutes, is a dense, shifting and mesmerizing drone that captures my attention and holds it there; dark, mysterious sounds to inspire dreams and nightmares, a transmission from an unknown place, a message in need of translation, a sign calling for interpretation, a beautiful noise. [Richard di Santo]
One of the most memorable statements on vertigo I have encountered is from Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
Maybe Greg Headley, who has developed and shifted his approach to making music from one release to the next, caught a sense of this, but maybe not. Vertigo could simply be a word here, the sounds may have nothing to do with it, and for this reason the above quote is for your general interest only, and will carry little weight when considering this recording, now quite a few months old, from Headley's own 28 Angles label. In his previous recordings (at least, in those reviewed here, A Table of Opposites and Similis), we have witnessed a move away from using guitar as the main sound source, even when the guitar hardly seemed recognizable in the droning minimalism of his sounds, and onto more native electronic methods, including the onkyo style of improv. On A Bulletin on Vertigo he takes a step further, forsaking the guitar almost entirely and relying most heavily on electronic sources for sound generation and manipulation (the software credits include Argeïphontes Lyre, SoundHack, Thonk and others...). What we get is an impressive collection of tracks that nonetheless seem fragmentary, each piece an experiment in its own, without much connection to the others that surround it. As such, my feeling is not of a single, unified "album," but of snapshots, glimpses, paintings of various styles. Headley exercises great skill in his manipulations and arrangements, and most of these pieces are entirely engaging, especially when listened to with headphones, the sounds come alive with various dimensions and personas. My desire, though, would be for a more commanding, singular vision that would drive the pieces as a whole, and one that takes the music beyond what we inevitably recognize as "glitch", "drone" or "laptop" recordings, and into new realms. But who am I to complain? I'm just standing on the edge of the precipice, wondering if I should fall, or if these sounds alone are enough to keep me safely on solid ground. Keep your fingers crossed. [Richard di Santo]
It begins with the rumble of a train passing overhead, the vibrations of the Bogen 13 viaduct in Zürich passing through the space, the equipment, the bodies gathered there, for a performance by three creative improvisers, Tomas Korber, Günter Müller and Steinbrüchel, men of different ages and temperaments, different talents, voices, and experiences, using electronic devices, a guitar, minidiscs, an iPod and a computer, and from this starting point, the vibrations never cease, they course through the space and time of the concert, even as the trains have long since passed, the dissonant sounds, rumbles, drones, tensions, frictions, delicate clicks and crackles weave a careful and evolving web, a stunning work of electronic improvisation, a captivating and immensely rewarding experience, after which each contributor revisits the sound material and presents a separate, shorter mix, a restructuring, or reinterpretation of the events, and here their singular visions shine through the collaborative effort to reveal distinct voices once more, before our senses become deafened by the returning rumble of a train passing overhead, by yet another journey, another passage in time. [Richard di Santo]
Organum's latest picks up where the first side of his previous 7 inch, Die letzte Musik vor dem Krieg, left off. A similar motif on piano, run through filters to make things sound broken, distant, ancient, is the central element on both tracks here, punctuating the events and carrying the pieces to their inevitable conclusions. And rather than swimming in drones, the notes are suspended in an opaque air, where a lonely melody, perhaps on a trumpet, plays sadly, then disappears, and where still other traces appear at low volumes; the closer you lean in to hear them better, the louder the strikes on piano seem to be, violent bursts of sound, angry but internalized, lacking any outward aggression, as if to represent a struggle deep within oneself. A further installment in Organum's increasingly vast, compelling body of work, this is essential listening for friends and strangers alike. [Richard di Santo]
RHYTHM & SOUND: The Versions
Rhythm & Sound is the duo of Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald, two Berlin-based producers who are clearly impassioned by all things dub and reggae. Recorded in Berlin, New York and Jamaica, Rhythm & Sound w/ the Artists is a compilation of sorts, a collection of tracks produced by the duo and featuring vocals by Paul St. Hilaire, The Chosen Brothers and Jah Batta, among others, plus a few instrumentalists (percussions, horns, guitars) dropping by along the way. All eight of these tracks have been released previously on the duo's own Basic Channel label. The arrangements are spacious and blissfully deep, the production crisp and precise; the perfect accompaniment to intimate gatherings in need of some cool, slow jams. Highlights are the mirror tracks "King In My Empire" and "Queen In My Empire," with vocals by Cornel Campbell and Jennifer Lara respectively; although these tracks, which open the album, would probably have been better suited book-ending the disc at either end. Together with songs of suffering ("We Been," with vocals by Shalom), and of betrayal ("Best Friend," vocal by Love Joy"), things are rounded off quite nicely, and together it's certainly enough to satisfy most cravings for a reggae and dub fix.
The companion album, which, in the true spirit of consumerism, is sold separately, contains these same tracks but "in dub"; that is, stripped of (most of) their vocal arrangements, in order to let the instrumental tracks shine in their own right. This second album seems a bit pointless, though, since not only are these mixes clearly not creative re-workings of the originals (listened to side by side with the first album, they come across as being quite banal), but the originals themselves already have ample breathing room for the instrumentation, admirably balanced between vocal and instrumental leanings. This second album seems like an afterthought that doesn't really warrant its own separate release, but would have been better suited as a freebie, a bonus CD. [Richard di Santo]
Schönberg's The Book of the Hanging Gardens and the poetry of Stefan George (used by Schönberg for his work) are the inspiration for this surprising new release from Steve Roden. In "airria (hanging garden)" the verses are broken, syllable by syllable, and rearranged in alphabetical order from first to last. Roden not only "reads" the broken text, but sings it, his voice hesitant, trembling slightly, but unmistakably strained in song. Digital dust particles fall gently over the recordings, filters cause interferences, brief interruptions, disruptions in the sound. The voice seems distant in time, but close in space, a whisper in your ear, an incomprehensible dream-narrative. The air becomes still, and silence is all around, in spite of the sound. The second piece, "intended to repeat quietly in a room," takes the same text but uses the vowels as a score for striking five tones on a small chime, the resonances repeat and break, they occupy spaces from left to right, they sing quietly, sadly to us as we sit surrounded by them. The third and final piece is something of a reprisal of the first, but this one is nocturnal, subterranean even, revealing the shadows of shadows, a deep, low-end drone steps evenly under Roden's voice, still strained in its haunting song, a tranquil, if unsettling mood. And here, as I attempt to formulate my opinions, impressions of this work as a whole, even my words break down into syllables, those syllables break down further into letters, and those letters into indistinct lines on a page, in these moments when language fails me. [Richard di Santo]
Tape is a trio from Stockholm, brothers Andreas and Johan Berthling and Tomas Hallonsten, making music with a combination of acoustic instruments (guitar, harmonium, organ, trumpet), analogue instruments (synths), along with digital sounds and field recordings, but generally engaged in creating lovely sounds for gentle listeners, for keen ears, inspiring a calm disposition, a reflective mood, a mellow but happy state of mind. It doesn't seem that much time has passed since the release of Opera, their last full-length for Häpna, but a quick look at my calendar and I'm surprised to note that it's been a full year. The tracks on their new CD are more melodic, but still carry the same impression of being casual sketches, as if, by chance, we've just walked in on their playing and discovered a glimpse of their delicate sound. Maybe you'll want to play this on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or maybe you'll be listening as you sit and hold hands with a loved one, or when you're alone, the moonlight creeping past the window shades and spilling a careful beam into your room (as if to say, we're never really alone). In any scenario, you're sure to find something charming in these sounds, this quiet music. All you have to do is listen. [Richard di Santo]
Soon after I reached the age of 13, it became clear that I would need to wear corrective lenses if I wanted to see the world as it truly was. My vision had depleted only over the previous two years or so, but at a pace that had been so gradual that I had become accustomed to missing out on the details, even forgetting them, hardly aware of my deficiencies, revealing themselves only when I would concentrate on objects at great distances, or sometimes even the finer details of something a few steps away. When I received my first pair of glasses, I slipped them on, and stepped outside. Suddenly, the world opened up before me in a way that I had never before experienced; my eyes were flooded with details and light, every leaf on every tree was suddenly defined by such distinct lines, while buildings, parks, fountains of shimmering water revealed all their glorious details, like a long-kept secret finally let out in the open, in the light of the early evening sun. I was truly overwhelmed.
When Claudio Yituey Chea returned to the Dominican Republic, his ears were buzzing, his sense of hearing was suddenly inundated with the sounds of his native land. On his first morning back home, he stepped out of his house and recorded the sounds we hear on this short but astounding record. Now walking the streets, amid the structures, machines and voices of the people there, then slipping away from the noises of civilization and into paths that perhaps lead to an environment more natural, teeming with its own noises, its own buzzing signals. The details of his homeland revealed themselves like never before, and he captured this experience, restructured these field recordings to create a beautiful, richly detailed sound collage in order to represent this sudden flux of glorious sounds, perhaps feeling nostalgic and overwhelmed at the same time. Even second-hand, this feeling is palpable. Listen, and enjoy the discovery. [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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