Posts Tagged ‘review’

Mystified – “Skywatchers”

August 14, 2008

With “Skywatchers,” the ever-prolific Mystified brings a sense of slow and graceful movement to his often gloriously sessile work. Although the sense of direction could hardly be described as linear– indeed, tracks like “Anomaly” seem to trace the patterns of smoke in the air– “Skywatchers” seems to abandon the use of more obvious loops that characterized his previous “sound designs” in favor of increasingly organic phrasings and ambient progression.

Like all of Thomas Park’s Mystified releases, there’s not a lot of deconstruction that needs to be done on the listener’s end. “Big and Round” is a good example, and accurately titled. Gradually descending in pitch, the piece works as a giant “reveal” of the underlying rhythmic structure before letting listeners loose in the free space of “Dark Shimmer.”

It’s not drone music by any means; Park’s evident care and delicacy of design negate this possibility quite completely. Rather, “Skywatchers” is ambient done right, with Park as the go-to guy for listeners wanting more from their soundscapes than is customarily offered.

I also have to mention that the packaging is superb. Previously, I had only a passing familiarity with the Small Doses label, but now they have my full attention. The torn-paper landscape packaging for “Skywatchers” grabbed my attention from the moment it arrived in my post; the use of the actual disc as lunar element in the scene is simply perfect. Whoever is running things at Small Doses looks to be doing a great job.

“Skywatchers” is available on Small Doses as the 28th release.

Warm Climate – “Mangler Redbeard”

August 13, 2008

Normally, I do all my listening sessions for review purposes with headphones. I’ve got a nice pair that set me back far more than a person of my limited means should be spending, but I get a lot of use out of them. Today, I had to take them off. “Mangler Redbeard,” Warm Climate’s newest release on their oldest Robert Barry Construction Associates label, simply had to be shared with my daughter.

She was drawing pictures of dogs, but seemed game.

Seth Kasselman’s sublime “19th Century Blessings” rebounded off the walls, his voice eeirely filling a space between David Bowie and Roger Waters. Isn’t this guy from Los Angeles? Whatever, it’s perfect. The best thing is that this is one of the more straightforward cuts– check out “Can’t Forget To Know You,” which transitions abruptly from high-speed flayed-drum pounding into something like I’d imagine Steve Ignorant fronting an electronic version of the Lost Poets would sound like. Twin stereo vocals complicate matters before the headlong rush towards the end kicks in. It’s absolute genius, and no doubt will be sitting on my year-end best albums list.

“Snake Procession” is another gem, taking the same sort of amazing musical leaps I loved so much in Warm Climate’s “Forced Spring For Rising Tide,” but in completely different directions. Field recordings, church bells, and a dissonant wind section set the atmosphere for Kasselman’s “lion keeper” character to describe a serpentine parade-and-feast. Weird stuff, but wonderful.

Although Warm Climate’s lineup tends to shift somewhat, “Mangler Redbeard” is essentially a solo Kasselman effort. Sometime-contributer Nick Schultz shows up for drum duty on a couple tracks, which benefit from the live feel, but lose some of the incredible weirdness on Kasselman’s more baroque constructions.

The glam-rock feel positively saturating this album was inevitable, I guess. With what seems like every bearded guitarist alive claiming musical inheritance from Roky Erickson, how long could it take before the fertile (and to my ears, under-explored) territory of glam started looking like just the right place to plant one’s flag? George Korein may have beat Kasselman to it with last year’s “Another Corpse,” but he’s going to have to play Leif Ericson to Kasselman’s Columbus.

“Mangler Redbeard” is available as Robert Barry Constuction Associates release number 14.

Don’t believe DaveX? Here’s another review! (Foxy Digitalis)

Ophibre/Adam Sonderberg – split cassette [oph10]

August 8, 2008

This is the sort of cassette that wins you over through brute force. With roughly 30 minutes allotted each, Ophibre and Adam Sonderberg choose to split this release with a pair of challengingly minimalist works.

This photo shows both sides of the cassette release using two copies, it is NOT a dual-cassette.

This photo shows both sides of the cassette release using two copies, it is NOT a dual-cassette.

For his contribution, “Untitled Music for .aiff & Magnetic Tape,” Ophibre joins a repeating loop of ringing sound with highlighted format constraints of cassette recording. In order to bring the latter elements into focus, Ophibre slowly allows differently-pitched notes into the overall mix. At times, the effect is similar to an out-of-tune miniature cacophony of bowed glass; in other moments, like a rippling organ. Eventually, a continuous stream of treated piano bubbles up, cascading through the tape hiss. Ophibre has a true talent for making a lot out of a little, and even those listeners unwilling to indulge in some of his more noisy experiments should be able to enjoy this side– think of a more ragged, young Terry Riley, and you’d be in the ballpark.

And hey, if you’re digging a piece where magnetic tape is a featured player, don’t make the mistake of fast-forwarding through the final five minutes or so– yes, it’s “just” hiss– but haven’t we gotten past the whole noise/music thing?

Sonderberg’s piece, “Untitled Music for Bell & Sine Tone,” is where the “brute force” bit really comes into play. Sonderberg, a Con-V and Crouton label ‘graduate’, goes the LaMonte Young route; putting a sine wave and a bell into a room where they can duke it out. And why shouldn’t he? With Young having effectively taken his work out of the public sphere, Sonderberg rightly takes up what are some seriously interesting threads. For intrepid listeners willing to deal with a single bell and a plain-jane waveform for a half-hour, this is a very rewarding listen.

With the bell pealing at the human version of regular intervals, against a continuous sine of all things, a mother-lode of standing waves and beating rhythms begin to appear. Headphone listeners might find their sinuses draining– I’m recommending this one for your big stereo speakers. Lovely stuff, but only for those willing to go the distance.

The Ophibre/Adam Sonderberg split cassette is available on the Ophibre label as release oph10.

Sin:Ned, Nerve – “Ghost Feeding Vessel” 鬼餓施舟

August 7, 2008

Originally composed and performed live as part of a larger performance entitled “Ritual for the Ghosts,” Hong Kong artists Sin:Ned and Nerve’s “Ghost Feeding Vessel” is a document of ritualised sound action aimed at communicating with (and about) the deceased. Whether Sin:Ned or Nerve would deem their efforts a success, the appropriate atmosphere is most definitely conjured– a serene series of bell calls puncture the calm at its opening, leading to an increasing flood of haphazard messages forced through from what sounds like worlds beyond.

A striking number of sounds are employed in this venture, and in far too many ways for the listener to determine precisely who is generating them, which perhaps leaves us the option to hear some sounds as not being generated by Sin:Ned or Nerve. Of particular interest to me are the bells, which continually pierce even the most chaotic moments, providing an aural landmark to aid our return.

For a live document, “Ghost Feeding Vessel” is very well-produced, with a wonderfully spacial quality that will be appreciated by headphone listeners. I would have liked to hear more of the space itself, though my guess is that a recording of this quality was made directly, without access to site noise when creating this disc.

“Ghost Feeding Vessel” is available in a limited edition of 100 CDR copies from Lona Records.

Hong Chulki, Choi Joonyong – “Hum and Rattle”

August 4, 2008

From the Seoul-based Balloon & Needle label, “Hum and Rattle” features some of label head Hong Chulki and Choi Joonyong’s phenomenal turntable and opened CD player compositions. Advantageous use of noise bursts that could make Merzbow flinch, contrasted with periods of near (or total) silence make this an ideal album for headphone listening– especially in regards to the delicacy of Choi’s contributions, which comprise everything from the the faintest digital seek-sound, to full-blown read error exploding into unlikely patterns of bitrate-lacework.

For his end; Hong’s turntable tends toward the lower frequency (and possibly sans vinyl) approach to noisemaking. It’s DJ Q-Bert’s nightmare– needle drops, empty platters spinning against the tonearm, skipping one groove and proceeding to practically lathe-cut the next.

Fortunately, both Hong and Choi evidence a strong ability to not only play off one another’s sounds, but an enthusiasm for allowing both sounds and each other room to breathe. Openness is what sets “Hum and Rattle” apart from many other discs splashing about in similar waters. This approach is most easily heard on the second track, “u a”, something like an 11-minute act of digital call-and-response where one player is a void.

The album closes with a live recording made during a Relay free improvisation meeting. Although it naturally lacks the stereo dynamic that helps make the previous tracks as compelling, it’s nice to hear evidence that Hong and Choi do not rely on studio tricks for the generation of their sound. Rather, the turntables and CD players are treated as instruments in their own right, a much-mouthed but rarely-heard acclamation.

“Hum and Rattle” is attractively packaged in a simple folded-card sleeve, and is available from Balloon & Needle.

Gen Ken Montgomery – “Drilling Holes in the Wall”

August 2, 2008

From the Monochrome Vision label (in Russia, of all places) comes a collection of Gen Ken Montgomery works from 1986 to 1991. Montgomery’s prolific nature means it is by no means complete; but still invaluble for assembling disparate works now relatively unavailable, previously unreleased, or truncated in their original outing.

On this disc, Montgomery’s title track is the main feature. Sourced completely from a modified Casio MS-10 keyboard, Montgomery wrings a breathtaking variety of sounds from this miniature machine. Originally presented as an eight-channel concert, “Drilling Holes in the Walls” does not let listeners down. If anything, more current electronics artists should be ashamed for the paucity of their work, given the ubiquitous nature of enormously-powerful synthesizers at their disposal today!

“New Age Machines,” now apparently complete for the first time due to the inclusion of an additonal ten minutes, harkens to the classic days of electroacoustic music. Conjuring visions of the INA-GRM, Montgomery proceeds to flesh out a science fiction machine of epic proportions– or as my daughter puts it, “something like technology, and critters, and maybe two trashcan lids banging?”

As consistently holds true with any of Montgomery’s works, it is the listener’s willingness and enthusiasm for sound that will make or break its perceived value. Take “Icebreaker,” for instance. As one of Montgomery’s favorite noise-makers (along with various laminators), the ice-crusher commands our full attention, merrily rumbling and squeaking and crushing along– it’s something like the Wall-e of it’s day, I guess. These sounds are of interest to Montgomery, apparently right up there with any of the more commonly-cited natural sounds of interest: birds, rain, seashores, etc. Although increasingly processed into something more abstract, listeners should have a healthy appreciation for sound of all kinds before seeking this disc out.

Of particular interest to me, however, is the live cut “Don’t Bring Those Things.” Referencing Montgomery’s exasperation with East Berlin for denying entry to his homemade electronics (to the point that he was forced to borrow equipment for a live performance) the track is a lovely example of Montgomery’s aesthetic, unfiltered by the studio, and one of only a couple times I’ve heard his voice in a recording.

Husht – “Amber”

August 1, 2008

It’s always interesting, but occasionally embarrassing, to look back at our younger selves. Many things change– priorities, interests, our aesthetics; but checking on these can reveal a previously-unknown arc of our existence. Suddenly, the point of our present becomes a line joining moments over time.

It’s especially fun to do with musicians. When I got the chance to check out “Amber,” a 15-year-old tape recording that had been languishing in Andrew Chadwick/Ironing’s personal holdings, I was rather excited. The tape, recorded to boombox “in the wee hours of the morning” with Jim Tramontana, is a series of remarkable pieces both for their forward-looking sense of improvisation and the relatively low-tech means employed for the production. “Paul’s Very Exhausted Horse” for instance; features a variety of small electric guitar noises, a cracking patch cord, and every extended technique these two could muster for wringing sounds from both. I’m still wondering how the little hoofbeat rhythm was made!

There is a bit of repetition on this disc. “Morphogenesis” carries on for nearly 20 minutes, and for such a large piece, does a fair job of keeping it together. Laborious amp groaning and some electrical grounding problems present a pleasant ambience for Chadwick and Tramontana to nestle water and cow sounds within. An unexpected snippet of “The Star-Spangled Banner” drops in, something of the Ironing works I’m more familiar with. “Threads” starts in much the same manner, but doesn’t seem to find its footing as well as the previous track. After what may have been a short pause to re-group, the duo manage a little five-minute spell of something like the ryūteki in Japanese gagaku. Entrancing stuff, demanding of your attention.

As with all Hymns releases, “Amber” is attractively packaged in a heavyweight paper slip with insert. For this disc, however, Chadwick has gone to considerable trouble distressing the paper inserts with outdoor contaminents naturally stuck to the backside– now sandwiched between the paper and a prom photo (or something of the kind, anyway they’re all unique)– and finally, laminated for posterity. Fun stuff, this.

Husht’s “Amber” is available now through Hymns.

Miya Masaoka, Joan Jeanrenaud — “For Birds, Planes & Cello”

July 31, 2008

A subtle release for Miya Masaoka’s new label, Solitary B, “For Birds, Planes & Cello” is something of a ‘grower.’ Upon my inital listening session, I could confirm little more than my own piqued interest and the ongoing quality work of Marcos Fernandes, who assisted with the field recording of a San Diego canyon central to this piece.

Throughout the untreated field recording, saturated as it is with the sounds of aircraft and peppered with migratory bird calls, Masaoka calls upon cellist Joan Jeanrenaud to emphasize select frequencies utilizing her extended technique. Curiously, Jeanrenaud is often found mimicking the atmospheric rumblings of jet engines passing overhead, though I would have appreciated a similar instrumental link forged with the birds as well. Whether Masaoka’s choice to identify the cello with the artificial elements of the field recording is a careful and telling commentary, or a simple reflection of the limitations of the instrument, it is difficult to discern.

Nevertheless, choices have been made, and Masaoka wants us to be aware of this… hence Jeanrenaud. Her cello breaks the fourth wall to remind us of the composer’s hand– music is, after all, where we choose to bestow our artistic focus. Within “For Birds, Planes & Cello,” it is the same as picking out shapes in the clouds: “This one looks like a lizard, do you see it as well?”

Impeccable production both in-studio and out feature throughout this disc, though it is the sort best enjoyed at a long and uninterrupted sitting. Listeners expecting some sort of free improv on top of field recordings will do best to avoid; as I’ve explained, that really isn’t the game of this album. Recommended.

Cristopher Cichocki – “Elemental Shift”

April 30, 2008

It’s not even May yet; but I’m tempted to call it early– “Elemental Shift,” the opening DVD-R volley from new label Table of Contents, may very well be the best noise release of the year. Unfortunately limited to 250, I’ve begun treating my promo copy with kid gloves, thankful it had somehow arrived safely through the mail with only a thin cardboard shield to protect it.

I’m not usually anywhere near this finicky.

What’s got me so worked up is Cichocki’s seamless blending of video and sound. Although it would be a stretch to define me as a visually-oriented person, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest that “Elemental Shift” is a work that not only would be lessened greatly by the absence of picture or sound, but would be fundamentally transformed through either loss. I can also say that this is certainly not an hour-long music video– in fact, it is exceptionally difficult to determine which sounds or visuals may have preceded, as they inform and shape each other throughout.

I’m not certain I possess the visual vocabulary to describe “Elemental Shift” adequately, but I have to try! For starters, there are a lot of extremely quick cuts fashioned into loops. I don’t know if these have been constructed from individual film frames or photographs, but the results rely heavily on our persistence of vision, creating pulsing layers of eye-blinding activity. Initially, Cichocki seems to go no further than quickly revealing one image after another, but he has a real talent for selecting images that reflect the tone of the accompanying electronic scree and clearly is not operating in a random manner. In this sense, the visuals follow the music, providing a harmonious optical quality, if extraordinarily frenetic.

For me, one highlight was the use of a Wal-Mart shopping cart in a portion of the video. Viewed entirely through the hexagonal mesh of the basket, Cichocki takes us on a hyper-speed tour of the store, enhancing that tunnel vision attention-deficit state so encouraged by the bombardment of corporate messages upon store patrons.

However, where Cichocki really gets going is when the visuals encourage the sound itself. Having always found noise art to be a somewhat “rooted” music, I was thrilled to see how Cichocki’s use of successive frames (and even motive-based iconography such as traffic arrows) could impart a tactile sense of movement to the sounds. Whereas previously something I might have perceived something like “wall sound” as an immobile block, now I could imagine it as having purpose and direction. It’s interesting, to say the least, and will definitely have me re-examining many aspects of noise.

I took dozens of screen captures from the DVD, none of which come close to providing an accurate representation of “Elemental Shift” any more than a drawing of a rose might conjure its scent. If you try looking at all of them at once, you might get close. Those familiar with the accompanying videos for Merzbow performances will be surprised to find Masami Akita’s work a mere jumping-off point for “Elemental Shift,” and far less detail-oriented as well.

Finally, I should add that I don’t recommend this DVD-R to epileptics. Table of Contents seems somewhat aware of this in their press release, but I think it should be mentioned in a serious manner. If you’re prone to this sort of thing, stay far away!

For the rest of you, however, I can’t recommend “Elemental Shift” more highly.

Sad Sailor – “Link to the Outside World”

April 21, 2008

Seven-piece outift Sad Sailor turn out three competent drone-rock tracks in this 28-minute EP, mostly focused on the progression familiar to all– the slow plunge from layered noodling into sweaty chaos. Unfortunately, Sad Sailor’s focus is too intent on this outcome, with little other emotional range apparent excepting a lovely section opening the EP.

Sad Sailor \

And it’s too bad. For the first three minutes or so, Sad Sailor surround the listener with subtly-mingled guitar lines, watery cello, and floating peaks of occasional noise. It’s nothing astoundingly new, just rather well-done, with effortless shoring up of one another’s phrases that shows a real bond between players. The trumpet kicks in, and the whole thing lifts off… if a bit predictably. Even the false end to first track “Juice the Room” fails to surprise, like watching James Brown do the cape routine for the fifteenth time.

That’s why it’s odd when “Juice the Room” is suddenly cut off, and “Radiant Evil” begins– especially given how it almost immediately launches into the same trip the first track took us on at about the five-minute mark. Another lift-off into 4/4 time, but this one seems stuck somewhere in the middle stage throughout. Sad Sailor seem to think it a dud, so why not reset and try again?

At this point, you’re really wondering what the purpose is. “Down at Weirdo Park” rolls back the tape, gets a bit of momentum, and aims squarely at the “let’s blend some guitars together over drum and bass while the trumpet solos” territory so thoroughly juiced in the first track. Listeners shouldn’t be surprised to find only pulp and rind here.

I guess this is the modern day equivalent of one of those generic 60’s surf records; it is serviceable, but too predicable and staid to elicit much serious reaction. For such competent players, and the Eh? label who generally have such fantastic releases, this all seems like setting the bar a bit low. Even for the relatively short duration of this disc, Sad Sailor hold the ecstatic playing too long, ultimately depriving “Link to the Outside World” of necessary emotional contrast that would have sharpened the whole.

For kicks, here’s Ampersand Etcetera’s review of the same. Never say I’m not a giving person!

Gold Record Studio – “Live at Laney Flea Market”

April 18, 2008

Up until now, I thought Negativland had the market cornered on bizarre covers of “My Favorite Things.” That was true until I heard Mary, Jon, Jonathan, Priya, Elembe, and Lisa do their version. Alongside a plodding waltz beat; the sextet calls out global warming, noses, and schnitzel-covered space geese. Are they poised at the brink of fame? Probably not– they just happened to be down at the Laney Flea Market last year, when some fun-loving folks decided to set up the Gold Record Studio.

The studio, in reality a record cutting machine plopped in the midst of an otherwise-mundane flea market, offered free recording to anyone who wanted it, and the instruments to make it happen. From the presence of the “sales pitch” opening the first disc (it’s a double set!), it is clear that most market attendants were in capitalism mode. “What’s the catch?” was surely heard many times over by all involved.

Enough about that– there’s a lot of fun music here. I can’t pick out all the names, but there’s more than one track sporting a known musician or two. Rent Romus, Eddie the Rat, Inca Ore, and a former DJ for the Ghetto Boyz all make appearances. Completists take note!

Now I don’t know about you, but if something like this happened in Southern Illinois, you’d have one disc of people singing “Jesus Take the Wheel,” and another split between wannabee rappers and some guy trying repeatedly to pick out the opening bars to “Sweet Child of Mine.” This doesn’t seem to be the case in Oakland. Aside from a handful of American Idol castoffs who go for the “big finish,” and the tone-deaf guy absolutely butchering “Let It Be,” the 83 tracks of “Gold Record Studio” are filled with nothing but originality.

Naturally, there are numerous sub-audiophile moments– bass guitar peaking, a dog barking at one bit of electronic improvisation, and at least one stubborn youngster who will only sing when the art moves her– but that’s all part of the fun. This is a weird ride through eight weeks of Sundays, surely one of the more entertaining compilations you can get your hands on.

Sabrina Siegel — “G(fill in your name)d’s Music”

December 21, 2007

I’ll just throw this out there– you’ve got to have some chutzpah to title your album “G(fill in your name)d’s Music,” no matter if you leave the “o” out or not. It’s a gutsy move; “God” is probably the most pre-loaded word in the English language. Even an atheist like myself seems compelled to find some sort of “stance” about such a thing.

Sabrina Siegel

Of course, rigid beliefs don’t hold too well in an artistic setting. Oftentimes; the ridiculous, the absurd, or the magical are simply too fruitful a foundation of artistic exploration to be jettisoned regardless of their uselessness in other areas of life. Satan is one of my all-time favorite movie characters, endlessly explored with so many fascinating variations. Islamic architecture gives me a hint of some infinite, alien, mathematical fright I also enjoy.

Looking at an album essentially titled “God’s Music,” I want to know– what DOES God’s music sound like?That’s where Sabrina Siegel turns the listener’s expectations upside-down.

With ultra-low bass rumbles threatening to pull my speakers down from their respective walls; the otherwise-natural mix of insects, airplanes, and woodland sounds initially seemed a bit out of place. Early on, I found myself paying attention to one side or the other of this dichotomy… either focusing on the heavy subsonic damage puffing gusts of air at my head, or allowing myself to be pulled into the is-it-live-or-is-it-electronic world arranged so delicately among these monolithic bass noises.

In my initial listen, at least 20 minutes has elapsed before I started being able to hear these sounds together– not a fault of Siegel, but more a function of my disbelief– it doesn’t take a genius to imagine that this is Siegel’s comment on the weakness of perception, with an aural elephant in the room popping in and out of focus.

There’s still the “fill in your name” element, which to me suggests that Siegel is giving us all free reign to hear what we want. I’ve always been intrigued by the Biblical passage, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

Setting aside the equally-interesting Planck Epoch for a moment, I’ve got to say that this is a pretty cool couple lines. It is similar to what I hear in Siegel’s disc, a massive incomprehensible thing moving about its business of creating the earth.

Like other of Siegel’s works, there is a very raw quality to “G(fill in your name)d’s Music”. I suspect that Siegel is less concerned with the individual soundings as with the overall “setting” the mix creates, much as a nature enthusiast will not begrudge a scene its occasional rotted leaf or dead bird.

All in all, it’s a unique and interesting listening experience that I’d recommend– just be sure to anchor those speakers well unless you also like the sound of falling electronics!


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