Posts Tagged ‘music review’

Robert Dow – “Precipitation within sight” & “White Water (airflow)”

August 20, 2008

Often, I receive promotional copies of an artist’s work that are not intended for general distribution: live sets dubbed as a single track on CDR, pre-mastered works in-progess, or compilations of selected works that could be broadcast but are not necessarily to be considered a proper album.

A while back, I was sent such a compilation by Robert Dow, director of the Soundings... festival of electroacoustic music and a researcher in the area of electroacoustic composition and performance with the University of Edinburgh. Although Dow’s knowledge of electroacoustic works far exceeds my own, I still thought it would be nice to write about one of the pieces for you– consider it half introduction, and half review.

“Precipitation within sight” is an interesting composition; generally, due to Dow’s willingness to allow natural sounds to remain unobscured by processing; and personally, as it ties closely with Miya Masaoka’s “For Birds, Planes, & Cello” which I have been enjoying recently.

Like Masaoka, Dow chooses natural sounds as both a focal point and a springboard for studio performance, constructing complimentary percussive sounds which often conjure the spacial properties of this work’s center– Smoo Cave in Durness, Scotland. Generous field recordings taken at Smoo Cave feature throughout, with indoor and outside events in evidence. Of particular beauty are Dow’s recordings of splashing water and children, appearing just prior to a bursting noise of some sort, rather like stones thrown upon a metal surface. I’m not sure what to make of the electronic whinnying that proceeds thereafter, underscored by a low rushing sound, and gradually taking aural focus… perhaps Dow is suggesting the feel of coming to the surface of water?

In his program notes, Dow states that he is interested in the “strong associative pull of such real world sounds and their tendency to create specific contexts,” which seems to be thought of as a problem among many electroacoustic artists in their rush to manipulate and obscure every source recording. Taken in this light, a reading of “Precipitation within sight” might include themes of motion as both physical movement and de/constructive energy, many of the associated emotions conjured by a journey through water, and possibly even our lingering human connection to formative natural spaces such as caves. There’s a lot to consider, so I won’t attempt to offer a conclusive summation here. Rather, I intend to whet your appetite– Dow has a release pending on the fine Russian label, Electroshock, so this might be a good time to become more acquainted with the composer.


Alan Courtis – “Unstringed Guitar & Cymbals”

August 18, 2008

I love finding artists who can find new ways to squeeze a few more interesting sounds from their instruments, especially when the results are able to stand in their own right. With the Blossoming Noise release of “Unstringed Guitar & Cymbals,” former Reynols member Alan Courtis unearths a wellspring of sound possibilities both novel and surprising.

Through three long tracks, each titled for a common spice found in curry, Courtis thoroughly explores the aural limits of a stringless (and judging from the digipack photos, rather broken) hollow-body guitar. Processing is employed throughout, resulting in far more than percussive noises– Courtis finds waterfalls of humming and squealing, carnival organs, windchimes, and blown-glass swan calls within this tortured axe. “Coriandro” finds Courtis at the center of a swarm of surreal birdcall noises, alternately calling to them with water gong and nose flute sounds… obviously, this is some wild stuff.

Of course, I’m thrilled at the possibilities Courtis presents. As with so many of my favorite albums of his, a democratic and egalitarian approach shines forth– anyone may not be as talented at generating or arranging these sounds, but they’re definitely within reach of many potential sound-sculptors no matter how indigent. Furthermore, as someone who spent a lot of time playing guitars, its fascinating to hear so many new voices tumble from the instrument.

Naturally, the guitar is not the only recipient of Courtis’s attention, or the title of this disc might be somewhat different. Making excellent use of a cymbal’s lengthy release, Courtis fashions layers of shimmering washes, a perfect environment for “Cardamomo’s” rising and falling guitar clarion to inhabit. It’s a much fuller sound than I would have expected, which is also a pleasant surprise.

Overall, this is a very good disc, and might go down well with those who enjoy the explorations of Derek Bailey, Ferran Fages, or even Boris. I’m not exaggerating– that sort of range is easily represented here. Blossoming Noise generally has very good quality production for their discs, which is fully evident here. Definitely, “Unstringed Guitar & Cymbals” is one I recommend.

“Unstringed Guitar & Cymbals” is available from Blossoming Noise as release “bn034”.

Don’t believe DaveX? Here’s someone else’s review!

Mike Khoury, Ernesto Diaz-Infante – “Hymns for New Fathers”

August 17, 2008

An opportunity for a long-distance collaboration has prompted me to start pulling out many examples of such work from my shelves for re-examination. There’s no shortage of folks working through e-mail, but the fact that it’s even more of an imperfect science than ordinary improvisation means a good lot of it is somewhat lacking.

That’s why I’m happy to report the general success of this 3″ CDR from Mike Khoury’s “Detroit Improvisation” series. A rough-edged little thing, it features twelve untitled sketches of violin and guitar. As is his custom, Khoury employs a variety of techniques for playing his violin; Diaz-Infante often contrasts Khoury’s more blunt approach with a layer of ringing and droning guitar.

The sound quality is better than you might suspect, with interesting stereo effects adding greatly to the overall enjoyment for listeners. On the eleventh track, Diaz-Infante’s pluckings bounce back and forth across the stereo field, while Khoury takes up residence in the middle. The final track explores instrument resonance, with a thrumming pulse spread out before the staccato pops of like a crackling radio tuner.

Initially available in a small run of 50 copies, “Hymns for New Fathers” may be difficult to find. Cross your fingers, and contact Mike Khoury directly to see if there are any copies remaining.

GRKZGL – “Antitulé”

August 16, 2008

After Monday’s debacle, you’d think I might never review a GRKZGL release again. Whatever. “Antitulé” was on the pile, and unlike the hot mess Brise-Cul let slip through the gate, this one is pretty damn good. In fact, it’s a very good example of why I first got excited about GRKZGL’s work in the first place– nice detail, great sense of dynamic, and a general unwillingness to be purposeful or evocative of some greater message.

Similar to his more recent work on the Neus-318 release “Drain,” this 3″ cdr finds GRKZGL working dexterously among multiple layers of low-end signals, with fine results. Headphone listeners will appreciate many details all but the best speakers may miss, such as the minute additions of high end sibillance occasionally coloring a more noticeable block of sound, or the fluttering subsonics exiting just before truly coming into aural focus.

Then again, my speakers sounded pretty good too, and you’d be a fool to not experience this one rumbling your insides from the next room.

Of course, long-time readers will be advised of my predilection for the 3″ format. GRKZGL puts it to excellent use here, playing to the format’s strength with a single track tightly focused on material worth thoroughly exploring for an extended period of time.

“Antitulé” may not be easily available at this time, please contact GRKZGL directly to inquire.

Zbigniew Karkowski, Damion Romero – “9 Before 9”

August 15, 2008

Zbigniew Karkowski and Damion Romero do a great job of winnowing out potential listeners with “9 Before 9,” a sort of low-end endurance test aimed at the unlikely combination of underground noise enthusiasts with the coin necessary for possessing not only high-end equipment to reproduce subsonic audio, but also for purchasing an album where nearly two-thirds of the material is just not that interesting.

But first, let me say some nice things, because both Karkowski and Romero are well worth our attention. For starters, this is a well-produced set of recordings. Simply being able to put these sounds to disc undoubtably required serious effort, as evidenced in the liner notes, where the credits noteably mention both mastering and re-mastering. This album probably would not be possible on vinyl– my guess is that you’d sooner cut holes through the record before achieving these results.

“9 Before 9” also benefits from a significant care taken in the compositions– while there ultimately isn’t enough to engage me fully within the first two tracks, there are at least a few moments where I know Karkowski and Romero were at least doing more than letting the low-end simmer while having some lunch. I suppose it’s the same problem I have with Sachiko M– I really want to like the material, but despite my sympathy, there’s just not enough to connect with.

I hate to be a one-note reviewer this week, but the hyperbole surrounding most noise releases has got to stop. While it’s entertaining to read a writeup with yet another reviewer enduring some sort of self-inflicted torture in our stead while listening to the latest album, how truthful is it? I listened to “9 Before 9” straight through a couple times on headphones, and had given it my initial listen on some decent monitors at the radio station. I wasn’t feeling like anything particularly evil occurred, and I survived without incident. I ate a banana during “Part 3” and didn’t once feel like throwing up, or that my head had been made into a kick-drum for the gods.

If anything, it’s more interesting to wonder why these sort of reviews exist? Is it lazy writing, or is there some underexplored psychological need to witness harm on others that reviewers unwittingly fulfill? I think these are questions outside the scope of this review, but certainly very interesting.

Back to the disc in question– and let’s skip straight to “Part 3”. After all, the first 36 minutes of the disc don’t get interesting until just a couple minutes before “Part 3” cuts them off anyway… The last 18 minutes are decent. That’s right, decent. Nothing mindblowing happens, but if I’m willing to wholeheartedly enjoy Phill Niblock, I’m not going to lie to you and suggest I need constant action in my music. Karkowski and Romero get some beating waveforms together; a good portion of this section sounds like very large (and very physical) objects crowded into a small area. It’s a good reminder of the more corporeal aspects of sound, and provides a welcome and fleshy contrast to the more ethereal portions filling the bulk of the disc.

My recommendation? Avoid it unless you have the capacity, equipment-wise, to really give the disc a chance to shine. Neither Karkowski or Romero are artists to sniff at, but the combined attack of speaker shortcomings and a somewhat minimal disc are too great an obstacle for all but the most committed listener.

“9 Before 9” is available on Blossoming Noise as release bn035.

Don’t believe DaveX? Here’s another 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)

Val-Inc – “On”

August 12, 2008

In this seamless and freely-structured chain of compositions, Val-Inc puts forth a series of powerfully emotional and psychic waves, constructed of fugue-state assemblage and chance synchronicity. Mostly putting her considerable talent for sound design and collage to work over her own percussion efforts, Val-Inc’s self-described “Afro-electronica” is both poetic and evocative.

“Sinz” is a terrific example, and probably my favorite track. With only Val-Inc’s drums, processing, and keyboards; and poet Parker Sargeant, “Sinz” is relatively simple. A sweeping phase sound moves slowly among a slowly pounding beat, while Sargeant layers sinister vocals throughout, alternating between strong declamations and hesitant question. Although the listing of the world’s woes– “pornography of the mind,” the military, genocide, inequality– can be a bit obvious, I’m prepared to forgive it due to Val-Inc’s complete success in terms of creating a moody and impressionistic environment.

Val-Inc’s inclusion of live and sampled poets goes a long way towards assisting in the creation of these environments. The fourth track, “@,” makes wonderful use of Anne Sexton’s poem “Her Kind,” alongside someone reading from Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech.

“I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.” –Anne Sexton

It’s always nice to find a musician so willing (and literate enough!) to integrate poetry as a part of their work. Contrasting Sexton’s intimate verse with Truth’s heartfelt words– not to mention the slow heartbeat Val-Inc lays out on drums– is a bit of perfect ambience. You can imagine how fantastic this all sounds, especially as it flows into the more relaxed lingual-workout of “Damba,” with cut-up samples from a diction improvment record mixing with flowing synth washes and Caribbean drum patterns.

Although releasing label Innova Recordings gives her a bit much as “one of the most original and cutting edge artists in the experimental music scene,” there’s little doubt that Val-Inc possesses a strong capability for creating unique work, and that all efforts should be made to secure a copy of “On” quickly, as Innova often releases discs in a limited number.

“On” is available as release 698 on Innova Recordings.

GRKZGL – “C’est de la Marde”

August 11, 2008

I suppose the title should stand. It is shit– just three tracks of “harsh” noise indistinguishable from practically anyone else toiling in the increasingly narrow confines of the genre. GRKZGL is loud, busy, and wading about in deleriously distorted sounds– but for anyone who remembers his earlier release “Esque” on the Angle Rec label, “C’est de la Marde” is just the noise made by GRKZGL setting the bar a bit low.

Although I fully recognize that the sheer number of available recordings is one aspect of noise, (it’s just another type of volume, see?) this definitely isn’t where I’d want a new listener to start with this artist. For all of releasing label Brise-Cul’s hype that “C’est de la Marde” is “so harsh that it is ridiculous,” and “so meticulously recorded and mastered” the noise genre remains a game of limits, not unlike speed metal. These bold statements invite listeners to make comparisons, with the result that “C’est de la Marde” doesn’t stand in any such category.

Brise-Cul, having over 100 releases, should know better. Like DJs, the folks who run labels get a birds-eye view of music the public isn’t afforded– turning out some old spray-painted CDR that sticks to its cheap plastic slipcase and turns over no new ground is an abuse of the buyers’ goodwill, and hardly serves to do anything but falsely inflate the artist and leave much of the label’s catalog suspect as well.

It’s bad enough that experimental artists relying on CDR labels will have tremendous amounts of product spread across innumerable imprints and still receive little more than a handful of copies to sell on tour, but when these labels neglect their responsibility to help positively shape the music they love, we all lose something.

GRKZGL’s “C’est de la Marde” isn’t the only example of this, and by no means is Brise-Cul the worst offending label. Still, we’d deserve whatever we get if these sorts of things weren’t pointed out.

“C’est de la Marde” is available as the sixth installment of Brise-Cul Records‘ “Red Series.”

Hong Chulki – “Without Cartridge, With Cartridge”

August 10, 2008

Fantastic turntable work from the Balloon & Needle label boss Hong Chulki, who has lately joined my personal pantheon of favorite turntable improvisors. One of these days; he can join Otomo Yoshihide, Christian Marclay, and Martin Tétreault for a box set and I can die happy.

Until that day, there’s “Without Cartridge, With Cartridge,” which surely goes about as far as one can with a turntable. Packaged uniquely on either side of a cardboard disc, this double 3″ CDR keeps the “haves” and “have-nots” separated– very nice for those of us who like to contrast the two.

Starting “Without Cartridge,” Hong still manages to generate a surprising variety of sound. As Hong’s full approach for both discs is to play without records, I’m assuming these are all produced from dragging the tonearm remains across the turntable itself in some fashion… though in the end, I’m unable to fully understand how many of these sounds arise. Regardless, it is a much more full sound than I would have guessed– in some ways, even more interesting than the “With Cartridge” half!

Track two goes a long way toward explaining why– these electronic shrieking noises are incredible! Filled out with ringing tones, like bowed glass at high volume, this is a torturous ride. The third track is equally absurd; at some point, listeners just have to sit back and let Hong skullfuck both earholes.

For the “With Cartridge” disc, a more usual gamut of possible sounds are explored– needle drops, slipmat scrapes, fingers against the needle, even electrical problems become “opportunities!” There’s also a good range of more unexpected noises– the intense blasts of screeching metal-on-metal sounds near the end of the second track, for instance. At times, I wonder if Hong is employing anything but the tonearm itself, as the circular looping nature of the turntable seems to vanish. Perhaps Hong has liberated it for play on other surfaces?

“Without Cartridge, With Cartridge” is a surprisingly vital set, not only due to Hong’s instrumental prowess, but for the quality of the improvisation itself. What could have been a cold documentation of the technical limits of the turntable-as-sound-source is instead a well-structured work in its own right, and worthy of more than listeners’ simple curiosity.

“Without Cartridge, With Cartridge” is available from Balloon & Needle as release bnn18.

Nils Bultmann – “Terminally Unique”

August 9, 2008

I like the aim of this album, and I like its relative simplicity. For “Terminally Unique,” Nils Bultmann constructs an independent track (partly from improvisation and partly in Pro Tools) for each line of a short poem. Bultmann, playing viola on the majority of songs, is joined by Roscoe Mitchell for a handful of tracks– most noteably on “the madness,” where he provides a dark saxophone bed for Bultmann’s viola and Parry Karp’s cello can become increasingly paranoid. Paddy Cassidy’s contribution to the track, his sole appearance on “Terminally Unique,” is a memorable djembe counterpoint with an unusual finish.

Bultmann seems willing to adapt new methods in order to conjure the appropriate mood, though the process can occasionally yield uneven results. “Marched Upward,” begins with a rather obvious martial flavor, and some heavy-handed keyboard technique. However, Bultmann’s introduction of Wurlitzer organ changes this track immensely. What was previously quite predictable quickly shifts into something more interestingly surreal, with dissonant held tones and fluttering arpeggio lines.

More exciting for me are Bultmann’s varied use of field recordings. “Again” makes fine use of a spinning coin, and “Reverently” fuses an indistinct sermon with Bultmann and Mitchell’s slow pas de deux on viola and flute. This all flows very well into “the pulsing,” an apt description of the tremolo effect employed here, as well as the general push-pull of one line into the next. In contrast, “Primal” is crude and blunt– it has a place, but thankfully not a focal one, in this album.

In all, “Terminally Unique” is a much more enjoyable album than I would have initially guessed. In truth, I don’t often feel that I connect well with program music, so I’m pleased to have found so many instances where that feeling subsided and I could just take it in. I would have liked to hear more in the way of extended techniques and greater use of field recordings throughout, with the caveat that they step too far from Bultmann’s evocative playing.

“Terminally Unique” is available as release 17530 on the Mutable Music label.

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.