Archive for June, 2018

Room40 – RM481 – 13th July 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Norman Westberg’s first full-length album since the termination of SWANS in its most recent configuration marks something of a departure, both in terms of sound and approach. Having previously recorded his solo works by what he calls his ‘one take; it is what it is’ method, After Vacation is a project of evolution, and also of collaboration, with Lawrence English acting as producer, weaving together the parts to create rich layers. The press release refers to Westberg’s ‘web of outboard processes, with delays, reverbs, and other treatments all transforming the sound of the instrument’s output. And yet After Vacation feels like so much more than this, as the guitar itself fades into the distance beneath the effects. The results are evocative, with careful details overlaid onto the broad washes of sound which define the compositional forms.

The album begins in expansive and haunting style, with what sounds like brooding, atmospheric orchestral strings and tense piano, but the shadowy shade of ‘Soothe the String’, like all of the album’s six pieces, features nothing but guitar. And with it Westberg creates lustrous layers of sound, drifting sonic mists and hazy hues. ‘Sliding Sledding’ forms an immensely deep, slow-turning swirl that moves like vapour, through which single notes ripple as they echo and fade.

The individual compositions are formed through subtle shifts and delicate transitions, and offer distinct and separate moods. However, they melt into one another, to create a vast vista of soft-edged ambience.

The title track which draws the curtain on the set marks a departure from the rest of the album, as Westberg picks at his guitar in an almost folksy fashion, and it sounds like a conventional guitar, although it’s accompanied by an organ-like drone that hovers in a long, unchanging note, which gradually rises to the fore as the plucked notes fade into the distance.

There’s a certain comfort in this conclusion, bringing the listener as it does to more familiar ‘guitar’ territory while still emblematising the experimental, treatment-orientated approach to reconfiguring the sound of the instrument.

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Norman Westberg - After Vacation

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They’ve been knocking about for 15 years, and finally – finally – The Gaa Gaas are on the eve of releasing their debut album. Ahead of it, in a flurry of activity, they’re re-releasing 2010 single V.O.L.T.A.I.R.E. and have unveiled a video for ‘Statues’. Created by Texas-based video artist Laura Grace Robles, best known for her work with hip hop giant Rakim, and also Marcel Rodríguez-López of The Mars Volta, the eye-bleeding visuals are the perfect accompaniment to the wild, angular guitar blitz. Watch it here:

Ventil Records – V008

Christopher Nosnibor

Variations on Bulletproof Glass follows 2016’s Decomposition I-III which also featured Christina Kubisch, and set out to explore – and demolish – the well-worn thematics of field recordings.it represents something of a deviation in terms of its methodology, as well as its focus. This fourth decomposition collapses material rather than location, and places a very different focus on the concept of field recordings, centring not on the out and about, but the controlled space, and with a clearly defined specificity.

Variations on Bulletproof Glass is a literal title, being constructed from ‘waves which were transmitted through a bulletproof glass pane while it was exposed to major physical impacts’. But of course, like most works which are devoted to a microcosmic sound source, that source becomes increasingly obscured the closer the lens looms. While there are moments that do sound vaguely evocative of glass, cracking and splintering, there’s not a single classic crash and tinkle, a solitary smash and splinter. None of the sounds here betray their origins, and Kutin and Kindlinger have manipulated the source material to forge something altogether in a different sonic sphere from the pieces that lie scattered at source. There may be hints of scrapes and ricochets on/off glass, but there’s nothing which overtly says ‘this the sound of glass’ in the (de)construction of these samples. Because this is bulletproof glass, for a start. It has different properties, and can withstand greater punishment. The consequence is that so must the listener: this is challenging, and difficult to readily access.

‘X26’, the first of eight pieces, clanks and scrapes, and the chanking treble is countered by woozy bass. It has all the hallmarks of experimental dub, and even builds some dense, gut-churning rhythmic pulsations and dynamic beats – none of which even hint in the slightest at the source of the sounds. ‘Throne’ is a jolting, stop/start attack, and Elvin Brandhi’s vocals are stark, dishevelled, wild and wide-eyed. ‘PANE#2’ blasts away at a beat that echoes Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Discipline’ as synth-like sounds howl and wail aggressively before tapering to a quieter place.

Elsewhere, the sonorous, trilling done and scrape of ‘L.I.W’ is uncomfortable, and not for a single second does one listen to this and think that this is an album to mellow to, or even to function to. It’s not just distracting, but the sound of abstract obstruction.

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Kutin Kindlinger – Decomposition IV

The Sublunar Society 053 – 11th May 2018

James Wells

Just as Facebook advertising and Amazon recommendations prove that algorithms can be applied usefully but are no substitute for human input.

Of course, The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator is subject to human input, in that it was created by Mick Sussman himself. A programme is designed to ‘compose’ ‘unique’ music, by ‘making decisions based on a sequence of randomised processes.’ The nineteen compositions collected here seem to suggest a greater leaning toward the random than the musical. There are notes and there are rhythms, but none of them seem to coordinate with one another, and the sounds are trebly synthetic, 80s computer gamey. The cover art has obvious ‘matrix’ connotations, and tells much of the story of what The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator is about. Only, this is the sound of the matrix collapsing, of being stretched and pulled in all directions, twisted and tossed.

Sussman observes in the liner notes that in programming terms, Rosenberg is a primitive piece of coding, but is sufficiently versatile to enable him to vary musical phrasings and tempos – to the extent that one option enables the user to allocate a different tempo to each instrument. Why would anyone do this? Because, I suppose. It’s an indication of Sussman’s adoption of avant-garde principles, to disassemble and reconfigure that which has gone before, to build anew. It may well be that no-one has done this before not because they haven’t thought of it, but because they didn’t want to, but that’s every reason for Sussman to be the first.

The result is a disorientating, bleepy, bloopy clamour of sound, with digital notes flying in all directions in an exercise where the concept is considerably more appealing than the experience of the end product.

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Mick Sussman – The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator

Alrealon Music – ALRN083 – 20th April 2018

James Wells

The title of Anita Loos’ 1925 novel and the 1953 film starring Marilyn Monroe may have passed into general acceptance, but if gentlemen prefer blondes, I personally prefer brunettes myself. Make of that what you will, but as such, a house of blondes has limited appeal ordinarily, although on hearing this, I’m inclined to make an exception. Time Trip is a varied and expansive electronic-led work which forges expansive spaces with nebulous synths and insistent beats.

‘Discovery #1’ builds ambient eddies of sound around a droning organ synth atop a motoric groove, and there are infinite nods to the likes of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream here, as undulation, oscillating synth repetitions bibble and tweet over long, undulating synth drones and insistent, repetitive beats.

There’s some droning, modular crackle and fizz to the yawning oscillations of ‘Mean Solar Time’, and the overall sensation of Time Trip is one of reaching back. It plucks flickers from shoegaze and ambience as well as the origins of electronica, positioning itself within a slow-arcing trajectory without defining its place in concrete terms.

This is music that billows, ripples, throbs and pulses, and is content to loiter on the peripheries of the focus-zone. The beats flicker and click, pitter and patter, while the synths glister and gleam, twisting in flange-soaked zero-gravity. It all feels very familiar, but at the same time, it’s rather nice.

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House of Blondes – Time Trip

Ritual Productions – 21st June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s perhaps fitting that self-professed occultist doom collective Drug Cult should unveil their debut long-player to coincide with midsummer’s day and the solstice.

They open with a nine-minute sludge-trudge that’s bursting with the trappings of psychedelia and old-school hard rock: ‘Serpent Therapy’ starts so slow, with so much distance between each chord that it sounds like an ending, a protracted grinding to a halt, rather than the start. Yes, this is slow, and this is heavy. The guitars are close to collapsing under their own weight, and threaten to bury Aasha Tozer’s reverb-drowned vocals in the process. It’s the soundtrack to a bad trip into the underworld, and while there’s nothing of such epic proportions to be found during the remainder of the album’s nine tracks, the darkness remains all-pervasive.

There’s a classic, vintage quality to the songs, but it’s all sludged up, twisted and messy, and what the songs lack in duration (the majority are below the four-minute mark) they more than compensate in density. The riffs lumber slow, low, and heavy, the bass grinds just as slow and even lower: the percussion doesn’t propel, but instead lands in thunderous ricochets while the cymbals wash in tidal waves. In fact, it’s like listening to an early Melvins 45 at 33, save for the vocals, which never sound anything less than borderline deranged.

The sense of volume is immense, speaker-shredding, earth-shattering. And just when it doesn’t seem possible to drive any deeper, grind any lower, ‘Bloodstone’ reaches a new low in low, the essence of doom-laden hard rock riffing distilled to its absolute. The form is still apparent: Drug Cult don’t take it beyond the limits as Sunn O))) do, but against contemporaries like Esben and the Witch and Big Brave, Drug Cult stand out for their concision and their eschewing of passages of levity: this is unforgiving, ultra-heavyweight from beginning to end. As such, it’s a truly megalithic work. Worship it.

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drug-cult-drug-cult

ROOM40 – RM491 – 12th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not even as much as a distant rumble. It’s barely the sound of air. An uneven hum eventually creeps into the realm of audible perception, but it’s still so quiet as to be questionable: is my mind playing tricks? Am I imagining sound to fill the silence. The whir of the disc in the player is still louder, and stands to the fore because of its higher pitch. But no, the rumble is growing now. I’ve been sitting here for three minutes or more, but now, the sound is upon me, and it’s like an approaching helicopter, thick, beating the air. It reaches a point of sustained crescendo, from whence if continues to grow, from a low roar to an excruciating multi-tonal blitz that fills the room and fills my head. Treble whines and drones above the gut-clenching low-end and scrapes. It makes for an intense and unsettling ten and a half minutes, and I’m reminded, perhaps inevitably, of Merzbow and Kenji Siratori in the way the piece’s power stems not only from the detail of tone, texture and volume: the shifts are gradual, but definite. And then it stops. Silence. The contrast. The silence is more bewildering than the noise, at first.

Thus I am introduced to the work of Australian artist Thembi Soddell. Love Songs is an exploration and articulation of experiences of ‘insidious forms of abuse within supposedly loving relationships, in connection to certain forms of mental illness.’ The album succeeds in that Soddell conveys the relatable, if not necessarily the universal, in the personal. Without the specificity of lyrical content, the listener is necessarily invited, even compelled, to pour their own experience into the spaces in the sound, to interact with the moments of dissonance and discomfort.

At times eerie and tense, at others calm, yet always with a certain undercurrent of unease, Love Songs is every bit as dark as the cover art implies. The accompanying text summarises it nicely, saying ‘it’s equal parts horror, anxiety, relief and exhilaration, often in the same instant.’

‘Repetition Compulsion’ alternates hushed passages with seering screeds of noise which halt abruptly and unexpectedly, and if ‘Who is to Blame’ employs the same type of approach, the explosions of noise are of an altogether different intensity, an all-out wall of noise that’s full Whitehouse at times, although Soddell’s focus on tonal variety is the key point of interest here. The final composition, ‘Epilogue’ returns to the territory explored on the first, ‘Object (Im)Permanence’, beginning as silence before erupting into a sustained, violent, sonic assault. The screaming upper frequencies are pure torture, and as the howl and whine of the sounds fuse to form an oppressive, painful and impenetrable wall, it feels like it will never end. And you want to… but equally, you don’t. I let the sound engulf me and a certain energy courses through me. Where is the release? There. Finally, in the arrival of silence. The end.

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AThembi Soddell – Love Songs