Posts Tagged ‘Abstract’

Southern Lord – 25th February 2022

For many, the days of the longest, hardest lockdowns are, it would seem, behind us. And yet the shadow of the pandemic continues to hang long as dark; it’s hard to move on and truly put it behind us when life continues to be anything but normal; signage and masks and booster reminders are the new normal, and we face a new normal carrying scars of a personal nature, each and every one of us. Successive lockdowns, periods of isolation, have all affected us in different ways, and we’ve all suffered some form of trauma or psychological damage in living through conditions we’re simply not equipped for.

For many creative types, working through the experience has manifested in new artistic output. There’s something about channelling that anxiety into something, even if not direct or specific in addressing the issue, that helps to somehow minimise, contain, or otherwise manage it. Thurston Moore’s latest project, like so many was born out of a lockdown environment, and it’s an exploratory work, in so many ways. A series of instrumental guitar pieces recorded during the summer of 2020, it’s a document of, as the liner notes outline, a period where, ‘as the world confronted the pandemic shutdown and as the people of good conscious stood up against the oppression of racist police oppression and murder.’ It goes on to ask, ‘How much screen time does a parent allow a child? How much screen time does a child need to realise a world which has the means to coexist as a community in shared exchange?’

This feels like numerous issues, simultaneous but separate, have collided to inspire this album, and raises as many questions as answers. Moore is clearly placing his flag alongside Black Lives Matter, and it struck me – and surely many others – that the protests should have taken place when the world, pretty much, was in lockdown. How could this be? This was a moment in time when protest felt impossible. In fact, anything felt impossible. But the murder of George Floyd was a trigger and it marked a tipping point of something far, far bigger for so many. This was about centuries of oppression and division. The scenes aired over the news channels, globally, were electrifying. But how does this relate to monitoring the screen time parents should grant their children? Surely it’s less about the amount of time, but parental control, and the extent to which parents grant their children exposure to current affairs? That said, it’s something I’ve wrestled with myself. As a child, I had no interest in anything on the news; my own daughter, aged 10, is genuinely interested and has her views on our prime minister, our government, and the pandemic, and more. While I feel a duty to protect her from scenes of violence and endless report of rape, murder, abduction, and brutal crimes against women and children, I also feel that a certain degree of exposure to ‘the real world’ is beneficial, just as I’ve come to see that many computer games encourage problem-solving and eye-hand co-ordination. Screen time isn’t all bad if you can get over the generational differences. But.. but… no doubt, it’s a conundrum.

Screen Time offers no answers. As is often the case with instrumental works, there is little to be gleaned from them in and of themselves, and the titles offer little by way of interpretive guidance. The only thing that really struck me about the titles, in fact, is that several share their with cure songs: ‘The Walk’; ‘The Dream’. ‘The Upstairs’ feels like an allusion to ‘The Upstairs Room’ (the title of the 12” EP version of ‘The Walk’; but then again, all of the compositions are ‘the’ something: ‘The View’, ‘The Neighbour’, and these reflect the shrunken worlds we inhabited during this time: four walls, the view from the window, and the TV as the window to the world. There was nothing else but to look, and to ponder. Screen Time is a work of ponderance. It doesn’t have to be coherent, because coherent thought isn’t the state of the world right now. Show me someone who has a firm handle on everything that’s going on and I’ll show you a bullshitter. No-one knows anything, and we’re all just fumbling, stumbling through.

Many of the pieces on Screen Time are short, fragmentary, and sparse, only half-formed, but evocative and atmospheric: ‘The Walk’, a minimal piece consisting of a heavily chorused and echoed guitar trickling a cyclical motif for a minute and fifty-one seconds is exemplary. Elsewhere, ‘The Upstairs’ is a haunting piece led by disorientating, discordant piano that tumbles along.

At times reminiscent of Earth, or more specifically Dylan Carlson’s more recent solo work, Screen Time borders on ambience in its slow, soft unfurlings. The final piece, the nine-minute ‘The Realization’ is almost hypnotic; slow, with deep, resonant notes that reverberate and hover while harmonics chime and soar.

As a listening experience, Screen Time is pleasant, absorbing. I like it. But what does it say? It speaks for Thurston Moore alone, just as any such release can only speak for its composers and performers. That’s ok. When stitched together, in time, all the voices will combine to present the full picture. For now, what simply matters is that each voice keeps adding to the tapestry of documenting the present, a time unlike any other.

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Kranky – 18th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

The thirteenth Pan•American for album for Labradford’s Mark Nelson since 1998’s eponymous debut is a magnificently mellow affair. Written and recorded in isolation in the summer of 2020, it’s billed as ‘a suite of solo guitar instrumentals accented with lap steel, harmonica’, and it feels contemplative, and evokes in some sense the strangeness of the time.

In many respects, the summer of 2020 feels like a dream that happened a lifetime ago, and it’s sometimes hard to credit that it even happened. Lockdowns began around the globe around the middle of March 2020, and with them came an air of unreality. By the April of 2020, it’s recorded that around half the world’s population was under some form of lockdown restrictions. The world seemed to have literally stopped; everything was on pause. Admittedly, it was more paused for some than others. For many, lockdown meant being unable to work as all but the most essential services and provisions were shut down. It was a strange spell which demanded rapid adjustment; many had to adjust to reduced income and time on their hands, highlighting the eternal dichotomy of being time-rich or cash-rich – although under capitalism, those who generate the wealth rarely have the luxury of choice. And so to find days stretching out ahead of them without the daily grind, people found new things to do, new ways to be.

We didn’t all have the luxury of time: the balance tipped. The ability to home work and home school collided to create an explosion of stress and relentless activity while in a state of elevated pressure. All of this simply goes to show you can’t have it all, and you can’t win. I found myself struggling to reconcile numerous articles about ‘the great pause’ with my own experience of barely having time to piss while the whole family was living, working, and schooling under one roof for months on end.

But for all that, there were some good times, times outdoors, times spent on walks, flying kites, and throwing frisbees in fields, occasional moments of downtime reading a book with a cold beer in the back yard.

The Patience Fader feels like a soundtrack to these moments, and the tile feels like an encapsulation of that slow-creeping tension that said that however pleasant those moments of calm, they would be but brief, and all too often, thoughts would creep under the door to slowly gnaw at that tranquillity. The gnawing isn’t a part of the album’s listening experience, which is soothing, sedate.

Nelson’s guitar twang, bathed in reverb, hangs in space and suspends time as each note pauses and reflects on its direction, on what it means, on its purpose. You feel as if you’re watching the notes drift out into emptiness, street and paths bereft of people, roads bereft of traffic. ‘Harmony Conversation’ encapsulates the sedate mood, an almost lazy-sounding drifting leisurely and you can picture basking on a balcony looking down through a heat-haze at the stillness of it all on a hot summer’s day. It’s nice, and it makes you wish you were there.

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Room40 – 14th January 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

One of the many wonderful things about music is that it has no limits, and no constraints. There is music to be found in anything and everything, and music can be made my anyone, anywhere, anytime, with anything, or even nothing. Steve Roden’s choice of instrumentation on Oionos is noteworthy for being quite unconventional, as he explains: ‘The audio was built from field recordings and small “poor” objects such as tin whistles, toy harmonicas, and the like. These “instruments” suggested by the museum of musical instruments in Athens, where the proper instruments take up most of the museum, but there is a wonderful display case in the basement with musical toys, religious objects, and other sounding devices not considered musical instruments.’ These instruments and objects combine to conjure a magical, mystical soundscape with overtly musical sounds contrasting with less overtly musical sounds and woven together to create something that occupies a unique sonic space.

In popular western culture, we’ve come to understand only the narrowest of definitions of music, which for many is represented by an album consisting of a number of ‘songs’, bite-size pierces which are tightly structured and subject to conforming to certain parameters, including rhythm, and suchlike. Even many ambient works, which delineate many of those mainstream conventions, are created within limitations; these are compositional factors, imposed by the creators, rather than being significant of true musical limits.

With Oionos, Steve Roden frees the music, presenting a single, continuous piece with a running time of one hour, one minute, and fifty-five seconds. Time was when the CD format placed a time constraint of seventy-two minutes on a release, but technology has evolved, and the duration of this piece feels entirely natural, as if the music has run its course to a satisfying conclusion by the close.

The composition is, in many respects less concerned with time, than with place. As Roden writes on the album ‘Oionos was created for the exhibition The Grand Promenade, in Athens, Greece. The exhibition took place in various archaeological and historical sites in central Athens, creating a situation for contemporary site specific works to be in dialogue with their historical surroundings.’

Although the location was integral to the album’s inspiration, it’s less integral to the listening experience when taken out of the context, and the music featured is, if not necessarily ambient in the most conventional sense, it is very much abstract, and also very much background sounds rather than music one actively listens to. But zoning in and out is a pleasurable experience, which perhaps serves to highlight the multifaceted nature of the sounds. Metallophone-like notes chime and ring, seemingly with an almost random notations and the loosest of rhythms, against a backdrop of scrapes and drones, while sounds like wind gusts and lapping water fill the space in the background. While the different elements conglomerate throughout, by half-listening, one finds oneself becoming aware of them individually at different times, and you find yourself experiencing the recording differently at different times as you tune into and become aware of the different sounds, textures, and tones.

As a whole, Oionos feels like something living and breathing, as if the sounds in combination have taken on a life of their own – and in many senses, they have, and they merge together to form a shifting, pulsating whole. It’s unfamiliar, but not eerie despite its otherness; there is a certain calm that radiates throughout the duration.

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Cruel Nature Records – 3rd December 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of those albums where the approach to its creation is based around process and technical elements, and the title is not an abstract concept, but precisely the theme around which those technical aspects are centred. Specifically, as the accompanying notes explain, the album uses ‘a custom tuning system’ ‘based upon multiplications of the frequency of the human heart whilst sleeping’.

Or, indeed, not sleeping, as we learn of the composer’s own battles with ‘extreme sleep loss – waking as often as every 15 minutes throughout the night for a period of almost 3 years’ and how ‘the work encapsulates the haze of the perpetual tired’.

It’s relatable, as a near-lifelong insomniac myself, with my sleeping difficulties beginning at the age of five. And not sleeping is both traumatic and debilitating, and sleep deprivation can do awful things to the mind. The paranoia and hallucinations are real. ‘The Cats are Hiding and So Am I’ is a title that hints at this disconnection from the world that goes beyond the mind.

And so The Frequency Of The Heart At Rest is a curious compilation of sounds and sources, fleeting flickers of extranea in the mix beside powerful strings and dramatic drones, at times bordering on neoclassical, others something more industrial, others still folksy, and yet others still approaching ambience. In drawing on an array of sources, and then adapting and mutating them by means of overlays, adjustments of tape speed, this is very much a collage work, and the meticulous attention to detail – the way the sounds interact with one another, the slowing and the reverberations that contrive to create a rare and unique depth and density – is clearly the work of an artist who’s at once focused to the point of obsession, but also has found that point of detachment whereby the creation of such art becomes possible.

The result is incredibly powerful, in that it speaks to those who have occupied this space, where sleep and waking merge into a continuously blurry, bleary, fugue-like state. At times wistful, melancholic, or reflective in a more uplifting way, and yet at others bleak, The Frequency Of The Heart At Rest feels very much like an exploration, a work which strives to navigate this semi-real, half-lives, partially-cognisant existence.

‘6am, The Bathroom, Screaming’ is dark, ominous, heavy beats echo thunderously and captures the essence of the album, and the experience perfectly. No explanation as to why, what, if any story there is behind it, and it may be that the reason is unknown, but the piece transitions from bleak claustrophobia through a spell of ambient tranquillity before blossoming into a passage of soaring, string-led post rock with conventional percussion. The head is not so much a shed, as a cavern of chaos. The whiplash static storm of ‘The Hallways at Home’ is a synapse-blitzing crackle of electricity and fizz of pink noise over which gusts of nuclear wind drift with a desert emptiness. ‘Mealtimes at the Madhouse’ is Chris and Cosey in collision with Nine Inch Nails, a disorientating and hypnotic sketch built around a pulsing synth bass and thudding beat, while the final track, ‘Psalm of the Sleepless Child’ is an extended composition of dark shuffling and rumblings: it’s bleak, and feels very much like the soundtrack to being lost in an anxiety dream from which you can’t wake up, before veering into very different and positively Krautrock territory.

The Frequency Of The Heart At Rest is by no means restful, but is a work of rare intensity, one that prompts palpitations through its woozy, off-kilter other-worldly disorientations. It’s a restless jumble of tension and fatigue, where nothing makes sense, and it’s truly wonderful.

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Editions Mego – EMEGO305 – 28th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

BJ Nilsen’s focus has long been the ‘sound of nature, the nature of sound and the effects these have on humans’, and his exploratory collages and soundscapes tend to draw of field recordings and myriad other sources to create often contrasting, and dissonant works, and Irreal is very much dissonant and contrasting, with moments of tranquillity and subtle, quivering elongated drones disrupted by battering blasts of difficult noise.

The liner notes outline how ‘Irreal is a selection of recordings from different situations encountered in Austria, Russia, South Korea and The Benelux. The range of sound is as wide as is the emotional impact which slides from the unnerving to the shimmering and gor- geous. Doors, bells, birds, wet snow falling from a tree, hacking of wood, water dripping in a cave are all exquisitely captured and moulded into vast landscapes of sound. Human voices, string instruments, descending trains, oceans, winds, grass, trees. These diverse sonic elements are grafted around and upon each other to create a rich tapestry of sound. Electronic embellishments harness the whole to create a singular expressive canvas. The 3 part suite concludes with the Beyond pebbles, rubble and dust, a grand glacial work which serves as a masterclass in extraordinary transcendental drone.’

I’m instantly primed for some challenging scraping drones as the first few seconds of ‘Short Circuit of the Conscious Thought’ build tense, treble scratches, and am immediately puzzled when it halts and there are just clicks in silence. It’s as if the file has inexplicably glitched. From the quiet, a trilling, rippling drone emerges and hangs like a haze – but that smooth stillness carries a tension, which ruptures with distortion and bands like a dozen car doors slamming simultaneously, and at the most unexpected of times. In the final minutes, it evolves into a slow-pulsing minimal ambient Krautrock sequence reminiscent of Tangerine Dream.

Rumbling thunder cracks and crackles all around at the start of ‘Motif Mekanik’, and it booms and grumbles all around a low, ominous drone, and the track is a tumbling tempest of amorphous noise like a raging storm circling and hovering, drifting back and forth, and it’s unsettling. The contrast of the sounds of the elements and the metallic scrape of the eternal drone is perhaps the most obvious way in which Nilsen highlights the relationship between nature and humans, the man-made and the organic. It also intimates the tensions at the heart of that relationship, as strains of ear-splitting feedback cut through the murk and mumble, and it segues quietly into the expansive final composition, the monumental thirty-eight minute ‘Beyond Pebbles, Rubble, and Rust’ – and I know ‘immersive’ is a word I probably use excessively, but it’s entirely appropriate as I find myself swimming amidst the thick, slow—moving sounds of the piece.

Lazy bleeps, like R2D2 on a low battery or the Clangers on ketamine bibble into the mix, before fading out to a drifting mist of dark rumblings that present not immediate routes into the heart of dark mass, only an impenetrable mass of sound, like a mountain rising to the heavens, its summit hidden by a low cloud base. A low bass registers almost subliminally, a single note repeated slow and regular, booming out dolorously. Not a lot happens over a very long time, but the effect is cumulative, and as you sit and stare while the drones and spectral wails of ambience envelop, you find yourself in contemplation and searching for the meaning.

There are all shades of reality, spanning the unreal and the hyperreal. But the irreal is not real. However, where the irreal is distinct from unreal lies in the perception – not just something unreal, but estranged and otherly. In drawing on so many found sounds and field recordings, Nilsen’s album is in fact rooted in the tangibly real, bur recontextualises it, shifting the axes so as to present that reality through the filter of human intervention and incongruity, and as such, distorts that reality to present an interpretation which in turn becomes a fiction and therefore not real, or irreal.

As the rain hammers outside on this early July night, following a day of heavy storms, it occurs to me that what Nilsen articulates through his sonic juxtapositions, is that the relationship between human and nature is precarious: we, as a species, are not nature’s friends, and that progress is disruptive and often damaging – and it’s the human way to command, control, and harness nature for our own ends. But that superiority is an illusion, a delusion, and humanity will always be at nature’s mercy. The relationship is not interdependent or symbiotic, and we need the natural world , whereas it does not need us. In time, we may reach a point where our planet is uninhabitable to us, and to many other species, but it will exist long after we have ceased to, just as it did before. Darkness descends, and at the close, the album tapers to silence – and this is as it will be.

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Panurus Productions – 4th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Fading Tapes: a moniker that casts allusions to degradation, the wear and fade through the passage of time, the notion of impermanence and the significance of medium – because the medium isn’t only the message, it’s the determining factor in the lifespan of a record, whereby digital is supposedly forever, but analogue corrodes, deteriorates, and ultimately becomes unusable.

A Cartographer is one who draws or makes maps, and Fading Tapes’ latest work is, ins ways, both map and territory. The titles of the four tracks sketch out the features of the locations in the most minimal of forms – and these aren’t necessarily natural geographical landforms or biomes, but remains of human activity left marking the landscape.

The sequencing of the four compositions, each of which span around fifteen minutes apiece, very much create the sensation that the listener is being guided on a journey, and there is a clear linearity to Cartographer.

Opener ‘East Valley’ calls us to the ritual with an insistent tribal drumming and wailing pipe before… actually, before what the fuck? It’s not so much a building of layers of sound as it is a jet plane flying overhead, devastating the image of a hidden tribe enacting an ancient, esoteric ritual. And this is the dynamic of the piece – ancient collides with modern, and as immense gongs and cymbals crash, ringing out into an expansive desert, unchanged for centuries, hidden from the march of technology and evoking a deep-seated spirituality, the disruptions are deep incisions that disrupt without care for the existing habitat. But over time it’s the soft, supple droning ambience and wordless vocal tones that ring out into a spacious echo that come to dominate. For once, nature, and the old world, wins out as so-called progress falls by the wayside: the valley remains unconquered.

‘Bones’ is a more contemporary-sounding drone work, with conventional western percussion propelling a deep, dark surge of slow-burning desert rock that’s slowed to a the pace of drifting dunes, and the sound is dense. The snare rings out into a cavern of reverb – it’s almost dubby, but it’s accompanied by wailing feedback, that does on, and on, and endless mid-range drones. We learn little, if anything, of the bones themselves, or their origins, but there is a sense that there is little interest in the real detail of the past, and that a sketched narrative is all that there is an appetite for. Instead, to the present, and the future.

The cymbals grow in dominance on the tempestuous ‘Boats’, but again, echoes and shadows dominate, and this very much feels like a window on an historical event, the soundtrack to a battle or other catastrophe at sea where boats were lost beneath the waves. To all intents and purposes, this is a spacious post-rock piece, but it possesses a richness, a level of detail, and a degree of ambience, that is so much more.

The final track, ‘Red Dry Land’ is a hypnotic piece that drifts without real movement, a nagging motif backed by a thrum that simply thumps on unchanging for what feels like an eternity. There’s a scratchy guitar that’s reminiscent of Andy Moor, and mines a more avant-jazz seam, but retains that expansive post-rock vibe, too.

The map charts a route, and as it progresses, it leads the listener back to themselves. This all feels highly evocative, and conjures images in the mind’s eye – but every perception is different. Perhaps that difference ultimately does come down to the map, and one’s experience of the territory – for while the former is fixed, factual, the latter is not, and will always be coloured by individual realities, the eye of the explorer. You may know exactly where you are, and still be lost. With Cartographer, Fading Tapes point the way but provide no real answers. But perhaps that’s ok: the enjoyment is in the journey rather than the destination.

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Not Applicable – 25th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Chris Sharkey’s first album released under his own name is what I suppose one might call an ‘environmental’ album. Not an album about the environment in the broader sense, or the ecological sense, but in the sense of having been inspired by the artist’s surroundings, and the music herein is a direct response to that in many ways. While so many releases from the last year have been environmental in the context of creative responses to lockdown and a shrunken vista consisting of four walls and the view from the window, paired with a pervading anxiety on account of the 24/7 news media and social media doomscrolling, Presets comes from a very different perspective. First and foremost, its inspiration is travel.

“I had been touring and travelling a lot. Lots of long car journeys, the M1, driving between shows in Europe. Long waits in airports. The occasional long-haul flight to play farther field. Throughout this period my relationship to music changed. I found that listening to songs or short pieces would leave me agitated and frustrated. I’d been listening a lot to Actress, particularly ‘Ghettoville’ and ‘Hazyville’ which really worked for me on the road. I wanted a music that develops slowly over time, drawing you in, making you forget about the clock. Music that has so much grain and texture that you could almost pick it up and turn it around in your hands, examining from all sides. Like a physical object. Music that resembles something you might see out of the window of a plane, high above the clouds, a meteorological event or a storm on distant mountains from the back seat of a car.”

I can certainly relate to the agitational effects of listening to certain musical forms while in transit: I always had to stop music and be on full sensory alert on arriving at a train station and walking through an unfamiliar city, for example, and since lockdown, I’ve not been able to listen to my MP3 player at all while walking around anywhere.

The physical setup for the album’s production was minimal, and Presets is the product of two months’ intensive recording, producing hours of material. But this was only the start of a protracted second stage, which Sharkey details as follows: “As the process continued, I would select my favourite parts and create playlists just for myself. By the end I had over 4 hours of music that lived on my phone and whenever I would travel, I’d listen. Over the course of the next 5 years: touring, travelling, listening, I slowly whittled it down to what you hear on Presets.”

In short, Presets is the product of many years’ work – not just the five years in post-recording evolution, but the years of experience and observation that preceded its creation also. It was, unquestionably, time well spent: while many of the individual segments are quite short – mere fragments – the album as a whole sees them sequenced and segued so as to feel like one continuous piece that gradually transitions between tones and shades. It’s also an immense work, clocking in around the eighty-five minute mark. It’s very much a good thing that it’s intended as a background work, because it’s practically impossible to sustain focus for that kind of time. But Presets is about not focusing, about disruptions and interruptions, about life.

It begins with quavering, key-ranging notes that do, at least vaguely, sound like guitar, before layers of processing build, before the source instrument becomes lost, evolving to conjure organ -like drones and entirely abstract washes. Before long, particularly over the course of the eighteen-minute second track, ‘the sharecropper’s daughter’, you find yourself not so much listening as floating along with the sounds as they slowly creep and shift.

The titles are sparsely descriptive and evocative at the same time: from ‘blue cloud, red fog’, to ‘scorpion bowl’ via ‘detained at the border’, there are hints of mini-narratives attached to each piece, and the sense of travel and movement does come across through the difficult drones and scrapes of feedback that build and buzz through the foggy murk.

It’s an epic work, and a major achievement.

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Editions Mego – EMEGO298 – 16th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

As the title perhaps suggests, Cylene Suisse Redux is a document of the tour of Switzerland undertaken by François J. Bonnet and Stephen O’Malley in December 2019, following the release of their first album, Cylene. That said, it’s no straight live recording, as the two longform tracks – naturally corresponding with a side of vinyl or cassette each – were edited and manipulated respectively by Jim O’Rourke and Ryoji Ikeda, ‘giving them carte blanche, and each in turn chose a distinct personal approach’.

The two musicians chose to entrust sound material recorded on the tour to the expert ears of two friends and great musicians Jim O’Rourke and Ryoji Ikeda, giving them carte blanche, and each in turn chose a distinct personal approach.

For Ryoji Ikeda, it was a question of finding a moment, circumscribing a fragment of time through his listening, with minimal intervention. For Jim O’Rourke, on the other hand, the live recordings became material to be deconstructed and reassembled, to tell, according to his musical sensibility, a path of metamorphosis for Bonnet and O’Malley’s music.

According to the press release, ‘Cylene Suisse Redux is a prismatic substrate of a series of concerts surrounded by friendship, lakes, mountains, and by nightfall’. But how does that translate as a listening experience?

O’Rourke conjures an ominous sci-fi soundscape, abrim with other-worldly odyssey, as spooky-sounding mid—range drones hover and twist in a haze of reverb. This is the sinister soundtrack to a sinister movie set in a barren wasteland in an alien climate, as clouds of red dust drift through the thin, inhospitable atmosphere. Something is awry: danger is omnipresent, and anything could happen at any moment. Sonorous tones echo out into the emptiness, accentuating the bleakness of the sonic expanse in which we find ourselves. There is nowhere to hide, and there is nothing solid or familiar, only an ever-shifting drift of layer upon layer of sound without and signposts or markers, nothing to orientate oneself with. You feel isolated, alone, exposed, vulnerable, as you advance, with trepidation, onwards through this nerve-jangling eighteen minutes.

Ryoji Ikeda’s approach is quite different, and so is the end result, which starts out like a distant freight trail screeching to a halt with the scrape of metal upon metal, and it continues far off in the background as insistent drones, broad and bulbous, hover and turn, twist and whine, evolving over time. This is more what you might consider ‘typical’ ambient drone, favouring neither lightness nor darkness, and with neither a leaning toward bass not treble, and therefore not challenging and sensory aspect too hard. It’s still ominous in places, but not overtly unsettling or uncomfortable. Because there’s some sense of linear trajectory, it growls louder and darker as it progresses, swelling in volume and intensity, while the soft-edged drones develop sharper edges and become increasingly shrill, howling dissonance and pain before gradually tapering down, albeit with some afterburn.

You’re left wandering, aimless, vacant, in no-man’s land, wondering precisely how you should feel and how you should react to what you’ve just heard – and that’s as it should be. François J. Bonnet and Stephen O’Malley create music without boundaries or definition, and that indistiction is further accentuated by O’Rourke and Ikeda. It’s for the listener to do the work, to explore and to find the points of resonance. There is much space to explore. Go forth.

Herhalen – H#023 – 21st May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The press release for this second album by The Incidental Crack – a collaboration between Justin Watson, Rob Spencer and Simon Proffitt – which follows last year’s Before The Magic describes the trio ‘exchanging field recordings, samples and random noise between Manchester, Wigan and North Wales, culminating in studio sessions focused on detailed processing and sound manipulation. They have yet to meet. Maybe one day when this is all over, in a pub in North Wales, free from this madness’.

As such, it’s a classic lockdown project, a virtual collaboration that proves that when it comes to the making of music, distance doesn’t have to be an object. In fact, it’s probably easier to collaborate without the logistics of brining people together in the same place at the same time. Writing on the project, Justin (one half of The Gated Canal Community and formerly of Front & Follow, a label which will be familiar to regular readers of AA), notes that Municipal Music ‘includes tracks recorded during the same period, using our now foolproof approach of sharing stuff, fiddling with it, sharing some more etc.’, adding, ‘It kept me sane at least during the last year!’

That is something that’s certainly relatable: keeping occupied has, for me, been the only way to keep myself together. I’m not saying it’s healthy, it’s just how it is. And increasingly, I’ve found abstract music easier to manage. Structured music, anything overtly ‘song’ orientated and rhythm driven is, all too often, just so much noise and instead of providing a welcome point of focus, feels just like being smacked from all sides at once. So while there may still be a lot going on in this, it’s not psychologically disruptive, and is suitably absorbing and immersive.

There are three extended-length tracks in all, which exploit the full dynamic range, with a strong focus on texture. The first, ‘The Second Cup of Tea of the Day’ is strong – certainly more English Breakfast or Nambarrie than Earl Grey or anything herbal – and probably inspired by the sound of a boiling kettle that’s been manipulated and fucked around with. However, it sounds at first more like a freight train, an extended continuous roar occupying the first three minutes before it gradually abates in volume and intensity, and gentler, softly-woven ambient drones fade in. there are still rumblings and incidental clatterings, forging a soundscape that never fully reconciles the tensions between the elements of soft and harsh, the light and dark. Bubbling Krautrock with bulbous beats collides with metallic shards of grating noise.

‘Just Passing Through’ is appropriately positioned in the middle, and is altogether gentler, softer, warmer, and pursues a more conventional ambient line. But there are peaks and troughs and ebbs and flows as the sound swells and at times shifts toward more unsettling territory, with some woozy oscillations that tug uncomfortably at the pit of the stomach before receding and allowing calmer vibes to return once more.

The third and final cut, the fourteen-minute ‘Ice Cream at the Pavilion’ starts with what sounds like the crashing of waves against a rocky beach in a storm, which strangely reminds me of a number of occasions we’ve had ice cream at the coast on family outings, because it’s always ice-cream weather for children. Voices chatter and babble and whoop excitedly, while a dolorous church organ begins to while away majestically in the background. Eventually, it’s superseded by a barrelling drone and a throbbing, slow-pulsing sound that swells and surges.

There’s a certain wistfulness and nostalgia to be found in the spaces in and around Municipal Music, although perhaps some of that’s my own reception aesthetic, a response as much to the circumstances of its creation and the allusions of the title, both of which remind me I’ve not left my own municipality in months, haven’t met any of my collaborators or friends in so very long, and yearn for both proximity to (some) people and also the countryside and country pubs. All of these thoughts wash around in my mind as the sounds surround me, and it occurs to me, finally, that Municipal Music is good music to think to.

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023 The Incidental Crack - cover

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The Incidental Crack - artist photo

False Industries False – 23rd April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

None of us was ready for this. Separation, detachment, deaths, a relentless media frenzy… New normal? We haven’t had a moment to process, not really: it’s been one thing after another, and any time for reflection has simply slammed home another level of horror as the realisation of the harshest realities not only of the present, but the possible future hit us. There are people and places we may never see again, but existing in the moment has afforded little time to really assimilate this prospect. ‘All art made in this period has been impacted by the shifts 2020 brought on the world, so why deny it?’ asks Etziony, and it’s a fair question: even art not specifically or directly influenced by the events of the last year will have been affected in some way, and the psychological impact of a year of global lockdown, apart from friends and relatives will likely take significantly longer to truly unravel.

How adjusted do you feel to talk to people or otherwise act normally in proximity, in your workplace, in public, general? How many of us have become desocialised, socially awkward, uncomfortable around others? How many with social anxiety have

And so it was that, as the blurb details, ‘Yair Etziony wrote Further Reduction after returning from Israel to his home of Berlin in September last year. In his own words, something in him “snapped” as he realized that many of the places he knew and loved had simply stopped existing.’

It begins with expansive, resonant ambience, and continues with more of the same: Further Reduction is an album that’s constructed around rhythmic pulsations and slow ebbs and flows. Take, for example, ‘Caves of Steel’, which is a definite ambient work, but one which points towards quite definite structures and sounds of a solidly percussive nature.

The first track, ‘Reploicaset’, transitions from sparse ad echoic to a full, building, slow-moving swell of sound. It maybe evocative of scenes of life beneath the oceans, as jellyfish pulse through deep waters There are a passages or extended tranquillity, but also of unrest.

Short vocal samples echo through the waves om both ‘Polar Vortex’ and ‘Recreate and Update’, and these moments disrupt the long, slow droning eeriness of the album as a whole – although this is very much a positive, adding texture and new layers of the uncanny as slow-shifting tones turn and reverberate. By ‘Service Recovery’, everything has been reduced to a scratching, hovering drone that hovers and hums, and the final stages of the album are ominous, unsettling, and taper down too a slow conclusion, whereby we’re left with nothing but silence to reflect upon, just like those dark night when the conversation stops and we find ourselves alone in the world, wondering precisely how we fit, who – if anyone – cares, and what will be next.

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