Posts Tagged ‘Abstract’

Kranky – 28th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Total immersion. This is what I get from Tim Hecker, both recorded and live. Responding critically to such a sensation is a major challenge.

My first attempt to review Konoyo redefined ‘failure’, as I sat, vacant and staring for the duration without typing a word. Yes, other things happened around me: emails continued to ping into my inbox, text messages, Facebook notifications, and so on. So much peripheral shit. But while pushing all of this noise to the peripheries, I struggled – nay, found it impossible – to get a firm grasp on the drifting soundscapes of Hecker’s latest album. My second stab proved no different. I can no longer blame the distractions: I’m reminded of ‘seeing’ Hecker’s performance at the Belgrave Music Hall in Leeds a few years ag. Purple smoke filled the room. It was so dense I couldn’t see my friend standing next to me: I felt as if I was in an isolation tank or a sleeping bag. With my surroundings completely removed, I found myself alone with the music, and in an almost trance-like state, swaying on my feet, in my own world. When things like this happen, I immediately assume I must have drunk more than I should or that I’m tired or something. But music at its most potent is like a drug, and Hecker has the capacity to transform the mental state and one’s relationship with one’s surroundings. And this is certainly true of Konoyo.

Inspired by conversations with a recently-deceased friend about ‘negative space’ and the banal density of contemporary music, Konoyo was largely recorded in a temple on the outskirts of Tokyo with a view to creating something that has room to breathe, rather more cerebral than physical, drawing back from sonic force to invite a different kind of engagement.

The first composition, ‘This Life’ wails eerily, resonant low notes hanging ponderously beneath escalating layers of discord that bow and shriek, before oriental motifs chime a certain note of freshness and innocence… but the notes are bent, the underlying washes of sound begin to twist, scrapes of extraneous noise swell to shrieks of metallic feedback.

As is Hecker’s signature, Konoyo, is very much about shifting textures and juxtaposed tonalities, but more than anything, the incidentals, the way layers fade in and out, and extraneous knocks and clatters suddenly appear from nowhere, and then disappear just as quickly. There are murky pulsations and hazy echoes that resonate through spatial densities that range from the subaquatic to the zero-gravity. Hecker conjures space outside of space, spaces which transcend both time and space to exist in another realm entirely, suspending time in the process. It’s ambience with edge.

An abrupt halt in the soothe drones just 20 seconds into ‘Keyed Out’ provides the album’s first real indication of just how difficult Hecker can – and will – make this. Jolting discord and jarring dissonance rupture the smooth, vaporous backdrop as thigs become overtly challenging around three minutes into this ten-minute journey through dissonance and sonic difficulty, across which a lacey cloak of accessibility slowly settles. The fifteen-minute finale, ‘Across to Anoyo’ is a slow-evolving epic which mutates from quiet mellowness into a warped, woozy discord, which twists Japanese motifs into funnelling electronic abstractions.

Piano tones which should offer tranquillity and comfort are rendered with an edge of attack and amidst a metallic edge of reverb, and nothing is quite as it seems or should be on Konoyo. It bends the brain and pushes the listener to explore unexpected spatial experiences, challenging connections to concrete orientation. The physical world disappears, and time evaporates. Konoyo delivers a path to transcendence.

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Hecker

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SVS Records

Christopher Nosnibor

This one positively explodes in the opening moments: a swirling black hole of noise that eviscerates the senses and assaults the eardrums with such ferocious force and excruciating volume that it feels like the end. The actual, living end.

Yet again, I find myself scrabbling for the press release while questioning the benefit of being told about the origins, mechanics or methodology behind the work. And so I find myself research one-line, and discover the visuals which accompany the audio, and begin to develop a real appreciation of the multimedia vision of Lukas Rehm, operating as Lybes Dimem for the purpose of the Syncleft Chronem project, a work which celebrates error and explores the relationship between various input stimuli and cognitive frictions. It’s complex, but can be readily reduced to the experience itself.

The visuals intensify the experience, but the sonic experience alone is intense and brings a blistering sensory overload. Syncleft Chronem is loud, attacking. Uncomfortable. Placing the album isn’t easy but then, it’s not entirely necessary: as a barrage of electronic noise with beats, it’s a work which assaults the listener from the outset with its sonic intensity, a combination of dense walls of noise, abrasive textures and tones, and sheer volume. How do you feel? I’m feeling tense, but excited, exhilarated as this racket assails my ears. Rehm clearly isn’t making music to win friends or influence people. He’s generating sound to see what it sounds like and how it feels.

Sometimes, you simply don’t need words. On ‘Saas’, there are threats of dancefloor-friendly beats for an industrial night as booming 4/4 bass thumps start up – but they halt abruptly, and the whole thing fractures and fragments. Everything halts before it hits a stride, everything jolts and shudders. Everything is too loud to hear properly.

Syncleft Chronem is brutal, in the sense that it affords no respite, no pause for thought. And nor should there be an apology for this: as with the best art, its intensity sustains fever pitch, is uncomfortable, feeds tension to the point of perspiration and palpitation. It hurts.

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Someone Good – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

David Toop enthuses over Haco as ‘weightless, not so much a voice from heaven but a voice that swirls in liquidity, water spirit…’ In this, he probably gets as close to capturing the essence of Haco’s music as its possible. It’s a challenge for any writer when presented with sonic abstraction: how to render the intangible tangible, and at the same time convey the experience of sound in words?

The music on Qoosui is not easy – and in fact almost impossible – to pin down. An analogy to catching a cloud is close, but not right: the seven pieces exist in a state somewhere between liquid and vapour, and flow in multiple directions seemingly simultaneously. Rippling synths slowly bubble as wash aquatically on ‘Kusul’, and paves the way for a sequence of amorphous, drifting compositions which drift and tether. Crystalline shards cut through cloud-like washes on ‘White Letter from Heaven’, and Haco’s voice is seemingly not of the human body, transcendental, and not of this world.

This is, in many respects, the source and heart of Qoosui: inspired by spirit voices, Haco becomes one. The medium is the message on every level.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/224449651

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Macaque Records – 21st August 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Gilman Mom is the musical vehicle for Dominic Francisco (which has a star quality of its own). As Dominic explains, Manifest Destiny ‘plays heavily with texture and field recordings melding with emotional chords and words in attempt to convey my mental transformation from a vulnerable state to a confident one’.

The text which accompanies the release is almost uncomfortably direct, and it seems appropriate to quote in full:

I want it to feel like a troubled night walk of self-reflection that blossoms into realization.

This album isn’t for you so much as it is for me. I needed a way to document my circular thought process. Around and around until I stumbled upon developments. It’s not for everybody but it’s what I felt in my head when I thought about you for so long after that night. Nature surrounded me almost perfectly as this unfolded; you left me in the rain and by the time that storm ended I had found myself again. With this piece I want to remember who I was and how I got here. However fragile we were and unfit for each other, I gained so much insight into who I am from what was us. With your inadvertent help I’ve entered a state of definity. This is my journey to that place.

It’s clear from this that Manifest Destiny originates from an intensely personal place and one feels almost voyeuristic by simply being in its presence, without even listening to it. Should you listen to it? It sounds more like a work of therapy following a sequence of breakdown and recovery. Is it even intended for the ears of the casual listener?

In contrast to the write-up, the music the album features is uncomfortably indirect. Rumbling piano, distant discord that rolls like thunder way, way off, an unsettlingly sparse piano and muttered vocal snippets, the words inaudible, congeal into a dense mass of sound which offers little by way of shape, form, or tangibility.

At times barely there, eddying arabesques of synth contrails surround distorted, hushed vocal snippets, the actual words unintelligible. Gloopy tremors shiver amidst subaquatic hums and bubbling drones. Clicks, clatters and muffled extranea ebb and flow in the sonic swamp.

Any sense of linear progression, narrative flow, or emotional shift over the sequence of the album’s eleven tracks is difficult to determine: it feels more like a murky sonic miasma, slowly pulsating through a fog of introspection, apart from the glimmers of light briefly afforded by ‘Fool’s Gold’ at the mid-point. This is in no way a criticism: as an experience in ephemera, a vague allusion to sequence of events and emotions largely unknowable, the context matters less than the recordings themselves. And these are deeply atmospheric, sparse yet subtly immersive compositions, which exist in a realm of detachment, a world between worlds.

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Gilman Mom - Manifest Destiny

SOFA – SOFA 556 – 7th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Within a few weeks of moving into my current home, there was an immense storm, which led to my discovery that it wasn’t water-tight, on account of a) having no cover over the letter box b) some defective guttering c) a gap between the roof tiles and the brick work. Consequently, this – admittedly unusually heavy – downpour resulted in there being a pool of water, an inch or so deep and over two feet in circumference just inside my front door. Ok, it was more of a puddle than an actual pond, but the anecdote serves to illustrate that the surrealist image conjured by the title of Philippe Lauzier’s second album is neither strange nor funny when the abstract notion becomes an actual lived experience.

The album’s four tracks are built around multiple tracks of bass clarinet, but there is nothing on A pond in my living room which could be readily identified by ear alone as being woodwind, and the longform compositions are explorations of sound rather than structure, with not a trace of jazz or orchestral influence to be heard.

‘Bleu Pénombre’ opens the album in a long, swirling churn of feedback. Gradually, layers of sound build, granular textures roughen the surface of the undulating, elongated multitonal humming. It’s a richly atmospheric composition, which suggests a preoccupation with the relationships between sounds as much as with the sounds themselves. Higher pitches and nagging oscillations emerge as ‘Bleu Pénombre’ bleeds into the uneasy ‘Water Sprinkling’. The notes quiver and ripple, like a mirage through a heat-haze. Sharp blasts of white noise fizz against the creeping whines which populate the sparse, eerie ‘On the Window Side’. The result is ominous, unsettling, with the unpredictably-placed shards of static adding moments of shock to the tension which Lauzier sustains over the full duration of the ten-minute piece, which culminates in a dark, rhythmic pulsation.

None of the sound contained on the album carries connotations of water, or even any overt reference to the surreal juxtaposition the title suggests, but this only accentuates the air of abstraction which hangs over the album as a whole. The final track, ‘Napping in a Neglected Garden’ yawns and grates, a metallic creak like a rusty gate opening and closing replayed in half-time dominates the haunting eleven-and-a-half-minute work. Gradually, the slow, natural rhythm becomes subject to disruption and halting adjustments bring further disruption and twist the listener’s sensory adjustment.

A pond in my living room is more effective and affecting by virtue of its comparatively subtle approach. A pond in my living room is not a loud album, and does not rely on harsh textures and tones to achieve its discomforting impact.

Philippe Lauzier - Pond

Hidden Seer – HDSR001 – 25th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Aside from being a member of Leeds-based good-time festival-favourite indie band and all-round musical entertainers Hope and Social for some six years, Simon Goff’s list of collaborators is impressive, featuring among their number Aidan Baker and Pere Simonelli of Enablers. He’s an artist who can seemingly turn his hand, adeptly, to myriad musical forms. And on HUE – an album which couldn’t be further from the jaunty fun of H&S – he explores forms in the vaguest, most mutable, shifting, fleeting sense. Glitchy beats flicker through rippling strings. Tempos and counter-tempos criss-cross subtly, creating the impression of different currents running together but at different depths. It all happens beneath the surface.

Each of the album’s six colour-coded tracks is sculpted meticulously from layers of sound, the arrangements marrying electronic and conventional acoustic instruments to compelling effect. Percussion of a palpating heartbeat, glitchy crackles and mournful strings drift over low-end scrapes and rumbles. Eventually, the dark atmosphere gives way to light, blossoming brightness beams like the sun’s rays breaking through cloud. Yet there are shadowy currents which still flow beneath. After a rather grand opening, there’s a retreat into more minimal, drone-orientated sonic territories. Soft contrails are calligraphed in subtle, supple string arrangements. The space between the beats and notes is integral to the compositions: the echo, the decay. The overlap. A single note, plucked with varying weight.

Elsewhere, as on ‘Blue’, Goff creates a rarefied atmosphere through the exploration of the most minimal arrangements. Elongated, tapering drones which shift almost imperceptibly, with broad sweeps of sound like steely grey clouds turning, moving.

Picked notes and irregular rhythms combine to create somewhat disorientating sonic spaces; the shimmering oscillations of tr6 are trance-inducing hypnotic, but the erratically-cut and irregularly lopped sample snippets rupture the gentle surface with dislocation. The tracks drift into one another, creating a natural-feeling flow that, while not narrative, does possess a certain subtle linearity.

 

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ROOM40 – RM475

Christopher Nosnibor

If the album’s cumbersome title sounds like a collection of abstractions thrown together by the same random title generator that The Fall use, then the enormously protracted song titles take the form of semi-abstract narratives which evoke mysterious, shadowy scenes.

Many of the tracks are shorter than their titles, and while the soundworks consist largely of rumbles, scrapes, thuds and electrostatic crackles which are essentially abstract, they do develop some kind of implicit meaning when played in context of the titles. The extent to which this is intentional is unclear: Toop explains the album’s development as being born out of ‘three periods of solitude’ and a conversation with composer and ROOM40 label owner Lawrence English which spurred him to reassess his perspective on releasing music in the 21st century.

Gathering sounds drawn from myriad and disparate sources which lay as ‘spores or maybe dormant clusters of digital files’, Toop has created a work which captures and conveys a sense of the ephemerality of all things. Sights, sounds, experiences, spaces, are each experienced by an individual in but a momentary way. Collectively, all the fragments of experience, however minor and seemingly insignificant, form the life lived; in short, life is one vast intertext, and it’s from this array of ‘things’ Entities Inertias Faint Beings is formed. And so one is pushed to contemplate not simply the sounds or words themselves, but their relationships to those in which they coexist, and to consider their contexts.

‘Dry keys echo in the dark and humid early hours’ is in fact a phrase lifted from Clarice Lispector’s Aqua Viva, and Toop references various other texts (Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects and Stephen Mansfield’s book on Japanese stone gardens). Toop also makes mention of a ‘hypnagogic image of ‘a transparent swimming pool suspended over the mouth of a volcano.’

As such, Entities represents a gathering of sources, a cut-up collage of sorts, gathering sound, image, memory, thoughts and ideas together in a melange of drones, thuds, whistles, hums and a miscellany of abstract sounds. There are moments of melody and rhythm, some of which are charming and delicate, but thy fade out and vanish as quickly as they emerge. When a scratchy picked guitar and conventional instrumentation emerges on ‘Compelled to approach’, it sounds almost alien in context. The mournful strings on ‘Ancestral beings, sightless by their own dust’ are draped over soft chimes and the sampled speech on ‘Human skin and stone steps’, overlaid with a solitary woodwind and low gong, takes on a hypnotic tone.

The album ultimately tapers to silence, leaving the listener to ponder and reflect.

 

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