Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Les Albums Claus – 30th April 2018

Stuart Bateman

Ben Bertrand comes armed with a bass clarinet and a bunch of effects. Recorded live at les ateliers claus in October 2017, NGC 1999 doesn’t sound in any way live, and the five pieces feel very structured and are sequenced in a most cohesive fashion. While the number of singer-songwriters using loop pedals to fill out their sound seemed to explode about 12 years ago, to the point that it’s long been tedious and predictable to witness someone with an acoustic guitar and a little synth layering up the vocals and building simple three-chord strums up to epic choral dimensions.

Bertrand’s application of the equipment is both more subtle and more innovative. The repetitive motifs ripple and bounce against one another, and while there is layering, Bertrand’s restraint is noteworthy, keeping things sparse, low-key, minimal.

Taking its title from a dust-filled bright nebula in the constellation of Orion, 1,500 light years from earth – and distinctive for a black patch at its centre which is believed to be completely empty – the compositions are thematically-linked and contrive to convey a sense of floating in space.

Things to threaten to spiral out of control with shrill, electronic whistles sending the end of ‘V380 Orionis’ (a multiple star system at the centre of Orion and the primary source of light for NGC 1999) skyward. But thereafter it’s very much sparser and quieter. ‘Malkauns on Kitt Peak’ brings a change of tone for the album’s mid-point: a hushed, brooding expanse of elongated pulses which echo out into the darkness, it’s spacious yet strangely airless. For the first time on the album, the clarinet sounds like a clarinet as it meanders through a fizz of skittering treble that falls like shooting stars.

The pieces flow together and transition effortlessly as Bertrand bounces through the abyss with an assurance and tranquillity that’s soothing, but nevertheless strange.

AA

Ben Bertrand – NGC 1999

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Hyperdelia – HEX002

Christopher Nosnibor

It seems to be something almost unique to the world of experimental and avant-garde music, that the titles are directly descriptive, functional, literal. Imagine if the practise was adopted in the genres of rock or indie. How would releases like Angsty shit ripping off the Foo Fighters, Adolescents who are pissed off because we can’t get laid and Ten three-minute derivative jangly guitar-based songs about life in college be received? Actually, they’d probably still sell infinitely more units than releases like this, but the point of differentiation is that this is art, and commercial considerations really are not leading factors in determining the work or its release into the public domain.

We learn that Womb is ‘a musical narration for abstracted ears and bodies – engulfing a listener simultaneously in subaquatic sonic environments, distant dreams of childhoods, memories and voices from the unknown: where time and space fold into each other.

The initial material of field-recordings of nature and body sounds, interviews and compositions has been re-recorded and re-amped underwater in a swimming pool – and has been re-arranged (partly by way of the impulse responses of the pool) now for stereo home listening.’ And so we’re very deeply into literal territory here.

It’s watery and muffled, womb-like every second of the way. ‘Cocoon’ sounds like someone typing – quite slowly, unsteadily – while slow ambient music with whale song and slow, arrhythmic beats pulse, all heard with cotton wool in one’s ears. ‘The Garden’ is a long, slow ebb and flow of elongated dronage, spiralling contrails of vapour and mist, an eddying vortex of mid-range that twists ethereal, occasionally rent with bulbous belches of sound which echo out beyond the reaches of perception.

The beats are glitches, pulses, crackles and thudding heartbeats, incongruously urgent and pacey and at odds with the sedate sonic swirls that hover and hang, Samples, muffled and heavily filtered, are abstracted amidst twittering birdsong, wide-sweeping drones, ominous fear tones and unsettling extranea.

The focus is beyond soft: it’s submerged, out of reach. Everything about Womb is warm, supple. There is a sense of depth – immense depth that extends beyond sound to the absolute core of being. A slow immersion that works its way inside, Womb is both meditative and introspective, and while it’s very much conceptual, it succeeds independently as a soundwork.

AA

AA

Kajasa Lindgren – Womb

Christopher Nosnibor

Into the Void is Gintas K’s second album-length release of 2018, and we’re not even quite halfway through. For this outing, the enigmatic granular sonic artist from Lithuania has delivered an array of 14 fragmentary pieces, the majority titled by number, spanning snippets less than a minute in length to quarter-hour brain-sizzlers, with the majority of pieces clocking in around the two-minute mark.

The limited notes accompanying the release state ‘Pieces created by Gintas K using Travis Johnson sound material.- rhythms loops.’ It’s perhaps worth noting that this is Travis Johnson (2) as listed on Discogs – the ‘sound designer, electronic music producer, improviser, and farmer from Suwannee County, Florida, United States’, and not the bassist with metal band In This Moment or either of the other two.

We’re all staring into one void or another, so there’s a degree of universality in the experimental intent of this release.

Those rhythms and loops are warped, splayed, disjointed, whipping backwards and forwards across the heads in a jumble of crazed anagalogia reminiscent in places of some of William Burroughs’ tape experiments from the late 50s and early 60s, when he and Brion Gysin, with the assistance of Iain Sommerville, who was an electronics engineer and programmer.

For the most part, it’s about variation – or not so much – on a theme. Beats stutter and funnel into disarray and fuzzy edges dominate the sounds as those beats crackle and fizz. Most of the loops on here sound sped up and pitch-shifted, gloopy electronica and synthy beats shifted up to resemble clicks and bleeps and scratches of static. Everything crunches and collides at a frenetic pace to create an overwhelming blizzard of sound, a sonic soup that batters rather than massages the senses and the brain. A great many of the rhythms are arrhythmic, or otherwise disturbed or distorted in some way or another. At times akin to a palpating heart, and at others a flutter beneath a screeching squall of static, a fizz of treble and a mess of skittering noise, Into the Void leads the listener into difficult territory, and at times threatens to abandon them in a sandstorm of sound that will leave them completely adrift.

There are some moments of variance: ‘Void4’ is a slow, woozy slice of opiate dub, and ‘Void6’ is largely distorted thumping and rumbling, and ‘Void12’ brings the emptiness of it all into sharp relief, a quavering, oscillating humming drone. It’s minimal, but delivers maximum discomfort.

Personally, I dig it, but as a listening experience, its uncomfortable and far from easy.

AA

Travis Johnson & Gintas K – Into the Void

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.

#

AA

Norman Westberg - After Vacation

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.

AA

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.

AA

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.

AA

House of Blondes – Time Trip