Posts Tagged ‘Ambient’

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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SN Variations – 7th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Did downloading really kill physical formats and the music industry? If you believe the media and the major labels, yes, and again, when it comes to non-major artists, it’s clear that the current industry model is not one that benefits them kindly. Then again, streaming services probably did more damage than downloading – or home taping – ever did. But there is also a very definite flipside, in that the cost of producing physical releases on a small scale is phenomenally expensive on a per-unit basis, to the point that it’s often prohibitive, and that’s before one factors in issues of distribution and postage.

There’s also a matter of purpose: conventionally, singles were released to promote albums, and in order to achieve that aim, tended to be the most commercially viable song(s) from said album that radio stations (and, later, blogs and the like) may play and draw potential buyers in. But artists like Adrian Coker don’t make music that has that kind of marketability. You won’t find his music being played on commercial radio, and a single is probably likely to sell a bunch of albums.

No artist makes music for it not to be heard. And so it is that SN Variations release Adrian Corker’s ‘9 Spaces’ single as a download only, and it makes sense, particularly in context, as a musical work that was only possible via digital means, as Corker explains: ‘This piece started quite a while ago in a room with me, Chris Watson and an electro magnetic receiver made in Russia. It ended with the processing of these parts by Takuma Watanabe and a percussive improvisation by Tatsuhisa Yamamoto that left my original demo in his recording worldising my track in Japan. In between over the last year musicians such as Aisha Orazbayeva, the Ligeti Quartet and Pascal Wyse sent me parts remotely from London and various places around Europe. A track that was made in 9 spaces of which I was in 3’.

It’s in this context that the title makes sense also. And the roll-call of contributors is quite something:

Tatsuhisa Yamamoto – percussion

Takuma Watanabe – max

Chris Watson – field recordings

Aisha Orazbayeva – violin

Pascal Wyse – trombone

Ligeti Quartet:

Mandhira de Saram – violin

Patrick Dawkins – violin

Richard Jones – viola

Val Welbanks – cello

The first version, a quite punishing nine-and-a-half-minutes in duration, begins with grating drones and serrated buzzes, somewhere between an electric hair clipper and a palm-sander, before transitioning into trepidatious territory, with skittering fleeting buzzes and swarming sounds creating an unsettling tension atop a sparse, hesitant bass that stops and starts, single notes echoing and halting, And ultimately, it’s quite challenging – but to be clear, that’s no criticism. Art that isn’t challenging isn’t really art, but entertainment.

‘V2’ is subtler, quieter, stealthier, the drones trimmed, more mid-range, cleaner, manifesting as more like organ notes that quiver and quaver into space, disturbed only by the occasional extraneous disruption. As such, it’s more ambient and less upfront. It’s also everything a single should be: a snapshot of the artist, showcasing different aspects of their sound in contrasting and complimentary fashion.

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24 April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The title is pretty much a summary of this release: a collection – or compilation – of works by dark ambient act In The Absence Of Words. It’s the first of two volumes, and draws on their seventeen previous releases (discounting the 2020 ‘reworked’ version of III (originally 2017).

There are a lot of numerals to assimilate here – which is a point of interest given that the man behind In The Absence Of Words is a copywriter by day, a person who spends the majority of their time immersed in the formation of words in order to convey specific information. The craving for some time away from words is one I can personally relate to, and is one of the reasons for my pursuit of a musical project centred around noise and abstraction. We all need a break from the dayjob, and for a writer, that headspace comes not from time out of the office in the gym, but from something not only devoid of words, but which blanks out words completely, and covers over the internal monologue and that inner voice, whatever it’s saying, to wash away and cleanse the mind of words, if only for a short while.

A Collection I may assemble six compositions from a vast and swiftly-built catalogue, but it’s explicitly not a ‘best of’ intended to shift units of back-catalogue: instead, it’s a carefully-curated project where the pieces have been, as the liner notes explain, ‘carefully selected to complement each other and to create a single immersive listening experience. Each track was originally released individually on Bandcamp between 2017 and 2019 and each has been remastered and assembled specifically for this compilation.

As such, it’s less about singling out individual pieces and immersing oneself in the holistic experience, allowing oneself to simply take the journey and observe the landscape, absorbing the sights, sounds, and scents. That said, there are clear distinctions between the tracks, and these very much signpost the route from beginning to end.

As such, some notes on the passage seem appropriate, in the same way one may jot down observations from any other journey, and ‘The Meeting Point’ undulates slowly, and I’m reminded of the tranquil ripples of Prurient when they’re not devastating the ambience with a blitzkrieg of white noise and distorted vocals.

The seventeen-and-a-half minute ‘Suspension of Belief’, originally featured on debut I back in 2017 isn’t discernibly different, but swells and groans out a textural rinse that rumbles and rolls on and on, its churning grind becoming quite uncomfortable over time.

Much of the album is soft, cloud-like, with sonorous, billowing drones changing shape and form often but subtly over time, and while the second half of the album feels less varied in terms of both texture and tone, the way the individual pieces melt into one another to create a extended sonic space in which it’s possible to relax and empty your mind is credit to the artist for his selection and sequencing of the material to render such an experience.

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A Collection I

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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Audiobulb Records – 5th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The wonderful thing about stories is that there are no rules – no rules about what they should contain, how they should be told, or whose perspective they should be told from. Even the standard expectations of ‘beginning-middle-end’ are an artifice, and for any convention, there are infinite ways to deviate from it. Linearity is a construct which assists in rendering events more easily navigable, but sometimes, disrupting that linearity is an integral part of the unravelling of events. Stories – be they true or fictional – are often a way of making sense of the world through the construct of narrative. Sometimes, we forge our own narratives from fragments of confusion in order to orientate ourselves, and as such, stories are instinctive and integral to our understanding the world and our place in it.

The fourth album from Quiet Noise, the vehicle of West Wales based producer Adam Wilkinson, is, like so many albums from the last year, the product of lockdown. ‘In a studio that overlooks a valley where the air breathes a lone craftsman sets to work mapping his experience through experiment,’ his biography tells us. Does this mean that Wilkinson was perhaps better equipped than many to deal with the last fourteen months, given his solitary nature? Not necessarily, but while many lockdown musical projects, which have been steeped in an air of claustrophobia, anxiety, and tension, Story Machine is a breath of fresh air that conveys aa sense of – if joy is too strong, then appreciation – of life. Perhaps it’s the fact that after four years being busy producing music for singers and film makers, Wilkinson finally has time out to return to the world of Quiet Noise to explore his own avenues of creativity. Adam explains the limitations that determined the album’s formation, recounting, “stuck at home, sitting with my wife and children while they worked from home, I set myself the challenge of creating pieces using only equipment that could fit in my space on the living room table. Motivated by my game and pleasantly surprised by what I could achieve.”

For the most part, Story Machine is an overtly electronic set that comfortably incorporates a diverse range of styles from across the spectrum – and a large portion is fresh and accessible, danceable even. The range is such that the individual pieces feel as though they each tell their own stories – but then again, taken as a while, perhaps they’re chapters of a longer story that is the album as a whole.

With bold, surging orchestral strikes and tension-building strings, ‘Grand Entrance’ is appropriately titled. ‘Climbing Trees’ is altogether more light-spirited, with a buoyant electro beat and birds twittering – although it suddenly explodes in a surge of light that’s a veritable epiphany. ‘Murmurations’ brings a very different vibe, with a straight-up dance groove. The beats are bold and uptempo, and while the top synths are quite soft and subtle, bringing an expansive but chilled later to the sound, the bass is bouncy and urgent.

In among it all, there are some moments where vast expanses of sound burst seemingly from nowhere, radiating an almost prog-rock grandiosity. These bursts of extravagance are a shade audacious, but somehow, they work. Above all, Story Machine is an uplifting experience, and in the face of so much bleakness, it’s one that’s most welcome.

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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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Opa Loka Records – OL2004

Christopher Nosnibor

Just over two years on from The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance, and Michael Page delivers another instalment of Sky Burial music.

According to the accompanying text, ‘Stations of the Sun was composed in the spring of 2020 after returning from travels through Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa’, and ‘the five tracks form a ritual soundtrack to a journey which became an inadvertent pilgrimage to view the rising and setting sun from ancient sites of historical significance’.

As is often the case with ambient works, while intended to be evocative, its evocations remain secret, hidden from the listener and locked inside the creator’s mind and separated by process. The sense of journey, the sense of location, isn’t particularly apparent here, and as is so common, to the genre where there’s a concept and an inspiration deriving from some specific experience or place, that sense of place, space, and inspiration is largely lost in vague mists. That said, there are some rich textures and nice tones here, and while the idea of ‘journey’ may not be readily conveyed, there is a definite trajectory and evolution across the album’s five tracks.

The expansive opener drifts and washes broad strokes, with little detail, but over its sixteen-minute duration becomes increasingly calm and soothing. As you let it wash over you, you become more attuned not to the location in Michael Page’s mind, but your own immediate surroundings. As ever, I’m in a small, tunnel-like rectilinear room, but at the same time, I am drifting beyond it in my mind due to the transportative effects of music on the mind.

‘Stations of the Sun 2’ is sparse, fleeting notes that glide in and out through tweets and trills of sounds that imitate birdsong without being actual birdsong, as n erratically-pulsing beat throbs and glitches at its heart, like a muted Kraftwerk, or an ultra-muted take on Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Discipline’. As the album progresses, distant samples and incidental interventions creep in, changing the tone, and the rhythms become more pronounced and the atmosphere grows darker, although by ‘Stations of the Sun 5’ – a sixteen-minute megalith to bookend the album with a counterpart to the opener, the beats have evaporated, replaced by random, clanks and scrapes that echo dolorously through eternal caverns of gloom. Whirs, bleeps and whooshes like shooting stars occasionally flicker and flash through the dense, dark space.

And so it ends more or less as it begins, and we find ourselves, having been led onwards and through a succession of sonic spaces, that the terminus resembles – at least in memory – the origin. So where have we been? For each of us, the answer will be different. From the comfort of our own spaces, Stations of the Sun leads the listener on a journey of the mind.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Originally released in 1999, Music from the Empty Quarter was Photographed by Lightning’s fifth album. The band described it as ‘their Troutmask Replica, their Tago Mago’, forewarning the listener that it’s ‘a monstrous slice of avant jazz, musique concrete Lovecraftian horror and should under no circumstances be listened to while under the influence of ‘substances’, and it’s immediately clear why. Like Trout Mask, it seems to be an album intended to be as difficult and challenging as possible, the sound of four musicians playing four different tunes in different keys and time signatures at the same time.

A strolling bassline stops and starts, runs and halts against a thunking beat. Everything’s up to the max, resulting in a slightly fuzzed-out sound, murky with the edges frayed by distortion. And over all of it, horns honk and parp, weaving weird patterns. This is the first of the four parts of ‘Al Azif’, scattered at strategic points across the album, with the same nagging bass motif recurring on each, as if in some attempt to give some sense of structure or cogency to the deranged, sprawling mass of weirdy noise. While three of the four parts are comparatively short, ‘Al Azif 4’ is a colossal twenty-one minutes in duration, but there’s a hell of a lot to wade through before – namely the whole of disc one.

‘Reptiles Invent The Amniotic Egg’ is a slow-trudging grind, somewhere between Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin’s GOD, and SWANS, and ‘Foehn’ occupies similarly dark, weighty territory. Meanwhile, ‘Pop Song’ stands out as the most accessible track here, a snappy number with an actual semblance of a tune that’s reminiscent of early Public Image – but after a minute and a bit, they’re done, and back to making the most chaotic racket going with the frenzied discord of ‘The Assembly of Membranes’, and taking things up a notch on ‘Timing of Cellularisation’ which sounds like The Fall playing next door to Merzbow, and they’ve both left the door open and you’re standing in the corridor between the two.

By the time you’ve been battered by the murky wasteland that is the noodling delirium of ‘Mosses Invade the land’, with its impenetrable vocals, and the unexpectedly folksy lo-fi indie of Sugar Fist – part Silver Jews, part Syd Barrett, you arrive dizzied and dazed at ‘Al Azif 3’ with a strange sense of déjà-vu, before disc two arrives with more of the same – literally. That sensation of being on an endlessly recurring loop is a headfuck almost on a par with Rudimentary Peni’s Pope Adrian 37th Psychristiatric, but perhaps more realistically an approximation of The Fall’s ‘Bremen Nacht’ repetitions on The Frenz Experiment and accompanying 7”.

The demented, snarling vocals, that gibber and gnash away into the drifting fade of horns is most unsettling as disc two gets dubby and deranged on the fourth instalment, and after the brief interlude that is ‘Hypoxia’, the fifteen-minute title track is a yawning, droning swirl of somnambulance, a ritualistic swell and groan with laser rockets arcing over its bubbling, swampy expanse.

This is fucking heavy stuff: not heavy in the metal sense, but in the sense that’s it’s relentlessly oppressive and lasts an eternity. It’s absolutely bloody great, but it’s also probably the soundtrack to life in purgatory. You have been warned.

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11th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes I find myself in a state of confusion. Sometimes / often. Admittedly, work fatigue, lockdown fatigue, parenting, and beer on an evening are all likely contributors on many an occasion, but sometimes, I’m almost certain that life and situations are simply addling and that’s all there is to it. E42.A8’s press release is a source of a degree of bewilderment for me, as they outline their latest release thus:

‘E42.A8 lies between a place, a process, a group or several, or maybe as we were introduced in Frankfurt once: a Musikkapelle. We like to think that what matters are the following guiding notions: freedom, play with opening(s) & interaction, resulting in music marked by textures, variations between pulse & stretch, moments of varying intensities, détournements (Verwandlung?), oscillations in saturation and silence.’

IIIII is in fact a compilation, a double CD, which draws on a morass of releases spread across downloads, CDr and one tape, and features 21 musicians, in varying ensembles, from 2 to 9 people, recorded during the first five years of the collective’s existence. Said collective, which operates around a ‘disused farm/barn in the countryside in Picardie ( a region spread over the north of France +southern Belgium’ is centred around improvisational works, and as the fifteen pieces, which span a whopping 141 minutes – which isn’t far short of two and a half hours – and which makes listening to this in full a serious time commitment. The chances are that few listeners are likely to repeat it more than once or twice.

And while most of the compositions are under the eight or nine-minute mark, there are are handful of absolutely epic works that sit in the twelve to twenty-one minute mark that really illustrate the expansive plains E42.A8 ere capable of exploring when given the time and the space, and of course, the right atmospherics.

As one might expect from such a loose framework of musicians improvising over such a time-span, this is a pretty mixed bag, centred around immense drones, grinding organs and elongated oscillations. At its best, it’s haunting, evocative, unsettling, while at its worst its clunky, uncoordinated, experimental but without focus. And that isn’t a problem: the avant-garde and the postmodern so often delights in revealing its workings, demystifying the creative process, pulling apart the myth of the ‘creative genius’. IIIII reveals E42.A8 to be multi-faceted and willing to take risks in the interest of progression, of artistic evolution.

Insectoid skitters and creeping drones, scrapes, and all kinds of bleeps and twitters and stream-like trickles combine to forge the peaks and troughs, gulfs and chasms which make up this immense work. Heavy clanks like the sound if a blacksmith mishitting his equipment as shards shower everywhere in such an enclosed space. Chinks and stammers and fractured tonal cracks break the surface, and disruptions and discord and discombobulations abound.

A track-by-track analysis would be even more pointless than Brexit or an episode of Pointless, because this isn’t a work that has standout tracks: compilation it may be, but ultimately it’s an immense document which collates a vast library of experimental ambient electronic works which will shred your brain, make your eyes pop leave you feeling bewildered overwhelmed, which is, in context, a measure of artistic success.

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