Posts Tagged ‘Ambient’

Christopher Nosnibor

I know very little about this release, at least in terms of specifics. I do know that it’s the work of the prodigious John Tuffen, who also performs as part of Neuschlaufen and Wharf Street Galaxy Band amongst others. I know its physical edition is in a hand-numbered run of 50 CD-R, housed in a paper foldover sleeve in a PVC wallet, with an appropriately blank image by way of cover art. There’s a bleak, quasi-modernist feel to the night-shot photograph of a structure constructed as some kind of shelter. But a shelter without people and a car-park without car is simply dead space. One Year, Two Days is a night-time work. Recorded at night (we’ll return to that shortly), it’s the soundtrack to empty spaces and time without people. And abstract as the sound sequence are on One Year; Two Days, it’s reasonable to summarise the project as a work about time and space and a certain absence.

I do know that John likes his kit, and to fiddle with it, and that a lot of his works are ‘project’ based, centred around either a piece of equipment (e.g. 808 // Whammy (2016) and Field Memory Recorder (2017) recorded exclusively with a novation circuit) or specific times / locations. I also know that John has been working under the Namke Communications moniker for some seventeen years now, and has built quite a body of experimental work in this guise.

The track titles are simply dates and times, and show that the four pieces were recorded over two days in 2016 – as the EP’s title suggests. In some ways, it marks a continuation of the 365/2015 project, which saw Tuffen record – and release – a track a day for the entirety of 2015.

This project and its predecessor provide a considerable insight into Tuffen’s creative modus operandi, which could equally be described as a work ethic. It’s one I can personally relate to, as I strive to produce and publish at least one review a day. This does, of course, raise the inevitable question about quality control, but there are two very different positions on creativity: the first suggests creativity is something which cannot be controlled, is spontaneous. It says you have to wait or the moment, the idea, the impulse. To wait and to go with the flow. The second says that creativity is like a muscle: the more you do, the more you’re able. In time, quantity begets quality as a committed, systematic approach to making art.

‘2016-08-08-2202’ sets the tone, a distorting oscillation provides the backdrop to creeping notes which gradually rise majestically before bleeding into ‘2016-08-08-2318’. It may be growing later, but the mood grows marginally lighter. The sequencing of the tracks is a major factor in the listening experience here, as there is an overall arc from beginning to end. The mid-section, as represented by ‘2016-08-10-1909’ transitions into hushed ambience, before fragmenting into darker territory with fractured distortion and dislocation taking hold. Eventually, it spins into hovering metallic drones, the frequencies touching on the teeth-jangling.

The final track, ‘2016-08-08-2256’ forges a cloud of amorphous sonic drift, a sonic cloud without tangible form. It’s immersive, but at the same time entirely engaging, as the oscillations and quavering notes which fade in and out of the rumbling thunder slowly dissipate in a drifting mist.

While locked in time and space in terms of their creation, in terms of reception, the four tracks on One Year; Two Days transport the listener beyond both time and space. And herein lies the power of this release, in that it both freezes time, and stretches it out over a frame which has no fixed limits.

HHHHH

Namke Communications – One Year Two Days

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24th August 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Although he’s released two solo albums under the guise of Wiekie, Adam Weikert is perhaps best known as the drummer of Her Name is Calla. This first release under his own name marks something of a departure, and given its inspiration and evolution, it’s perhaps not unreasonable to say that Weikert’s decision to release an album as ‘himself’ represents a stripping away of the layers of artistry to reveal a work which is more directly personal.

The blurbage contextualises the release as follows: ‘Born years ago as response to cope with a traumatic event of his youth, and revived years later after ill health forced Adam to temporarily stop singing – USIDOH showcases the scattered fragments of poems alongside happenstantial Neoclassically themed works, creating a unique and personal experience.’

Attempts to unravel the meaning of the album’s title, which I take to be more of an initialism than an acronym, during the writing of this review bore little fruit of use. The poems – which are contained in an 80-pagebook which accompany the physical release – are considerably more instructive as to the true meaning of the project. That isn’t to say they’re in alignment with the album’s eleven (instrumental) tracks, because the poems – plural – essentially blur into a single, drifting longform work which has its own shape and tempo, as well as illustrations which augment rather than impinge on the experience. That is to say, the two elements of the project are complimentary rather than directly parallel. Nevertheless, the poems are absolutely integral to the overall experience, rendering USIDOH more of a multimedia work than simply a musical piece.

The words are weighty and the presentation is not only highly visual but intrinsic to the execution. Just as the music on USIDOH draws on aspects of the postmodern and the avant-garde within its broadly neoclassical framework – Wiekert conjures a vast array of atmospheres and emotions through the use of abstraction and semi-ambient field recordings and found snippets in conjunction with mewling saw, sweeping strings, brooding piano and nagging banjo – so the poems pull on high modernism, postmodernism and concrete poetry to further accentuate the lines, disparate and abstract yet unified by virtue of emanating from the same mind, over a period spanning the six years from 2005 to 2011.

‘Die Puppe’ weaves in and out of experimental atmospherics, before ‘Vardøhus Festning’ forges an imposing, imperious mood. ‘Sloth’ is a simply beautiful piano composition, which rolls and drifts mellifluously. There’s almost a playfulness about ‘A Constant Repose’, which first aired via YouTube aired a couple of months ago, the nimble piano work affecting a lightness of mood. But beneath it lies a subtle undercurrent of nostalgic melancholy. And if anything, it’s this emotional layering and the depth of nuance and detail which makes USIDOH such an appealing and compelling work, musically.

As a complete package, there’s a lot to unravel. USIDOH is very much art: Wiekert has poured everything into this, and it shows. There are times when it’s not easy to penetrate, but that in itself is reason to set aside some time to explore a work that multifaceted, deep and resonant, and achieves this without slipping into pretentiousness. There’s no question that USIDOH is ambitious, but Wiekert succeeds in delivering something which conveys the vision.

USIDOH

Hallow Ground – September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Hallow Ground is one of those niche little labels that exceeds in catering to a small but devoted audience. The quality is pretty consistent, and while you know broadly what you’re going to get from anything in their catalogue, there’s nevertheless a sense of challenge with each release. And so it is with The Expanding Domain, which is pitched as showcasing the way in which the producer’s ‘fascination with ambient becomes a blank slate upon which [he] and his collaborators serve shimmering Trance-derived melodies, murky Industrial grooves and all-consuming Harsh Noise attacks.’

If it sounds like a difficult and disparate blend, it is, making for 23 intense minutes, but it works. ‘Cold Bloom’ may be brief, but moves through a succession of quite contrasting passages, from ominous ambient rumbles and analogue tweets through expansive orchestral strikes lifted straight out of 90s clubland. As such, it condenses all aspects of the album into under two and a half mind-punishing minutes.

On the one hand, it seems like a bad idea and waste of energy to become overly concerned with genre definitions and intersections. On the other, The Expanding Domain seemingly less invites and more demands that type of scrutiny.

‘Lil Puffy Coat’ – which I’m taking as a playful reference to The Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ amalgamates dislocated Krautronica with shades of abstract industrial to forge a sinister expanse of liquid concrete: grey, heavy, but tactile, its form transitional, not yet set firm, and therefore difficult to define.

The volume and aggression are ratcheted up on the heavily percussive attack that is ‘Fear in Reverse II’, the pounding barrage of metallic hammering reminiscent of Test Department providing the perfectly painful foil to the howling discord that screeches above it.

The title track is definitive: with Dominick Fernow (aka Prurient) and Death Grips drummer Zack Hill contributing additional percussion and Dirch Heather bringing the modular synths, it’s a perfect hybrid of delicate, semi-ambient electronica, gnarly, dark ambient that broods and churns, and throbbing industrial. The result is immersive and unsettling, an album somehow at ease with its incongruity which is melded into a perversely cogent form.

Dedekind Cut – The Expanding Domain

Ventil Records – V006

James Wells

I know next to nothing about this release. Here’s a moment of transparency: music reviewers receive absolutely shedloads of stuff to review. Press releases are handy, not just as a shortcut when it comes to research, but also for locating inroads into a work. But even with a press release to hand, details surrounding Wealth are sketchy.

Consisting of Michael Lahner (synths) and Manuel Riegler (drums, synths), Wealth draw on a range of different forms of electronic music to create what they consider to be a ‘highly organic mix’. Sonically, there’s very much a preoccupation with soft-edged pulsations: the beats are largely rounded, bulbous, and when more angular rhythms do emerge, as on ‘Plate LXXVI (Diagram for Lilies), they’re countered by altogether less aggressive synth tones with hazy outlines.

Subtle, stealthy, glitchy ambience with backed-off beats are on offer with Primer. Sonic washes and rippling, elongated, undulating bleeps eddy around agitated, juddering rhythms so backed off in the mix as to be barely subliminal. ‘Floor’ lays a deep groove; not so much one to get down to as to lie down and allow total immersion.

Primer is a delicate, balanced work, with considerable range beneath its more subtle, subdued surfaces.

Wealth - Primer

Crónica – CRÓNICA 126-2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The title of the latest album by the super-prolific experimental composer and student of film and musique concrete, Emmanuel Mieville, comes from the Japanese translation of the Sanskrit word and alludes to a chapter of the Lotus Sutra, a renowned text from Māhāyana Buddhism. Apparently. It’s hardly my field of expertise. And so the inevitable question arises: what’s my point of entry?

Juryo is by no means an accessible album and its four longform tracks, which span between nine and eighteen minutes don’t readily lend themselves to lengthy debates about Buddhism and the path to enlightenment. Similarly, that the album consists of four compositions shows no obvious correlation with the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra. As such, it’s fair to surmise that the allusion which connects the title to the contents is in largely an oblique one, beyond the fact that the album features field recordings captured in Asia.

This is swampy, abstract, murky noise. On the surface, it’s a formless conglomeration of noise, grating, grinding scrapes and bumps. Woozy rippling bubbles flit and floom over tidal waves of surging extranea, which may or may not be the swash of actual water rippling over rocks: it could equally be an aural illusion, or an intentional simulacrum.

Top-end whistles sustain for an eternity and aggravate not only the aural receptors but the mind on ‘Nyorai’, although in the mix are recordings of Tibetan nuns and FM radio from Hong Kong. These manifests as chants and clattering chimes and finger cymbals which emerge around the midpoint of the seventeen-minute sonic journey. According to the liner notes, ‘Murasaki’ means ‘purple’ in Japanese, but the spinning, swirling sonic discombobulations which eddy and swirl present a kaleidoscopic vista.

In the sleeve notes, Mieville explains that ‘Taisi Funeral’ (the fourth and final track) is a ‘recording of Buddhist chanting for a deceased person recorded in a small village in Taiwan, mingled with my own synthetic sounds. Tanit Astarté is a quotation from Antonin Artaud’s book Héliogabale and refers to the moon goddess, as described in Phoenician myths’. It’s certainly the most overtly musical and rhythmic of the four compositions, but as a rising surge of amorphous sound rises to wash away the voices and the rhythm peters out, it transforms to an altogether more ambient soundscape. Morever, while still linking back to the overarching theme of the Lotus Sutra, we can see that Meiville’s sphere of reference is considerably broader than may first appear.

Juryo is subtly complex and had both range and depth. It doesn’t readily conform to any one genre, but to lazily slot it into the broad space occupied by ‘experimental / avant-garde’ is to fail to recognise the spectrum of stylistic elements it incorporates.

Emmanuel Mieville – Juryo

Anticipate Recordings – 17th March 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The cover art gives little to nothing away, but at the same time, it’s perhaps a remarkably accurate representation of the blurring, blending overlays of contrasting tones and textures which define the ephemeral pieces which form the abstract picture which is A Passage of Concrete.

The album pitch details how A Passage of Concrete ‘ebbs and flows across an electroacoustic narrative of fragmented memory tethered to the present moment, unravelling movement, location, distance in a story that cares about place as both texture and emotional notation. Honig’s sense of place and the way he utilises it is disparate and varied, from field recordings made in busy streets, to parks and empty apartments, via high-ceilinged spaces. One might say that  Honig is preoccupied with both sonic and psychological reverberations and resonance, and that A Passage of Concrete represents the coalescence of these things.

Scratchy and distant shuffling scrapes, flickering, arrhythmic beats provide the backdrop to a sparse delicate acoustic strum on ‘Apartment Workshop’. Steady, pulsing beats pin down the extraneous sonic ripples and segments of ambient audio captured in bustling crowds, while ‘Forest of Refractions’ wraps droning organ undulations around a glitchy beat. The mellow keys which radiate dappled light on the two ‘Fugue State’ pieces are pleasant but innocuous, and while ‘dark’ notes resonate across bouncing beats over the album’s duration, it’s not easy to get a handle on. Yet for all that, it’s not an album which possesses the deep draw of emotional engagement.

While the album’s fourteen tracks, many of which are fragmentary, and a number of which are but sketches of around a minute in duration, are exercises in the vague and the transitional, the percussion, fluid as it is, provides a certain solidity to the compositions in structural terms. The effect is to give A Passage of Concrete a greater sense of tangibility than an album which is purely abstract and ambient. As such, its capacity to connect with and conjure from the listener’s memory is reduced. It lacks that essential, if evasive and indefinable quality of being haunting and evocative. Ezekiel Honig may be a master at conveying his own mental geography, but A Passage of Concrete lacks the abstraction required to render it universal. So where do you go?

On ‘A Slow Expansion,’ the classic evocation of nostalgia, the crackle of a worn vinyl groove fleetingly emerges. I can’t be drawn. The crackle track, the ultimate cliché of nostalgia, has become Vienna: it means nothing to me, and stands as nothing more than a signifier of ersatz nostalgia. It no longer holds any emotional resonance.

A Passage of Concrete is not a bad album by any means. In fact, it’s an extremely interesting album, but one that’s difficult to appreciate on anything but an artistic or musical level. Sonically, there’s no questioning the accomplishment of the material on display. But to measure the extent to which Honig succeeds in his goal is entirely subjective: what will resonate with one individual won’t touch another. But at its best, music transcends everything: sound transcends language and sound attains absolute universality. A Passage of Concrete fails to achieve this ultimate goal of connecting the listener’s psyche through abstraction, because it feels somehow prescriptive. Honig’s structures steer the listener in the direction of his headspace rather than providing a conduit for the listener to interact fully by exploring their own. The end result, then, is a pleasurable listening experience, but one which lacks the capacity for full immersion and to truly move the listener.

Ezekiel Honig - A Passage of Concrete

Hallow Ground – HG1703 – June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

TAR is the fourth solo album by Tehran-based composer Siavash Amini, although he’s joined by Pouya Pour-Amin on electric double bass and Nima Aghiani on violin. Not that the individual instruments are readily recognisable in the thick sonic swirls which combine to forge the ever-shifting soundscapes of TAR at least in the main. But when Aghiani’s violin weeps and bleeds emotive from amidst the amorphous aural clouds which turn and taper, billowing and rolling, throbbing and pulsating.

‘A Dream’s Frozen Reflection’ begins droney but gentle, but inside the first two minutes breaks into a serrated sonic tempest. Music that sounds for all the world like a circular saw accompanied by a saw played more conventionally (does anyone play the saw any more? Or has it more or less gone the way of the comb and the washboard?) isn’t an easy sell, but Amini creates an intense aural experience that immerses the senses. But for all the harsh tones, there are contrasts in abundance, and through forging a shifting soundscape, the atmosphere changes, sometimes almost subliminally over the course of the piece.

‘Rivers of Tar’ plunges into murky, dark territory, but crystalline glissandos cascade through the eddying clouds of sulphur, while graceful strings rise and sweep expansively. It’s hard to determine whether or not it really carries an emotional resonance, but as a listening experience, it’s got more than enough range and features some passages which do have that vital drag.

At times, ‘The Dust We Breathe’ is barely there, delicate contrails of soft ambience washing in and out. There are periods dominated high-volume undulations of grating, snarling noise early on, but over the course of its fourteen-minute duration, the track drifts quietly and softly into the background.

It’s Amini’s ability to manoeuvre, effortlessly and almost untraceably, the trajectory of the four compositions from head-crushing abrasion to lulling calmness which is the greatest achievement of TAR. It’s an ambient album which carries a sting in the tail sharp enough to hurt, while equally massaging the mental receptors with its delicate tones.

The extent to which TAR translates Amini’s desire to explore ‘the fragile tensions between and individual and collective subconscious’ is largely irrelevant: TAR is an unexpectedly dynamic work, brimming with texture and contrast.

Siavash Amini – TAR