Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Cat Werk Imprint – 7th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Walk away… walk around it.’ On the page, the words are devoid of threat or menace. But delivered in a fractured, disembodied voice that carries a strange sense of madness, it takes on altogether different shades of unsettling uncanniness. Amidst creeping fear chords, clicking insectoid flickers and scrapes and scratches, the voice, childlike and compressed warps and twists, as through refracted through a temporal veil or a spiritual force-field of some description. It feels like a communiqué from the other side. The voice is that of celebrated modernist sculptor and Henry Moore contemporary Barbara Hepworth, and this is one of the early moments on Olivia Louvel’s latest release, a work which forms the basis of the artist’s Masters degree, in which she investigates the voice ‘from preservation to resounding, while taking further the voice of Hepworth into the physical space as a multi-speaker diffusion’.

The source material is a 1961 recording of Barbara Hepworth’s voice, recorded by Hepworth herself in her studio in St Ives, the tape’s initial purpose was for a recorded talk with slides for the British Council, with an original duration of thirty-two minutes. Louvel’s resounding is of a similar duration, but instead of a linear narration which details the artist’s working methods, we get scrambled cut-up snippets which strangely still give a semblance of sense, reducing the extrapolations to the barest bones to give a sense of Hepworth’s creative processes and focus. But them, Willian Burroughs suggested that cutting up text (and for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll consider audio a form of text) reveals the truth, and while Hepworth’s talk isn’t brimming with political rhetoric and doublespeak, one feels that Louvel’s cut-up of her words does perhaps bring us closer to the heart of her meaning.

‘Must Carve a Stone’ loops and layers a breathy whisper of the word ‘carve’, which becomes an unsettling mantra. Minimal glitchtronica and hovering, echoing notes provide a ponderous, stammering backdrop to the looping, multi-tracked vocal layerings of ‘I Draw What I Feel in My Body’, and the sparse arrangement creates an uneasy backdrop to the words.

There isn’t a moment that’s comfortable or easy here, and Louvel’s ‘resounding’ of Hepworth is relentlessly challenging as an auditory and sensory experience. But it’s also impressive in the way that it provokes the listener to awaken those senses and absorb a multi-faceted presentation of what it is to be an artist.

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SkipStone – SKST024

Christopher Nosnibor

Pun unintended, there’s something groovy about releasing an album as a triple-deck of 10” records. I was never averse to getting up and turning a record over or changing the disc, even though some releases do take the piss a bit in terms of making work by pressing just one four-minute track into a side of a 12” on an album release. But with the 12 tracks clocking in around six or seven minutes apiece and with two per side, Artemisia seems to balance the vinyl experience and the practicalities of playing records.

Artemisia is by turns tranquil and volatile, and this makes sense in context of the album’s inspiration, whereby, as the press release quippingly quotes that cellist Erik Friedlander distills (sic) the brain-bending powers of absinthe, and the darkness of its murky past into his latest project’.

While perhaps one of the most famous works of art inspired by absinthe is Degas’ L’Absinthe (1875-6), followed maybe by Manet’s The Absinthe Drinker (c.1859), it’s Picasso’s absinthe glass sculptures which captured Friedlander’s imagination in 2015 when he visited MOMA.

“The glasses were pretty… kind of innocent on first glance, but as I looked more closely, I found a dangerous side. The front of each glass is exposed – torn away to show its insides. It seemed like Picasso was saying this is what happens to you when you drink absinthe,” says Friedlander. This viewing spurred Erik, who’s played with a host of artists spanning The Mountain Goats, John Zorn, Dave Douglas, and Courtney Love, into ‘an exploration of absinthe’s mysterious history: beneath a glamorous veneer in 19th century Paris lurked accusations of hallucinatory properties and elusive effects that created an atmosphere of addiction and demise’.

That absinthe has – or ever had – hallucinogenic properties appears to be a myth, but the romantic notion of the drink’s properties proliferate in art and writing, and Friedlander’s jazz-orientated representation of the drink and its history is intriguing and at times quite hypnotic. Take, for example the sparsely-arranged, exploratory ‘La Fee Verte’ with its sporadic percussion and mournful strings.

Friedlander’s cello is augmented by a band of collaborators, which includes pianist Uri Caine, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Ches Smith, and certainly, his cello takes something of a back seat, or at least occupies a less dominant position in these varied compositions which range from the buoyant, focused and direct, to wandering experimental works.

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Erik Friedlander – Artemisia

This is it Forever – 28th February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Capac are an electronic duo, currently based Athens and Bristol. But geography is a state of mind, and while details about the context and circumstance surrounding Through The Dread Waste are limited, the music stands for itself. Yes, it’s supposed to contain ‘ten interpretations of the coldest traditional winter music in the form of dark drone and atmospheric ambience’, but without a priori knowledge of the original versions, all that is left is drone and ambience.

The ‘dread’ ascribed to the ‘waste’ is entirely redundant: waste is surplus, unnecessary, for disposal. Why dread it? The sense of portent, of impending doom… Yes, in a world where there is no time to waste, no money to waste, we may rightly dread it. And yet. The waste: anything waste is unnecessary, and should be confronted, not dreaded or feared. And without value or purpose, anything is waste.

On the subject of disposal, the order page for the physical edition of the album is most telling, containing as it does the following: ‘The physical form and true embodiment of the concept behind Through The Dread Waste… You receive a fire log with a metal plate hidden deep inside. After burning the log, among the ashes you will find your metal plate revealing instructions to access the original constructions of the traditional pieces of music, prior to their deconstruction. Destruction, after all, is a form of creation.’ This echoes a classic and fundamental tenet of the avant-garde, namely the premise that one must destroy in order to create anew.

Postmodernism’s defeatism and acceptance of the death of originality is either the last gasp of the avant-garde, or the point at which is necessarily destroys itself to re-emerge, the creative equivalent of stubble-burning at the end of the cycle of growth and croppage. It would be easy to deride the ‘fire log with a metal plate’ but this is art, and there’s precious little the production and release of music by and large, especially in the mainstream. And this is art which is more than merely willing to be ephemeral, and actually invites its own destruction.

The album’s ten compositions are by no means indicative of a conventional, square set-up, as longer tracks are separated and segued by fragmental pieces. And over its duration, there is a lot of piano, and a lot of space. A lot of space. Through The Dread Waste is a sparse, ominously atmospheric set. This is music to stare into space to. At times, its presence is so sparse as to be beneath detection. The lilting piano, the endless resonant air between them, is captivating, yet so understated as s drift into the ether.

The overlaid and unintelligible snippets of voice on ‘Winter Morning’ call to mind the scratchy, pre-fade in discord of ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure. But here, there is no swampy tune riding in on oppressive drums to hammer it all home. Instead, it drifts into another space, and we consider valiant spaces and parallels. Elsewhere, monasterial voices hover in fogy darkness and drones crackle, from eternity.

As such as it’s a spiritual, transportative, and eventually an immediately accessible release (and not in the same sense of ‘accessible’ which is at the centre of the divisive and heated debate which is raging in the poetry sphere right now). Through The Dread Waste has infinite inroads, and is not abrasive or overtly difficult. Yet equally, it’s not dull or unchallenging. It has melody, and drifts in a way you can get lost in.

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Capac – Through The Dread Waste

Folk Wisdom – FW007 – 21st October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It begins with a drip. Then silence. Another drop. Irregular, both in pitch and distance apart. Bubblish, sloshing. Chiming, ringing notes skip over the swashing ripples. Pipes and people, all passing through. And throughout, continuously, the sound and sensation of running water, or, at last, the evocation of running water. The sounds are fluid, metaphorically where not literally. It’s a graceful, natural sound. But beneath the organic, idyllic surface lies a serious and darker undercurrent.

Initially inspired by an expedition to the Tujuksu glacier near the Kazakh city of Almaty, Gletschermusik began with the recording of sounds of the glacier, at an altitude of 3,500 metres, melting. Many artists would have been content to have left it there: field recordings can be fascinating in themselves, and Geir Jenssen’s Stromboli – recorded at the edge of the crated of the bubbling volcano – stands as one of my favourite field recording releases of all time. The recordings, made by the placement of highly sensitive microphones in the crevices of the glacier, proved to be just the beginning, though, and the project would evolve through a succession of life performances and an international conference.

With climate change being perhaps the greatest challenge to face humanity at any point since prehistory, it’s laudable to find artists engaging in such a way, without taking a messianic stance. Gletschermusik is a project born out of a genuine desire to raise awareness and prompt discussion. Be honest, who even knew there were glaciers in Kazakhstan? And yet, as far back as 2003, there were reports emerging that the glaciers in the former Soviet republic were melting at an unprecedented pace. It’s a project that provokes thought.

Subtly, and intelligently, the project reminds us that water, and the planet, is mutable. Gletschermusik (literally, ‘glacier music’) takes the sounds and images of the melting glaciers as its inspiration, but ventures out in various different directions. As such, this is a work which has been composed and performed rather than belonging to the world of field recordings. Sonically, it’s a wide-ranging electroacoustic set. While ‘Winter into Spring’ highlights the small changes the seasons bring, in relative terms, the album as a whole is concerned with the long-term changes and the effects of global warming. ‘Eiskritalle’ introduces dynamic drumming, while ‘Geologdun Yry’ takes the form of an acoustic folk song. It is, by its nature, a highly personal response to the natural world and man’s difficult relationship with his environment. Consequently, the individual pieces do not necessarily evoke glaciers, or if so, not in any conventional sense in terms of the languages of music or criticism: there are no icy synths or interminable crawls to be heard on Gletschermusik. Similarly, the drama of such cataclysmic ecological and environmental change is not expressed in dramatic, tempestuous crescendos that boom foreboding. Gletschermusik is remarkable for its delicacy, its easy musicality. It’s rare and also extremely welcome to find a work which is conceptually heavy but handled with such lightness.

 

Gletschermusik

clang records – clang045 – 19th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

A note hangs in the air, sustaining, resonating, slowly decaying. Just before silence encroaches, the next note is struck. It hovers, hangs and gradually fades. A slow, oscillating drone crawls beneath. There is movement, but it’s evolutionary.

‘Brittle Evenings’ is led by an unfurling picked guitar line, deliberate, ponderous, reminiscent of the later Earth albums. Ghostly tones remain, sonic erasures which correspond with the idea of the palimpsest, and offer clues to the way the pieces formed. 14 short, quiet guitar pieces penned by Bell Monks for an art opening in 2012 provided the basis for the work. Later, they invited Ben Willis and Matt Sintchack (contrabass and saxophone respectively) to play over the tracks. Despite the addition of these new layers, they still felt the work seemed incomplete, and so called upon Gregory Taylor to rework the tracks digitally. Finally, with over 100 minutes of audio, it was Lars Graugaard’s editing which shaped the ten pieces which comprise the final track-listing. As such, the album is the result ofnear-infinite layering, relayering, additions and deletions.

But as to where one individual’s contribution ends and another’s begins is impossible to determine, and the beauty of the album is the way in which the parts blend, smudge, and blur together, folding into and over one another, obscuring, reshaping and remoulding to accommodate or obliterate previous layers and edits.

Each piece is also formed around shifting tones and sounds, the shapes and structures indistinct, fluid. Indeed, very little of the original guitar work is in evidence on listening to these pieces. Warm tones and an organic feel permeate the album’s fabric, although this is touched by a counterpoint of mechanical sounds, whirring, grating, rumbling. As one layer of sound fades, another emerges, leaving the shadows of the one before. Long, mournful strings quaver over rippling electronics and dulcimer-like chimes flicker in soft washes of sound. On ‘…Et Tremblant Feuilles’, perhaps the album’s most linear piece, a sonorous bass with gothic overtones builds a darkly ominous atmosphere.

The semi-industrial dark ambience of ‘Caress of Sun’ is constructed of layers of sound, heavy drones and interminably elongated scrapes, growing denser, deeper and more abstract as it progresses, emerging in a dazzlingly kaleidoscopic world. It isn’t until the album’s eighth track, ‘Sublimation Residue’, that the guitar becomes prominent once again, and once again, it gradually fades out to be engulfed by a soft sonic cloud.

 

Bell Monks   Gregory Taylor

Kit Records – 31st August 2016

James Wells

The title is a reference to various artists who enjoyed a creative surge in their later years, who, instead of tapering away to an end horizon, defied the conventional downward trajectory to create works which marked a new and noteworthy phase in their already illustrious careers.

As the blurb explains, ‘Ageing isn’t always a dignified, serene fade. The brink before death can be violently creative; it can bring about loss of inhibition, unexpected innovations and sourceless leaps. In art, late style often means an unfettered outpouring. Confined to a wheelchair following cancer surgery, Matisse turned to simple paper cutouts in his later years. The work produced in this period, his ‘seconde vie’, became his most admired – physical restriction had been inverted in an expression of freedom and colour. Goya’s last works were also a departure from former style. Increasingly deaf and fearing insanity, he created a series of dark paintings reflecting this bleak, morbid outlook on life. Sensory deterioration seemed to offer Goya unprecedented vision’.

In recent months, I’ve heard and reviewed a number of albums which use – and abuse – church organs to unconventional ends, although a common thematics are their slow decay and their relationship with their surroundings, the architecture and sense of place. Sense of space is also integral to the instrument’s sound: as grand an instrument as a church organ is, much of its power resides in the natural reverb of the building in which it is installed.

But Late Style is a work preoccupied less with location or architecture, but time, and where the organ’s power is concerned, the focus of attention here is on the diminishment of that power, something which also inspired Stefan Fraunberger’s recent album Quellgeister 2: Wurmloch.

However, while Fraunberger’s work and Michel Moser’s Antiphon Stein were centred around pipe organs, Drömloch’s instrument of choice is a Hohner church organ, a synthesiser situated at the label’s headquarters. And so it is that an instrument which once produced sounds resembling a pipe organ near the end of its life wheezes in a different kind of way, leading to the contemplation that ‘Perhaps circuitry and software can have late style, too.’

As is often the case when process becomes integral to the end product, a little expanation goes a long way: ‘Like creatures and plants, they change over time; they decay, confront mortality, and their functions adapt. This record is a collection of live takes recorded directly from a Hohner church organ at the point of collapse. This circuitry of this hulking synth, long-installed at Kit HQ, has inexplicably decayed over time, rendering its preset drum loops and melodies as raptures of white noise, squelches and and bizarrely spiralling clangs. The result is primitive, aleatoric music – weirdly moving digital swan-songs, each named after the mangled preset triggered during recording’.

Late Style may be dominated by elongated drones and quivering, wavering hums, sounds recognisable as originating from the groan and swell of a dilapidated organ, but bubbling bleeps and less organ-ic sounds are overlaid and cut across these to forge strange juxtapositions.

The first track ‘8 Beat Variation’ finds the organ fading in and cutting out while stop-start percussion and variable echoes and delays disrupt any kind of flow. With volumes and tones wavering and fluttering unpredictably, and extraneous feedback, whistles, crackles and pops interfering with the irregular drum machine beats, the effects is disorientating.

‘Waltz’ sounds very like the time one spends fiddling with a keyboard trying to find the right sound, when every preset just sounds naff. If much of Late Style sounds like s much pissing about, then perhaps that’s largely the point: like many experimental albums – Miguel Frasconi’s Standing Breakage (for Stan Brakhage) captures the artist striving to push a cracked glass bowl to its limits and beyond – Late Style is about taking an opportunity when it presents itself and capturing the outcome. In this sense, it’s a truly experimental work.

The fact that this album, and those mentioned previously, are concerned with the destruction, or death, of an instrument, is significant: the fundamental premise of the avant-garde is that in order to move forward, to create anew, it is first necessary to destroy.

There are also some quite compelling moments to be found here: the surge and swell of ‘OI’ builds an ominous drama, while ‘Key’ is a rather fun exercise is microtonal blippage that sits alongside Mark Fell’s exploratory releases on Editions Mego. However, unlike Fell’s works, Late Style is both more varied and more listenable.

Drömloch - Late Style

Telephone Records – 8th July 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Wakefield-born and Glasgow-raised Martin Creed probably has a fair few detractors. The Turner Prize has a peculiar tendency to wind people up, art fans and critics and the general populace alike And so, while in art circles he’s known as a self-effacing, playfully provocative artist, to many, he is known as being the 2001 winner of the Turner Prize-Winner, who became infamous overnight for his installation piece, Work no. 227: the lights going on and off.

For many, such a work would be an unbearable albatross, but Creed is one of those people who’s always onto the next thing before the dust has settled around the thing before, and he’s a true polyartist, who has, seemingly, no fixed medium of choice, instead preferring to let his creative impulses flow through whatever medium he feels fits best. And throughout his career, the ever-idiosyncratic Creed has made music, with Thoughts Lined Up representing the latest in a long line of releases.

Judging by the cover image, and Creed’s spectacularly diffuse output, the title seems rather incredible. By which I mean, it’s hard to believe he could line up his thoughts in a queue for the checkout: this is a man who thrives on chaos, disorder, who eschews organisation and conformity in favour of free-flowing creativity, anarchy and all things random.

The title makes more sense in light of the artist’s own explanation of its meaning, which is refreshing in its simplicity: “It’s called Thoughts Lined Up because that is literally what it is,”, he says, “just all these bits – these thoughts – put in a row one after the other, trying not to worry about what they add up to. Most of it started as audio notes recorded on the Tube or in the street – just little everyday mantras that you say to yourself as you go along; things that come up in your head, and that help keep you going, or that sometimes you want to go away…”

And so, the end product is an album that in many respect is a one-stop compilation, a work which wouldn’t be much further from a concept album if it tried – unless that concept was a haphazard collection of songs thrown together and sequenced one to twenty-four out of conventional and commercial necessity. One kind of gets the impression that if all of the album’s songs could have been arranged to play simultaneously, then that’s how they would have been presented. The thoughts are lined up, in a sequence, but this isn’t a linear album or a collection of songs unified by anything beyond the mind from which they emerged.

According to the blurb, the album was Recorded at ArtSpace, Brixton, and mixed by Liam Watson at Toe Rag Studios, the album was recorded to 1-inch tape in one week just before Christmas 2015, and mixed with sonic impresario Liam Watson, in glorious mono, on the ex-Abbey Road EMI desk at Hackney’s legendary, analogue-only Toe Rag Studios. Yes, mixed in glorious mono. On the one hand, given the audio technology we have now, however much one may adore the inimitable sound of analogue, to master an album in mono is simply perverse. On the other, it’s another manifestation of Creed’s rejection of convention, and at the same time can be seen as an observation on the way listeners actually hear music nowadays: just as everyone seems to be obsessed with shooting optimal quality photos with digital SLR cameras only for them to be viewed on piddly mobile phone screens via Facebook, so the idea of superior audio recordings to be consumed through shit iPod phones, laptop and mobile phone speakers seems absurd. And Martin Creed revels in those absurd contradictions, and does so with grace and humour, and not with one eye firmly set on the mass markets.

And so, the songs are amusing, entertaining, whimsical, wonky. Some sound half-finished, many evoke the spirit of the Bonzo Dog Band, while others call on psychedelic folk traditions, and other still call to mind the choppy sound of the early Fall albums, and Creed is unafraid of cumbersome or cliché rhymes. It’s a haphazard, hit-and-miss affair, but it’s zany and it’s fun and Creed’s singularity and disregard for marketability is admirable.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/167247762

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Martin Creed Online