Posts Tagged ‘Avant-garde’

Dret Skivor – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Recently-launched Swedish label Dret Skivor has a fairly broad remit in its commitment to being ‘Locally focussed but stretching out to droneheads, noiseheads, ambientheads and weirdoheads across Scandinavia’. Stylistically, it’s pretty much a case of anything goes as long as it’s not remotely mainstream – but that certainly doesn’t mean that anything that’s vaguely accessible is off-limits, and Fern’s Inhibitory Shortcomings, described as ‘is a minimalistic digital multi-tracked adventure’ isn’t unpleasant or overtly challenging to any ear that’s accustomed to alternative electronica.

This set has something of a 90s vibe initially, a woozy wash of electronics, cracking static, and sampled dialogue and horns dominating the eclectic cut-up that is ‘in´ros50’. As such, while inspired granular looping, FM and different sampling techniques. AS such, while inspired by ‘the avant-garde music produced by the San Francisco Tape Center (among others) during the 1960’s’, William Burroughs’s tape experiments, as filtered through the prism of albums like Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales, produced with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, also very much seem to inform the sonic collage pieces on offer here.

‘digi´al_r3alm pt1’ and counterpart ‘digi´al_r3alm pt2’ combine clacking, clattering tonal-based percussion with obscure oscillations and a static crackle like a downpour of rain: the latter drags down into gloomy, eerie atmospherics with a hesitant bass throb underpinning insectoid skitterings and dank sloshing washes that slop back and forth listelessly.

It’s a solid drum-based percussion that dominates the beginning of ‘dr3´_0032’ before the tape starts spooling backwards and everything gets sucked back towards it source.

None of the pieces are particularly long – only ‘digi´al_r3alm pt2’ exceeds four minutes – but each is rich in atmosphere and texture, packing in a dense array of sounds that collide against one another, bouncing off the wall of dark subterranean caverns of the mind to conjure some unsettling images. Flittering tweets and scraping squeaks abound, as do dripping sonic droplets that splash into spacious reverberations.

Closer ‘ou´ros51’ perhaps feel the most dislocated and dissonant of all of the compositions, a slow, decaying loop of an analgesic trip-hop beat and blooping laser sounds drags on repetitively, gradually slowing the senses to a slightly disorientated fog of drowsiness.

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Cruel Nature Recordings – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Live performances of experimental electronic work, particularly when involving an element of improvisation, can be somewhat hit and miss, and what’s more, sometimes, much of the wonder and appreciation is derived from witnessing the performance itself, as much as the sound.

This album was recorded live at Cave 12 in Geneva in 2019, when Stuart Chalmers and Distant Animals shared a stage is a document of a moment in time, and is one that explores differences and similarities. Each act occupies one side of the limited-edition cassette (of which there are just 45 copies) and naturally, a track each on the digital version, and each track contains a full performance from each artist.

Chalmers’ set is a sparse, minimalist affair. Clanking chiming notes – partially atonal, and entirely arrhythmic plink, plonk, clatter and clink every which way. It is detuned strings? Is it a glockenspiel, xylophone, or similar? Whatever the sonic source, it increases in speed and urgency, but not in musicality, and a flat chord shreds and mangles as though strumming a washboard with relentless frustration. While the performance is brimming with energy, there’s a purposeful tonal flatness to this.

At times a clattering clang, a monotonous chang of deadened notes, and a tension-building thrum that grates away relentlessly, Chalmers’ set is never comfortable, never easy, never really breaking into the realms of melodic. The relentless scrapes and scuffles scratch away for twenty-three troublesome minutes. It’s rhythmic and does build in a certain way, but it’s slow progress that’s uncomfortable. One suspects that this uneasy sensation would only be heightened during the actual performance.

Distant Animals’ set is more overtly ambient, a twenty-minute piece that centres around twisting dronescapes and elongated crawls. The layers ripple and rub against one another to create not a dissonance as such, but a vibration of frequencies.. but suddenly, around the mi-section, the storm breaks and dissipates… there is a calm. Soothing synth waves of something that borders on electroprog crossed with chilled-out electroambient. Its trajectory is very different from Chalmers’ – instead of a single, linear trajectory that works its way to a specific end point, they navigate a series of passages and movements that segue into one another to form a meandering journey, which eventually tapers to a fade that leaves you wondering if it was all a dream, and wishing you had been there.

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26th February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

LA instrumentalists Teethers, centred around drummer and composer Andrew Lessman, brings together an unusual fusion for their debut release. With contributions straddling jazz, avant garde, and indie pop, for Teethers, Lessman has brought together an eclectic lineup, consisting of Graham Chapman on bass, guitarist Alexander Noise, Joe Sanata Maria and Ted Faforo on saxophones and Stefan Kac on tuba. The results are, as you might expect, unusual.

There’s a smooth, jazzy, swingy pop vibe that permeates the EP#s three tracks, and as ‘Goose Chasing’ indicates, they can locks down a tidy groove and create music you can bop to, nod along to, even dance to… and then they’re more than capable of – and willing to – drive that train straight off a cliff into a wild frenzy of horn-driven discord and madness. This is bit a brief introduction that sets the scene for what Teethers are really all about: the twelve-minute ‘Monopoly on Violence / Mushroom dance’ is a multi-faceted, shifting exploration of rippling shades and expansive soundscapes.

It’s rambling, at times immensely proggy in a vintage sense, and at times it just can’t seem to make up its mind as it ambles and weaves hither and thither, a mellow jazz meandering that hits some frenzies peaks and altogether more sedate intersections. It’s one of those pieces that transitions enticing and irritating in a mere blink – and that’s not even a criticism. Condensing so many elements into its space, it’s difficult to keep up.

The third track, ‘Love Poem’ is seven-and-a-half minutes of dappled sunlight painted in music, with a clean, picked guitar chiming in a simple, hypnotic sequence that’s a post-rock / contemporary prog crossover laced with soft, delicate strings. It’s perhaps the most focused and conventionally coherent of the three compositions, on what is a fairly wide-ranging set – so wide-ranging that it’s not easy to immediately assimilate, and even more difficult to pin down – not just stylistically, but in the most basic terms of formulating an opinion. Is it any good? Do I like it? Does it matter? There’s certainly no doubting the technical proficiency on display here, and having the confidence and audacity to make music that straddles so many boundaries and genuinely challenges the listener is an achievement worthy of recognition.

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Lustmord + Nicholas Horvath – The Fall / Dennis Johnson’s November Deconstructed

Sub Rosa – 20th November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

According to the press release and liner notes, The Fall is a deconstruction of November by Dennis Johnson. My knowledge of the source material is limited to the same, which explain that November was written for solo piano in 1959, and is the first example of minimalist music composition – and that it was also the inspiration for La Monte Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano (1964). This may or may not be useful information, as may or may not be the fact that this collaborative effort strives to ‘reduce Johnson’s original November to its core element and place it in a landscape of complimentary sound. And as such ‘echo’s [sic] November but with further resonance’.

It’s a sixty-six minute work split into four segments numbered I through IV, with classical pianist Nicolas Horvath playing the piano parts, while Lustmord brings the atmospherics. How that translates is that the album’s first piece is a full twenty minutes of instrumental piano work, played slowly and delicately, with an acre between each note as it drops and hangs in the air against a backdrop of a fierce gale that buffets against a microphone. If you’ve ever tied speaking to someone on their mobile phone on a windy day, you’ll be aware of how the gusting air’s buffeting creates a sense of disturbance, an interference. Around the midway point, the disturbance shifts from being breeze-like to a deep, surging groundswell, something dark and resonant, an amorphous sound that rumbles and expands, then fades and returns in waves, ebbing and flowing slowly, and all the while, the sparse piano plays on.

And that is pretty much it: slow, deliberate piano – individual notes, struck a bar apart – and a distant rumbling backdrop that fills the empty space, sometimes barely, leaving little but empty air, others more densely, a wash of sound filling the air with levels of abstraction. At times, like rumbles of thunder, and others, like unsettling fear chords and an ominous vibe, but never anything concrete or tangible.

It isn’t much to go on, and while it is atmospheric and intriguing, it’s not entirely enthralling either, and I suspect the same is likely true of the original, a work that’s more concerned with concept than reception – something that can be done, and so is done, and example of avant-gardism promoting the project for its own ends rather than a something to necessarily be appreciated. There are things to appreciate, as it happens: The fall counterpoints ominous and graceful nicely, while also paying tribute to and raising awareness of a seminal work that’s been largely forgotten, eclipsed by other works by other composers, with Dennis Johnson’s renown falling far short of the likes of John Cage and Philip Glass. And on that basis, and on the basis of the original work’s true significance, this is worth tuning into.

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Constellation Records share the eighth entry in their Corona Borealis Longplay Singles Series. "Je Vois / Non-Dit" by Montreal based avant-electronic artist Joni Void and featuring vocals by poet/singer and frequent collaborator N NAO, with an experimental film by Sonya Stefan.

"Je Vois / Non-Dit" combines live recordings by the duo into a single track longform where N NAO’s vocals are given unearthly yet organic treatments through Void’s warped manipulations, sampling, atmospheric textures and deconstructed beats – joined by Eddie Wagner on flute about halfway through the track’s 21-minute running time.

Listen to ‘Je Vois / Non-Dit’ here:

…and stream the video here.

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Photo by Thomas Boucher & Sonya Stefan, 2018

Hummus Records – 23rd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Well of course my interest was piqued: Convulsif’s fifth album, pitched as a work of ‘self-inventing gloomy rock in the abyss between such subgenres as noise, metal, jazz and grindcore’ likely to appeal to fans of GOD, Godflesh, Swans, Naked City, Napalm Death, Painkiller, Boredoms, and Neurosis. It doesn’t get any more of my noisy industrial-favouring bag than that – not least of all because the referencing of short-lived Godflesh / Techno Animal offshoot GOD seems wilfully perverse. Let’s face it, what is the real scope for techno-hued jazz/grind crossover?

The Swiss quartet eschew conventional rock instrumentation with a lineup featuring bass, drums, bass clarinet and drums, and I can already hear many wailing about the lack of guitars. Hearing the cacophonous freeform racket they conjure, however, would be enough to make even more wail, and certainly not just about their unconventional band makeup, and just to enhance the album’s commercial appeal, the bleak set’s titles are all cut up and mashed up lines of Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary.

The first cut, the seven-minute ‘Buried Between One’ is dominated by the gut-churning, nausea-inducing rhythm section stylings of Swans circa Filth and Cop – the drums explode like volcanic detonations, slow and sporadic, and the lumbering low end stops and starts and lurches woozily, while everything else on top is just discord, and as the track progresses, it all whips into a hellish maelstrom, a brutally sustained crescendo that leaves you wondering ‘where’s left to go from here?’

The elongated drone, low, sonorous, ominous, that introduces ‘Five Days of Open Bones’ provides some respite, , before dolour bass and brooding violin drift in; the atmosphere is dense and grows from a mist to a fog as the drumming builds… the tension increases… they sustain it, but you now it’s surely a matter of time before something yields… the clarinet ebbs and flows like a layer of synth, but the fact this is organic and orchestral somehow ads something else… and then… and then… Anyone familiar with the last incarnation of SWANS will now what it’s like to endure such a seemingly endless build. It’s exhilarating and torturous in equal measure. Your heart’s palpating and your lungs feel ready to burst and you think you might vomit… and then it all breaks into a frenetically frenzied jazz noise of parping horns and hundred mile-an-hour drumming. No, that’s not right. Surely. But then, this isn’t SWANS, this isn’t your regular avant-industrial: this is the kind of experimental freakout that’s right at home at Café Oto, and ‘Five days’ feels literal in its timespan.

A couple of brief, lurching interludes make for more difficult listening, with ‘Surround the Arms of the Revolution’ sounding like ‘A Screw’ played by a drunk jazz ensemble, paving the way for the fourteen-minute finale that is ‘The Axe Will Break’, which is constructed around a tight, cyclical bass motif, which is again, decidedly jazzy in a Sly and the Family Drone sense. The endless repetition is mesmerising, hypotonic, and the tension builds almost imperceptibly… but build it does. It grinds it way through a merciless squall of noise through which filters mournful woodwind that flickers hints of post-rock reflection before being submerged in the swelling surge of chaos. The final five minutes – an eviscerating sustained crescendo of monolithic proportions – is little short of devastating. Jazz isn’t always nice.

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Constellation Recordings – 12th November 2012

JOYFULTALK’s new a/v single ‘New Biology’ is the seventh entry in Constellation’s Corona Borealis Longplay Singles Series. ‘New Biology’ follows the acclaimed full album, A Separation Of Being released this past March, and includes an experimental film by JOYFULTALK’s Jay Crocker.  ‘New Biology’ is exclusive to Bandcamp and PWYC for the first week of release. JOYFULTALK’s Constellation digital discography is also on sale during this time. Proceeds from all these sales go 100% to the artist, as part of Constellation’s pandemic initiative for immediate artist support.

‘New Biology’ is an extended improvised piece with a focus on the exploration of “free” electronics.  For the past decade my practice has been working towards the construction of a portable electronic music system completely based on the principles of immediacy. I have tried to design a system where I can explore improvisations without ever being “cornered” by the system itself. A system that can be played and manipulated as easily as a guitar, saxophone, drums etc. I wanted to be able to play in time or with the absence of time to perform manipulations of stored sounds or constant recycling and reimagining of new sounds with no dead ends and only the limitation of creativity as an obstacle.

The visual aspect of the piece works along the same lines of improvisation. It is a meditation in  smudging, painting, glitching and pulsing analogue and digital strains into endless video streams of trans-configured consciousness. NEW BIOLOGY follows a loose narrative of moving from this physical manifestation of being to another. Bypassing linear time to be recast as something new.

Check ‘New Biology’ here:

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Outsider Art / Nim-Brut – 4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

I should probably apologise in advance for this one: my mind has a habit of sprouting off on tangents of word association at the best of times, and with the turmoil that is 2020, a year that’s been – and continues to be – an endless conveyor belt of shit on shit, none of which makes any fucking sense, there are many days and evenings when I am absolutely all over the place. Not literally, of course, since I can’t really go anywhere or see anyone. The weirdy collage sprawl of ‘Carving Another Flute’, the first of three compositions on this split / collaborative effort by BlackCloudSummonerand the hypermanic, uber-prolific Theo Gowans, aka Territorial Gobbings is the perfectly bewildering soundtrack to these brain-foggingly bewildering times. So ‘Carving Another Flute’ just makes me think, inexplicably, of the slang term skinflute. That’s probably the only instrument not in the mix in this chaotic cacophony of an album, that’s got everything else going on, probably including the kitchen sink.

‘Peaches and Crayons’ sounds soft and playful, but is in fact droney and dark, and there’s no easy access point here. But they save their harshest noise for last: ‘Playing All My Black Dice Records At The Same Time’ is a 15-minute assault that is pretty much what the title says, meaning it’s a squalling blitzkrieg of screaming feedback and mid-and low-end that growls and bangs around erratically midst metallic crashes and a fizzing circuitry. It’s utterly excruciating, and probably one of the most intense and sustained blasts of noise I’ve heard in a while, being nothing short of an explosive sonic firework display – but, unchoreographed and untamed, it’s more like a blaze in a firework factory, with everything going off all at once, and it’s incendiary and blinding and overwhelming. Crash-landing somewhere between Merzbow and Whitehouse around the time of Never Forget Death, it’s a fucking nasty mess of abrasive noise – which of course means I love it.

There’s no sitting on the fence with this one: if you do noise, you will love this. If you don’t, it’s your worst nightmare.

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Jason Sharp has been a fixture of Montréal’s experimental/improv scene for many years, chiefly as a saxophonist exploring eletcro-acoustic and durational music, and in a wide variety of jazz, avant and contemporary music ensembles. “Gates of Heaven” is an 18-minute through-composed acoustic recording and Sharp’s first official new release since Stand Above The Streams (2018). The single accompanies an experimental film by Guillaume Vallée.

Jason reveals, "this recording captures a solo bass saxophone performance in the Gates of Heaven, a small synagogue in Madison, Wisconsin. After an exhaustive recording session elsewhere, I visited the synagogue en route to the airport to quickly record a solo piece. The engineer and I had only a couple of hours to capture something before catching our flight home to Montreal.  Microphones were set up at varying distances throughout the synagogue and I improvised a solo piece using the acoustics of the space. We had just enough time to record what became an 18 minute multi-tracked piece. Each layer was a first take and a response to the previous. It began to rain heavily towards the end of our session audibly rattling the synagogue, we tore down the mics, and hurried to the airport. Taking this fleeting moment for myself to play in this beautiful resonant space was both nourishing and revitalising. I returned to this recording when the pandemic hit in mid-March as a way to focus my attention on something positive and future-driven. Listening back to this acoustic document during this unprecedented time, I once again felt the support this space had provided – and was reminded of the fragility that improvised music can often reveal and the strength it can restore."

Guillaume Vallée adds, "along with the musical beauty of the piece, the context of recording was an inspiration to me. When Jason explained to me that he recorded the piece in a place of worship, I imagined something soft & dark, some sort of suggested figurative visual ambiance. After listening obsessively for days, I began to work on a three-part narrative structure that follows the music’s progression. Everything comes from Super8 images that I shot years ago and got processed and scanned during isolation. Flowers, walls from the Middle Ages, a church – in colour and black & white that have then been heavily processed through analog video tools. I wanted the images to be sculpted by the music, as a pure depiction of the emotional states of mind this piece puts me in."

Watch the video here.

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Pic: Gwendal le Flem

zeitkratzer productions – zkr0027 – 23RD October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

As the founder of one of Europe’s leading avant-garde orchestral ensembles in the form of zeitkratzer, whose releases include recordings of Metal Machine Music, works by Stockhausen, and two collections of Whitehouse ‘covers’, Reinhold Friedl is very much at the forefront of contemporary classical. Formed in 1997 with Friedl on piano (sometimes a ‘prepared’ piano, a la John Cage), they’ve established themselves a formidable force, incorporating elements of free experimentalism and drone.

For the recording of KRAFFT, the nine-piece ensemble came together with another respected musical collective, Ensemble 2e2m, a chamber group from Paris dating back to 1972, known for their unique sound and the first recordings of Giacinto Scelsi’s music.

As the press release recounts, KRAFFT for orchestra was composed in 2016 as a commission from the French State and premiered in Paris and Marseille. It was also the first meeting of the two ensembles – and yet the come together perfectly to create four immense, drone-orientated passages.

Being Friedl, there is a great deal of detail and precision behind the methodology: this is certainly not random stop-start hums and thrums or elongated notes played with varying – and usually increasing – intensity, and for this reason I shall quite at length: ‘KRAFFT is a minimalist maximal composition: all instruments play in rhythmic unison throughout. Only the sounds and their combinations change relentlessly throughout the piece. KRAFFT is spelt wrong on purpose to create an ironic-onomatopoetic rendition of the German term “Kraft”, meaning “power” or “force”. The listener is exposed to a sonic undertow. The notion of huge power and force is connected here to clandestine and unknown rules controlling the progression of sound; something is happening, but we do not exactly know what, when or how. KRAFFT is composed with the help of the computer program TTM (Textural Transformation Machine), developed by Reinhold Friedl to sculpture multiple random processes.’

The TTM formed part of Friedl’s Ph.D. at Goldsmiths University London, and was developed by the composer to sculpture texture transformations with the help of sophisticated random processes. As such, Friedl’s compositional methodology develops way in which John Cage incorporated random determiners within his work, and in using a ‘machine’ to make those random selections, he distances the ‘composer’ from the composition and increases the likelihood of true randomisation.

Returning to KRAFFT, there is a clear trajectory to the composition as a whole, namely an intensity and volume which increases incrementally as it progresses over the course of half an hour. The first part is soft, light, even playful, moving into somewhat darker, more discordant territory onto the second.

By part 4, immense booming low-end notes surge and rumble with such density as to have an almost physical force. Atop of this, the smaller strings scrape, squawk and twitter like birdsong and feedback. It’s an eleven-minute tidal wave of sound that swells and surges to a crescendo of truly enormous proportions. While it’s safe to say it’s unlikely to be aired on Classic FM, KRAFFT is as accomplished and powerful orchestral work as you’ll hear all year.

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