Posts Tagged ‘Avant-garde’

Buh Records – 20th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Apophenia: the tendency to perceive connections and meaningfulness in random noise, e.g., clouds resembling animals or human faces. Ale Hop’s Apophenia, which we learn ‘suggests possible and reimagined South American geographies’, contains an abundance of random noise. Ale Hop, we find, isn’t a band as such, but ‘a Berlin-based artist, researcher, and experimental instrumentist (sic) from Peru. She composes electronic music, by blending strains of noise, pop, avant-garde, ambient and a complex repertoire of extended techniques for electric guitar and real-time sampling devices which she uses as her sound vocabulary to craft a performance of astonishing physical intensity, saturated of layers of distortion and stunning atmospheres’.

And on the strength of this outing, she grasps atmosphere in a major way. These pieces are hefty, deep, and often dark, not to mention challenging. Ale Hop doesn’t do easy accessibility, and that’s a good thing. This is one of those releases I’m proud to say is about art. I can’t truly fathom it, and certainly can’t justify it.

The press release pitches ‘atomized field recordings and sound samples. recollected from video archives from her homeland, Peru, the composer interweaves unknown territories, by mimicking mountains and oceans, but also grey skies and violent cities, with droning and shrieking textures of electric guitars mixed with spoken chatters and sizzles’.

Somnambulant drones and ethereal elongated notes which hover and hum dominate the album’s eight compositions. There are no easy inroads here. In fact, there are no inroads at all.

‘Side Effects’ is an odd piece of spoken word with extraneous noise, and the mix oddly pitches background sounds to the fore to disorientating effect. It’s only three-and-a-half minutes long, but it’s three-and-a-half minutes of warping drones and static hiss and crackling.

There’s dark turbulence on ‘Lima’, which plunges the listener into subterranean spaces of disquiet and discomfort, while ‘Onomatopoeia’ appropriately brings a gloopy, swampy soup of sound, and the title track – a succession of scraping shards of electronic feedback.

And what does it all mean? That I fail to sense ‘South American geographies’ doesn’t mean they’re not present in every moment, but reminds us that artistic intention and the artist’s spheres of reference and influence often differ from those of the audience, who can only truly receive art from their own solipsistic vantage point. As such, dissemination and reception rarely correspond, and this is never more apparent than when considering the experimental and the avant-garde, where theoretical context counts for nought to much of the audience.

The sign of artistic success in this context is not whether or not the audience grasp the context or intention but whether they connect with the work – on any level – despite a lack of a priori knowledge.

Apophenia is a challenging listen, but is an album that holds up and ‘works’ when removed from its context. It’s all about atmosphere, and the universal language of sound.

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Wonkystuff – 5th September 2019

This one’s been a long time in coming: the liner notes document that the three pieces that make up Traditional Computer Music were ‘conceived and composed from various SuperCollider recordings over the years 2010 – 2014 [and] edited and compiled in Logic.

Then again, both Ash(ley) Sagar and Wonkystuff label boss John Tuffen have been kind of busy for most of the five years since this was finished, what with their being one half of The Wharf Street Galaxy Band, as well as operating as Orlando Ferguson and contributing to myriad other projects.

The title of this release is clearly a wilful oxymoron on the one hand, but on the other it’s entirely fitting, and a recognition of the tropes which have established themselves around digital musicmaking. Computer Music, once radical, is now a convention with a substantial lineage. And yet there is, somehow, a certain idea of what ‘computer music’ sounds like when presented with ‘computer music’ as a term, and Sagar manages to encapsulate that on this release.

The three numbered pieces – impersonal, inhuman, digital – are lengthy: 1 is 14:21, 2 is 19:24 and 3 is 18:58. And while Sagar doesn’t delve into retro robotix with bleeps and bloops, Traditional Computer Music explores digital soundscapes that have become synonymous with electronica.

Bulbous, warping drones weft and warp in the opening moments of ‘1’, with sounds of indecipherable origin – are they voices? Are they synthesised sounds? Tapering to an undulating mid-range droning hum after a couple or so minutes, coalescing to a throbbing hum around four minutes before dispersing into a vaporous mass after some four minutes, it becmes little more than a drone, before dissolving, fractured, splintered and broken, into painful howls of feedback that continue for a good few minutes before fading to darkness.

‘Part 2’ continues where ‘Part 1’ leaves off, with elongating feedback-filled drones extending outward for centuries and light-years back. It’s simultaneously evocative and sterile, again highlighting and exploring the dichotomies of digital music. Ash is one of those musicians who explores to the core. And yet his technicality is not at the expense of feeling. You can tell by listening to this that he lives and feels the music, wanky as it probably sounds.

The third and final track, ‘3’ moves into microtonal territory, which is crackly, glitchy, bleepy, and finds a slow pulsing beat thumping beneath an array of tweeting twittering R2D2 stutters. It descends into a morass of tweaking laser shots and squelchy pulsations buried under a growling generator hum ad there’s pitch-shifting and slowing drones galore. It becomes increasingly difficult as it progresses, dolorous drones and low pulsations and eternal, deliberate throbs roll on and on, before finally yielding to a climax of retro-futurist wibbles which ascend to a sustained rippling hum that’s not exactly comfortable whatever your preferences for sonic range.

On TCM, Ash shows that he probably knows the boundaries and remains within them, but at the same time tests the listener’s limits in a positive way. And yes, it’s good, and in its field, outstanding.

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Ash Sagar - Traditional

Christopher Nosnibor

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not the done thing to review a show you’ve performed at, let alone one you’ve had a major hand in organising and promoting, but what’s not done sometimes just needs doing.

This was a lineup I’d been excited about – seeing it take shape around the initial basic concept of curating a show and giving …(something) ruined – a platform while showcasing other acts we like.

…(something) ruined coalesced into a formal unit following a one-off experimental collaboration back in May following a shout-out on Facebook from racketmonger Foldhead for recommendations for someone to provide vocals to compliment / contrast his wall-of-noise power electronics. My name was put forward by a handful of sonic sadists, and so it came to pass we brought a new level of brutality to an unsuspecting audience at CHUNK in Leeds. The idea for a showcase came before we’d decided anything else. Orlando Ferguson were top of our wants list, and promptly agreed, before we’d even decided exactly what we were doing, both for the gig and as a band. We didn’t even have a name. Truth is, we were deafened and buzzed on adrenaline and beer and before we’d even dismantled the kit, had decided it was going to be a thing.

The rest of the lineup coalesced largely through Paul (Foldhead’s) immense network of far-out acts. This was always going to be niche, an event that was about putting on a gig we wanted to see, regardless of who else’s tastes it would likely appeal to. This is where venues like The Fulford Arms are vital to the arts, and are sadly few and far between. Midweek in York, as long as the cost of paying the sound guy is covered one way or another, anything goes. Selling some pints beats no pints. As a totally underground, completely DIY operation, it’s only this kind of opening that makes catering to more outré tastes and providing a space for artists with a minority appeal.

So we went up first. I was only our second show after all. We’d failed to get the Paul’s visuals projected behind us, so they played on the screens at either side of the stage. Not ideal, not the impact we’d been hoping for, but sonically, it came together, probably.

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How did we do? Alright, for sure. We’d spent five minutes planning the shape of the set and how it would build over the first few minutes, and Paul’s awareness of my delivery led to a set given to more undulations in comparison to the blazing wall of noise that was the first outing. The broad consensus was that we were brutal, but loud enough? The majority seemed to think so, but no-one fled the venue crying or with their ears bleeding, and I could even hear my own vocals in the monitors for 70% of the set, albeit only when I shouted so hard I felt like my throat would erupt – so probably not. Then again, could we ever be loud enough? Again, probably not. But I did shift a hell of a lot of books.

Primitive Knot, over from Manchester, are showcasing material from the latest release, Puritan. I use the plural because Primitive Knot is a band, although on this outing, it’s just front man Jim doing the work and creating the sound of a full band. It’s impressive to witness him playing synths and churning out grinding guitars over sequenced bass and drums, while also performing vocals.

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Primitive Knot

Said vocals are often single words, shouted, with heavy echo, reverberating into a churn of metallic overdrive, repetitive cyclical riffs, strongly reminiscent of the industrial grind of Godflesh, complete with thunderous mechanised drumming. It’s dense, oppressive, harsh, relentless. And as the only guitar of the night, PK’s set provides an essential contrast, standing out for all the right reasons.

Continuing to forge further contrasts, standing starkly against the regimented, heavily rhythmic attack of Primitive Knot, Territorial Gobbings’ freeform improvisational irreverence is different again, and then some. The new album, Sausage Chain, is a mess of random noises, but doesn’t really prepare the recipient for the crazed performance art that is the live show. Theo Gowans is nothing if not a showman, and one who doesn’t care about popularity or reception: tonight’s set begins with swinging mics and clanking beer bottles and concludes with cables and kit and the artist in a messy heap strewn across the stage. People watch perplexed, uncomfortable. Good. Art should challenge, be awkward and uncomfortable. And this is extremely awkward and uncomfortable – which is precisely why it’s ace.

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Territorial Gobbing

John Tuffen and Ash Sagar, of more bands than I’ve had pints on a big night, are Orlando Ferguson. They sit twiddling knobs and looking intently at their kit, and don’t actually look like they’re playing chess this time around. It’s the bigger table and side-by-side positioning.

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Orlando Ferguson

Tonight’s set is so much more than electronic drone, and the long, sweeping notes that provide the foundations create an expansive field in which they conjure an atmospheric soundscape. Sonically, they explore an array of textures and tones, and their improvisation is magnificently intuitive. It’s a pleasure to watch, and an even greater pleasure to hear, and following the raging tempests of weirdness and noise from the preceding acts, their altogether more tranquil approach provides some welcome calm and relief to round of a varied yet complimentary array of far-out music. And if you missed it – as most did- you missed out.

9th August 2019

Gintas K’s bandcamp boasts no fewer than twenty-nine releases. The Lithuanian experimentalist isn’t one to place quantity over quantity either: this almost overwhelming output, as represented by an average two releases a year, is the product of an enquiring mind, a fertile imagination and an unstinting work ethic.

The title gives a hint as to this EP’s creation: recorded live in a single day, without any overdub; using computer, midi keyboard & controller assigned to vst plugins, the three pieces on One Day Journey are exercises in excitable minimalism, skittering glitchtronics and exemplary works in the field of circuitry-based fuckabouts.

The three tracks, distinguished simply in numerical terms, are defined by swampy bleeps, bloops, glops, thumps, pips and pops fly haphazardly flitting and flickering in all directions, surging and swelling, whumping and slumping. Drip, drop, blip, blop, slip, slop, tinkle, tinkle In so many respects, they’re devoid of both structure and substance, and yet it’s this flippant flimsiness that renders them of merit.

Gintas’ flighty, almost fanciful style of experimental electronica is amusing in an avant-garde way, and almost seems intent on being vaguely irritating to anyone who isn’t already entirely on board with this strain of whacky wild synapse-snapping oddness.

The third and final track, ‘Three’ fizzes and foams a mess of electronic froth, foaming and fermenting effervescently over a thirteen-minute sprawl of apparent discoordination. It’s a crazed mass of non-linear noise, an impossible combobulation of sound. And if you are on board with this strain of whacky wild synapse-snapping oddness, One Day Journey has everything going for it.

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Gintas K - One Day

Bohemian Drips – BD10 – 30th August 2019

Christopher Nonsibor

January 2017: I was introduced to Microtub on receipt of their album Bite of the Orange.it prompted all kinds of tangential associations, few actually or specifically related to the album’s sonic contents. But then, that’s s often one of the great pleasures of music for me – the ideas and images it has the capacity to unlock. And while more conventional musical forms – especially lyric-orientated works – resonate on a more direct level in that sound and sentiment combine to connect with given emotional states, more abstract works have greater potential for far freer associations.

July 2019: I’m reintroduced to Microtub and reminded that I still don’t really grasp what a microtonal tuba is, and remain amazed by the idea of there being three microtonal tubas in existence, let alone musicians to play them. Because, yes, as the press release informs / reminds us, ‘Microtub is the world’s first and only microtonal tuba trio, exploring Just Intonation and the rich harmonic potential of the tuba. In collaboration with bohemian drips and Ace Tunes they bring us their new release Chronic Shift, featuring recorded material from the stunning “Großer Wasserspeicher” (large water tower) in Berlin-Pankow, mixed with analog synthesizers’.

It gets a bit technical after that: ‘Carefully recorded in binaural audio by the bohemian drips engineers, this unlikely combination of tubas and simple synth pitches provides a meditative and immersive experience, and an auditory glimpse into a truly unique acoustic space. By using Kunstkopf stereophony and the perspective of a so-called dummyhead microphone (Neumann KU-100), the acoustical scenary of the tank was captured in 3D-audio, relocating the listener into the actual recording situation’.

More usefully, we learn that ‘the title track ‘Chronic Shift’ is a rework based on the piece ‘Sonic Drift’, a Robin Hayward composition written specifically for Microtub. Not that I’ve heard ‘Sonic Drift’ to compare, or know if I’d be able discern the connections.

Still, the two pieces on Chronic Shift are yawning longform experiments in organic hum and drone that sound nothing like anything involving an actual tuba. Which is probably for the best.

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Editions Mego – EMEGO264 – 5th July 2019

Australian avant-gardist Oren Ambarchi has enjoyed a varied career spanning over three decades, and includes among his associations Sunn O))), Merzbow, and Burial Chamber Orchestra. To describe his output as ‘prodigious’ would be an understatement.

According to the press release, ‘Simian Angel finds Oren Ambarchi renewing his focus on his singular approach to the electric guitar, returning in part to the spacious canvases of classic releases like Grapes from the Estate while also following his muse down previously unexplored byways’.

It continues: ‘Reflecting Ambarchi’s profound love of Brazilian music – an aspect of his omnivorous musical appetite not immediately apparent in his own work until now – Simian Angel features the remarkable percussive talents of the legendary Cyro Baptista, a key part of the Downtown scene who has collaborated with everyone from John Zorn and Derek Bailey to Robert Palmer and Herbie Hancock’. Some of this has meaning: a lot of it doesn’t. I don’t know everything, and nor have the time or inclination to research. Jobbing reviewers crib from press blurbs and make like they know stuff. The majority are lying.

Neither Brazilian music nor guitar are overtly apparent on the two long-form tracks which make up Simian Angel: the sixteen-minute ‘Palm Sugar Candy’ consists of supple, trilling organ notes drifting across clopping, loping, irregular wood-based percussion which fades out to nothing leaving only soft, whisping tones which weave in and out of one another.

The title track is vague, piano notes rising into a rarefied air. It builds gradually into flurries of notes which flutter like snow in a breeze, skittering unpredictably. Baptista’s contribution is remarkable in its subtlety: a sedated heartbeat pulse which occasionally stutters and stammers. Around the mid-point of this twenty-minute mod-inspiring epic, the piano halts unexpectedly and an upward gliding drone alters the previously straightforward trajectory of the composition. Simmering down into twittering gentleness, subtly twisted with the slightest hints of dissonance and eventually transitioning into some mellowed-out semi-ambient reinterpretation of minimalist jazz – which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. Instead, the slowly insistent beats force something approximating a solid frame on which all the other abstraction hangs – and it works.

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Oren Ambarchi – Simian Angel

Focused Silence – FOCUSED0065 – 7th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Shrill. Treble. Not so much chiming as trilling, a sound between a rapid ringing bell and an alarm that drills into the cranium introduces ‘Colophon’, both the album and the title track on this release by ifitisn’t, a duo comprising Robinson & Kalnars – who both have musical pedigree. It’s the jangle of shattered glass and continues for what feels like an eternity, even though it’s only five minutes or so, before dissipating, dispersing into fragments amidst soft clouds of sound punctuated by near-subliminal bumps and scrapes.

According to the press release, ‘ifitisn’t is about the interruptive noise that exists between transmission and the intended reception of the message, the fragments of concrete experience that interrupt hegemony. it is the mapping of emotional and political territories. ifitisn’t is cartographer and rhetoricican’.

They probably realise that absolutely none of this ‘mapping of emotional and political territories’ actually translates through the work itself: the transmission conveys none of the intended reception. They’re probably more than aware that art’s capacity to ‘interrupt hegemony’ is limited at beast, especially in the current climate, especially when that art is obscure and inscrutable. The disparity between the medium and the message are immeasurable, and all that we have to process is ‘interruptive noise’. It’s quite conceivable that that’s the entire point. The fact they’ve gone ahead and done it anyway is what matters. Artistic statements count for less than pissing in the wind, but its through persistence and perseverance and a steadfast refusal to bow or quit that art will ultimately rise above its societal and cultural backdrop. And it’s art, in all of its myriad forms across all media, which makes life worth living.

I’m by no means saying that with Colophon, ifitisn’t are going to have any impact on my life praxis, or make any waves even within artistic circles. But that doesn’t matter.

Random sounds abound on the second piece, the eleven-minute ‘Denity’, which finds whistling digital feedback, dd snorts, disembodied voices and sounds of unidentifiable origin rifting in and out and intersecting with irregular chanking chimes and glooping ripples of analogue waves frothing impatiently. Nine minutes in, some gallic-sounding vibes enter the mix: it sounds at first like an accordion or concertina of some kind, but could equally be a melodica, but it’s soon washed away on a tide of fuzzy extraneous sound whatever it is.

And whatever it is, it’s worth hearing at least once.

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