Posts Tagged ‘Avant-garde’

Nonclassical – cnclss024

Christopher Nosnibor

Langham Research Centre originated through late-night experimental gatherings at the BBC studios, and have evolved to produce long-form radiophonic works, of which 2014’s Muffled Ciphers was inspiredby JG Ballard’s seminal novel -which challenged the very notion of the form – The Atrocity Exhibition. Created with an accumulation of rare and obsolete instruments and devices, and inspired by early electronic composers spanning John Cage, Alvin Lucier, and Delia Derbyshire, Tape Works Vol. 1 is pitched as ‘a collection of modern musique concrète.’

The first thing I noticed was that my copy is number 11 of an edition of 30 promos. This knowledge spurs me to get my finger out and provide some coverage. The second thing I notice, on scanning the track listing, before reading the biography containing the above, is that it features tracks with the titles ‘The Voices of Time’ and ‘The Terminal Beach’ – the former of which is a collection of short stories by Ballard, and the latter of which is the title of one of the stories in that collection, which first appeared in 1963 under the title The Four-Dimensional Nightmare.

On Tape Works Vol. 1, the Langham Research Centre (and doesn’t that sound so Ballardian in itself… I’ve spent hours scanning my collection to see if there’s a character named Langham in Ballard’s oeuvre and have drawn blanks before ultimately deciding it’s better to actually get the work done than disappear down another rabbit-hole of research) explore all the dimensions. And while at times it confirms to the template of so much experimental analogue work, at times it ventures in the truly weird.

‘LOL, Pt 1’ mixes monkey chatters and R2D2 bleeps with eerie abstractions, bibbling bloops, fractured vocal snippets and small samples of laughter enter the mix alongside the kitchen sink to from an uncomfortable, disorientating sound collage.

There’s a lot of stopping and starting, whistling and droning, woe and flutter and infinite disruption. This is the sound of dislocation, a soundtrack designed to induce maximum disorientation.

Bleeps and squiggles, trilling squeals rising to a high-pitched hum collide with woozy, groaning bass frequencies. Notes bend as if on a stretched tape, and tape whips back and forth through heads. There are moments which recall the head-spinning cut-up and drop-in tape experiments conducted by William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Iain Sommerville in the late 50s and early 60s.

Birdsong. New snippets. A plane roars overhead. A conglomeration of voices. Static. Interference. A howling wind. Sparse, arrhythmic beats clatter and clang. Yes, this is life: fractured discordant, difficult. Simultaneous. Overwhelming. This is essentially how I feel about it. I cannot compute. I feel dislocated, alienated. I feel tense. Nothing new there. But Just as reading Ballard makes me feel uncomfortable in my own skin, so Langham Research Centre’s fucked-up sampling of old adverts and blending them with minimalist dark ambient twists me into a state of discomfort.

At time gentle, at others abrasive and bordering on the attacking treble whistles and white/pink noise crackle of early Whitehouse and Merzbow, Tape Works Vol. 1 is at no point accessible, easy, cuddly. But it does push the senses and question linearity and accessibility and even the boundaries of musicality. And as such, it fulfils its objective.

AA

Langham

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Grappa Musikkforlag – 24th August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

I used to watch a fair few horror films when I was younger, but don’t get to so much these days: my wife isn’t a fan, and, moreover, I can’t watch movies and listen to music at the same time. Spending my evenings reviewing means it’s the movies that have had to give. But when I did have the time to watch horror movies, I always preferred the films that unsettled the mind rather than overloaded the senses with in-yer-face viscera and gore. It isn’t necessarily that I like to be scared: I just like to be mentally challenged, and the imagination is a powerful thing. For the same reason, I usually prefer to invest the time in a book rather than TV show or movie. Greater effort tends to yield greater reward, and what’s more, the mind can conjure scenes far beyond the scope of any film set and special effects.

The mind’s eye is a terrible thing, but also a wonderful thing. Just look at your dreams: they’ll likely present vistas beyond anything you’ve ever seen in any movie. And even if not, these scenes are your own, rather than something pre-presented, the product of someone else’s imagination.

Rooms & Rituals is an album which engages the mind and encourages it to explore the darker recesses. The compositions are haunting, to the point of being outright scary. tapping into the deeper realms of the psyche, teasing out the horror of disquiet, and poking around in those dark, uncomfortable places. The voices are those of no less than ten female singers, although not necessarily at the same time. This is, indeed, a choir like no other.

‘Steamsaw’ sets the tone: dark, ominous, rumbling thunder and fear chords drifting almost subliminally… It’s minimal, and it’s a discomfort you can’t quite put our finger on. But it’s there, it’s real, and it gnaws at the pit of your stomach. ‘Pulser’ is eerie. Voices, disembodied, and as if rising from the grave, amidst unintelligible guttural utterances from the underworld, shrieks, and industrial pulsations and the occasional, sporadic clash of grating undifferentiated noise conglomerate to forge something stomach-churningly tense.

‘Ritual #3’ is a series of bleeps and tweets over a low-end rumble, and is reminiscent of some early Whitehouse, minus the trebly shouting. ‘Rise; is a voice lost in a gale, the sense of dislocation, distance and isolation rendered palpable in the drift. ‘Hymn’ pitches vocal melody that’s evocative, haunting, almost a Celtic folk piece, against a gnawing hovering synth hum, and elsewhere, ‘Gleam’ goes gloriously minimal, trilling organ pulses providing the backdrop to ethereal vocals that drift skyward.

Collectively and cumulatively, these pieces move and unsettle the listener, bringing a sense of dislocation, and disorientation. It creates a space for pondering. This is art.

AA

Trondheim Voices

Constellation Records – 15th June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Bush Lady, originally released in 1985, is described as ‘a unique and magical record by any definition’, and as ‘an invaluable example of contemporary First Nations music that blends traditional folkways with modern composition’. Obomsawin is a member of the Abenaki Nation and one of Canada’s foremost activist documentary filmmakers: with over 50 films to her credit, she’s not primarily known for her musical output, with Bush Lady being released as a private pressing, half of which languished in her home for years and years.

It’s not easy to place. It’s not folk; it’s not spoken word. But then, these aren’t conventional songs either, although there are some charmingly pleasant flickers of woodwind and strings. But it’s primarily about Obomsawin’s vocals. Her voice conveys so much; against monotonous, thudding rhythms and trilling notes, eerie discord and wandering abstraction, she swings between blank monotone and quirky vocal contortions that jar the spine.

The real thing about Bush Lady is just how fresh and contemporary it feels, and sounds, never mind the fact it’s 33 years old. It’s not that nothing’s changed in this time, but an indicator or the creative prowess and sheer otherness of Alanis Obomsawin’s art.

AA

Hyperdelia – HEX002

Christopher Nosnibor

It seems to be something almost unique to the world of experimental and avant-garde music, that the titles are directly descriptive, functional, literal. Imagine if the practise was adopted in the genres of rock or indie. How would releases like Angsty shit ripping off the Foo Fighters, Adolescents who are pissed off because we can’t get laid and Ten three-minute derivative jangly guitar-based songs about life in college be received? Actually, they’d probably still sell infinitely more units than releases like this, but the point of differentiation is that this is art, and commercial considerations really are not leading factors in determining the work or its release into the public domain.

We learn that Womb is ‘a musical narration for abstracted ears and bodies – engulfing a listener simultaneously in subaquatic sonic environments, distant dreams of childhoods, memories and voices from the unknown: where time and space fold into each other.

The initial material of field-recordings of nature and body sounds, interviews and compositions has been re-recorded and re-amped underwater in a swimming pool – and has been re-arranged (partly by way of the impulse responses of the pool) now for stereo home listening.’ And so we’re very deeply into literal territory here.

It’s watery and muffled, womb-like every second of the way. ‘Cocoon’ sounds like someone typing – quite slowly, unsteadily – while slow ambient music with whale song and slow, arrhythmic beats pulse, all heard with cotton wool in one’s ears. ‘The Garden’ is a long, slow ebb and flow of elongated dronage, spiralling contrails of vapour and mist, an eddying vortex of mid-range that twists ethereal, occasionally rent with bulbous belches of sound which echo out beyond the reaches of perception.

The beats are glitches, pulses, crackles and thudding heartbeats, incongruously urgent and pacey and at odds with the sedate sonic swirls that hover and hang, Samples, muffled and heavily filtered, are abstracted amidst twittering birdsong, wide-sweeping drones, ominous fear tones and unsettling extranea.

The focus is beyond soft: it’s submerged, out of reach. Everything about Womb is warm, supple. There is a sense of depth – immense depth that extends beyond sound to the absolute core of being. A slow immersion that works its way inside, Womb is both meditative and introspective, and while it’s very much conceptual, it succeeds independently as a soundwork.

AA

AA

Kajasa Lindgren – Womb

Christopher Nosnibor

Into the Void is Gintas K’s second album-length release of 2018, and we’re not even quite halfway through. For this outing, the enigmatic granular sonic artist from Lithuania has delivered an array of 14 fragmentary pieces, the majority titled by number, spanning snippets less than a minute in length to quarter-hour brain-sizzlers, with the majority of pieces clocking in around the two-minute mark.

The limited notes accompanying the release state ‘Pieces created by Gintas K using Travis Johnson sound material.- rhythms loops.’ It’s perhaps worth noting that this is Travis Johnson (2) as listed on Discogs – the ‘sound designer, electronic music producer, improviser, and farmer from Suwannee County, Florida, United States’, and not the bassist with metal band In This Moment or either of the other two.

We’re all staring into one void or another, so there’s a degree of universality in the experimental intent of this release.

Those rhythms and loops are warped, splayed, disjointed, whipping backwards and forwards across the heads in a jumble of crazed anagalogia reminiscent in places of some of William Burroughs’ tape experiments from the late 50s and early 60s, when he and Brion Gysin, with the assistance of Iain Sommerville, who was an electronics engineer and programmer.

For the most part, it’s about variation – or not so much – on a theme. Beats stutter and funnel into disarray and fuzzy edges dominate the sounds as those beats crackle and fizz. Most of the loops on here sound sped up and pitch-shifted, gloopy electronica and synthy beats shifted up to resemble clicks and bleeps and scratches of static. Everything crunches and collides at a frenetic pace to create an overwhelming blizzard of sound, a sonic soup that batters rather than massages the senses and the brain. A great many of the rhythms are arrhythmic, or otherwise disturbed or distorted in some way or another. At times akin to a palpating heart, and at others a flutter beneath a screeching squall of static, a fizz of treble and a mess of skittering noise, Into the Void leads the listener into difficult territory, and at times threatens to abandon them in a sandstorm of sound that will leave them completely adrift.

There are some moments of variance: ‘Void4’ is a slow, woozy slice of opiate dub, and ‘Void6’ is largely distorted thumping and rumbling, and ‘Void12’ brings the emptiness of it all into sharp relief, a quavering, oscillating humming drone. It’s minimal, but delivers maximum discomfort.

Personally, I dig it, but as a listening experience, its uncomfortable and far from easy.

AA

Travis Johnson & Gintas K – Into the Void

Ventil Records – V008

Christopher Nosnibor

Variations on Bulletproof Glass follows 2016’s Decomposition I-III which also featured Christina Kubisch, and set out to explore – and demolish – the well-worn thematics of field recordings.it represents something of a deviation in terms of its methodology, as well as its focus. This fourth decomposition collapses material rather than location, and places a very different focus on the concept of field recordings, centring not on the out and about, but the controlled space, and with a clearly defined specificity.

Variations on Bulletproof Glass is a literal title, being constructed from ‘waves which were transmitted through a bulletproof glass pane while it was exposed to major physical impacts’. But of course, like most works which are devoted to a microcosmic sound source, that source becomes increasingly obscured the closer the lens looms. While there are moments that do sound vaguely evocative of glass, cracking and splintering, there’s not a single classic crash and tinkle, a solitary smash and splinter. None of the sounds here betray their origins, and Kutin and Kindlinger have manipulated the source material to forge something altogether in a different sonic sphere from the pieces that lie scattered at source. There may be hints of scrapes and ricochets on/off glass, but there’s nothing which overtly says ‘this the sound of glass’ in the (de)construction of these samples. Because this is bulletproof glass, for a start. It has different properties, and can withstand greater punishment. The consequence is that so must the listener: this is challenging, and difficult to readily access.

‘X26’, the first of eight pieces, clanks and scrapes, and the chanking treble is countered by woozy bass. It has all the hallmarks of experimental dub, and even builds some dense, gut-churning rhythmic pulsations and dynamic beats – none of which even hint in the slightest at the source of the sounds. ‘Throne’ is a jolting, stop/start attack, and Elvin Brandhi’s vocals are stark, dishevelled, wild and wide-eyed. ‘PANE#2’ blasts away at a beat that echoes Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Discipline’ as synth-like sounds howl and wail aggressively before tapering to a quieter place.

Elsewhere, the sonorous, trilling done and scrape of ‘L.I.W’ is uncomfortable, and not for a single second does one listen to this and think that this is an album to mellow to, or even to function to. It’s not just distracting, but the sound of abstract obstruction.

AA

Kutin Kindlinger – Decomposition IV

The Sublunar Society 053 – 11th May 2018

James Wells

Just as Facebook advertising and Amazon recommendations prove that algorithms can be applied usefully but are no substitute for human input.

Of course, The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator is subject to human input, in that it was created by Mick Sussman himself. A programme is designed to ‘compose’ ‘unique’ music, by ‘making decisions based on a sequence of randomised processes.’ The nineteen compositions collected here seem to suggest a greater leaning toward the random than the musical. There are notes and there are rhythms, but none of them seem to coordinate with one another, and the sounds are trebly synthetic, 80s computer gamey. The cover art has obvious ‘matrix’ connotations, and tells much of the story of what The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator is about. Only, this is the sound of the matrix collapsing, of being stretched and pulled in all directions, twisted and tossed.

Sussman observes in the liner notes that in programming terms, Rosenberg is a primitive piece of coding, but is sufficiently versatile to enable him to vary musical phrasings and tempos – to the extent that one option enables the user to allocate a different tempo to each instrument. Why would anyone do this? Because, I suppose. It’s an indication of Sussman’s adoption of avant-garde principles, to disassemble and reconfigure that which has gone before, to build anew. It may well be that no-one has done this before not because they haven’t thought of it, but because they didn’t want to, but that’s every reason for Sussman to be the first.

The result is a disorientating, bleepy, bloopy clamour of sound, with digital notes flying in all directions in an exercise where the concept is considerably more appealing than the experience of the end product.

AA

Mick Sussman – The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator