Posts Tagged ‘Avant-garde’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mick Sussman – The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator

Ventil Records V009 – 24th May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

ƒauna’s style is billed as ‘dystopian avant pop’, and her second album is a magnificent mosaic of alienation. Vintage drum machine sounds click and pop out spartan rhythms, overwhich bibbling synths loop and ripple.

The press release emphasises the album’s dominant themes – facing down an uncertain future, dissecting new digital identities, the importance of political activism – and points to the fact that Infernum is very much an album of our times. But so much of the album’s intrigue lies in its juxtapositional positioning, its straddling of contemporary and retro. This also applies in absolution to the sonic makeup of the album.

The first track, ‘Primus’ has ƒauna outline – in a detached robotic voice – the circumstances surrounding the making of the album. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the album as a whole, a work of retro-futurism which may or may not be autobiographical. It’s a mistake to synthesis the artist and the art, and this of course connects with the issues of identity – in particular virtual and digital identities. Who is ever truly themselves on-line, in public, in company? In any context, identity is a construct, and ƒauna explores the layers of construction here.

Supposedly emerging from ‘a dark crossroads between conceptual pop, downtempo hip-hop, and the euphoria of the club’, these influences manifest primarily in sparse electro compositions which resonate with the kind of tape-looping experimentalism of the underground of the late 70s and early 80s. The structures and overall production are sparse, the compositions perversely disjointed, deliberately angular, with .

Then again, the rolling synth swell of ‘Death Fly’ and bouncy insistence of ‘Lonely at the Top’ are crisp pop, distilled down and refined to its purest, most immediate from, while elsewhere, ‘Went Home Got Lost’ pushes more overtly contemporary dance-orientated tropes to quirky but affecting effect.

It’s an analogue take on an analogous representation of postmodernism: the collision of past, present, and future, with no clear distinction between the boundaries. And watching those boundaries dissolve with every clipped, synthetic beat is fascinating, and in some strange way, quietly exhilarating.

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V009_front

Christopher Nosnibor

Live music tends to follow a fairly standard format, namely where artists perform on a stage either in a conventional venue, or outdoors if it’s a festival. Punters traipse in, stand around, talk (sometimes through the performances) and file out again, and judge their enjoyment based on the merits of the performances and the sound and perhaps the company. Music performed in conjunction with art tends to be installation-based in some sense, and the music then finds itself relegated to a secondary position. It was only on arriving at the Leeds Industrial Museum in glorious sunshine that I began to consider the fact that while field recordings are an essential part of a huge array of musical works in the more experimental and avant-garde fields, and that there’s a huge body of musical work which is concerned with responding to and working with specific environments, it’s rare for an audience to experience the music and the environment from which it originated simultaneously.

Having seen the event – and it is an event, not a mere gig, not even simply a night of music, but something that, as the evening progresses, I realise is something that will stay with me as an experience, something different and really rather special – was in the museum, I assumed it would simply be in the museum. To arrive at the PA required walking the full length of the labyrinthine factory space, packed with weird machinery and other abstruse-looking contraptions. Some were operating, clanging and banging away. Following the arrows, we arrived at the sewing room, where NikNak is spinning discs and adding some wild flavour to the established tradition of scratching. I assume the bar is just around the corner and that we’ll be assembling in or near here, so move on with a view to returning. Follow the arrows. Follow the arrows. I try not to panic that getting out again is going to add quarter of an hour to my walk back to the station, and instead marvel at the displays. I’m not really digesting: the museum is looking like a full day’s exploration, and I make a note to return before too long.

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Eventually, we stumble into what appears to be some kind of old engine house. Past that, the bar and toilets. A nice array of local beers, bit in cans and kegs. No commercial piss on offer here.

The sun is slowly sinking, but still casting a fair bit of light as Bambooman delivers his ‘site-specific’ set, which is built predominantly around field recordings captured around the museum in the weeks ahead of tonight’s show. He throws some solid beats, and bass loops and samples in abundance. Light, skipping motifs that hint of the orient and extraneous industrial sounds – repetitious mechanical clankings which forge heavy marches dominate, and are overlaid with oddly folky vocals. The incongruity actually works in its favour.

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Bambooman

And it’s here that I begin to really experience – and to appreciate – the synergy of sound and space. It isn’t because the music isn’t engaging that I find myself casting my eyes around the space I’m standing in: it’s because the music compels me to do so. I cast my eyes upwards, and wonder what caused the various punctures and tears in the corrugated roof, through which the fading light seeps, purplish. People begin to pack in with greater density, legs and pelvises moving in time with the rhythms. A woman comes and stands too close to me, and keeps knocking my shoulder as she moves to the music. I let it pass.

My notes thin in density: a trip to the bar results in my missing the front end of Object Blue’s set, but time is already beginning to warp before her altogether more abrasive set assails my senses. Abrasion may be relative, but in any context, Object Blue packs some attack. The bass frequencies register around the pelvis, while the treble hits around the upper reaches of the cranium: the cymbal work is almost sharp enough to slice off the top like cutting open a boiled egg. The sounds are pushing the limits, fraying at the edges, and tug ant the nerve endings, but the PA is supremely crisp and clear and despite the respectable volume, I’m not feeling any need to get the ear plugs out. Object Blue’s approach to ‘industrial’ may be less literal than that of Bambooman, and more conventional in terms of genre, but with contrast comes impact. As a performer, she’s understated and demur, but sonically, her set is combative, aggressive, every frequency tweaked for optimal discomfort. I absolutely love it, and instead of raising the blood pressure, the sheer quality of the compositions and the attention to detail is uplifting. And with any uplifting uplifting experience comes a sense of quiet joy.

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Object Blue

Time really begins to slip now, and it’s not about the alcohol consumed. I’ve actually been pacing myself, for a change against recent outings more immersed in the experience than the quest for obliteration. During the space between acts, and as the beats knocked out by the DJs echo out into the night, I talk to my friend about mental health. It seems oddly comfortable and in come ways appropriate: I’ve spent the last few months operating at a frenetic tempo, which has resulted in wild fluctuations in mood. Tonight, at one with my surroundings, immersed by the music, stepping out of my life and engaged by everything that’s going on and the sense of something different something new, I find I’m reattenuating, becoming once more aware of the details of my environment – the sky, the details of chimney tower, the rusted engine, the imposing hulk of the mill on the hill, the skeletal frame of an engine tunnel or something, rusty and covered in ivy, the inexplicable machinery at every turn. I’m breathing at a slower pace. I’m back in life.

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Pye Corner Audio delivers something special. The downtempo focus of the set is key to its hypnotic effect. One moment, I’m engaged, observing the laser lighting and the drift of illuminated smoke across the space where he performer is situated, attuned to every last nuance of the surroundings, from the wire fence to the way the other members of the audience engage. The next, I find I’m swaying on my feet, eyes barely ajar, in something approaching a hypnotic trance. It’s the best I’ve felt in months – zoned out, but not completely out of it – the music becomes a throbbing wash that envelopes my body and every last one of my senses. THIS is what immersion feels like. The moment is all, and nothing else matters.

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Pye Corner Audio

I remember, jerking alert between lengthy spells of complete immersion, that this is a life experience. For the first time ever, it’s one I feel comfortable being only semi-present for.