Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

Neurot Recordings – 2nd August 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The best collaborations are greater than the sum of the parts, and transcend 2 + 2 = 4 equations of artists playing to type while rubbing up against one another in a predictable fashion. We often hope for more, but artists seldom really deliver.

The self-explanatory Neurosis & Jarboe, originally released in 2003, now fully remastered and with entirely new artwork from Aaron Turner, and available on vinyl for the first time sounds neither like Neurosis nor Jarboe, nor 50/50 Neurosis and Jarboe, but something that draws on the best elements of both to forge something very, very different.

The lugubrious slow grind of Neurosis is present in the low bass churn and the more ethereal elements of Jarboe’s vocals, which have brought grace to Swans since 1986 and her own solo work over a good two decades now. Both artists’ work has a certain timelessness about it.

In context, this is both noteworthy and, if not exactly ironic, a point of cognitive dissonance. In my head, 2003 is recent and this reissue is shockingly close to the original release. But this is the point at which the passage of time and its acceleration comes screaming in my face to remind me that 2003 was sixteen years ago. There are kids who’ve been born and are now of a legal age to raise families and to vote since the album was first released, and yet Swans calling it a day the first time around in ‘96 with Soundtracks for the Blind still feels quite recent. How is this album sixteen years old? Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, and Neurosis & Jarboe has very much stood the test of time, largely because it doesn’t sound quite like anything else.

‘His Last Words’ is perhaps the most overtly ‘modern’ cut on offer, and after a slow guitar grind, hits a groove that straddles dance and psychedelia. But there’s a deep, dark atmosphere that creeps over this and the album as a whole, with the majority of the tracks stretching out beyond seven minutes and pushing repetitive motives which worm their way under the skin and penetrate the skull by means of sonic bludgeoning.

The nine-minute ‘Erase’ brings some heavy, emotion-wrought doom-country with a distortion-tinged vocal that alludes to a dirgy Come, with Jarboe sounding more like Thalia Zedek in the song’s early minutes before the anguished howl emerges, culminating in a throat-tearing, raw-spewing roar by its uncomfortable climax.

Then, ‘In Harm’s Way’ recreates the woozy two-chord grating attack of early Swans when they were at their most gut-churningly jarring and abrasive, and it hits hard.

So why remaster, and why now? What does it add? According to Steve Von Till, ‘We recorded this ourselves with consumer level Pro Tools back then, in order to be able to experiment at home in getting different sounds and writing spontaneously. The technology has come a long way since then and we thought we could run it through better digital to analog conversion… This new mastered version is a bit more open, with a better stereo image, and better final eq treatment’.

And because they got Bob Weston of Shellac, and engineer at Electrical Audio to work on it, it does sound bloody great and lands with maximum impact. And the new artwork’s rather nice, too.

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Neurosis and Jarboe

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31st May 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Where We Sleep – the supergroup consisting of Debbie Smith of Echobelly and Blindness, Curve and SPC ECO, Beth Rettig of Blindness, and also Axel Ray of United Ghosts – extend their super status on this outing, with Ben Pritchard, formerly of The Fall and currently Manc Floyd contributing guitar work on ‘Control’.

Despite the more indie-leaning backgrounds of the collaborators, Experiments in the Dark espouse more of a post-punk sound, amalgamated with the blurry shoegaze of Curve. There’s reverb galore as the layers of guitar wash over and bleed into one another: ‘What I Deserve’ has one of those classic slow-building intros that’s built around a strolling bass and dual guitars – one chiming fractal, gothy, the other overdriven and set to stun. And from the emerging murk, Rettig’s voice combines sultry and dangerous to strong – yet simultaneously understated – effect.

‘The Desert’ sits between Curve and debut-album era Garbage – and it’s magnificent: rich in atmosphere, dark, brooding, and again centring around a strong rhythmic framework. ‘Control’ is a standout: after gentle start, it bursts into a mesh of guitars colliding over a woozy bass and metronomic mechanised drum sound. And as the track progresses, the icy vocals and treble snap of the snare become increasingly submerged by the squalling noise. ‘Into the Light’ repeats the form, only with the added bonus of a propulsive chorus and a bassline on a par with The Mission’s ‘Wasteland’ overlayed with howls of feedback.

The title track which draws the curtain on proceedings is sparse, stark, and minimal, and owes more to the ghostly, smoky trip-hop of Portishead than anything remotely post-punk or shoegaze.

If Experiments In The Dark is 75% 80s and 25% early 90s, it’s also 100% representative of the zeitgeist in terms of the aspects of the past it draws on. And Where We Sleep’s strength lies in their ability to absorb those elements and draw them together to forge a sound that’s both familiar and fresh, avoiding sounding derivative and instead delivering an exciting set of songs that demand repeat plays.

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Where We Sleep – Experiments In The Dark

Front & Follow – 3rd May 2019

I genuinely had no idea that this would be landing with me just days after my review of the split release on worriedaboutsatan’s This is it Forever records, featuring Gavin Miller and Polypores. Not that knowing would have altered my decision to mention the outstanding contribution to the split release format of Front and Follow vie their ‘The Blow’ series, but still. Serendipitous is most definitely the word.

The same is perhaps an apt description for this release, on which Polypores (Stephen James Buckley) and Field Lines Cartographer (Lancaster-based electronic musician Mark Burford – aka techno producer Impulse Array) contrived to create an album about ‘alternate realities and altered states of consciousness.

They write: “We’d both been reading books relating to this, and after a few weeks of book-swaps and numerous Youtube wormholes (some valid science, some pure conspiracy theory madness) we each started writing music with this in mind. The idea was to see what would happen if we both wrote from the same starting point, and came up with alternative interpretations of the same subject matter.”

According to the accompanying text, ‘specific inspirations included the life and works of Philip K Dick, MK Ultra experiments, Shamanic drumming, Migraines, the work of Anthony Peake, Neuroplasticity, Aldous Huxley, Hinduism & reincarnation, Superstring & Brane Theory, alien abductions.’

And so it is that, once again, serendipitously, I’ve spent recent weeks sifting through material relating to The MK Ultra project while researching the novel I’m working on, as well as migraines, and while not especially well-versed in the works of Philip K. Dick, I’m more than acquainted both with classic sci-fi and its particular tropes, and Huxley, and what the pair proffer here is a quintessential work of retro-futurism, espousing the spatiality of early electronica and krautrock, with the soft, supple but simple beats of Kraftwerk and the ebb-and-flow of sonic washes underlying textured layers of broad brushstrokes and noodly doodles reminiscent of Tangerine Dream.

It’s the kind of spacey trip that evokes kaleidoscopic visuals, and the rippling synth waves pull the listener into another dimension: listened to intently – and believe me, I listened intently with my newly-positioned speakers that seem to inject music directly into my brain ad in perfectly but sometimes dizzying stereo – the gauzey granularity of the tones becomes apparent.

And it’s with intent listening that Polypores and Field Lines Cartographer‘s collaboration really reveals itself and takes life. The differences which separate the two artists’ work are subtle, as they strive toward the same objective, and clearly cross-pollinate one another’s ideas. With heavy, pulsating repetitions dominating and surging and swelling throughout the duration of the album, but equally countered by sonorous drones and rippling solar winds, it’s apparent just how much attention to detail both artists pay to the construction of their music.

Ultimately, this proves to be the strength of this collaboration: while the concept remains fuzzy, the execution is superlative in its field.

AA

Blow Vol 6

Gizeh Records – 31st August 2018

The Great Lake Swallows is a collaboration between Canadian cellist Julia Kent and Belgian guitarist/tape machine manipulator Jean D.L. The former came to my attention some time ago, and her nuanced style of playing had yielded some compelling works. Jean DL, however is an unknown quantity to me, and I came to approach the release without any real preconceptions. I leave it with none either. It’s ambient and droney, but offers infinite layers. The Great Lake Swallows doesn’t really fit anywhere in terms of genre, and this is very much a positive. Sometimes, music simply is.

The Great Lake Swallows is a graceful and co-ordinated suite in four parts, and finds the duo creating sonic interplay that displays a certain musical connection, even telepathy. Collaborations of this type, which find musicians with such different approaches (and modes of instrumentation) requires a certain intuition to achieve coherence.

Its brevity contrasts with its scale and scope. The four tracks have a total running time of a shade over 25 minutes, but the aching cello bends and melts over hushed, brooding atmospherics to create compositions of great atmospheric depth and imbued with great significance. At times manifesting as dark portent, others seeping sadness without words to describe it, the layers build and pull at the senses almost subliminally.

The press release informs us the album was recorded in Charleroi, Belgium in 2015 during a video installation with Sandrine Verstraete, and that the music was created using field recordings, processed guitar and cello and serves as a soundtrack to the video of the same name. And the soundtrack qualities of the compositions are very much evident: the parts bleed together to forge a single, continuous piece, which slowly and subtly transition between place and mood.

On ‘Part 3’, a low throb slowly oscillates beneath the ebb and flow of strings that weft and warp, before ‘Part Four’ forges an expansive vista of surge and swell, as ghostly voices echo in the shadowy background. The effect is haunting, but also beautiful and as a whole, the work is deeply evocative. The Great Lake Swallows doesn’t just occupy space, but creates it.

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GZH84DP-Sleeve

ROOM40 – 5th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

A single, repetitive beat rings out for what feels like an eternity. With nothing else to focus on, the mind begins to conjure deceptions: is it entirely consistent in tempo and timbre? Or are some beats vaguely out of step by an infinitesimal fraction of second? Are some strikes harder or softer than others? A sparse chord rises up, slowly, then stops abruptly. The beat goes on. Another chord swells…. Repeats, disappearing the same way as the first. Then just as something threatens to build, the beat stops. The notes drift, without form, direction, or guidance. Eventually, just as tension and a certain confusion begins to mount, everything comes together: the rhythmic thud, the strings, the soft ambience and the faint strains feedback, combine to create a resolution. Unsteady, somehow incomplete, but a resolution. And so it is that ‘Neither Flesh not Fleshless’ sets the tone for At the Still Point of the Turning World.

The album takes its title from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’, the first of his Four Quartets sequence:

IV

Time and the bell have buried the day,

The black cloud carries the sun away.

Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis

Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray

Clutch and cling?

Chill

Fingers of yew be curled

Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing

Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still

At the still point of the turning world.

This collaborative work is preoccupied with time and how we experience it, and the accompanying blurb observes how the two artists were very much working both with and against one another in the creative process – which seems an apt analogy for the human relationship with time itself. On the one hand, it’s simply a concept, and an intangible: and yet we see and feel it, in the short and long terms: there is no escaping time, and no-one ever fought time and emerged triumphant. The still point is but the blink of an eye, and the turning is endless despite its invisibility. These are the irreconcilable and dichotomous tensions which inform the sonic push-and-pull Gama and Fernandes explore and exploit in these compositions, which are simultaneously smooth but turbulent.

‘The Patterns is Movement’ is a slow swell and glide of sombre strings pitched against a desolate but mournfully graceful piano: the form is vague, but there is something rather post-rock about the brooding disquiet. It segues into unsettling, rumbling industrial clanking way off at a distance. The haunting clangs of metal are cold, without comfort. I’m pulled back into the mindset of the worker: the ghosts of heavy labour still haunt the structures of the tertiary industries which now dominate the western world. The final coupling of the sparse and altogether lighter ‘Lucid Stillness’ and ‘Shaft of Sunlight’ pitch the album to a calmer, more redemptive close.

While much of the movement within the compositions on this album is slow, and often somewhat non-linear and marks a trajectory that’s divergent, indirect and non-evolutionary, there is, nevertheless, an indisputable sense of movement that’s perpetual.

AA

Joana Gama   Luís Fernandes – At the Still Point of the Turning World

Karl Records -20th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The title is, in many respects, self-explanatory: the successor to last year’s Organism, organism_evolution finds the collaborative pairing of Arovane (the recording alias of Berlinbased electronic artist Uwe Zahn) and Porys Hatami, who, I gather, is a prime mover on the Iranian electronic underground.

The 23 pieces which comprise organism_evolution – and whether or not this number is coincidental or confluent with the 23 enigma is perhaps an extensive aside too far – are sparse, elliptical sliver of minimalist electronica. The rhythms are cyclical, emergent, rather than overtly beat-driven: there’s little to nothing immediately identifiable as percussive.

With the exception of a brace of expansive, seven-minute sprawlers, the pieces are brief, largely sub-two-minute snippets and fragments, which range from undulating swampy miasmas of amorphous, undefined ambient smog, to clicky, crackly sketches of dissonant arrhythmia. Slow, bulbous pulses, gurgles and spiralling buzzes, woody knocks and hushed, wispy undulations weave fractal patterns. It’s a collection of intangibles, sounds in ever-shifting states and perpetual transition, the forms conforming to no distinct shape or structure.

The pieces aren’t only brief, but adopt a microscopic focus – the accompanying blurb lists among the processes involved in the album’s formulation ‘modular and granular synthesis, spectral processing, resonator/modal synthesis’. The technicalities of synthesiser work are beyond my ken: ultimately, I’m interested in the output rather than the input, and its effects as a listening experience.

At times, the experience is discomfiting, the eerie atmospherics creating unsettling disharmony as ominous low notes hover, hum and scrape against jittering skitters of treble that set the teeth on edge. The extreme use of stereo in places creates an immersive – if disorientating – three-dimensionality. But for all of the perpetual movement and the speed of the sonic transitions – sounds and ideas pass before they’ve even registered, giving organism_evolution an air or ephemerality – the overall effect is one of a work which flows.

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arovane-porya-hatami-organism-evolution

Nakama Records – NKM014 – 23rd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The title sounds like a Radio 4 quiz, or perhaps some selections for ‘Call my Bluff’. The accompanying blurb outlines how the album consists of three nonsensical musical conversations between Malaysian nylon guitar player Goh Lee Kwang and Norwegian bass player Christian Meaas Svendson, and describes it as ‘the story of the first encounter between two different mindsets, nationalities and generations trying – and totally failing at – making any sensible dialogue with their respective musical languages.

Success and failure are relative, of course, and one may contend that there’s no success like failure. It’s in the disconnect between artistic vision and the material realisation that unexpected creative outcomes emerge. The three pieces – I would probably hesitate to describe them as ‘compositions’ given that they are, in effect, haphazard jumbles of notes played over and across one another – are indeed sonic babble. But it’s still just freeform jazz to my ears. And for once, this isn’t a complaint or criticism.

The description reminds me of those days when every conversation feels like a misfire, and you miscommunicate with everyone you encounter. Try as you might, you never connect as intended. A jovial quip lands as an insult, a reply to a simple question leaves your interlocutor nonplussed and you realise you’ve misunderstood or misspoken, or otherwise just gabbled a stream of random bollocks for no apparent reason. You question whether the fault lies with you, or the world at large. You burn with shame. You want to hide away, an avoid people for a while. I say ‘you’; I mean me, of course, and as usual.

It takes a certain – nay, special – ability to separate and absorb any shame or embarrassment to place a document of those misfires and disconnects out into the public arena with the free admission of failure. But then again, failure in intent does not necessarily equate to artistic failure. And the disjointed, discordant jumble of notes on the three pieces – respectively entitled ‘Gibberish’, ‘Balderdash’, and ‘Drivel’ are entertaining and stand as art in the sense that they document a collaborative creative process.

At the heart of Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel is an exploration of language, and the apparent obstacle of linguistic disparity. I’d long assumed -and believed – that the language of sound transcended linguistic boundaries. But on delving into the development of this skewed collaboration, I realise that while this may be broadly true, it is not a universal truth, and am reminded that context counts for a lot.

But the language itself matters. Dialogue doesn’t have to have explicit meaning or linear cohesion to convey something. It’s as much about interpretation as intention: the receiver / listener will inevitably bring their own perspective and one man’s throwaway nonsense is another’s serious art. The accompanying pencil for the owner to draw their own art into the blank white cover is a nice touch, which adds to the interactivity. The listener is inevitably – and incontrovertibly -implicated in the process, and this inclusion only serves to accentuate this point.

And for all its self-effacing flippancy, Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel stands as a work of art. The very word selection is telling. In dismissing its very own existence as lesser, it does so using elevated language, indicative of an advanced and expanded vocabulary, while also adhering to the rule of threes. This is not by any means an illiterate work. Quite the contrary, in fact: Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel is a celebratory work.

AA

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Goh Lee Kwang & Christian Meaas Svensen – Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel