Posts Tagged ‘Dark-Ambient’

Malignant Records – TUMRCD117 – 8th January 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Greek ritual ambient duo, Martyria promise ‘5 stunning tracks of textural depth, sepulchral darkness, and exotic, richly detailed atmospheres’, and are pitched for fans of Dead Can Dance, Funerary Call, Voice of Eye, and Shibalba. I’m not going to feign superior knowledge: I’m only aware of Dead Can Dance from that list, but I have a hunch I know what’s reasonable to expect here. I’m braced for dark, haunting, atmospheric. I’m anticipating compositions which emanate subterranean spiritualism and mystery. And this is precisely what Martyria deliver.

This is dark. Dark in the sense of ominous, eerie. Dark in the sense of foreboding. Dark in the sense of the occult and the otherworldly. Dark in the sense of the unheimlich. Rhythms clatter and patter as wordless invocations float and drift above eternal drones. Dolorous bells herald the arrival of an elongated drone and an ethereal, choral female voice. Bells chime in a whorl of what sounds like didgeridoo as heaving chants and vocalisations conjured from the depths of the diaphragm in monasterial intonations.

At the mid-point of the album, ‘Nekron’, plunges into deeper, darker depths: dank rumblings and distant thunder which registers low on the sonic spectrum, churning at the gut, conjure dark, shadowy visions. It bleeds into the even longer darker, more sinister ‘Nyx’, dominated by cavernous percussion, muffled by distance and depth. It evokes flickering images of candlelit rituals held in carved temples far beneath the surface in secret cave networks.

The final composition, ‘Eschaton’, stretches out over some twelve and a half minutes with wordless vocal evocations and intimations of ancient occultism. It’s not music you can readily understand or cognise: it registers on a level far, far beneath the surface of comprehension. It’s the calling of the earth, the rocks, the trees. It registers and calls to a part of the psyche long-buried. Martyria speaks to the resonant brain, to genetic imprints, to the soul as conveyed through generations of heredity. It speaks to ancient history, knowledge buried through centuries of ‘progress’. Martyria is not a work to comprehend, but to allow to bury its way into the canals of the mind devoted to instinct. Its impact is difficult to quantify or even to explain on a rational, scientific level. And yet, it has impact and resonance – deep, slow-register resonance.

AAA

Martyria – Martyria

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Cold Spring Records – 23rd January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Never mind the cat, listen to the whale! There’s a rather trippy, dubby crossover feel to the trilling new-age rhythmic bass-led groove of ‘Thee Whale’, one of the three tracks on the second disc of this two CD plus DVD extravaganza of a release, which includes the film Dead Cat, which was released in 1989, and shown only at a handful of cinemas that year, including once at the infamous Scala Cinema in London. According to the accompanying blurb, ‘it was never issued on general release and has only recently been uncovered by David Lewis (writer & director).’ This release finally presents the full film, re-authored from the original source. The film itself features unique starring roles from cult film director Derek Jarman (who also worked with TG on In the Shadow of the Sun back in 1980), Andrew Tiernan (The Pianist, 300, The Bunker, and Derek Jarman’s Edward II) and Genesis P-Orridge. The film features the music of Psychic TV, included here on CD1, in its complete form.

On the one hand, it’s classic Psychic TV. On the other, I’m reminded why I parted ways with Psychic TV and much of the industrial movement, when, post-TG, everyone seemed to disappear up their own arses, otherwise ceased making music that felt either challenging or essential. It’s not that none of the members of Throbbing Gristle made any decent music after the initial split, because they clearly did, and early PTV and Chris and Cosey releases are proof of this. But at what point is enough enough? At what point does it all become so much indulgence?

That the material here is lifted from the archive provides only so much justification or defence. There’s very much a sense that all of the early groundbreakers have been surpassed, and that the myriad artists they’ve influenced have advanced far beyond the parameters their forebears pushed to new places. And they were already pushing on in 1989. Listening now, in 2017… ‘Dead Cat’ is a gnarly mess of humping and pumping, grind and drone, a seemingly formless throb of grating dissonance, and it sits well enough as a soundtrack. As a musical piece, the short (23-minute) version which closes CD2 is preferable: the plaintive mewlings stretched across the shuddering scrapes, punctuated by obliterative detonations, are challenging to the ears, but in some respects it feels all rather predictable. Whereas Throbbing Gristle still sound dangerous and deranged, ‘Dead Cat’ sounds like a safe assimilation of the template.

‘Thee Whale’, recorded on 23rd January 1988, is the soundtrack to the film Kondole, which was never made, although if it had been, it would have been 23 minutes long. ‘Thee Shadow Creatures’, the track which sits between ‘Thee Whale’ and the short ‘Dead Cat’ is also 23 minutes in duration. It’s dank and ominous, muffled rumblings and disembodied voices buried amidst swampy echoes. And way off in the distance, low in the mix and submerged by the distorted tribal rhythms, tortured jazz horns honk their anguish into the subterranean depths. While recorded some years later than the other tracks – in 1993 – it’s arguably the most successful, not least of all by virtue of being the most menacing, sustaining its atmosphere to the end.

As a whole, it is a nice set. As unsettling and noisy dark ambient works go, it delivers precisely what you would expect. And, regardless of my opinions as to whether or not it’s essential on any level, it is, unquestionably, a valuable and intriguing archive document. And on that basis, it’s very much worthwhile as an addition to the PTV catalogue.

AAA

PTV - Kondole

Hallow Ground – HG1703 – June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

TAR is the fourth solo album by Tehran-based composer Siavash Amini, although he’s joined by Pouya Pour-Amin on electric double bass and Nima Aghiani on violin. Not that the individual instruments are readily recognisable in the thick sonic swirls which combine to forge the ever-shifting soundscapes of TAR at least in the main. But when Aghiani’s violin weeps and bleeds emotive from amidst the amorphous aural clouds which turn and taper, billowing and rolling, throbbing and pulsating.

‘A Dream’s Frozen Reflection’ begins droney but gentle, but inside the first two minutes breaks into a serrated sonic tempest. Music that sounds for all the world like a circular saw accompanied by a saw played more conventionally (does anyone play the saw any more? Or has it more or less gone the way of the comb and the washboard?) isn’t an easy sell, but Amini creates an intense aural experience that immerses the senses. But for all the harsh tones, there are contrasts in abundance, and through forging a shifting soundscape, the atmosphere changes, sometimes almost subliminally over the course of the piece.

‘Rivers of Tar’ plunges into murky, dark territory, but crystalline glissandos cascade through the eddying clouds of sulphur, while graceful strings rise and sweep expansively. It’s hard to determine whether or not it really carries an emotional resonance, but as a listening experience, it’s got more than enough range and features some passages which do have that vital drag.

At times, ‘The Dust We Breathe’ is barely there, delicate contrails of soft ambience washing in and out. There are periods dominated high-volume undulations of grating, snarling noise early on, but over the course of its fourteen-minute duration, the track drifts quietly and softly into the background.

It’s Amini’s ability to manoeuvre, effortlessly and almost untraceably, the trajectory of the four compositions from head-crushing abrasion to lulling calmness which is the greatest achievement of TAR. It’s an ambient album which carries a sting in the tail sharp enough to hurt, while equally massaging the mental receptors with its delicate tones.

The extent to which TAR translates Amini’s desire to explore ‘the fragile tensions between and individual and collective subconscious’ is largely irrelevant: TAR is an unexpectedly dynamic work, brimming with texture and contrast.

Siavash Amini – TAR

Reject and Fade – 28th February 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Tim Hann used to front a Leeds-based alternative rock band called I Concur some years ago. I forget exactly how I discovered them now, but they were really, really good, one of those bands you would see play liv and think ‘Fuck. How are they not immense?’ One of the most precise and exhilarating live acts around, they were in another league, and it felt wrong to see them play as a support at the 450-capacity Brudenell Social Club. With the NME and Huw Stephens backing them they should have been huge. Sadly, the show I caught at the Packhorse in Leeds in 2010, where they tried out some of the material that would appear on the 2012 album Burial Proof would be one of their last, and Burial Proof would effectively be their sign-off. Life had already got in the way prior to the album’s release: ‘the usual thirty-something excuses of jobs, kids & houses’, as they put it on Facebook. And so it goes: ambition and dreams crushed by reality. The guilt and the money-pit of leaving your wife to deal with the children, while you go out on tour, pursuing the life of a young, single man.

I get it. Bands slog their guts out for fuck all. So do music reviewers, it so happens. ‘It’s not work, you don’t get paid for it,’ Mrs N retorts as I wade through the thirty or so emails which have crashed into my inbox while I’ve been at the day-job. Don’t free CDs, downloads and gigs count as pay? I’m not going to argue: I take the point. At least I get free stuff in abundance. Bands just hand out free stuff to buggers like me in the hope they’ll get a review. I review maybe 20% of the material I receive these days. It’s not because I’m a shit – no, it’s not the reason – it’s because I simply can’t do any more. The point is that being in a band is hard. It’s no life for a grown adult with mouths to feed.

A brief backtrack: in my endless quest for self-promotion, I used to run round slapping stickers and postcards everywhere every time I attended a gig. I didn’t sell many books off the back of it, but I did get an introduction to Tim’s younger brother Michael, a writer and soon-to-be head honcho at experimental Reject and Fade, a label devoted to dark ambient and generally weird, dark electronic-based nastiness. It’s a small and sometimes wonderful world. Were it not for all of this backstory – and I make no apology for the anecdotal meanderings with their Sartrean, Robbe-Grillet tinted reflections – this review would not exist. You should be grateful for the existence of this review because this offering by break_fold – Tim Hann’s latest project, released on brother Michael Hann’s Reject and Fade imprint is an inspired underground work, which, by its nature is unlikely to receive much mainstream critical coverage, deserves your attention.

break_fold represents a significant departure: there isn’t a jangly guitar to be heard here, not a single emotive swell, and no vocals: in other words, nothing remotely resembling the conventions of rock. This is music produced slowly, during moments away from life. And it’s music made by one man, at home, likely in the small hours, without the need to rely on the input of others. Hann clearly has music in his blood, and possesses an incredible focus when he’s making it. As a dark ambient work, amorphous, intangible yet curiously challenging, it’s an outstanding release and one which displays a meticulous attention to detail. The tones, the texture, the crispness of the beats and the overtly synthetic elements, in contrast with the swirling background elements is quite something.

About the title: 07_07_15 – 13_04_16 is pitched as ‘a record of memories and time stamped bursts of creative activity, captured and crystallised in glacial beats, foggy textures and electrified rhythms.’ The track titles are, in fact, the dates on which the individual track were started. As a whole, it’s a document of a specific time-span. There is something simultaneously resonant and alienating about this location in time, in that time is both universal and personal. Events take place at given times which are known globally. Other events are strictly personal. But our location in time is often marked not by the event but by our reaction to it. Take, for example, the announcement that the UK had voted to leave the EU. Many, if not most, UK citizens will forever have the fateful events of the 23rd June 2016, and also the 24th (very much the morning after) etched into their memories. But their responses will vary wildly, and the memories will inevitably be shaped by that immediate reaction on hearing the result.

07_07_15 – 13_04_16 is a journey into the break_fold mind-space, but without context in terms of the events of the dates in question. This accentuates the sense of dislocation already present in the music itself – music which conveys emotional tension, conflict, unease through the medium of rumbling, uncomfortable layers of sound which drift and hang like mist or toxic gas. Murky, impenetrable, tense and dubby, it’s a challenging journey into the unknown defined by low, strolling basslines streaking, slow-turning ambient tension and clamorous beats swathed in echo.

 

break_fold

Malignant Records

Christopher Nosnibor

You know this is going to be not so much dark, as positively black, right? Look at the cover art: there’s a fucking goat on it. Nothing say terrifyingly, inhumanly bleak, satanic metal noise rage like a horned goat on an album’s sleeve. Ever since Bathory’s gut-churningly nasty, backer-than-back, dredged from the bowels of hell debut, the goat has been the signifier.

Monocube know all about dark atmospherics: the album begins with ominous fear tones hanging in a shroud of creeping mist. They’re master of the slow-build, too: the album’s first track, ‘Visiones III’ is nine minutes in length, the whispering ambience and contrails of darkness hovering in the air as the listener is led through uncertain, uncharted territory as the nebulous sonic cloud lowly turns in space. This isn’t nearly as gnarly as the cover art suggests though. What’s going on?

‘Drowned Sun’ lunges into the subterranean realms of dark ambience and burrows its way toward a chthonic unpleasantness. With a heaving (heat) beat and yawning undulating drones it’s wholly uncomfortable listening. ‘Downward’ follows the same dark ambient path, inching into the bowel-trembling depths of Sunn O))) and Earth in their dronetastic first iteration. The low-end frequencies hurt, while the shifting higher levels disorientate and unsettle.

It’s becoming apparent that this is no thrashy, guitar-based black metal effort – although it is seriously fucking dark. The weight of the endless, grating drones which swirl and eddy menacingly is monumentally oppressive.

Perhaps you, like me, have deduced that the goat was a lie at least on a superficial level. Monocube aren’t a band you’ll find lurking in the woods, daubed in corpse paint. They aren’t about making heavy guitar noise and snarling like extras from ‘The Walking Dead’. Perhaps because of this, rather than in spite of it, they’re a whole lot scarier.

 

Monocube - The Rituals

empreintes DIGITALes – IMED 17141

Christopher Nosnibor

The background:

The exhibition Broken Ground looks at seven cities over ten years, and how redevelopment infrastructure changes our perception of cityscapes. These cities could be anywhere (everywhere). Reconstructed from the opportunities of street level construction, I treat the sites more like stage sets, where there are props, actors, entries and exits, and evidence through the debris, disarray, shadows of figures and randomness throughout.

In our contemporary world the works have taken on hybrid references of displaced people from war zones, or natural disasters that fill nightly newscasts in the media.

The review:

It’s an unsettling work. An apocalyptic, post-nuclear work. An album that lurks under the shadow of the bomb. It’s an album for unsettled times, a soundtrack to a return to the distrust of cold war politics and a global culture defined by social and political division, fear, uncertainty and mass murder. Broken Ground is a dark album for dark times.

From the very outset, Bouchard manipulates dark, throbbing layers of undulating, yawning drones and grating tidal waves of noise, dragging them across birdsong-like tweets of analogue twitters, sounding like a corpse in a tarpaulin being hauled down gravel drive at sunset. Yawning, drawling harmonica-like notes drift lazily, and somehow awkwardly, stretched and distended, over groaning low to mid-range backdrops: almost-familiar sounds are bent out of shape and rendered unfriendly. ‘Intergranular Attack’ goes in low, snake-like whispers and bleak monotone narrative samples deliver reports of atomic science with a detached clinicality, and the theme is revisited in the fragmented, fractured post-apocalyptic time capsule that is ‘Resistant Materials’.

Dark tones creep and hover, while washes of snarling noise and contrails of feedback linger amidst screeds of sharp-edged sheets of sound and washes of nebulous noise. Glitchy, crackling beats thud disconcertingly through a stammering hum on ‘Hysteries’, and the scratchy oscillations of ‘Voids Patterns’ offers a fresh take on spacey / spaced out reverby darkness.

Broken Ground finds Bouchard exploring well-trodden experimental fields and offering something new. Charming chimes assume an ominous demeanour; voices drift, detached in empty space. There is no comfort or solace to be taken from their presence: they’re distant, disconnected, out of reach, perhaps by light years. You may be receiving, but there’s no way to make two-way contact: you’re lost in a wave of pink noise and a fizz of rolling static.

As in space, so on earth: each person sitting, alone, boxed in: connected in the virtual world but never more alone and isolated now. Tapping out comments and messages, condolences and sympathy for the displaced and the damaged reported by the media: it’s merely mechanical. You feel nothing for them, you feel nothing for yourself: you’re numb, a drone. You don’t really connect. You’re floating in virtual space.

The voices, stammering, echoing in fractured snippets of different languages from the speakers are no more familiar than the voices from around the world, beamed to your computer and smart phone. This is the world of dislocation and dis-ease Bouchard depicts with such precision on Broken Ground. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but looking in the mirror always is.

Christian Bouchard – Broken Ground

Hallow Ground – HG1606 – 28th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Reiner Van Houdt presents an interesting proposition: a classically-trained pianist who’s worked with John Cage and Luc Ferrari, he also plays in Current 93 and has worked in collaboration with Nick Cave, John Zorn and Antony Hegarty. The fact this release is on the Hallow Ground label should perhaps give an indication that this is no soft neoclassical effort – although I’m in no way criticising neoclassical music here: I’m simply saying that this dos not sit within the field, and is harder, harsher, heavier, at least in places. There are no neat melodic structures to be found on Paths of the Errant Gaze, and no instrumentation which sits within the classical bracket: this is very much an electronic album.

On the face of it, there isn’t much to this. Paths of the Errant Gaze is an album which is extremely quiet, sparse, minimal, and the detail – and the quantity of source material involved in its creation – are not immediately apparent. Just as Burroughs and Gysin theorised on the power of ‘The Third Mind’ through the act of collaboration, so Van Houdt believes the act of recording creates a ‘third ear’. And so it is that Van Houdt built Paths of the Errant Gaze from myriad recordings gathered from a near-infinite array of locations.

‘The Fabric of Loss’ creeps ominously, scraping strings like creaking doors echo in the still air as dust motes descend silently, ‘Orphic Asylum’ introduces the first semblance of rhythms, murky, clanking, developing to extended bursts of bass-end noise and a thumping, trudging beat which plots treacherously through an unnervingly dark sonic labyrinth. Even when near-silence encroaches, there remains a dark, oppressive atmosphere in the air. Sparse piano notes and a Scott Walker-esque vocal emerge briefly from the dense sonic fog on TR 5, but neither does much to orientate or ground the listener.

There is no indication of the sounds captured by Van Houdt being your common or garden field recordings – in fact, the ‘everyday objects, situations and moments’ which Van Houdt records obsessively are all but lost amidst the process of forming a sonic melange. Nor does Van Houdt utilise these soundpieces in a conventional way: one does not get a sense of Paths of the Errant Gaze existing as a collage work. Paths of the Errant Gaze is not a work which is encumbered by a sense of pretence, and nor does its theoretical or conceptual framework impinge unduly on the end product.

The ten-minute ‘Transfinite Spectre’ is an all-out sonic assault worthy of Merzbow, as laser-guided blasts crackle and fizz, top-end treble drilling directly into the brain through the ear to create maximum discomfort.

 

Reinier Van Houdt - Paths of the Errant Gaze