Posts Tagged ‘Dark-Ambient’

Cold Spring – CD 3rd August 2018 / LP 10th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

There are so many moments lost in the annals of history. This particular one has been languishing, unheard and unreleased for some 35 years. As collaborations go, this one is particularly special, and captures the spirit of the underground scene in the early 80s, with the original Coil lineup of John Balance and Peter Christopherson joined by John Gosling and Marc Almond. Although renowned as a pop singer, both solo and with Soft Cell, Almond has a raft of interesting collaborations to his credit: his work with JG Thirlwell as Flesh Volcano is a persona favourite, the pair amping up the sleaze and grime to deliver something quite dank and slimy. Better still, their live rendition of ‘Ghostrider’ for the BBC. And, lest we forget, undocumented save for some (painfully) ropey bootlegs, The Immaculate Consumptive, a short-lived live project (just three shows in three days in October / November ‘83) which featured Almond, Thirlwell, Nick Cave, and Lydia Lunch.

‘How to Destroy Angels’ was recorded shortly before The Immaculate Consumptive broke Brian Eno’s piano, on 24th August 1983, at the Air Gallery in London. And the recording has languished ever since, until now, emerging cleaned up and consumable. Although it’s still pretty raw, and if truth be told, sounds little better than some of the recordings of my own spoken word performances recorded on my phone. Of course, this has rather more cultural significance and wider interest.

As the liner notes observe, ‘the music bears only scant resemblance to the ‘How To Destroy Angels’ 12” that Coil would release as their debut vinyl the following year.’ And so the performance which would preface Coil’s studio debut was very much an experimental effort, a collaborative piece born of happenstance and a coalescence of creative fermentation that was bubbling around the time.

It’s Lunch’s influence that seems strongest on Almond’s contribution here: his narrative – a bitter tirade against an ex-lover – is full of bile and expletives as he spits the words quickly and abrasively against an eerie, unsettling dark ambient backdrop. Challenging is the word – but then, that’s entirely the point.

The Kos Kia remix of ‘How To Destroy Angels’, which whittles 23 minutes of audio to just over eight, feels a little redundant here. It’s not bad by any stretch: in fact, as weirdy ambient remixes go, it’s pretty good. It’s just a question of fit.

‘Baptism of Fire’ is an unreleased recording of Zos Kia and Coil at Recession Studios, London: dating from 12th October 1983, it’s contemporaneous with ‘How to Destroy Angels’. It’s the shortest piece here, and concludes the set with four and a half minutes of battering percussion, howling ululations and clanking, clattering noise that’s very Throbbing Gristle and very uncomfortable indeed.

While so many archival recordings and onus cuts on anniversary reissues – often of bands who were only of limited merit in the first place – feel like sloppy cash-ins, digging out second-rate demons , acoustic versions, remixes outtakes and live recordings of well-known studio tracks, this is a real rarity, which sheds new light on the origins of band whose effect has been significant and enduring. Moreover, it’s not only vastly illuminating in context of the nascent Coil sound, but a document which joints a number of dots in the wider context: and for that, this is an essential release.

AA

COIL ZOS KIA MARC ALMOND - Lo res album cover for web

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Ici, D’ailleurs – 22nd June 2018

I find myself increasingly drawn to album covers that evoke a sense of desertion, emptiness, and which are oddly plain, bald. French avant-garde specialists Ici, D’ailleurs are particularly good in housing albums in covers of this type, with their ‘Mind Travels’ series, of which this is number eleven, being particularly noteworthy (and the tri-fold cover with a thick spine is especially nice). On the one hand, the cover art gives nothing away. On the other, it created a certain sense of emptiness and foreboding, which perfectly describes the music it houses.

Mysterium Coniunctionis – the product of a collaboration between Thighpaulsandra (who featured on many Coil albums) and Massimo Pupillo (who built his reputation as bassist with Zu, and has continued to expand it working with Eugene Robinson and as part of Triple Sun) – is dark and foreboding, and more.

The press blurb explains the album’s purpose neatly, so I shall quote: ‘Mysterium Coniunctionis makes direct reference to the eponymous and testamentary work of the psychiatrist Carl Jung, subtitled An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychiatric Opposites in Alchemy. It clearly reflect the duo’s intention to create particularly immersive and meaningful music from supposedly opposing materials’.

Mysterium Coniunctionis contains two tracks, each around the twenty-minute mark in terms of running time, and corresponding with one side of an album apiece. Halfway through the first, ‘Sagyria’, my wife wandered into my office and said she was worried there was something up with the motor on the dehumidifier before realising the uncomfortable humming was emanating from my speakers. Humming, throbbing, deep and resonant tones dominate both compositions.

There’s minimal movement across the album as a whole, and listening digitally the tracks bleed together to form an extended, expansive soundscape that pushes discomfort, a sense of disquiet and tension. Always tension. Some fourteen minutes into the second track, ‘Solve et Coagula’, the sounds reaches a shivering, spine-tingling level of intensity and density. It’s all in the frequencies, as the midrange and treble loom to the fore and get uncomfortable – really uncomfortable.

The ‘opposing materials’ which form the fabric of Mysterium Coniunctionis are the digital and analogue: in combination, they forge a dense and unsettling sound that eddies and whirls and tunnels into the inner regions by stealth.

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URUK

Reject and Fade – 13th August 2018

It’s been some eighteen months since we heard from break_fold, the, post-I Concur musical vehicle of Tim Hann.

27_05_17 – 21_01_18 continues the trajectory of its predecessor, the first break_fold release 07_07_15 – 13_04_16, and as previously, each track title refers to the date that work on the song commenced. And, as the press release for this limited-edition cassette release explains, ‘The album serves as a document of time stamped periods of creativity captured in layered beats and foggy reverse reverb textures’. However, this set also marks a evolution, and whereas dark ambience dominated the first release, this outing offers some real range, not to mention stylistic expansion.

As such, it’s something of a musical diary, and Hann’s methodology isn’t a world apart from that of John Tuffen on a number of his projects, notably Namke Communications’ One Year; Two Days and 365/2015. An what both artists share is a certain logical sense of documentation and a prioritisation of location in time (but, seemingly, less so space: we know the when, but there where, undocumented, is immediately lost to history and perhaps vague memory).

There’s a lot of fog and murk in the mix on the seven semi-ambient pieces collected here, but 27_05_17 – 21_01_18 is a lot, lot lighter than its predecessor and is the soundtrack t a move o an altogether happier place.

‘08_01_18_Intro’ raises the curtain with clitchy, flickering microbeats, sedate pulses of bass and swathes of expansive, abstract sweeps of sound.‘21_01_18’ goes low-tempo and stealthy, with a strolling, near subsonic bass and rippling piano drifting gently over a slow-turning sonic expanse. There’s a more direct feel to ‘07_08_17’, with it pulsing synths and insistent beats – and with the vintage Roland snare sound, it has something of a tense, Krautrock vibe and a certain urgent turbulence beneath its smooth surface.

‘19_11_17’ hits an almost commercial vibe, with a buoyant dance beat pushing the altogether more focused composition forwards. There are no two ways about it: 27_05_17 – 21_01_18 finds Hann pushing himself and expanding his musical palette.

The atmosphere on this release is very different from its predecessor, and while it’s very much a mistake to align the artist and the art, the tone suggests that Tim Hann is in a better place than when he recorded 07_07_15 – 13_04_16. I certainly hope so. 27_05_17 – 21_01_18 isn’t all sweetness and light, but it is a varied and, in places, uplifting album with no shortage of buoyance, melody and accessibility.

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break_fold – 27_05_17 – 21_01_18

Front & Follow – 6th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

As a child in the late 70s and early 80s, I used to play with three fox stoles that belonged to my mother. I was fascinated by their glass eyes and the clips that made ‘mouths’, and didn’t really consider any of it to be strange at the time. As an adult who’s been vegetarian for over twenty years, the very idea of a real fox stole – not to mention the sheepskin rugs that adorned each of the bedrooms in my parents’ house – horrifies me beyond words. Perhaps it was this sense of horror that pushed these recollections out of my mind for quite literally decades. But in the opening scenes of Penny Slinger, the film directed by Richard Kovitch, we see Penny walking down a stately driveway (Lilford Hall), draped in fur coat, accessorised by a fox stole, its beady artificial eyes looking fixedly over her shoulder toward the camera. This is our introduction to both Slinger and An Exorcism, the work which defined her career before her swift disappearance from the public eye for a very long time.

There’s another personal preface I feel a certain obligation to include here: I first encountered Richard Kovitch in around, maybe, 2008, in the days of MySpace. Although now known as an award-wining director, Kovitch is something of a polyartist, and was writing – both fiction and essays – back then, and I had the privilege of including one of his stories, ‘For Reasons Unknown’ in the first Clinical, Brutal anthology in 2009. The story showcased Kovitch’s keen eye for both narrative and visual, something that’s common to much of his work, and the feature-length documentary Penny Slinger – Out Of The Shadows is no exception.

The film is pitched as ‘the incredible, untold story of the British artist Penny Slinger and the traumatic events that led to the creation of her masterpiece, the 1977 photo-romance, An Exorcism’. Much of the story is told by Slinger herself, who proves to be a remarkably cogent and articulate speaker. The documentary notably features contributions from Peter Whitehead (who collaborated with Slinger on the shooting of An Exorcism at Lilford Hall in 1969, and it’s footage from this which opens the film) and Michael Bracewell, amongst others, and the ‘talking heads’ segments are comfortably paced and helpfully cut with pieces of Penny’s work in a way that satisfies both the well-versed and uninitiated. Ultimately, it’s most notable for its well-structured narrative. And its soundtrack.

The soundtrack in question is the debut album for Psychological Strategy Board. Taking their name from the committee responsible for overseeing strategies of psychological warfare in the US in the 1950s, it’s perhaps appropriate that biographical details about them is scant, beyond the fact Maybury and Paul Snowdon are perhaps better known as johnny mugwump and Time Attendant respectively, and that their only previous release is an EP, also released on Front & Follow, back in 2012. That. And the fact that the creation of this soundtrack, which began in 2011, was a challenging experience, both musically and personally. In context, it isn’t entirely surprising.

As it transpires, their near-invisibility proves to be something of an asset, as well as an indication of their modus operandi: while the soundtrack – released on vinyl and download split into thirteen tracks – is a continuous presence throughout the film’s one hour and thirty-three-minute duration – and very much steers the mood and accentuates the atmosphere, particularly when accompanying the more dramatic shots or narrative moments, it’s subtle in its delivery. Within the context of the film, it works well.

The measure of a soundtrack’s quality is whether or not it succeeds on its own merit, as a musical work, when separated from the film it was designed to accompany. This does, not least of all because it’s a largely ambient work which conjures image and feelings – often of disquiet -that any ambient work of a darker persuasion might. Dank rumblings and slow churns reminiscent of Throbbing Gristle nudge against hovering dissonance and creeping fear chords.

Spurts of electronic dislocation bubble and fizz over thick ripples of amorphous, atonal synth sound, hissing static and whispering winds. Sonorous low-end notes resonate, hanging in the air before they slowly decay, submerged by tense undulations. The atmosphere is dark, ominous, unsettling, but not oppressive. And while the narrative of the documentary and the creative process which yielded the supremely surreal and highly sexual An Exorcism is not – and never could be – conveyed in musical form, the otherness of the work itself very much is.

AA

Psychological Strategy Board – Penny Slinger Out of the Shadows

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

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