Posts Tagged ‘Dark-Ambient’

Midira Records – MD044 – 23rd November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

N + [ B O L T ] aren’t the most imaginative when it comes to naming their albums: this, their third collaboration, is, like the two which preceded it, is without title. But then, they’re in the company of The Bronx and Peter Gabriel, and the lack of titles on whose first four solo albums didn’t exactly damage his career. As is often the case with untitled albums, which come to be identified by the prominent features of their cover art, so “die Krähe (the crow)” follows the albums known as “der Hase (the rabbit)” and “das Hörnchen (the squirrel)”.

Since recording the album, [ B O L T ] have expanded to a four-piece featuring two bass players and a drummer, but this captures them still sparse, taut, minimal, and the accompanying text sets the scene: ‘Imagine an industrial area, with big smokestacks and metal architecture, mostly quiet and sometimes interrupted by machine noises and from somewhere you hear the sound of N + [ B O L T ] coming through the walls. This is what you see and hear around the studio in Duisburg (Germany), where the band recorded the album’.

While the album is by no means determined specifically by the environment in which it was produced, said environment is nevertheless a factor, an integral part of the backdrop to its formulation. And so emerges a sound described by the band as ‘black drone’.

It seems a fair description. It’s dark, gnarly, and droney after all. I’ve been around a while and this crushing, low-tempo, low-octave, percussion-free sludge-drone sounds very much like a refined retake of Earth 2. A1 bleeds into the heavy grind of A2, a gritty, cyclical stop/start bass trudge. It never stops: it’s hypnotic, all-immersive. And it’s all about the trudging bass. It’s the album’s defining feature, and if anything, it becomes more prominent, more dominant, as the four pieces progress. Progress is a relative term: it doesn’t go anywhere: it doesn’t need to and isn’t designed to. Its purpose is to trudge, while guitar feedback wraps around like… like… twisting vines, serpentine, wisps of mist.

Time slows and weight evolves over the course of the four pieces: B1 stretches its funereality over some ten minutes, the guitars only bursting in around a third of the way through. It wells to a mesh of pulverising, overdriven noise ad leaves the listener hollowed, drained. It all heads slowly and incrementally down towards the plodding grind of ‘B2’: an epoch passes between each below-the-earth bass note, while guitar feedback strains all around. The final piece stretches out over almost fourteen minutes, and begins with the lowest, lowest of bass grinds amidst a swirl of layered feedback. And it goes on: an eternity passes as a simple double-strike of the same note, so low as to register below the range of cognisance, instead nudging at the spectrum marked ‘subconscious’. And it’s as we slide into this area that the impact of this wordless exercise on weight really registers its impact.

It’s music beyond words, music beyond music. The richness and density, paired with the almost indistinguishable, melted tempo of droning sound without rhythm has an effect that resonates on an almost biological level.

AA

N46

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Panarus Productions – 25th January 2019

Sometimes, I don’t help myself. I allow myself to disappear down rabbit holes of hypertext and to indulge myself in the worst, most mentally unhealthy ways while writing thinly-veiled work of fiction. Right what you know, right? Only, when what you know is anxiety laced with paranoia from two decades of exposure to corporate culture and rolling television news, gravitating towards the things you feel you should know more about to bolster the experiences of what you know, the echo-chamber of confirmation-bias just becomes a screaming howl of endless reverb.

And depressingly often, sooner or later, life imitates art. Over the last few days, I’ve received texts from friends telling me they’re witnessing scenes reminiscent of Retail Island at the very retail park that inspired the book. It was of course inevitable: in a time when the news channels have evolved into irony-free replicas of The Day Today, it’s night-on impossible to separate Ballardian dystopias located in credibly near futures from news reportage.

It was similarly inevitable that I would gravitate towards this release by Heat Death Of The Sun – or, moreover, that it would otherwise find me one way or another. The label promises

‘half an hour oppressive electronics’ and a work that’s ‘very much the soundtrack to some kind of automated authoritarian surveillance network’. Of course I’m sold.

The first of the album’s five tracks, ‘Currency of Faith’ opens with a recording of Dylan Thomas reading ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ in expansive, ominous tones: slowly, low, rumbling drones begin to eddy around and slow, deliberate beats crash in like thunder. Before long, it’s built into a claustrophobic buzz with extraneous noise surges and a monotonous industrial rhythm clattering, half-submerged but cutting through the murk with a sharp metallic edge. Oppressive is the word, and not even a choral intervention can lift the atmosphere beyond subterranean dankness.

A tension-inducing uptempo beat – an insistent clicking hammer that thumps and thumps and thumps – introduces ‘The Relentless Pound of Austerity’ and continues to thump away monotonously for over ten minutes, amidst a whirling eddy of off-key atonality, a midrange buzzing and a collage of samples. There’s no way you can get comfortable listening to this as you feel your heartbeat increasing and your jaw clenching spontaneously, especially near the end when a shriek of digital feedback increases to an unbearable, ear-splitting level and engulfs everything. It’s fucking horrible – and as such, it’s the perfect soundtrack to the now, the lack of levity and lack of breathing space the sonic representation of the inescapable blizzard of media we’re subjected to all day, every day.

Guiding the listener through a bleak soundscape of dark ambience pinned together by monotonous rhythms, the experience of listening to this album is an uncomfortable one: even the delicate twitter of birdsong is imbued with a sense of impending doom. And it leads down the path which culminates in the pounding industrial grind of the title track. Awkward oscillations shiver behind a slow electronic beat while mechanical noise and voices echo into the abyss for eight full minutes, spreading an atmosphere of dislocation and alienation that fittingly draws the album to a stark, cold close.

Heat Death

Hallow Ground – 16th November 2018

Reinier Van Houdt’s 2016 solo album Paths of the Errant Gaze was a collage of quiet, dark ambience, and Igitur Carbon Copies continues in a similar vein. The inspiration for this work is the unfinished gothic tale Igitur, a collection of texts ultimately abandoned by the author, the French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé in 1869.

Considering the fragmentary nature of the incomplete work, not to mention Mallarmé’s tendency to incorporate theoretical aspects within his practise, the appeal to an artist like Van Houdt isn’t hard to see: a classically-trained pianist who’s collaborated with artists ranging from John Cage to Charlemagne Palestine and has been a member of Current 93 since 2012, he’s long been fascinated with ‘all matters that defy notation: sound, timing, space, physicality, memory, nose, environment’. This is one of those works that could very easily inspire a full-blown essay instead of a review, and there’s a temptation to write it – but does anyone actually want that? Does anyone have the time to read it, even if I had the time to write it – and I mean properly?

To reduce the experience and reflection to something manageable, with Igitur Carbon Copies, Reinier Van Houdt presents a work of immense theoretical depth in an accessible form, although obviously these things are relative. That is to say, it’s a challenging album, but one’s appreciation doesn’t require a priori knowledge of the theoretical concepts around authorship and originality, around chance and destiny, around temporality, and the myriad contexts behind it. On the surface – a deep, dark, rippling surface as it may be – it’s a dark ambient work littered with muttered speech. Beneath that surface, there’s a lot going on. And so what Van Houdt presents is in no way a carbon copy, but a corrupted, adapted interpretation of Igitur. And so begins the journey through the stages of copying and alteration, a question which lies at the heart of postmodern textual interrogation, and William Burroughs’ novel Cities of the Red Night. Text mutates. Even a carbon copy is a copy: it is not an original and therefore different.

The eerie and the uncanny reverberate around every shadowy corner of the album’s ten compositions, some of which are but the briefest, most fleeting sonic experiences, starting with the 40-second opener, ‘Annunciation’, which begins with dank and distant rumblings which expand into turning ambient tones, before segueing into ‘An Empty Set’ in a blast of static that lasts but a fraction of a second but completely fractures the flow.

Drawing source material from Mallarmé – revised by Van Houdt, and read by David Tibet in his best monotone – there is a distinct sense of narrative about Igitur Carbon Copies, however disjointed. The vocals are treated, albeit subtly, to render them with a certain trembling reverb that adds a disquieting edge. And there are extended passages that rumble and undulate, a simmering sonic soup. It doesn’t really go anywhere, and nor does it need to: it creeps around on the peripheries of the senses and pokes at the psyche almost subliminally. The effect, then, is difficult to define, but it’s nevertheless something that happens. One traverses Igitur Carbon Copies in a certain state of somnambulance and bewilderment. But one definitely traverses it, and its effects are definite.

AA

Reinier Van Houdt – Igitur Carbon Copies

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

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.

AA

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.

AA

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