Posts Tagged ‘Dark-Ambient’

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

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Hallowground – HG1607 – 28th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Danny Hyde is probably best known for his work producing and remixing Nine Inch Nails and Coil, Depeche Mode and Psychic TV, amongst others, although he also remixed Adamski’s ‘Killer’ and has co-produced Pop Will Eat Itself. A varied career, and no mistake, but one which has always leaned toward the darker side of the musical spectrum. He’s also operated a handful of his own musical projects, and Electric Sewer Age is his outlet for creating ‘contemplative mood inducing’ music, as he phrases it on his website. Bad White Corpuscle is the second album under the Electric Sewer Age banner, and is being re-released on vinyl and as a download (with different cover art) after being discreetly released by Italian label Old Europa Café on CD only in 2014. Its predecessor, Moon’s Milk in Finale Phase featured the late Peter Christopherson of Coil, and perhaps not entirely surprisingly, it’s being hailed as a continuation of his work with Coil or even as evoking the spirit of a ‘lost Coil album’. But regardless of associations, Bad White Corpuscle is a strong – and extremely dark – album which stands on its own merit.

The cover art is, however you look at it, pretty grim, in a ‘what the hell is that?’ sort of a way, and the music it houses is equally sinister and inhuman. Chthonic voices whisper and growl blindly in the darkness. Occasionally spiralling out into gravity-free galactic drift, with twinkling synths providing minuscule points of light on ‘Corpuscular Corpuscles’. The ‘Amber Corpuscle’ turns slowly in suspension, insect flickers echo before the ‘Rising Corpuscle’ brings forth booming bass frequencies and nagging, rippling. I find I’m beginning to feel quite spaced out and nauseous: no, I’m not hungover: the frequencies are low, and the sound possesses an uncomfortable, gut-rumbling density which resonates mentally and physically. The experience is sinister and vaguely terrifying.

There’s no escaping the album’s theme as rendered explicit through the track titles. What is Hyde’s obsession with blood? Specifically, the notion of a ‘bad white corpuscle’? The white blood cell is the cell of the immune system: what can be bad about a blood cell which defends the body from invaders? I’m drawn to the idea of the mutant and he virus, perhaps the deficient white corpuscle which fails to fulfil its duty as sentry, or otherwise the virus in disguise, the bad guy dressed as a good guy or the mutating virus which sustains itself while sapping the host undetected. I’m speculating, of course, while the dark sounds drag me down… down.

The soundscapes are simultaneously vast and microcosmic, evoking cellular shapes from a microscopic perspective; traversing the corpuscles, the listener becomes the cosmonaut of inner space. The mangled digital vocals on the alien synthpop incantations of the title track float, disembodied through an analogue circuitscape of liquid metal.

The vinyl-only track, ‘Redocine (Death of the Corpuscle)’ does mark something of a departure with the introduction of more readily identifiable moments of melody – countered by extraneous noise and echoed, distorted robotix voices – propelled by some powerful, stop/start beats and building a deep, dislocated groove. Beneath the shine, the synaptic explosions and dark rumbling vibrations are symptomatic of cellular collapse.

Bad White Corpuscle mines a deep, dark sonic seam, and does so with a real feeling for unsettling sonic terrains. There’s certainly no inoculation against the effects of this album.

 

Electric Sewer Age

My Proud Mountain – 22nd July 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It takes a while to get going: the first minute and a half is simply drifting sound, like the distant sea. But Lash Back is an album that takes it time to build atmosphere. Parker may be the lauded producer and electronics wrangler behind some of metal’s more intriguing contemporary acts, but Lash Back is certainly not a metal album. But it is dark and as innovative an album as you’re likely to hear this year.

Stammering snare drums add an element of unpredictability to the sedate and solid bass-led rhythm on opener ‘Psychic Driving’. As the layers of sound overlay one another, forming a towering sonic cathedral, one is increasingly moved to awe. The stark industrial electronica of ‘Knuckle Crossing’ hangs over a slow, deliberate beat, shifting shapes and textures shading shadows and conjuring an air of coldness and dislocation, while ‘Slow Children’ broods ominously. Parker’s compositions, and their execution, show extreme restraint, the emphasis very much on building tension rather than looking to grant its release. Just as the invisible monster is always scarier than the one which reveals itself, the undefined threat and menace that lurks on, and beneath, the surface of the tracks, is more powerful than their realisation.

There are sustained sonic attacks, and plenty of them for those who relish the blistering noise assault: the aforementioned ‘Slow Children’ does eventually burst into a steely crescendo, and the slow surge of all-engulfing noise that is ‘Low Gaps’ is breathtakingly dense, with heavy hints of Prurient in its tone and the juxtaposition of synth sounds more commonly found on commercial dance albums, with mangled industrial noise, and the sonorous mechanical grating of ‘Sheep Slaughter’ is every bit as abrasive as the title suggests; it’s a soundtrack of pain, of death, of mass-scale killing.

Lash Back is by no means an accessible or easy album, but then, it isn’t meant to be, and Parker has produced something that is unusual and unsettling, and which conforms to precisely nothing.

 

sanford-parker-lash-back-1

Gizeh Records – GZH65DP – 18th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Gizeh is a label which grasps the importance of the complete music experience, and never stint on their packaging. Anyone purchasing their product can feel a tangible sense of both art and artefact, and Anders Brørby’s brooding instrumental album Nihil, the second release in their ‘Dark Peaks’ series, is no exception, housed as it is in a textured gatefold sleeve, the radiating sunburst design raised from the surface, in heavy black ink on a matt black background. How much more black could it be? The answer is none. None more black (the white paper band printed with the artist’s name and album title which much be carefully slid from around the sleeve in order to access the contents notwithstanding).

The presentation provides a suitable indication as to the sonic experience it prefaces. Nihil meaning nothing: while it has, since the 19th Century come to connote a negativity, manifesting as antagonism or rejection through the widespread use of ‘nihilism’, as of and in itself, ‘nihil’, or ‘nothing’ implies an absence. Neither positive or negative, it is simply a lack. Absolute nothing is beyond the human ken, and so, in artistic terms, there is a need to portray nothing, absence, with something. This is something Norwegian composer sound artist Brørby achieves on the 10 pieces which comprise Nihil.

Primarily, the music is dark. There is a lack, an absence, of light, at least in terms of the overall sensation it conveys. Melding elements of drone and dark ambient with more abrasive sounds, the compositions infer an experimental bent which places atmosphere at the fore. The structures are almost subliminal, the shapes of the pieces largely evolve and emerge briefly through a succession of transitions as layers of sound overlap and drift across one another almost imperceptibly. Musical forms are therefore explicitly absent, expounding the concept of ‘nihil’. As such, Nihil is a work of subtlety, and a work which bears theoretical scrutiny, and sits alongside works by the likes of Christian Fennesz, Lawrence English and Tim Hecker.

But subtlety should not be read as a synonym for sedate or tranquil. ‘As Dead as the Stars We Watched at Night’ builds layers of dark noise and swelling drones scrape and torment the nerves, and while the gentle, chimes which ripple in cadence through ‘I Will Always Disappoint You’ offer a glimmer of light and warmth, ‘Put Your Ear to the Ground’ finds a harsh, thick distorted fuzz that obliterates the smooths contrails beneath and accentuates the unrest on which Nihil is constructed. Likewise, the serrated howl of ‘From the Window Above the Lake’ conveys the anguish of emptiness.

Through the medium of sound, Brørby creates a conceptual absence (not to be confused with an absence of concept). There is no message, and Brørby does not purport to convey anything through the work beyond ‘raw atmospheres’. ‘Raw’ implies unfiltered, unadulterated, without manipulation nor refinement, and while this may not be strictly true of Anders Brørby’s creative process, Nihil nevertheless presents itself as being self-contained, a work about absence of anything but the sounds it contains. It is not ‘about’ Anders Brørby, and if anything, the artist is, if not completely absent, then very much hiding in the shadows.

It’s an album that’s best appreciated in a semi-present state, to allow the sounds to slowly wash over the senses and most of all, to be heard without preconceptions or expectations. Because nothing can often leave you with so much more than something.

Anders Brorby - Nihil

 

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=4022471447/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/transparent=true/

 

Anders Brørby Bandcamp

Gizeh Records – 12th February 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Æmaeth is the project of Owen Pegg (A-Sun Amissa / Hundred Year Old Man), and he’s already scored a number of films. Independent flick The Roman is a silent work which to which ten segments of improvisational drone-based passages played on guitar and piano were composed by way of an accompaniment.

Since the film premiered in May 2014, its soundtrack has been evolving, developing, accruing layers and details, until finally, the ten pieces came together to form a fluid, brooding sequence that stands as a whole, and as a powerful sonic journey. It’s fitting for a film which is no gung-ho Hollywood take on history based on a succession of cast off-thousand battle scenes. Simon Rawson’s movie, shot in Yorkshire, is outlined as a story of two men, lost, who are ‘challenged and tested by nature, each other and the inner most conflicting primordial affiliations with man’s body and mind’.

Pegg’s soundtrack conveys so much, its dark, tense tones resonate as they connote psychological drama. The battles fought within the mind, the conflict and the uncertainty. The barren, unforgiving landscapes, shadowy woodlands and bleak moors. These are the scenes portrayed within the compositions, which are spacious, often sparse. Delicate piano notes drift airily but ponderously, gradually eclipsed by deep, dark, thunderous rolling drones, stormy and threatening. At times, the sheer weight and density of the ominous tones are oppressive, the sounds so large as to create a sensation of a pressure being applied to the skull.

That isn’t to say the soundtrack lacks subtlety: far from it. There are passages of quiet, so hushed as to compel the listener to strain their ears listening for some faint sound – and invariably, there is something, something small, soft, indistinct. Or there are layers of sound, often in the upper frequencies, needling the senses, tugging at the peripheries of the psyche, somewhere in the background or half-hidden, off to one side. These, like the brief moments of light which occasionally present themselves, are integral to the soundtrack’s dynamics, and the power of its effect.

There is torment, there is discomfort. There is also an ever-present sense of danger, sometimes distant, sometimes heart-stoppingly close.

The final passage, the nine-minute ‘Neptune’ is vast, built on a slowly turning vortex of sound. A rumbling rhythm lingers as it pulses just beneath the surface of its soft tonality and offers a hint of redemptive relief at the conclusion of a journey which is most worthy of the term ‘epic’.

Æmaeth - Roman

 

Æmaeth – The Roman at Gizeh