Posts Tagged ‘Drone’

Cruel Nature – CN133

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not often demo tapes get a ‘proper’ release. Then again, it’s not often you actually get demo tapes these days: cassettes may be making something of a comeback on the underground, but you’re more likely to get a demo recorded on mobiles with the tracks assembled using some smart software than on a four track. I remember my old Fostex X-18 seeming incredibly compact back in ’92. Less true of the X55, but with its double-speed spooling and advanced mixing capability, it was more like having a proper studio on your desk. How times have changed.

But when it comes to black metal, low-grade production is integral to the aesthetic. It’s supposed to be impenetrably murky, the songs emerging from a booming condenser mic recording overloaded with volume, crackle, and hiss.

I was fortunate to catch Petrine Cross virtually live at a Heinous Whining streaming event the other week, and it was devastating: I was blown away by the dark intensity of the performance, and this release confirm this was no one-off or a case of me being carried away with too many cans in my atempt to recreate the gig experience at home.

A solo project for Esmé Louise Newman of emotionally-charged black metal duo Penance Stare (and her resumé is pretty impressive too), Petrine Cross is pitched as ‘Thought-provoking raw ambient black metal, inspired through solitude and literature, that hits hard in all its oppressive glory.’

‘Charred Skirts and Deathmask’ could be read one of a number of was, but it begins with a soft-edged undulating drone, which continues throughout its eight-plus-minute duration beneath a crushing deluge of punishing guitar noise. There are no discernible chords, no clear structure, just a full-on deluge of sludge. There are some vocals in there somewhere, too, I think. I don’t need the details, and that’s perhaps as well, as they’re obfuscated by a dense wall of undifferentiated sound that’s all in the mid and lower ranges.

I’m listening by candlelight and screen glare, and it seems appropriate as the snarling blast of ‘I Beneath a Rougher Sea’ tears from the speakers, a muffled, murky blast of a cyclical chord sequence, overloading with distortion. It takes some time for any form to emerge from the searing sonic wall, and when it does, it’s vague, melting in its blisteringly intense grind.

The recordings may be primitive, but I’m not sure they would necessarily benefit from a more luxurious, layered studio treatment. The context is key: this is black metal – albeit in a stripped-back, ambient form – and doesn’t require polish. These recordings are cavernously dark and dredge the depths of the soul. Search deep.

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Room40 RM401 – 1st May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

One aspect of postmodernism that can be both intriguing and frustrating is its tendency to contradiction. Moreover, the way in which postmodern criticism centres in on the contradictions of postmodern art, culture, and society, and extrapolates how postmodern art revels in the contradictions inherent in postmodern culture without in any way seeking to resolve them. Postmodernity seems to suggest that questions are enough, without need for answers. But are they?

Living in England, I’ve witnessed post-postmodernity taken to the most meta of levels in recent days having witnessed Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempting to detail the new guidelines for managing the COVID-19 pandemic on our small island, and am, along with the rest of the nation reeling at the advice that if I can’t work from home I should go to work, but I shouldn’t go to work if possible, and if I do have to go to work, to avoid public transport, and if I am working from home, it’s ok to go out as much as I like for exercise but only if essential, and I can meet people from other households, but only one person and it must be outdoors, and while maintain a 2-metre distance, which is the same as the distance as from people in public anyway.

Where am I going with this? Apart from more questions, more rhetoric?

Less is more. But sometimes, it’s also less. Lawrence English’s latest offering consists of two longform tracks, of around twenty minutes a piece, corresponding with a side of vinyl or cassette, although at present, Lassitude is only being released as a download. And not a lot happens.

‘Saccade (For Elaine Radigue)’begins with a trilling, rapid-oscillating drone that hangs in he mid-range. It doesn’t do anything, and doesn’t go anywhere, but gradually blurs. No, the sound remains static: the perception of it blurs. At least for a time, after which the notes slow and melt together.

There’s less texture and less shift to ‘Lassitude’, which sustains an even hum for the majority of its twenty-minute duration. It has no direction, and no substantial content, but that isn’t the purpose. There are tonal shifts, gradual gradients down, but they’re slowly incremental, almost subliminal. And ultimately, to what end?

Perhaps there is no end: perhaps this is the end. Perhaps the end has been coming, slowly, all this time, and our lives to now have been a waiting for the end. Perhaps not. What do we know?

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Ideologic Organ -  SOMA037 – 17th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The blurbage which accompanies this release was prefaced by a line from Eyvind Kang, stating, ‘The digital release idea has been a kind of lifeline, a way of thinking of music and sound as survivance and meditation’.

We are indeed fortunate: if we think isolation in the age of the global village is difficult, imagine life during previous plague pandemics. One may argue that without the blizzard of (dis)information being disseminated, we’d be in a much better place, but however much we may miss our friends and relatives, things are undoubtedly easier for many – although certainly not everyone – in the Internet age.

Writing from his Berlin sublet, where he says he is ‘here for the duration it seems’ Stephen O’Malley says ‘We are all in these similar boats, together.’ And there is some comfort in all of this. For a time, I’d been concerned that continuing with music reviews in the face of everything was somehow an act which diminished, undermined the gravity of the situation. People are dying, people are alone, unable to leave the house. And here I am spouting opinions about music?

Of course, we need all arts, in particular music, now more than ever, to fill the gaps. And the artists need to keep making music, and not just for financial reasons: artists have a tendency to respond to situations by making art, and my writing about it is part of the dissemination process. And so, after a couple of wilderness weeks where the very act of sitting in front of a screen and keyboard felt like the very definition of futility, I came to see it more of a duty.

The latest material from PHURPA, Hymns of Gyer is one of four new titles on Ideologic Organ.

It’s a low, wheezing, groaning sound that drones and echoes the introduction to Hymns of Gyer. Sounding somewhere between a digeridoo and a zen om chant from deep within a cave, it’s both ominous and meditative.

Enigmatic Russian collective, PHURPA, centred around Alexey Tegin have steadily been building a catalogue of spiritually-focused and other-worldly sounding recordings centred around Bön, Tibet’s oldest spiritual tradition. Hymns of Gyer features four mesmeric vocal drones, and if Sunn O))) did throat singing, it would sound like this.

The slow undulations and the multiple voices, each droning pitch resonating against the others in an endless succession of swells and ebbs, sometimes booming and billowing.

There is no discernible structure or form, but the purpose of these performances is about a different kind of focus: an inner focus, one which achieves a transcendental oneness. ‘0.1 [3]’ and ‘01.3’ yawn and drone on for over a quarter of an hour apiece, with the latter in particular building a dense, low-end breathy intensity, elevating and ululating expansively with an effect that resonates around the lungs. This is incredibly physical music, body music in the most literal sense. It’s impossible to dissect either the sound of its effect. All you can know is that it IS. It rumbles around every inch of your being. It doesn’t speak to or of anything. It just echoes and envelops, and immerses.

Listening with no real expectation, I found my breathing slowed, my pulse slowed. Maybe this was what I needed. Maybe this what we all need. It’s impossible to be prescriptive right now, but the drowning sprawl of Hymns of Gyer very much does offer an oasis of meditative calm.

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Géante 4 is a graphically scored piece that I’ve illustrated/written of about 10-12 minutes in length that I was hoping you could tackle as a solo piece. It involves between 3-7 voicings per section over 5 sections, in total around 10-12 minutes. I had the Japanese guitarist Michio Kurahara do a version of this last autumn when we were doing some basic tracking for this session in Tokyo.

We also did a 90-minute version in Norway last summer with 2 double bass players, a haldorophone, piano and sine wave/tape. I’d love for you to approach this very much as you like, based on the rough parameters of the score. I imagine that the common aspects to Kurahara’s version would be the sustained tones and the transitions, as well as the modes you’re transitioning between.”

So begins O’Malley’s missive to Stuart Dempster, trombonist (or, as his brief bio states, ‘Sound Gatherer – trombonist, composer, didjeriduist, et al, and Professor Emeritus at University of Washington’) with avant-garde collective Eye Music, who are here represented as an octet.

O’Malley’s directions are simultaneously clear and vague, and the same is true of the blank ambience this release contains: namely, two versions of the same piece, meaning both the four- and five-layer mixes are 12:41 in duration.

The elongated notes of echoing drones, dense, sinewy, turn gradually fade in and hover… and hover… and swirl. The overall blend of sound bears no resemblance to the sum of the parts, and electric guitar, flute, cello, trombone, harmonium, field organ, synthesizer, and bowed stringboard with metal slide and blur and melt into a broad, organic-sounding wash that paints in broad watercolour strokes.

I’m not so anal as to sit and compare the two tracks intonation by intonation, and I haven’t attempted to play them simultaneously. The 5 layer mix does feel deeper, denser, slower, darker, but it cold equally be my variable and gradually declining mood, as happens some evenings. Many. No doubt a detailed comparison may prove illuminating, and prove of some value to someone somewhere, but no-one needs it here as part of a review, and besides, I’d hate to spoil your fun.

Fun isn’t top of the list with this release: beat-free, sans overt structure, and ambient with some more brooding tendencies, the atmosphere is cloudy, overcast and hints at a turbulence that never actually arrives, but is always bubbling over the horizon: the soundtrack not to a storm, but a preceding pressure drop.

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Pomperipossa Records – 10th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The Stilling, according to the accompanying text, is ‘a phenomenon whereby the wind speed on the planet seems to be slowing down for no known scientific reason’. Given the nature of climate change and what seems to be an increasing number of more violent storms hitting the shores of what no longer feels very much like a green or pleasant and, it seems hard to credit, but there are no shortage of articles which discuss this phenomenon which began in the 1960s or 70s, although recent months have seen reports that wind-speeds are beginning to pick up again.

For now, let’s remain with the narrative that inspired the album which ‘explores this state of discomfort and perplexion’, and locate it in a context of wind speeds sowing while the pace of life and the flow of information have accelerated exponentially and in direct proportion to wind speeds slowing over the same time span.

For their fourth album, drøne, the duo consisting of Mark Van Hoen and Mike Harding (not the Mancunian singer / songwriter / poet / comedian who was popular in the 70s and 80s), have enlisted a role-call of contributors to add strings, noise and vocals to their unsettling mash-up of samples and random sounds layered up and over one another.

They promise ‘the trademark drøne sounds of static, radio voices, field recordings, modular synthesizer and found sounds, recording chance sounds right up to the final mix add to the dynamism and energy of the album’. And the stilling very much is a mess of incongruity: car horns cut through chatter and chanting while ominous hums and tremulous top-end flickers and tweets.

‘Scream – its all you can do now. Overwhelming, scatter-gun information delivery has us confused, bowel churningly fearful and appalled at the nature of the changing times. We are biologically, psychologically and emotionally able to cope with slow evolutionary change, but struggle with revolutionary, violent distortion or mutation. This leaves us anxious and even desperate for a firmer footing.’ So says the press release, summarising the lived experience of the postmodern condition in just five lines.

With segments of monologue and dialogue chopped up and scattered, sometimes overlapping with one another as well as the musical backing, which isn’t exactly musical or backing, so much as a shimmering, shifting sonic collage, if not exactly reminiscent of William Burroughs’ audio experiments, then very much a sonic interpretation of the cut-up technique in its simultaneous representations of multiple events and perspectives. Because every moment is a moment of change and the pieces on the stilling are constructed around a continual shift, it’s disorientating by design. Scrambling the mutter lines, it’s the soundtrack to your soundtrack.

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Cruel Nature Records – 23rd November 2019

No release by a band called corpse tWitcHer was ever going to be pretty. But Bring Your Dead is next level.

The album contains only four tracks, the shortest of which, ‘Opening: The Bird’ is over eight minutes long and pitches some dark atmospherics with low, dank rumblings and mid-range scrapes that twist and taper into a soft fog of ambience with tempered chiming notes ringing out into the mist. It is but an opening, an extended introduction, which paves the way for the speaker-shredding, Sunn O)))-like devastation of ‘Of Bones & Head’ that lands the crushing low drone of guitars like a cement mixer on slow speed, blended with shrieking howl of feedback. This swirling mass of amorphous sound on sound surges and swells for a full eighteen minutes, and while its form is impossible to take a hold of as it shifts and twists, it’s a fully immersive experience. It’s possibly the closest thing to Earth 2 I’ve heard since, well, Earth 2. This is music that packs a suffocating density, and rattles the ribs as well. It vibrates the molecules while crushing the skull. It’s a painful joy, and a joyful pain.

‘A Thorough Necropsy’ grinds out a quarter of an hour of relentlessly heavy, percussion-free sludge that crawls from the speakers and wraps itself around not just your ears or body but your very soul, strangulating and suffocating with its tarry black mass. It’s in the territory whereby guitars melt into a grating morass of noise: struck chords don’t hit but instead billow into a cloud of noise so dense as to choke. There are some anguished, guttural vocals buried beneath it all, I think. It’s the sound of pain beyond words, a charred snarl from the underground. The tempest builds louder and darker around halfway through, and it’s around this point we slip off the face of the planet into another dimension. It’s bleak, but not like death or dying: this is transcendental and bleak and we’re floating in another sphere, buoyed by a sound denser than the Dead Sea.

The final cut, ‘Closing: Sutures’ sews it all up nicely with an expansive rumble of dark ambience that swirls and eddies and billows around in a formless morass of sonic fog. It rumbles around the bowels, the lungs, and the spleen. It sends shivers down the spine and a shudder over the skin. It resonates on a biological, physical level.

Bring Your Dead is heavy, intense, and unsettlingly dark, it doesn’t so much hit the mark as consume it in blackness.

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Cruel Nature Records – 17th November 2019

Christophe Nosnibor

Nathalie Stern made her solo debut with Firetales in 2010: almost a decade on, she delivers a follow-up in the form of Nerves and Skin. The album promises to ‘builds on the experimental folk traditions of her debut, awash with vocal harmonies, synth loops and drones but with the maturity of an artist who knows their craft and is top of their game’.

Although now resident in Newcastle, Stern’s roots are Swedish, and it’s traditional Swedish folk which informs her music. While I have precisely no knowledge or experience of Swedish folk music, the compositions here, as the title suggests, conjure a sense of the barest essence of human existence. Nerves and skin the components essential to the senses, especially touch, are here exposed and highly sensitive. As much as anything it’s the organic feel that permeates the album that renders it so subtly affecting as it drifts and melds to form a sort of biological symbiosis with the listener’s internal mechanisms while it plays.

Stern’s voice is the primary instrument here, and she builds layers of harmony, often by unconventional means, with breaths and short, wordless sounds looped to form cyclical motifs atop sparse synth drones

‘Luchdora’ brings low-impact, lurching beats that thud soft and there’s a heartbeat thump on ‘Then You Talk of War’, which delves into darker territories with moody bass oscillations over which layers of choral vocals build majestically.

‘Deep Sleep’ wheezes monotonously, a lugubrious drone: Nathalie’s vocal is barely a whisper, haunting, ethereal, the melody a sing-song lullaby with an uncanny, shadowy twist that may not exactly be Chuck Palahniuk, but is still moderately unsettling. ‘Moderately unsettling’ is a fair summary of the atmosphere that creeps across the compositions as the album unfolds. Although fear chords creep all over the gloomy ‘Stig in Lucia’, it’s not overtly dark, but the disembodied vocal echoes evoke a certain cognitive dissonance.

And for all its oddness and otherness, it’s on an instinctive, human level that you experience Nerves and Skin: you feel it, somehow, almost subliminally, and it touches parts rarely reached and in ways that are abstract and indefinably, but nevertheless real.

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Southern Lord – 25th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The appearance of a new Sunn O))) album just six months after Life Metal represents a significant upsurge in their usually steady output. But then, as much as it is a standalone document, Pyroclasts exists in many ways as a companion and counterpart to Life Metal, which in the slow-moving scheme of Sunn O))) represented a seismic shift on a par with Monoliths and Dimensions in that it brought a new focus. The question posed by Life Metal centred around what precisely could Steve Albini bring to Sunn O)))’s eternal drone guitar noise. In the event, his ‘stick the mics in front of the amps at a precise distance and angle and let the tape roll’ approach brought new sonic dimensions (but no monoliths) to the fore, giving the band a new and unexpected richness of sound. It’s this clarity and depth that also defines Pyroclasts recorded during the same sessions.

An element of ritual is integral to much of Sunn O)))’s work, and while this is perhaps nowhere more evident than in their live performances, the very nature of the music, the image, and the titling of their albums alludes to a certain type of repetitive organisation and (pseudo)spiritual convention. The origins of Pyroclasts is rooted in that ritualism, as is explained in the press release:

‘The Pyroclasts album is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning, or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at Electrical Audio during July 2018, when all of the days musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the days session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion.’

And so the four pieces on Pyroclasts last between 10’54” and 11’04”, and being aware of the time constraints imposed by the players, the endings make sense: the first track, ‘Frost’, is close to what sounds like a natural ending as the drone hum hangs, but fades uncommonly fast when ordinarily they’d let the note hang for an eternity. Likewise the last of the four, ‘Ascensions’, which starts higher, faster, more aggressively than is usual for Sunn O))), and ends abruptly as though the tape was simply stopped dead – which it probably was.

Given the band’s maximalist tendencies and a propensity for sprawling sludgescapes spanning fifteen to twenty minutes this discipline and concision offers a new insight into their methods. Four tracks and a running time of circa forty minutes is tight for Sunn O))), and it works remarkably well.

Pyroclasts is exploratory and experimental in context of Sunn O))), and in revealing new facets while at the same time mining the same seam the band have explored since their inception, it’s an interesting and highly necessary document of their evolution and practises. Moreover, it’s another booming slab of texture-heavy droning doom and absolutely classic Sunn O))).

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The Pyroclasts album is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning, or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at Electrical Audio during July 2018, when all of the days musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the days session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion. The players across the four pieces of Pyroclasts are Tim Midyett, T.O.S., Hildur Guðnadóttir, and as always Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson.

Pyroclasts was recorded and mixed by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio on two inch tape July 2018, and mastered by Matt Colton through all analogue AAA process at Metropolis July 2019. The album is released via Southern Lord on 23rd September.

While you’re waiting, you can check the trailer here:

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Sunn - Pyroclasts