Posts Tagged ‘electronic’

Tavern Eightieth (TVEI) – 31st October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Don’t read too much into the Hallowe’en release date for this solo offering from Matt Christensen, who is more usually found lending his voice to Chicago genre-straddling guitar-based act Zelienople. There are no guitars to be found here, or vocals, and despite the album title’s connotations of the predatory, the sinister and the dangerous, this is no haunting horrorshow or ultra-dark ambient work coughed up from the bowels of the earth, although the five tracks on Prowl are certainly strong on atmospherics.

The title track sets the mood, a murky groove softly bounces along, the insistent beats largely submerged by a thick, opaque subaquatic sonic murk which strangely deadens the sound and creates a sensation that’s almost physical rather than simply auditory. When the rhythms are completely absent, as on ‘Mountains of Fire (Remix)’, Christensen glides effortlessly into what one may reasonably call ‘pure’ ambience: the forms are vague, intangible, with no discernible sense of structure as the soft and slowly-drifting washes of sound shift and turn gradually.

‘Spending It’ is perhaps the most haunting track on the album, crackles and pops – somewhere between the click and clatter of worn vinyl and the cracks and snaps of burning wood – form the distant rhythmic undercurrents which echo through the warping tones before being carried away into silence on a long, low wind-like drone. In contrast, ‘Junk Test’ is altogether more buoyant, bubbling beats flit beneath rippling Tangerine Dream synth motifs.

Everything is kept low-key, the sounds dissolving into one another and in a slow but continual evolution. It’s a radical departure from Christensen’s work with Zelienople, but, as one may expect, it’s an album that demonstrates a keen awareness of the dynamics of texture and tone. In the context of Prowl, these elements are explored in their most delicate and subtle forms, and in its field, it’s an accomplished and enjoyable work.

 

Matt Christensen – Prowl

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Run United Music – RU18 – 3rd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Gudrun Gut’s Vogelmixe is, as you may gather, a remix album. An album of traditional folk songs, recorded by contemporary artists and remixed by Gudrun Gut. Helpfully, there are two discs, the second containing unmixed versions with the traditional arrangements preserved, previously featured on the album Heimatleider aus Deutschland Berlin/Augsburg in 2015.

‘From the Top 100 to “Alternative”, most of today’s music has the emotional depth of your regular smartphone’, write Mark Terkessidis and Jochen Kühling in the liner notes. And so the inspiration behind the Heimatleider aus Deutschland was a longing for music with emotional impact and a sense of commonality, prompting a return to what they refer to as ‘“primordial” forms of singing, to folklore as an oral tradition.’ There’s a distinct logic in that. New music, however sincere, genuine or authentic is by its nature a product and is imbued with an inescapable sense of artifice. It’s always made with an eye – and ear – for public consumption, for distribution, regardless of mattes of commerciality. Traditional folk music is by its nature the music of the people. It was never borne out of a sense of commercial appeal, or even with a view to its own propagation. It has a life of its own, and that life is real life. These are songs of people, songs of the earth. There’s no way to plan or market this.

Many of the songs sound remarkably contemporary even in their original form, particularly the thrumming bass groove of ‘Marhba’, as performed by La Caravana du Maghrab. The range of styles represented provides a rare insight into German folk music unlikely to be known by non-natives. One element common to the majority of the songs is the emphasis on rhythm. Repetition and strong melodies are also a defining characteristic, with the bold harmony-led melody of bolero ‘La somber del ayer’ demonstrating a remarkable level of complexity which contradicts popular notions of folk songs being somehow primitive or simple.

On the one hand, Gudrun Gut’s remixes are pretty brutal in their treatment of the source material. Her approach is largely centred around heavy-duty electronic sounds which take the songs a long way from their original, traditional forms. You couldn’t exactly call them sensitive or subtle. In fact, the majority of the songs are unrecognisable on every level. Yet for all the superficial violence Gut commits to the songs, she does demonstrate a real connection with them, and conveys the passion and spirit which lies at their heart. Her dubby take on ‘ZaNeYen’ works well, the weirdy electronic bleeps sounding not out of place against the pulsating bass buzz and cavernously reverbed percussion. She really goes to town on ‘Marhba’, in places reducing the track to short, intense loops against an insistent, thumping dancefloor beat, while in contrast, ‘Toma de la ca’ emerges as a more sultry, sedate groove. She does treat Heide’s ‘Ein klienes Waldvögelein’ with a remarkably light touch, leaving the acoustic guitar and vocal performance fundamentally intact and augmenting them with subtle, glitchy beats kept low in the mix, soft synth washes and small sleepy incidentals, none of which is overdone.

Ultimately, it’s Gudrun Gut’s varied approach to the already diverse range of material which proves to be the strength of Vogelmixe. Moreover, the centrality of rhythm in the originals is retained and even emphasised in the mixes, and while the nature of those rhythms is much more contemporary, it again serves to convey the essence of the music, and the way in which the original artists rendered the songs with such life for which credit is very much due. And herein lies the difference between those traditional songs and the manufactured sounds which Terkessidis and Kühling find so objectionable: the latter are the sounds of the human spirit and soul, and have endured because of this. Moreover, however you tweak them, mash them and grind them up, mix and remix them, they will always contain these immutable constants which resonate through all time.

Gudrun Gut

Front & Follow – F&F043 – 26th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Kemper Norton’s previous releases, Carn and Loor were respectively located in specific rural locations and the city. In contrast, Toll heads off-shore, and it begins with a swell of sound as grand as the ocean, but very far from an attempt to recreate the sound of the tide, a vast, grating, rolling buzz. It soon becomes clear that this is neither an ambient album which strives to recreate and convey the kindness and cruelty of the sea, and nor is it an ocean-inspired drama (I would contend that The Christmas Tree Ship EP by I Like Trains is pretty much the ultimate in this field).

Toll is a complex work, which is inspired by – and interrogates – two very different pieces of history – specifically the lost Cornish kingdom of Lyonesse, and the 1967 sinking of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker. Both are stories set in the same geographical space, a stretch of ocean off the west coast of Cornwall. To bring together what could be considered a mythological disaster – and thus in the literary, classical sense, a tragedy – with a modern-day disaster, is a bold and ambitious project, and it’s the duality of ancient and modern which finds Toll pulling in different directions. And yet this is not an album built on conflict, but an attempt to reconcile very different histories, united by location.

Although a broadly ambient album for large segments, Toll deviates from this or any genre category frequently, and widely. Toll’s preoccupation is more with narrative and themes than with atmosphere alone, although this is not to say it isn’t a deeply atmospheric work. To this end, the album does not restrict its form to any one musical mode, and ‘The Town’ takes the form of a lyric folk song, but performed as a sonic wash that’s a cross between folktronica and ambientgaze. Meanwhile, the echo-blasted vocal of ‘Black Silk’, accompanied by a drone and distant percussion owes more to Suicide and Massive Attack than anything from the worlds of either ambient or folk. The instrumental passages hover and hum, sometimes intimating trepidation and others tranquillity, but oftentimes with darker undercurrent eddying beneath the surface.

Two-thirds of the way though the album, ‘Agnes and Louisa’ forges a deep, rumbling, rolling rhythm, a swell of sound which grates and wheezes, with electronic interventions, while the sparse, lilting electronic folk of ‘Coming Home’ is quietly menacing. The final track, ‘The Tide’ brings the album to a perfect conclusion: a magnificently balanced synergy of folk and electronica, traditional and contemporary, it builds a haunting surge of sound and emotion.

What Toll ultimately conveys, by oblique means, is a sense of the intrinsic nature the relationship between human geography and physical geography, community and place. History is every inch as integral to the shaping of a location and those who reside there as geography: past events etch themselves into the landscape and the collective conscious, however discreetly, and similarly legends are imprinted in the backdrop of local life. Toll is not an easy or immediate work, but it is one which is deeply evocative and highly thought-provoking.

 

Kemper Norton - Toll

Front & Follow – F&F044 – 8th July 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

With this release, Front & Follow inaugurate a new series of split cassette and download releases. The premise is that the artists are given a side apiece, and while the idea is that they’re encouraged to collaborate, it’s essentially down to the acts involved. This first ‘Blow’ release features a total of nineteen tracks, with ten from Hoofus, seven from IX Tab and a brace of joint efforts.

The ten Hoofus track are first, and if the titles, in their evocations of ancient lore, mysticism and history, seem at odds with the bubbling synth cycles which form their fabric, then it’s a reflection of the infinite contradictions which define Hoofus’ enigmatic sound. Shimmering, throbbing and needling, the scratchy, fuzzy tones cover the full sonic spectrum in infinite, iridescent hues. Occasionally sliding into unusual time signatures and oddly dissonant passages – the wonky keys of ‘Twentythree Seven’ shouldn’t work, but instead it’s rather magical – their ten tracks are beautifully weird, and weirdly beautiful. The notes roll and bend, wobble and warp, layering up to form a rich latticework. The effect is to create music that transcends music, enveloping the listener in a thick, pulsating aural blanket. It’s an immersive, multisensory experience, akin to how I would imagine simultaneously being under water and watching the Arora Borealis.

IX Tab’s eight tracks are quite different in tone: more overtly electronic, bleeping, swooshing and rippling notes scurry across one another in vintage sci-fi style. The dizzyingly hectic compositions are contrasted by sedate ambient segments. Samples – snippets of dialogue and lopped phrases – feature heavily, and there’s an overtly experimental air to the tracks. Trilling pipes and rattling chimes flit alongside woozy, opiate drones and church song. The nine-minute ‘The Herepath Comes Away’ is a magnificently expansive, atmospheric work, and something of a standout as it leads the listener on a curious journey of the mind.

The two collaborative tracks, credited to Hoofus & IX Tab, work precisely because they sound like a hybrid of the two acts. ‘The Ministry of Ontological Insecurity’ features sampled voices repeating the statement ‘I don’t believe in me’ (occasionally interspersed with variants ‘I don’t believe in you / him/ her / them’) over a drifting dark ambient backdrop fractured with incidental sonic incursions. ‘The Ploughs & Machines’, which closes the album also incorporates samples and woozy electro oddness with shifting time signatures to mesmerising and disorienting effect.

Individually and collectively, Hoofus and IX Tab have conjured an album that reaches for the outer limits and transports the listener to them and then beyond.

 

Hoofus   IX Tab