Posts Tagged ‘electronica’

Base Materialism – 12th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Nothing says ‘niche’ and ‘underground’ more than a limited edition of 17 copies. Pitched as a work of ‘radical ideology for fans of Crass, Pet Shop Boys and Nitzer Ebb from the rotten half of Normal Man’, this six-tracker is a gnarly mess of electronics, popping beats and a disorientating sonic swirl.

It’s an aggressive spluttering nailgun blast of percussion that assaults the ears first on ‘Permanent Contract’. There’s a bumping bass beat beneath it, but it’s the clusterfuck of cranium-splitting treble that dominates. The vocals veer between Sprechgesang and wavering atonal singing as layers of extraneous noise build and passages of warped discordance provide the breaks, before everything slides into a buzzing whorl of flange.

‘If Hard Work Pay Show Me Rich Donkey’ is more minimal, an ominous multitonal drone providing the primary backdrop to the repetition of the title for two minutes and twenty-one seconds. ‘No Big Idea’ and ‘Nu Cringe’ grind out gritty, primitive synths geared toward the lower end of the sonic spectrum over insistent bash-bash-bash electronic percussion, and ‘What You Want’ doesn’t exactly deviate too much from the same formula. ‘You’re Stupid and So Am I’ presents a more overtly punk sound – although it’s punk with the mechanoid twist of Metal Urbain or Dr Mix.

The production is ultra DIY, the audio quality is murky and clangs with swampy reverb, and Content very much channel the spirit – and the sound – of Throbbing Gristle here. Lyrically, when decipherable, they’re keen exponents of the three Rs – repetition, repetition, repetition, and the ethos and aesthetic is very much in line with that of post punk and the origins of industrial, with slogans and soundbites welded to cyclical motifs.

Combining vintage sounds with contemporary politics, it’s not necessarily ‘clever’, but it’s uncompromising and highly effective, and gets my vote.

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Christopher Nosnibor

It’s all about the work / life balance, right? That’s what I tell myself, and my colleagues, an anyone who will listen. The truth of maintaining a work/life balance often – at least in my experience – means killing yourself to meaningfully fulfil the life element. Because life isn’t about resting, it’s about doing the things that matter, pursuing your passion, not binging on Netflix. That isn’t life, that’s hiding from work, finding a mental space in which to escape and decompress. But no-one ever lay on their deathbed saying ‘I wish I’d watched more TV’. I haven’t watched a single episode of ‘Love Island’, ‘The Voice’ or ‘X Factor’ and am fairly confident my life isn’t in any way deficient because of it. Being a writer is more than tapping out a few jolly lines while sitting on the sofa watching a nice rom-com with the wife after the kids have serenely taken themselves to bed straight after dinner, and being in a gigging band, however infrequently you may gig, takes some serious effort, especially in addition to full-time dayjob and family commitments and all the rest.

And so I disembarked in York, where I live, after a two-day work trip to Norwich, and seven minutes later was on a train to Leeds. Some people are accustomed or otherwise adjust readily to travel: I’m not among them. People laugh at me when I use the term ‘train-lagged’, especially when in the context of a day-trip to Sheffield from York, but believe me, I feel it on a molecular level or something.

Another thing I’ve discovered recently is that reviewing and performing are very different disciplines, more so even than leading a meeting and taking minutes – which is pretty much what I’m attempting here.

Performing requires beer, and I had a couple on the train, and a couple more while grabbing some food and plotting a vague strategy for mayhem before going to set up. Unusually, we had a proper soundcheck, although I hate vocal soundchecks. As long as things work, I’m more concerned about volume and tonal impact than mix, given that what happens during the performance rarely resembles the soundcheck anyway, and the while white noise and shouting only works at speaker-shredding, tinnitus-inducing volume. You don’t need to hear the words, you just need to feel the force, ad anything less than freight-train impact falls short. We made noise. We nodded, retreated to the back with more beer.

The Truth About Frank’s set started unusually gently, with an ambience that wasn’t even particularly dark, before murk and muffled samples edge in. Before you know it, the PA is blaring a surging swell of beats and a wash of noise, oscillating washes of discoordinated sound layers meld with off-kilter techno. This is one of TTAF’s more structured-sounding sets, and it builds well and culminates in a fragmented flurry of fractured noise.

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The Truth About Frank

…(something) ruined crash-landed by happy accident, and once again, in the squall of brutal noise, I ruined myself. This simply seems to be how it is. This was probably our strongest and most brutal, tinnitus-inducing set yet. I told the sound guy during soundcheck that I wasn’t fussed if my vocals got buried in the barrage of noise, and unlike some, he respected that. There are fantastic audio and video recordings of the set: I’m barely audible for large portions, but Paul Tone is on absolute A1 peak form for brutal electronic noise, and the volume, it would seem, was pretty much excruciating. So I’m happy.

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…(something) ruined

My sketchy notes state that Black Alert play Tangerine Dreamy Krautrock with samples. It’s an evolutionary electro set that’s heavy on vintage synth and drum sounds, with the drums pumped up in the mix. It’s a nice contrast, and the emphasis on melody is welcome at this point in the evening.

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Black Alert

And then there’s Un Sacapuntas. The solo noise project of Alice Nancy, this performance – and it’s all about the performance – is something else. There’s a reason I prefer to play early, an acts like this are all the reasons why: you wouldn’t want to follow this. Alice is mesmerising and intense as she fastens a contact mic to her throat while unlacing her shoes. What follows is an intense and hypnotic show, both sonically and visually: burrs of treble and shrieks of feedback break through a dank rumble while she shrieks unintelligibly and wafts around the stage, a ghostly presence.

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Un Sacapuntas

It’s a superb end to a great night which is exemplary of the Hogwash experience: Dave Procter’s curation is both considered and intuitive, bringing together a road range of unusual non-rock acts from near and far. With a respectable and enthusiastic audience, Leeds underground scene is very much kicking.

Mille Plateaux – 6th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Motus is one of those albums that spreads eight pieces across four sides of vinyl. Most of these pieces are around seven minutes in duration, and manifest as grumbling, low-end analogue electronic instrumentals. Indulgent? Depends on your position, maybe. Audiophile quality? Vinyl addiction? While the pieces which make up Motus don’t immediately intimate a need for attention to detail and there’s no scope for the listener to bask in hearing the rich production values optimally through the medium of vinyl, the frequencies and tones that Köner explores probably do benefit from that full-spectrum vinyl sound, the audio uncompressed and benefitting from the full dynamic range, particularly those low-end sounds, some of which are so low as to almost disappear beneath the average listener’s hearing range.

Motus is steeped in theory, which is fitting given its release on Mille Plateaux, which takes t name – and also its ideologies from radical theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, after whose 1980 text Achim Szepanski’s Frankfurt label devoted to minimal techno, glitch, and other various other experimental electronic forms takes its name.

Köner says of the album that ‘Motus is more (to me) than just music made with analogue synthesizers, it is about attitude, a way of relating to sound and the (e)motion it affects. A lifestyle, where movement, being moved and moving become one. My practice is vibrational, about the skin, touch and surfaces and the gaseous medium in between.

Vibrational it is: these pieces tremble and quiver and grate and grind and shudder and shake and judder and growl.

The first piece, ‘EXTENSION (Attack)’ is a low, glutinous throb, a gelatinous bellyache of a pulsation, rent with crackling, grating treble spurs that scrape at the walls of the cerebellum and scratch the lining of the gut. It’s unsettling, and marks the start of the album’s trajectory, which is unexpectedly linear, and follows a slow descent towards sluggish sludge that’s barely a muddy bubble by the end.

Along the way, ‘SUBSTRATE (Binaural)’ is a low, oscillating throb that expands and resonates over seven brain-bending minutes: there’s something about the more subtle of variations having the most torturous effect, especially when there’s a metronomic pulsing beat lurking beneath, while ‘OSCILLATOR (Luminous)’ reduces everything to an ambulating low-end slip and slide, a muddy melt of trudging bumps. The final cut, ‘SYNTHESIS (Carnal)’, takes things lower and slower still, to the point of near subliminality, slowly winding and grinding into the ground.

Motus is an odd one, an album that undermines itself as it evolves, reducing itself to a lesser sonic amount with each piece. And yet, as the sounds shrinks to little more than a gloopy brown puddle, the effect grows.

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Christopher Nosnibor

This one’s been languishing in the vaults for a while now, but one of the things about recording prolifically is that sometimes it takes time to catch up on the release schedule. And so Gintas K’s variations in a-moll for a granular synthesis gets to see the light of day in the middle of a solid and steady release schedule which has seen the release of one or two albums a year for the last three.

Of the six sequentially-numbered tracks, all but one are well over the ten-minute mark, and the shortest is over eight minutes in duration.

Not a lot happens, at least initially: repetitive synth stabs on a single note with varying levels of force shift into different notes. They begin to overlap, and a fuzz of distortion decays the edges. Gradually it slides into a mess of overloading noise: the synths crackle and burn among a billowing walls of darkness.

Across the album, scraping granularity and stuttering dominate the foreground. It difficult to settle to a constant flickering, a crackling distortion of interrupting signals, and the sensation is disorientating, dissonant, disruptive. By the third piece, the sounds has degraded to a rumbling crackle. This sonic disintegration could likely be taken as a metaphor for something. But for what? Well, from a reception theory perspective, you can insert your own metaphor as appropriate. To me, it feels like a sort of glitched-out panic attack, a mental collapse as a response to the crumbling culture at the tail-end of 2019. A decade slumping to its bitter end in an amorphous mass of fragmentation, with rhythms reduced to swampy surges back and forth, and fractal notes dance skittishly.

The fifth piece introduces some softer tones, an ambient wash that’s cracked and damaged, bur nevertheless hints at something mellow… and then it tears apart from the seams as a heavy fog of noise descends, and the final composition splinters and breaks, the shards bursting apart in slow-motion to leave rubble and dust.

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Gintas K – variations in a-moll for a granular synthesis

8th December 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The latest release from Yorkshire electronic noisemaker Foldhead comes with no information whatsoever. It features just one track, and laser synth sounds throb space-age pulsations into a void of distant dissonance and static air. Voices crackle somewhere almost subliminally as if tapping into the mutter line. Change the frequency. Same distorted, indecipherable message. Feedback. Hiss. Hum. Extraneous noise. Sounds like something… something indefinable. Something out of range. Something unsettling. Not painful, but uncomfortable.

At the four-minute mark: silence. Is that a low rumble or simply the heating and my laptop’s hard-drive?

The ponderance is disrupted by crawling, squalling extranea, a mess of feedback and treble, scrapes and hovers, a mid-range, mid-air act of defiance against comfort. The volume takes unexpected incrementals steps upward, while the stuttering rotary stammerings continue to churn and thrum. Faint trills of treble and low-level grinds emerge and fade. The swell of sound is increasingly unsettling as the volume and density increases… ad then, an abrupt end. Silence. This is how it ends. This is how everything ends.

Now, I like noise, but am often relieved in some sense when it ends. Foldhead’s latest isn’t as oppressive as that, but there is a certain sense or the pressure lifting after the end. It may only be ten minutes in duration, but Radio Dust MAG 4.wav has a certain sonic intensity from which there is no escape until that silence descends.

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Foldhead - Dust

29th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

For me, there are few things worse than a story untold and only alluded do. Tell it or don’t! The press release for Cologne-based Roman Jungblut’s solo debut tantalisingly informs us that ‘His mainly improvisational musical live performances – in varying constellations since 1996 – are temporarily reduced to a few selected appearances in Cologne since 2009, due to reasons’. First and foremost, of course, my thoughts are with the artist: we all have our reasons for done – for not doing – things. Sometimes, they’re painful, or we simply don’t want to talk about them. But a story-half-told can lead to speculation. Not that I’m about to speculate on anything here, and shall instead focus on the sonic document presented in the form of Back To Where It Never Started, which comprises four pieces which explore a broad territory in a short span of time.

The blurb goes on: ‘After a ten-year full abstinence of recorded output besides contract work – and only ever having released music as a member of bands or collectives – Roman finally found it to be inevitable to not only release some music, but to do it as a solo artist, not hiding behind a pseudonym, an ensemble or even ironic distance. “Back to where it never started” is the first product of a long time filled with lots of artistic and personal moments of growth, of finding the courage for imperfection and embracing the potential of constraints’.

The most striking thing about the EP is its diversity.

‘Detox – Retox’ packs a lot into just five minutes, as a trilling top synth that surges and builds tension suddenly gives way to a plunging, thumping bass pulsation that’s low and low, and registers around the lower abdomen, before spiralling scraping drones evolve around it, conjuring a cinematic, texture-heavy soundscape that resonates in ever-expanding ripples.

‘78-7-88’ is radically different, a piano-led piece that’s almost jazzy in its stylings – but not so jazzy as to be irritating. Long, drawn-out notes hang and taper over the jaunty, mellifluous babbling backdrop, while ‘Einsicht’ is a space-age bloop-out, with whistles, bleeps, and whirrs hovering in zero-gravity slow-mo.

The final composition, the eleven-minute ‘Two for Tooth’ takes the form of a sparse yet layered ambient work that gradually grows warmer as it develops, slowly and subtly, around a rippling repetitive wave.

In some respects, the fact the set tapers out after so many shifts and ups and downs feels vaguely disappointing, but ultimately, its slow ebbing departure seems fitting as the listener’s journey ends with Jungblut meandering toward the horizon.

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29th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Ahead of the release his seventh solo-album, Exo, in January next year, Swiss electronic artist Bit-Tuner indicates a significant change in direction with this single release. The two pieces on offer here are brief and – here’s the headline – beatless, as Bit-Tuner goes fully ambient.

It’s also a surprisingly succinct sonic document, the two tracks combined clock in at a mere fraction over seven minutes. ‘Passage’, the press release tell us, is ‘based on field-recordings, synthesizer pads and fluttering arpeggios,’ and ‘resembles a winding descent into a weightless but fragile science fiction world.’ The music in itself conveys almost nothing of this yet at the same time, succeeds in creating its on psychological space through the language of sound. It’ hushed, subdued, fragmented. Sounds like seagull calls drawl across ethereal twistings. Sometimes, abstractions conveys more than anything concrete or specific.

Virtual flipside / counterpart ‘Irisia’ is described as ‘a call from way below’ in which ‘a thunder-like growl from the underworld wraps itself around a floating choir-drone’. At a mere two-and-a-quarter minutes, and consisting of echoed notes and a mist-like sonic mist swirling directionless, it’s barely an interlude. And yet, despite its lack of substance, it has atmosphere and a certain depth.

I am left pondering the oddity of a ‘single’ release in the context of an ambient work that’s most likely designed to be consumed as a single while, but this showcases Bit-Tuner’s latest work in a digestible and readily accessible, bite-sized format, and it works nicely.

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