Posts Tagged ‘electronica’

COdA / Lonktaar – 20th March 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

This release came my way via master purveyor of noise and drone and occasional collaborator of mine, Dave Procter. The man with more pseudonyms and projects than possibly anyone I’ve ever met – with Legion of Swine, Fibonacci Drone Organ, Wharf Street Galaxy Band, Hundbajs, Dale Prudent, and Trouser Carrier being just a few of his outlets – he’s immensely well-connected (and deservedly respected) in this niche corner of difficult experimental music (with forays into poetry and spoken word and with an angular post-punk band in the mix). I’m therefore assured that anything he recommends will be suitably obscure, and challenging, and probably very good and right up my alley. This is very much the case of Systemet’s När Vintern Kommer Till Sverige.

According to the press sheet, ‘Systemet is a collective that challenges the architecture of a standard band. While the sounds have their roots in early industrial, dungeon synth, dark ambient and noise drone music, only a segment of Systemet is a harsh reinterpretation of the mix of these genres.’ And it is harsh. Meanwhile, according to Dave, it’s a ‘beast’. And it is a beast.

I learn that ‘the aim of this album is to recreate the sensations of the Swedish winter, based on a one-week off-track trek in the Sami area north of mount Kebnekaise, where the cover picture was taken, in the period between autumn and winter 2018.’ Having never experienced a Swedish winter, I’m ill-equipped to comment, but if it really is anything like När Vintern Kommer Till Sverige, I can only conclude that Swedish winters are seriously tough.

I also learn that ‘all sounds were produced by ELI and ELQ synthesizers’ – which, being custom-made, you won’t find in the shops or emulated on-line – on a quadraphonic system, and recorded in dual stereo. The effect is deep, wide, immense.

‘Čievrrajávri’, the first of the album’s four pieces – I’d be reluctant to call them compositions, begins as barely a whisper of wind, a delicate breeze laced with almost invisible, inaudible traces, before the low-gravity bass notes begin to amble and moan in rumbling undercurrents that set an uneasy tone.

Things don’t get lighter or easier from thereon in: ‘Glaciären Brinner’ brings more space-age pulsations, oscillating rhythmic throbs of distorting low-end and murky mid-range over which whistles and screeches. But mostly, it’s about dark washes out found, swirling gurgles that spiral and whip the air. It’s an ever-shifting soundscape of swirling, pulsating darkness, a vortex which sucks the listener in. and it only become s progressively more difficult. It’s perhaps a cumulative effect: scrapes and drones in small doses are simply scrapes and drones, but over the course of almost forty minutes, it slowly becomes increasingly torturous, and När Vintern Kommer Till Sverige offers no respite.

The ‘extended version’ of ‘Gaskkasvággi’ is 11:11 of elongated, grating drone and what sounds like heavy breathing up close to a mic amplified and looped. It’s a shade hypnotic. It’s followed by the final piece, ‘Vy Över Visstas’, Which is the sound of collapse and a protracted final meltdown; circuitry slowing, fizzling to a halt, howling and braying like slain robots in an uncoordinated wash of distortion and stuttering analogue froth.

När Vintern Kommer Till Sverige is indeed a beast: challenging, uncompromising, bridging the gap between Tangerine Dream, Throbbing Gristle and the vast field of contemporary dark ambient / industrial / electronic crossover, it succeeds in pitching unsettling layers of unease in the pit of the stomach.

Systemet – När Vintern Kommer Till Sverige

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Christopher Nosnibor

“Are you a journalist?”

I nod. I don’t like talking when a band is playing. I don’t like other people talking when a band is playing, so why would I do it? It’s rude. And I’m there to watch the band. And so I don’t explain that no, I don’t consider myself to be a journalist or a music journalist, but a writer who happens to write about music often.

She’s already asked me what I’m doing and tried to get a look at my notes – a spidery scrawl barely legible to myself, to which I’d responded by wordlessly waving my A7 pad at her.

Some people just don’t get hints.

Following on from opening acts Steve Hadfield, who’ delivered a set of proficient but slightly static electronica and Dean McPhee, who performed some ethereal, atmospheric guitar instrumentals with the assistance of a bank of pedals that almost filled the venue’s small stage, worriedaboutsatan built their set nicely. One of their trademarks is intelligent structure, and while they’ve woven segments of their latest album’s more delicate parts into their set, they swiftly transitioned from drifting ambience through subtle rhythmic pulsations to propulsive beats, all the while conjuring rich layers of atmosphere. Gavin Miller’s guitar sounds even less guitar-like than ever, as he conjures rippling waves of sonic abstraction from six strings.

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Steve Hadfield

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Dean McPhee

It’s been a long and taxing day, and I’ve consumed more beer than intended, than is wise, I’m switching between tenses, and I’m trying to decipher the narrative of the film projected at the back of the stage. It’s intercut with various black-and-white footage that conveys nothing in itself, but is evocative in its bleakness, and there are flickering light segments, too: beyond this, they play in darkness, visible only in silhouette. Their stage show hasn’t changed dramatically in recent years, but it’s visually striking and effective, and places the immersive music to the fore.

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worriedaboutsatan

Then, halfway through, a couple of women appear at the front and get down to some mum-dancing: fair play, but they don’t need to be exchanging comments about it. I have my earplugs in and am in the zone, perhaps more even than usual in my state of inebriation. It’s the short, chubby one who starts nebbing at my pad – not that I’d have been any happier had t been her taller, slimmer friend.

“Who do you write for?” she shouts in my ear. It’s a shame earplugs only reduce volume and cut top-end rather than muting irritants.

“Me.” I want to tell her to fuck off, but even seven pints in, I’m mindful of manners.

This throws her but she seems to think it’s cool, and she asks yet more questions, and then she starts going on about how she’s worried about my eyesight, writing in the dark and all. I appreciate the concern, but my liver and blood pressure and anxiety are probably more of an issue than my eyes, and besides, I’m wearing tinted glasses at a gig, and if perfect strangers feel the need to worry about anything, I’d say climate change, Brexit, the stranglehold of capitalism, and the simple fact we’re all doomed are more worthy of that worry. Ok, so I don’t appreciate her concern one bit.

Eventually, she leaves me in peace and I’m able to watch the guys bring their set to a triumphant climax to an appreciative response from a home crowd. And deservedly so: the fact they don’t tour often, and when they do, they’re reliably solid, consistently engaging and dynamic in both set formation and performance, and perform with such incredible energy, makes an intimate show like this all the more special.

SM-LL BATCH0008 – 25th January 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Having recently extended my spoken word performances to collaborations with soundmakers, I’ve started to learn a little bit about home-made kit. Not the practicalities of constructing it: I mean I find myself conversing with guys – it’s invariably guys – who assemble circuitry, some of which ends up ether accompanying or processing / destroying my vocals. Their approaches to both construction and housing vary wildly: one guy just leaves his PSB open, while another has a selection of lever-type knobs set in an upturned (empty) chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle pot.

New Tendencies of one of a number of projects of Toronto-based musician, artist, designer, and educator Matt Nish-Lapidus, who explains the origins of Batch0008 as being ‘a set of sound experiments as I was building pieces of my Serge system. With each new modules or panel, I spent time trying to understand its possibilities, limits, and edges. From these experiments I learned techniques for what Serge calls “patch programming”, using the patching of the instrument to specify what each component is meant to do in that specific context.’

‘For this collection of pieces, I used patching as the sole means of sequencing and composing the music. The music here is the result of a process of experimentation and refinement, steadily pushed forward by Martin at SM-LL, providing essential feedback and reference points along the way that helped me arrive at the sound of this record. I wanted to play with the raw electronic sound of the Serge but still make pieces that hold together as compositions and are unique from one another.’

And so we land in microtonal, minimalist, high-detail territory. The pieces are indeed unique, and I’m assuming the titles are indicators of the origins of each. However, at the same time, the pieces share much commonality, with pulsing rhythms providing the focus and the form. None of the pieces really evolve, as much as they trundle along a preset groove. Repetition takes precedent over development, the compositions – such as they are – standing as cyclical, looping phrases, occasionally punctuated by extraneous noises. It’s all strangely cold, clinical, detached: Batch0008 very much feels like the document of a series of experiments, far more than it does an album.

The digital edition contains a seventh track, ‘Swelter’. This also feels like a document of an experiment, another three minutes of electronic pulsations, glitching beats and rhythmic ebb and flow.

As an audience, we probably take from this less than Matt Nish-Lapidus, but, by the same token, there’s an element of shared engagement here, and if Batch0008 is a document of his evolution as a kit-builder, it’s also a journey on which we, as listeners, are involved.

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Kasuga Records 022 – 5th February 2019

James Wells

Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, less is genuinely less. The latest release from Syntax is sparse, impersonal, and keenly pursues the angle of ‘less’. In fact, Current is s sparse, so much ‘less’ that as times it’s barely there. So barely there I found that while working on this review of the album, I’d forget what I was doing and become side-tracked, distracted – by more or less anything. The fact it’s also being released as a limited-edition physical item -and SD card – that’s so much less you could easily lose it.

None of this is to say that Current is uninteresting: conceptually, it has substance and depth, and the accompanying blurb is a fascinating read, and it’s worth quoting at length:

‘Starting from the postulate that energy becomes form and form becomes energy, Current articulates — based on aesthetic rigor — the audible forms of electric current, seen as vital energy and the active principle of an artificial consciousness.

‘The analysis of sound phenomena from this perspective can be perceived as a source of meditation, which reflects a physical phenomenon on a philosophical field. Sonic details and structural artifacts (sic) are exposed to their own sonic value and examine — from a phenomenological perspective — the idea of flux, energy, artificial consciousness, self-direction and the capability of self-knowledge.

‘Within the sonic construct of Syntax, Laurian Bardoș draws strong influence from his study in medical psychology. From this perspective the evolution of his music has been greatly influenced by the study of perception and the Gestalt theory, which connects the spatial (geometric) form with the temporal form (sound).’

Sonically, Current manifests as a lot of wibbling drones and glitchy microbeats, sometimes so densely packed as to effect an almost scratching, crackling sound that creates interference against the almost subsonic low-end oscillations. Clicks, pops and hushed thumps draped in whispers and accompanied by sporadic modular pulsations that bleep, bloop, and bubble. Fizzing static, white noise, crackling distortion, whistles and sounds so fine as to create aural drizzle. Sonar echoes…. Everything is probing, exploratory, but the lights find only darkness and it’s impossible to find any sense of direction. And in this way, it becomes apparent how conventions of form and structure in music have a bearing on our bearings, so to speak, and cut loose from those conventions, Current presents something of a challenge.

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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.

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Monika Entreprise – monika93 – 7th December 2018

Although active on the German music scene since the late 70s, it wasn’t until 2007 that Gudrun Gut released her first solo album. She’s maintained a steady output over the last decade, while also operating labels Monika Enterprise and Moabit Musik. And while very much married to the field of electronic music, one could never describe her work as predictable or standard, and Moment is no exception. Describing it not as an album, or even a collection of songs, but a ‘statement’, she promises a work which is ‘stark, somber, sultry, and clever, [on which] the sides slide between ballad and lament, synth-pop and spoken word, anthemic and abstract.

From the opening motoric beat and throbbing electronica of ‘Startup Loch’, over which Gudrun Gut lays monotone robotic vocals, Moment presents a sparse retro electro style. Heavy repetition and monotony are the defining features of the album’s fourteen tracks which thud away, on and on. ‘Lover’ is exemplary, grinding out a single looped pulse over a square 4/4 beat bereft of fills for over five minutes, while the cover of Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ is an object lesson in cold clinicality, stripping out the flamboyance – and tune – on the original, and replacing both with a discordant drone.

As much DAF as Kraftwerk, it’s every inch German-built in its fabric. The atmosphere is one of detachment and sterility, but in that clipped early 80s style that makes optimal use of reverb and precise production. There’s something about that stripped-back analogue synthiness paired with mechanoid percussion that’s more chilling and glacial than contemporary digital production can muster. And by these means, Gudrun Gut gives a lesson in distancing, in detachment, in music that segregates the cerebral from the soul.

The experimentalism becomes more pronounced as the album progresses. ‘Biste schon weg’ pulls apart structure and stretches at the edges of linear time to warp some woozy bass and glitchy, clattering beats which slowly collapse from rhythm to deconstruct the very components of composition, presenting an exploded view of music-making. Gradually, the forms become increasingly indistinct, more fragmented, more abstract, delineated and disconnected. Cohesion crumbles to slow-drifting sonic separation as delineation and decay define the evermore nebulous forms.

Moment is not as the title suggests, a single moment, but a succession of moments which blur into one another. Collectively, the pieces create a unique listening space in which time folds in on itself and stretches, bending, in all directions. A moment to get lost in.

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Green Recordings – 30th November 2018 (Big Mouth)

A Gradual Decline is the debut album by CUTS, the audio-visual project of composer and filmmaker Anthony Tombling Jr. It follows the release of the EP ‘A Slow Decay’, which came out in October. The titles suggest a trajectory, an overarching theme, and Tombling’s preoccupation with environmental issues and global warming is the key here. “We are living in the age of the Anthropocene and it feels like everything is in decline,” he says.

He explains the process and inspiration as follows: “I have tried to make a record that feels like it’s all come from one place. My only musical influence on this was William Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’. Not the music, but the process. The idea of a decline in sound really suited the concept of this record. All this music and instrumentation trapped in this declining digital signal. I wanted it to sound brittle and precarious. I also wanted to avoid doing overly dark material, opting instead for something that was more fragile, melancholic and even hopeful in moments.”

As such, this is a concept work, and a concept that’s conveyed by the medium of chilled-out electronica, propelled by quite mellow beats. And while there is a melancholy hue to the instrumentation it doesn’t exactly say ‘potential collapse of civilisation’ or ‘global warming: aaargh, we’re all fucked’. This is no criticism: it’s hard to reconcile the now with the future prospects was talk about endlessly but never seem to reach. Even positioning the Anthropocene is problematic, although using the increasingly popular placing of post-1945 as the marker, with that year being tipped by the Geological Society as The Great Acceleration in terms of the impact of human activity on climate and environment as the defining feature of the current geological age, is perhaps instructive in the context of Tombling’s comments that “we’re in a moment where extinction is regular. I wanted this record to reflect these frailties.”

The press release promises ‘11 widescreen, electronic compositions in response to global political and environmental breakdown,’ and explains how A Gradual Decline addresses the planet’s current fragility using actual field recordings of ice collapsing from glaciers’. This isn’t apparent in the music itself, and a lot of A Gradual Decline given to quite simple, straight-ahead electronica, and while there are warping synth washes to be found hither and thither, it’s gentle and genteel and doesn’t instil a gut-churning sense of panic. Then again, some of the pieces are quite stark and spacious.

The album’s trajectory is – as the title suggests – gradual. The pace slows and structures become increasingly loose and delineated, beats more fractured and fragmented as it progresses. It’s fitting: the slide into increasingly turbulent weather isn’t something noticeable on a day-to-day basis and on a global scale, rapid change is relative.

But by the time the listener has drifted through the rippling piano rolls and low-stuttering pulsations of ‘Maboroshi’ and the dilapidated slow-drone ambience of ‘Fear of Everything’ which suddenly vanishes to nothing after thirteen minutes of formless drift, the sense of journey becomes finally apparent.

A Gradual Decline is an album that makes more sense and grows in appeal with time to absorb and assimilate, to reflect and to refocus. Given time, A Gradual Decline makes sense. Its just a shame we don’t have the luxury of time to save the planet.

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CUTS - A Gradual Decline