Posts Tagged ‘Experimental’

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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RJ01_front

Words: Christopher Nosnibor

Pics: Chris Power

Sometimes, the everyday and the ordinary are just so difficult to navigate. Stuff that the majority of the time is just what you do becomes suddenly too much. For some, it’s going to work; others, it’s worse even than that, like leaving the house to go to the corner shop. We all have our limits, and they can change unexpectedly, and seemingly inexplicably. For me, the onset of darkness as the clocks changing hurls us into the late autumn / winter spell does it every time and the urge to hibernate or hang myself becomes stronger than the enthusiasm for going out and watching live music.

Sometimes, it’s easier to crawl out to someplace where you know you won’t be known, so it’s possible to concentrate on the music and not have to deal with conversation. But sometimes, there has to be an end to avoidance, and the only way forward is to do the thing, however hard. There’s no snapping out of it, no flicking a virtual or metaphorical switch. There is no one single means of dealing. For me, it’s about a self-created nudge. Because no amount of external nudging has any effect – although, arguably, Hogwash was a successful external nudge here.

Wharf Chambers is one of those places that doesn’t make a twitchy, lone drinker feel awkward, and the vibe is never anything but welcoming and inclusive. This matters, a lot: I don’t feel like anyone thinks I’m a weirdo or inadequate when I fumble around with change, or as I sit in a corner with a pint to read – Lee Rourke’s Vulgar Things – and do the constant phone-checking thing that’s become habitual, by candlelight while waiting for doors.

So why am I here? Well, the Facebook event suggests folk may be ‘baffled and/or enticed by’ the eclectic lineup, consisting of Claus Poulsen // Stuart Chalmers, Eskimoomin, Two’s Company, and Inhuman Resources. I’m here for the music. Also, people: much as I feel a compulsion to avoid them, there’s a comfort in knowing there will be people there that you know, who are there for the same reasons.

The latter is up first, and it’s another of the infinitely-numerous project by event organiser and master purveyor of weird random noise, Dave Procter. Playing in a Parka with the hood up, he churns out a wall of blistering electronic noise that gets louder and more brain-melting as the set progresses. Reminiscent of Whitehouse without the vocals, here’s some classic power posing happening behind the trestle table laden with gear, and it’s a quality example of contemporary power electronics, with a self-awareness that carries an ironic twist in the posturing. Oddly, I find this all a source of immense joy: I find myself relaxing, and smiling to myself. This is exactly what I came for, and this is why live music is a holistic form of therapy: it offers escape, external stimuli suggesting routes inwards to explore and also let go of things.

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Inhuman Resources

Eskimoomin play warped synth pop. She plays synths and sings. He dances like Bez, wearing shorts, a Hawaiian shirt with some kind of shark design and meerkat mask or something. It’s brilliantly bizarre, visually and sonically, and as quirky as fuck, but also accessible with some pumping beats. Bewildering, baffling, a but wrong, but also a whole lot of fun. The world needs more artists who give this much effort and this little of a shit what you think of it.

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Eskimoomin

Claus Poulsen and Stuart Chalmers do what I might reasonably describe – according to what I’ve tapped in onto my phone – as ‘some kind of Eastern / pan pipe percussive string-scraping shit. Bow against the side of a table. Clattering percussion gives way to trilling organ tones’. It’s immersive, although I suspect it’s the beer rather than the music that’s proving soporific. The pair work their respective segments of kit intuitively and coordinatedly, and it’ a pleasure to watch.

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Claus Poulsen and Stuart Chalmers

Headliners Two’s Company deliver fractured, droning noise, and I’m way in the wash of atmosphere. Nothing seems entirely real right now, and I like it like that. I’m, primarily in the moment but if my sketchy notes are to be believed, the ‘synth guy in coat has William Bennett trappings, while guy sitting down has lounging cunt all over. Beat-heavy electro with a hard and challenging edge’. I could, and maybe should, expand on that, and attempt to convey the real, lived experience. But ultimately, you had to be there to fully experience the physical and psychological effects of their textured soundscapes in a darkened room. And being there next time is a must.

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Two’s Company

Buh Records – 20th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Apophenia: the tendency to perceive connections and meaningfulness in random noise, e.g., clouds resembling animals or human faces. Ale Hop’s Apophenia, which we learn ‘suggests possible and reimagined South American geographies’, contains an abundance of random noise. Ale Hop, we find, isn’t a band as such, but ‘a Berlin-based artist, researcher, and experimental instrumentist (sic) from Peru. She composes electronic music, by blending strains of noise, pop, avant-garde, ambient and a complex repertoire of extended techniques for electric guitar and real-time sampling devices which she uses as her sound vocabulary to craft a performance of astonishing physical intensity, saturated of layers of distortion and stunning atmospheres’.

And on the strength of this outing, she grasps atmosphere in a major way. These pieces are hefty, deep, and often dark, not to mention challenging. Ale Hop doesn’t do easy accessibility, and that’s a good thing. This is one of those releases I’m proud to say is about art. I can’t truly fathom it, and certainly can’t justify it.

The press release pitches ‘atomized field recordings and sound samples. recollected from video archives from her homeland, Peru, the composer interweaves unknown territories, by mimicking mountains and oceans, but also grey skies and violent cities, with droning and shrieking textures of electric guitars mixed with spoken chatters and sizzles’.

Somnambulant drones and ethereal elongated notes which hover and hum dominate the album’s eight compositions. There are no easy inroads here. In fact, there are no inroads at all.

‘Side Effects’ is an odd piece of spoken word with extraneous noise, and the mix oddly pitches background sounds to the fore to disorientating effect. It’s only three-and-a-half minutes long, but it’s three-and-a-half minutes of warping drones and static hiss and crackling.

There’s dark turbulence on ‘Lima’, which plunges the listener into subterranean spaces of disquiet and discomfort, while ‘Onomatopoeia’ appropriately brings a gloopy, swampy soup of sound, and the title track – a succession of scraping shards of electronic feedback.

And what does it all mean? That I fail to sense ‘South American geographies’ doesn’t mean they’re not present in every moment, but reminds us that artistic intention and the artist’s spheres of reference and influence often differ from those of the audience, who can only truly receive art from their own solipsistic vantage point. As such, dissemination and reception rarely correspond, and this is never more apparent than when considering the experimental and the avant-garde, where theoretical context counts for nought to much of the audience.

The sign of artistic success in this context is not whether or not the audience grasp the context or intention but whether they connect with the work – on any level – despite a lack of a priori knowledge.

Apophenia is a challenging listen, but is an album that holds up and ‘works’ when removed from its context. It’s all about atmosphere, and the universal language of sound.

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Front & Follow – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Front and Follow is a label that’s carved a special niche in the cassette release corner of the industry, and has, for those in the know, become a trademark of quality. But sustaining such consistency – or even anything – as a one-man operation is hard work, and often with little reward. As such, while I was sad to learn they’re taking a break, they’re signing off with an incredibly strong release, courtesy of Ekoplekz, who is also embarking on an indefinite break.

The album’s pitched as ‘drawing parallels between present day Britain and that of the turn of the 80s, Ekoplekz looks back to that era’s industrial and post-punk soundtrack for inspiration,’ and the press release continues: ‘In a land increasingly brutalized by austerity and divided by nationalism, the tensions that informed some of the post-punk era’s most important works (Red Mecca, Unknown Pleasures, Metal Box) haunt this collection of bleak postcards from the present’. The present is indeed bleak, unless, of course, you perhaps run a hedge fund with billions backing a no-deal Brexit or you’re a major corporation invested in climate change denial or pharmaceuticals. But then, if you’re in that bracket, you’re probably on your private jet grabbing bitches by the pussy and going gammon about these smelly hippy protestors or somesuch. For the rest of us these ae dark times that require a dark soundtrack, and as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s no surprise that we’re experiencing a different kind of 80s revival at the moment. Brutal and divided pretty much sum up both UK and US politics and cultures , as well as further afield. Who actually feels safe on the street? Who actually feels safe as a career artist? Who isn’t remotely concerned, doesn’t feel concerned, panicked, anxietised? We don’t need Duran Duran replicas like The Bravery, and even Editors and Interpol’s take on post-punk feels lightweight in the face of the crises that define the current – and so Ekoplekz plunge deep back to the late 70s source to dredge real darkness and despondency here, and in doing so, In Search of the Third Mantra soundtracks the present – bleak as it is.

With In Search of the Third Mantra, Ekoplekz sets his spheres of reference out early, with ‘High Rise Dub’ carrying Ballardian connotations and ‘K-Punk’ taking its title from the seminal blog of the early noughties by the late Mark Fisher, to whom the album is dedicated. This, then, without wanting to sound elitist, is no mindless replication of an array of retro tropes, but a considered assimilation of myriad sources, distilled into something wilfully challenging. We would expect nothing less of K Craig, filmmaker and front man of currently-resting Last Harbour. This is quite a departure, but works in context: while we don’t get brooding vocals and arch-gothic sonic structures, there’s a brooding nihilism that rumbles at the core of In Search of the Third Mantra in the same way it lurks so many albums of the period, and a lot has to be credited to the production.

It’s got grooves and danceable beats, but it’s also possessed of a dehumanised detachment, a sense of distancing and dislocation: you’re in the zone and in the space where you’re feeling the distance, the disfunction. The fact that this doesn’t fit, the fact that you don’t fit.

The spartan electronica of the former, with its dubby bass and rhythm that shuffles and clatters conjures a sense of alienation and otherness, while the latter brings things down a notch darker, laser bleeps and eerie vaporous notes hover ominously. ‘Do the Meinhof’ goes full motoric, channelling the insistent industrial grooves of DAF and Cabaret Voltaire into a tense death disco pounder laced with icy synths.

The sonic touchstones are all very much in evidence as the listener is led through a haunting desert of sound, dark, murky, menacing. ‘Accept Nothing’ has hints of The Cure’s Carnage Visors soundtrack, and the atmosphere which permeates all ten compositions is unforgiving and inhospitable.

There’s a degree of linearity to the album’s sequencing, and each track feels sparser, less defined, and with this progression there comes an increasing sense of collapse, of emptiness, and while sonically, the pieces are spacious, the atmosphere is evermore paranoid. One feels as though familiar structures are falling away, disintegrating. By the time we arrive at ‘Heart Addict (In Make Up)’, there’s little left beyond an almost subliminal, stunted dub bass that twitches anxiously alongside a barely perceptible beat, and we’re left, alone, disorientated, and teetering on the precipice just inches from the void.

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4th September 2019

There are two ways of going about reviewing albums: the easy way and the hard way. The easy way is to crib to the max from the press release, paint yourself as an expert on every artist however obscure they may be, while making on-point comparisons suggested by the band and their PR. The hard way is to ignore all that, listen painstakingly and go out on a limb on your opinions based purely on instinct and past experience. The hard way is to appreciate that however much you yearn to wrote objective reviews, no-one ever responds to music in a purely objective way, and reviews which take a truly objective stance are incredibly tedious to read – and to write for that matter.

So I know nothing about Kristeen Young, and expect that the cover art doesn’t really convey much of what she or her music is about. Then again, expectations exist to be confounded, and while The SubSet isn’t about goth dressmaking, the somewhat baffling choice of image is in keeping with Young’s quirky style.

‘Less Than’ crashes in by way of a starter with everything all at once: Eastern-inspired grooves collide against electronic bleepery while her vocals allude to Kate Bush in their delivery – and that’s a defining feature as she squeaks and soars her way through the album’s ten tracks. It’s an effective style that’s well-suited to the music.

Experimentalism is a prominent factor on The SubSet, and the fact there are hit-and-miss elements are par for the course and in no way detract from the overall experience: ‘Everyday Subtraction’ begins as a rather mediocre mid-pace dance cut, but steps up the drama as Young shifts her vocals unexpectedly into full-on operatic mode, while ‘In 3rd Grade’ is a tense, driving electropop shoegaze effort that throws in nods to early Garbage (back when they were exciting), before playing out on a delicate piano and soft, subtle bass and a sudden, unexpected burst of noise. When I say ‘hit and miss’, there really isn’t much miss: it’s just that some moments are more striking and distinctive than others, and Young strikes what’s probably an appropriate balance between weird and accessible to afford herself the potential of a wider audience.

‘Pretty Twogether’ is vintage electropop with a warping twist and some extraneous noise, propelled by glitchy percussion, while ‘Marine Combo Dadd’ is a semi acappella shanty with dreamy, psychedelic overtones, and it sounds incongruous, that’s because it is: once gets the impression Kristeen Young revels in creating moments of uncanniness, of oddness that are only a fraction removed from the familiar, but far enough to sit just the little bit uncomfortably. It’s a strength she works to, and well.

If The SubSet is a wildly unpredictable affair, it’s all the better for it.

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Wonkystuff – 5th September 2019

This one’s been a long time in coming: the liner notes document that the three pieces that make up Traditional Computer Music were ‘conceived and composed from various SuperCollider recordings over the years 2010 – 2014 [and] edited and compiled in Logic.

Then again, both Ash(ley) Sagar and Wonkystuff label boss John Tuffen have been kind of busy for most of the five years since this was finished, what with their being one half of The Wharf Street Galaxy Band, as well as operating as Orlando Ferguson and contributing to myriad other projects.

The title of this release is clearly a wilful oxymoron on the one hand, but on the other it’s entirely fitting, and a recognition of the tropes which have established themselves around digital musicmaking. Computer Music, once radical, is now a convention with a substantial lineage. And yet there is, somehow, a certain idea of what ‘computer music’ sounds like when presented with ‘computer music’ as a term, and Sagar manages to encapsulate that on this release.

The three numbered pieces – impersonal, inhuman, digital – are lengthy: 1 is 14:21, 2 is 19:24 and 3 is 18:58. And while Sagar doesn’t delve into retro robotix with bleeps and bloops, Traditional Computer Music explores digital soundscapes that have become synonymous with electronica.

Bulbous, warping drones weft and warp in the opening moments of ‘1’, with sounds of indecipherable origin – are they voices? Are they synthesised sounds? Tapering to an undulating mid-range droning hum after a couple or so minutes, coalescing to a throbbing hum around four minutes before dispersing into a vaporous mass after some four minutes, it becmes little more than a drone, before dissolving, fractured, splintered and broken, into painful howls of feedback that continue for a good few minutes before fading to darkness.

‘Part 2’ continues where ‘Part 1’ leaves off, with elongating feedback-filled drones extending outward for centuries and light-years back. It’s simultaneously evocative and sterile, again highlighting and exploring the dichotomies of digital music. Ash is one of those musicians who explores to the core. And yet his technicality is not at the expense of feeling. You can tell by listening to this that he lives and feels the music, wanky as it probably sounds.

The third and final track, ‘3’ moves into microtonal territory, which is crackly, glitchy, bleepy, and finds a slow pulsing beat thumping beneath an array of tweeting twittering R2D2 stutters. It descends into a morass of tweaking laser shots and squelchy pulsations buried under a growling generator hum ad there’s pitch-shifting and slowing drones galore. It becomes increasingly difficult as it progresses, dolorous drones and low pulsations and eternal, deliberate throbs roll on and on, before finally yielding to a climax of retro-futurist wibbles which ascend to a sustained rippling hum that’s not exactly comfortable whatever your preferences for sonic range.

On TCM, Ash shows that he probably knows the boundaries and remains within them, but at the same time tests the listener’s limits in a positive way. And yes, it’s good, and in its field, outstanding.

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Ash Sagar - Traditional