Posts Tagged ‘Experimental’

Radio Bongo

Christopher Nosnibor

The cover art – a photograph of the stump of a recently-felled tree – is one of those exercises in magnificent blandness. It’s the fact it’s clearly in an urban setting which perhaps gives the greatest clue to the music it accompanies; it’s the discarded trainer which actually makes the shot, however. The image really only makes sense in context of the liner notes, which begin ‘The spiral of a record. The routine of life. The growth rings of a tree. The rhythm of a drummer. The groove.’

Production credits go to a President Bongo, and Execution is listed as being the first volume in ‘Les Adventures de President Bongo’ – which, apparently, ‘is a unique work of art that will reveal itself over the next seven years, give or take, in the form of 24 LP’s.’ This is quite ambitious, and while I still have no real handle on the concept or direction after several listens to this album, ‘adventure’ seems to be an appropriate choice of word.

The album contains two tracks, ‘Drama’ and ‘Transmission’. ‘Drama’ certainly fulfils its promise, but in the most unexpected ways. It begins with gloopy electronic pulsations, a sort of semi-ambient dance vibe rippling, soft-edged and mellow. So far, so chillout-orientated, club-friendly mediocre. But then extraneous drones hover and scrape at oblique angles across it, at complete odds with the chilled waves. It takes a while to build, and before the beats kick in. ‘She can make it,’ croons Þormóður Dagsson, over and over again. It’s a cool groove, alright. His voice is so sweet, so smooth, so achingly soulful. He could probably sing a shopping list and still make you melt. But while the vocal sits with the mellow bubbling synth, it’s the discordant noise that swells to dominate the mix. The jarring incongruity of the clash forges less a dynamic tension than it serves as an apparent act of brutal sabotage. And then the drumming goes absolutely fucking berserk, and the whole thing whips into a brain-bending, bewildering mess of sound. The groove is buried in the tumult, from which eventually emerges a driving, bass-dominated jazz-rock groove. Where did that come from? Dagsson’s voice continues to float, untouched, surrounded by a halo of reverb, through the wild wig-out. It all goes jungle with added whistles and bleeps further down the line, and it’s fair to say you’re unlikely to experience a similar seventeen minutes of song anywhere else.

Well, apart from on side two, perhaps. ‘Transmission’ creeps in by stealth before taking a turn for the dubby. It strolls along, bouncing echoes hither and thither. The vocal performance is understated, low-key, yet all the more effective because of it. A note hangs in an echo as a kaleidoscopic spiral of synth notes swirls around the steady, toe-tapping beat. There’s none of the wild experimentalism of the previous track here, the focus instead being on building laid-back atmospherics and a smooching groove that shuffles on unassumingly.

Groove, then, comes in many shapes and forms, and some are less obvious than others. Tilbury take the groove and twist it, bend it, kick it around a bit, push it close to breaking point. The curious nature of the music indicates a curiosity about music on the part of the creators. The end result is pretty damn strange, but also strangely enjoyable. It’s all in the execution….

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Tilbury - Execution

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House Of Mythology – 6th July 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

In expressing my lack of enthusiasm for David Tibet’s collaboration with Youth under the moniker of Hypnopazūzu, I seemingly gave rise to mirth with my reference to ‘pseudomystical bullshit’. Tibet can laugh it off, but after so long churning out material that veers between the indulgent and the vapidly whimsical, I’m not convinced it’s a laughing matter.

Now, I’ll admit, I’ve never really got to grips with Current 93 – their catalogue was beyond overwhelming long before I even discovered music beyond the mainstream, and their output exists s far beyond the mainstream that I had to pass through Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse and a slew of others having spent my early teenage years mining the seam of goth and (what was then) contemporary industrial and real indie to even learn of their existence. Context counts, and however influential Tibet has been in ultraniche, cult circles, it doesn’t alter the fact that some of his art and affiliations over the course of his career have been questionable.

ZU93 is the effectively named new collaboration between David Tibet and the ever-changing Italian group Zu, centered around Massimo Pupillo and Luca Mai. Mirror Emperor operates around a concept or theme that’s never really rendered with any clarity. All of the song titles reference the titular Mirror Emperor, but they who, what, and wherefores are absent, and there’s little guidance in the lyrics, which are fragmentary, hallucinatory, abstract and non-linear. This in itself is no problem: life is fragmentary, hallucinatory, abstract and non-linear, and we’re all accustomed to postmodern art and its fragmentary, hallucinatory, abstract and non-linear representations of the life experience.

Musically, it’s sparse but powerful. In terms of composition and arrangement, Mirror Emperor is widely varied, but very much leans toward the dark and ominous. There are brooding strings that soar and sway, drift and drag. There are moments of deep resonance and thick sonic density. Far from being a skippy, trippy, easy ride, it’s often difficult and challenging. ‘Confirming the Mirror Emperor’ is built around a dense, murky bass that booms and surges over a slow, heavy beat, before layers creep over and lift it somewhere altogether different.

Tibet’s delivery is the stumbling block. Every word is delivered with the same sense of immense portent, as if each phrase is a revelation of cosmic proportions. Which it isn’t. ‘And quickly…. A knuckle cracks… into space… Opens up her… and feels…’ he gasps with breathless wonder. I’m more breathless with wonder as to how he can still pull this shit off.

Tibet’s despondency at the emptiness of contemporary culture is something to which I can relate: his wide-eyed mysticism, more of a throwback to 60s hippiedom than the escape routes available now, I can’t. It feels oddly disjointed and out of place. While his fans’ belief in his visionary prowess and the potency of his lyricism, convinces that posterity will see him aligned with Dylan and Cohen, I’m looking at the Mirror Emperor to check out his threads, and I’m seeing none.

It does get easier with exposure: Tibet slowly diminishes into the background as the music intensifies as the album progresses. ‘The Heart of the Mirror Emperor’ is forged from woozy electronic pulsations which glitch and glow. Ignore the breathy, triptastic babble about the sun and moon and it’s pretty good.

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ZU93 – Mirror Emperor

Constellation Records – 15th June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Bush Lady, originally released in 1985, is described as ‘a unique and magical record by any definition’, and as ‘an invaluable example of contemporary First Nations music that blends traditional folkways with modern composition’. Obomsawin is a member of the Abenaki Nation and one of Canada’s foremost activist documentary filmmakers: with over 50 films to her credit, she’s not primarily known for her musical output, with Bush Lady being released as a private pressing, half of which languished in her home for years and years.

It’s not easy to place. It’s not folk; it’s not spoken word. But then, these aren’t conventional songs either, although there are some charmingly pleasant flickers of woodwind and strings. But it’s primarily about Obomsawin’s vocals. Her voice conveys so much; against monotonous, thudding rhythms and trilling notes, eerie discord and wandering abstraction, she swings between blank monotone and quirky vocal contortions that jar the spine.

The real thing about Bush Lady is just how fresh and contemporary it feels, and sounds, never mind the fact it’s 33 years old. It’s not that nothing’s changed in this time, but an indicator or the creative prowess and sheer otherness of Alanis Obomsawin’s art.

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Les Albums Claus – 30th April 2018

Stuart Bateman

Ben Bertrand comes armed with a bass clarinet and a bunch of effects. Recorded live at les ateliers claus in October 2017, NGC 1999 doesn’t sound in any way live, and the five pieces feel very structured and are sequenced in a most cohesive fashion. While the number of singer-songwriters using loop pedals to fill out their sound seemed to explode about 12 years ago, to the point that it’s long been tedious and predictable to witness someone with an acoustic guitar and a little synth layering up the vocals and building simple three-chord strums up to epic choral dimensions.

Bertrand’s application of the equipment is both more subtle and more innovative. The repetitive motifs ripple and bounce against one another, and while there is layering, Bertrand’s restraint is noteworthy, keeping things sparse, low-key, minimal.

Taking its title from a dust-filled bright nebula in the constellation of Orion, 1,500 light years from earth – and distinctive for a black patch at its centre which is believed to be completely empty – the compositions are thematically-linked and contrive to convey a sense of floating in space.

Things to threaten to spiral out of control with shrill, electronic whistles sending the end of ‘V380 Orionis’ (a multiple star system at the centre of Orion and the primary source of light for NGC 1999) skyward. But thereafter it’s very much sparser and quieter. ‘Malkauns on Kitt Peak’ brings a change of tone for the album’s mid-point: a hushed, brooding expanse of elongated pulses which echo out into the darkness, it’s spacious yet strangely airless. For the first time on the album, the clarinet sounds like a clarinet as it meanders through a fizz of skittering treble that falls like shooting stars.

The pieces flow together and transition effortlessly as Bertrand bounces through the abyss with an assurance and tranquillity that’s soothing, but nevertheless strange.

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Ben Bertrand – NGC 1999

Hyperdelia – HEX002

Christopher Nosnibor

It seems to be something almost unique to the world of experimental and avant-garde music, that the titles are directly descriptive, functional, literal. Imagine if the practise was adopted in the genres of rock or indie. How would releases like Angsty shit ripping off the Foo Fighters, Adolescents who are pissed off because we can’t get laid and Ten three-minute derivative jangly guitar-based songs about life in college be received? Actually, they’d probably still sell infinitely more units than releases like this, but the point of differentiation is that this is art, and commercial considerations really are not leading factors in determining the work or its release into the public domain.

We learn that Womb is ‘a musical narration for abstracted ears and bodies – engulfing a listener simultaneously in subaquatic sonic environments, distant dreams of childhoods, memories and voices from the unknown: where time and space fold into each other.

The initial material of field-recordings of nature and body sounds, interviews and compositions has been re-recorded and re-amped underwater in a swimming pool – and has been re-arranged (partly by way of the impulse responses of the pool) now for stereo home listening.’ And so we’re very deeply into literal territory here.

It’s watery and muffled, womb-like every second of the way. ‘Cocoon’ sounds like someone typing – quite slowly, unsteadily – while slow ambient music with whale song and slow, arrhythmic beats pulse, all heard with cotton wool in one’s ears. ‘The Garden’ is a long, slow ebb and flow of elongated dronage, spiralling contrails of vapour and mist, an eddying vortex of mid-range that twists ethereal, occasionally rent with bulbous belches of sound which echo out beyond the reaches of perception.

The beats are glitches, pulses, crackles and thudding heartbeats, incongruously urgent and pacey and at odds with the sedate sonic swirls that hover and hang, Samples, muffled and heavily filtered, are abstracted amidst twittering birdsong, wide-sweeping drones, ominous fear tones and unsettling extranea.

The focus is beyond soft: it’s submerged, out of reach. Everything about Womb is warm, supple. There is a sense of depth – immense depth that extends beyond sound to the absolute core of being. A slow immersion that works its way inside, Womb is both meditative and introspective, and while it’s very much conceptual, it succeeds independently as a soundwork.

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Kajasa Lindgren – Womb

Christopher Nosnibor

Into the Void is Gintas K’s second album-length release of 2018, and we’re not even quite halfway through. For this outing, the enigmatic granular sonic artist from Lithuania has delivered an array of 14 fragmentary pieces, the majority titled by number, spanning snippets less than a minute in length to quarter-hour brain-sizzlers, with the majority of pieces clocking in around the two-minute mark.

The limited notes accompanying the release state ‘Pieces created by Gintas K using Travis Johnson sound material.- rhythms loops.’ It’s perhaps worth noting that this is Travis Johnson (2) as listed on Discogs – the ‘sound designer, electronic music producer, improviser, and farmer from Suwannee County, Florida, United States’, and not the bassist with metal band In This Moment or either of the other two.

We’re all staring into one void or another, so there’s a degree of universality in the experimental intent of this release.

Those rhythms and loops are warped, splayed, disjointed, whipping backwards and forwards across the heads in a jumble of crazed anagalogia reminiscent in places of some of William Burroughs’ tape experiments from the late 50s and early 60s, when he and Brion Gysin, with the assistance of Iain Sommerville, who was an electronics engineer and programmer.

For the most part, it’s about variation – or not so much – on a theme. Beats stutter and funnel into disarray and fuzzy edges dominate the sounds as those beats crackle and fizz. Most of the loops on here sound sped up and pitch-shifted, gloopy electronica and synthy beats shifted up to resemble clicks and bleeps and scratches of static. Everything crunches and collides at a frenetic pace to create an overwhelming blizzard of sound, a sonic soup that batters rather than massages the senses and the brain. A great many of the rhythms are arrhythmic, or otherwise disturbed or distorted in some way or another. At times akin to a palpating heart, and at others a flutter beneath a screeching squall of static, a fizz of treble and a mess of skittering noise, Into the Void leads the listener into difficult territory, and at times threatens to abandon them in a sandstorm of sound that will leave them completely adrift.

There are some moments of variance: ‘Void4’ is a slow, woozy slice of opiate dub, and ‘Void6’ is largely distorted thumping and rumbling, and ‘Void12’ brings the emptiness of it all into sharp relief, a quavering, oscillating humming drone. It’s minimal, but delivers maximum discomfort.

Personally, I dig it, but as a listening experience, its uncomfortable and far from easy.

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Travis Johnson & Gintas K – Into the Void

Ventil Records – V008

Christopher Nosnibor

Variations on Bulletproof Glass follows 2016’s Decomposition I-III which also featured Christina Kubisch, and set out to explore – and demolish – the well-worn thematics of field recordings.it represents something of a deviation in terms of its methodology, as well as its focus. This fourth decomposition collapses material rather than location, and places a very different focus on the concept of field recordings, centring not on the out and about, but the controlled space, and with a clearly defined specificity.

Variations on Bulletproof Glass is a literal title, being constructed from ‘waves which were transmitted through a bulletproof glass pane while it was exposed to major physical impacts’. But of course, like most works which are devoted to a microcosmic sound source, that source becomes increasingly obscured the closer the lens looms. While there are moments that do sound vaguely evocative of glass, cracking and splintering, there’s not a single classic crash and tinkle, a solitary smash and splinter. None of the sounds here betray their origins, and Kutin and Kindlinger have manipulated the source material to forge something altogether in a different sonic sphere from the pieces that lie scattered at source. There may be hints of scrapes and ricochets on/off glass, but there’s nothing which overtly says ‘this the sound of glass’ in the (de)construction of these samples. Because this is bulletproof glass, for a start. It has different properties, and can withstand greater punishment. The consequence is that so must the listener: this is challenging, and difficult to readily access.

‘X26’, the first of eight pieces, clanks and scrapes, and the chanking treble is countered by woozy bass. It has all the hallmarks of experimental dub, and even builds some dense, gut-churning rhythmic pulsations and dynamic beats – none of which even hint in the slightest at the source of the sounds. ‘Throne’ is a jolting, stop/start attack, and Elvin Brandhi’s vocals are stark, dishevelled, wild and wide-eyed. ‘PANE#2’ blasts away at a beat that echoes Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Discipline’ as synth-like sounds howl and wail aggressively before tapering to a quieter place.

Elsewhere, the sonorous, trilling done and scrape of ‘L.I.W’ is uncomfortable, and not for a single second does one listen to this and think that this is an album to mellow to, or even to function to. It’s not just distracting, but the sound of abstract obstruction.

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Kutin Kindlinger – Decomposition IV