Posts Tagged ‘Experimental’

Textile Records – May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Just as I don’t really do jazz, I don’t much do country, either. But for every rule – or perhaps more of a broad, general guideline – there necessarily has to be an exception. So here I am, sipping hot black coffee having just ejected an album by Marc Sarrazy and Laurent Rochelle, which goes way over the limit on the jazzometer and has left me shaking my head and thinking there’s just no way I can review that objectively, and looking at a plain white paper sleeve stamped with six song titles under the header ‘J.O.M.F BLOOM’.

The biographical commentary that ‘the band is moving more slowly these days, with core members Tom Greenwood and Michael Whittaker living in the more rural corners f Northern California’ is perhaps an understatement: Bloom was a full three years in the making. But it’s not just its evolution that was gradual: compositionally, too, the pieces are slow-growing and sparse. The quietly picked guitar notes resonate outwards as woodwind trills over the hills on the instrumental intro piece, ‘Pipe’ It’s kinda quiet, sort of ambient. A sudden swell of noise ends abruptly to make way for the sedate country ramblings of ‘Radiating’. If you dig downbeat country tines that drag on for over eight minutes, this is going to do it for you bigtime. If you don’t… It’s laid back to the point of horizontal, the lyrics drawled rather than sung, and as such decipherable only in snippets.

But while this is very much a country album, it’s anything but conventional or straight ahead overall. ‘Wreck’ is slow-building, initially just guitar and Greenwood’s cracked croon. But before long, a tumult of crashing cymbals, overloading electric guitar feedback and straining saxophone create a glorious cacophony. Wild brass and woodwind shriek and squeal all over the raucous stomp of ‘Strike’. A sort of country/blues heart pulses beneath the chaotic racket that pummels in all directions and drives toward the horizon of abstraction. ‘Wildgeese’ brings dolorous trudging before the lo-fi plod of ‘Golden Bees’ thuds its way to the album’s conclusion in a muddy haze of echo.

On Bloom, Jackie-O Motherfucker fuse the mellowest, most downcast of country with the most awkward jazz dirges, which drone and wheeze and scrape at divergent angles across the linear country compositions. It may be country at its core, but it’s a whole lot more.

AA

Jakie-O Motherfucker

Advertisements

Christopher Nosnibor

Live music tends to follow a fairly standard format, namely where artists perform on a stage either in a conventional venue, or outdoors if it’s a festival. Punters traipse in, stand around, talk (sometimes through the performances) and file out again, and judge their enjoyment based on the merits of the performances and the sound and perhaps the company. Music performed in conjunction with art tends to be installation-based in some sense, and the music then finds itself relegated to a secondary position. It was only on arriving at the Leeds Industrial Museum in glorious sunshine that I began to consider the fact that while field recordings are an essential part of a huge array of musical works in the more experimental and avant-garde fields, and that there’s a huge body of musical work which is concerned with responding to and working with specific environments, it’s rare for an audience to experience the music and the environment from which it originated simultaneously.

Having seen the event – and it is an event, not a mere gig, not even simply a night of music, but something that, as the evening progresses, I realise is something that will stay with me as an experience, something different and really rather special – was in the museum, I assumed it would simply be in the museum. To arrive at the PA required walking the full length of the labyrinthine factory space, packed with weird machinery and other abstruse-looking contraptions. Some were operating, clanging and banging away. Following the arrows, we arrived at the sewing room, where NikNak is spinning discs and adding some wild flavour to the established tradition of scratching. I assume the bar is just around the corner and that we’ll be assembling in or near here, so move on with a view to returning. Follow the arrows. Follow the arrows. I try not to panic that getting out again is going to add quarter of an hour to my walk back to the station, and instead marvel at the displays. I’m not really digesting: the museum is looking like a full day’s exploration, and I make a note to return before too long.

DSC_0560DSC_0558

Eventually, we stumble into what appears to be some kind of old engine house. Past that, the bar and toilets. A nice array of local beers, bit in cans and kegs. No commercial piss on offer here.

The sun is slowly sinking, but still casting a fair bit of light as Bambooman delivers his ‘site-specific’ set, which is built predominantly around field recordings captured around the museum in the weeks ahead of tonight’s show. He throws some solid beats, and bass loops and samples in abundance. Light, skipping motifs that hint of the orient and extraneous industrial sounds – repetitious mechanical clankings which forge heavy marches dominate, and are overlaid with oddly folky vocals. The incongruity actually works in its favour.

DSC_0556

Bambooman

And it’s here that I begin to really experience – and to appreciate – the synergy of sound and space. It isn’t because the music isn’t engaging that I find myself casting my eyes around the space I’m standing in: it’s because the music compels me to do so. I cast my eyes upwards, and wonder what caused the various punctures and tears in the corrugated roof, through which the fading light seeps, purplish. People begin to pack in with greater density, legs and pelvises moving in time with the rhythms. A woman comes and stands too close to me, and keeps knocking my shoulder as she moves to the music. I let it pass.

My notes thin in density: a trip to the bar results in my missing the front end of Object Blue’s set, but time is already beginning to warp before her altogether more abrasive set assails my senses. Abrasion may be relative, but in any context, Object Blue packs some attack. The bass frequencies register around the pelvis, while the treble hits around the upper reaches of the cranium: the cymbal work is almost sharp enough to slice off the top like cutting open a boiled egg. The sounds are pushing the limits, fraying at the edges, and tug ant the nerve endings, but the PA is supremely crisp and clear and despite the respectable volume, I’m not feeling any need to get the ear plugs out. Object Blue’s approach to ‘industrial’ may be less literal than that of Bambooman, and more conventional in terms of genre, but with contrast comes impact. As a performer, she’s understated and demur, but sonically, her set is combative, aggressive, every frequency tweaked for optimal discomfort. I absolutely love it, and instead of raising the blood pressure, the sheer quality of the compositions and the attention to detail is uplifting. And with any uplifting uplifting experience comes a sense of quiet joy.

DSC_0562

Object Blue

Time really begins to slip now, and it’s not about the alcohol consumed. I’ve actually been pacing myself, for a change against recent outings more immersed in the experience than the quest for obliteration. During the space between acts, and as the beats knocked out by the DJs echo out into the night, I talk to my friend about mental health. It seems oddly comfortable and in come ways appropriate: I’ve spent the last few months operating at a frenetic tempo, which has resulted in wild fluctuations in mood. Tonight, at one with my surroundings, immersed by the music, stepping out of my life and engaged by everything that’s going on and the sense of something different something new, I find I’m reattenuating, becoming once more aware of the details of my environment – the sky, the details of chimney tower, the rusted engine, the imposing hulk of the mill on the hill, the skeletal frame of an engine tunnel or something, rusty and covered in ivy, the inexplicable machinery at every turn. I’m breathing at a slower pace. I’m back in life.

DSC_0557DSC_0561

Pye Corner Audio delivers something special. The downtempo focus of the set is key to its hypnotic effect. One moment, I’m engaged, observing the laser lighting and the drift of illuminated smoke across the space where he performer is situated, attuned to every last nuance of the surroundings, from the wire fence to the way the other members of the audience engage. The next, I find I’m swaying on my feet, eyes barely ajar, in something approaching a hypnotic trance. It’s the best I’ve felt in months – zoned out, but not completely out of it – the music becomes a throbbing wash that envelopes my body and every last one of my senses. THIS is what immersion feels like. The moment is all, and nothing else matters.

DSC_0567

Pye Corner Audio

I remember, jerking alert between lengthy spells of complete immersion, that this is a life experience. For the first time ever, it’s one I feel comfortable being only semi-present for.

Acte – Acte 002

Christopher Nosnibor

The press release provides previous little detail about the release, or the artist, beyond a brief summary of his broad interdisciplinary pursuits which include dance, theatre, live electronics improvisations and audiovisual performances and installations. It’s quite an expansion on his biography last time I encountered his work, back in 2011, when he simply described himself as a ‘sound artist’. That was when he released the ambient-orientated exploration usure.paysage.

Transfert/Futur is a long way from ambient. Heavy on the synths, it’s a beaty work that packs some considerable attack amidst the airy pulses and breezy blossoms of effervescence. It contains two tracks, the first of which, ‘transfert (299 792 458 m/s)’ is the audio element of a touring sound/light installation from 2017. On CD, it’s simply sound without the light, and clearly, the interactive and multisensory aspect of the project is nowhere near fully represented. Nevertheless, musically, it works. Over the course of some eighteen minutes, Bernier builds the atmosphere but above all, builds the beats. Scratchy, stuttering, synthetic, exploding in all directions, the rhythms pop and thrum, marching surges halting abruptly to change direction before powering forwards once more embarking on a propellant trajectory. The surround synths glide, pop and bubble, but mostly click and bleep and elongate, morphing and stretching longways, occasionally plunging into expansive, oceanic depths and venturing into eerie subaquatic territories. With so many false starts, false ends, twists, turns and unpredictable stammers, it’s anything but linear.

The second composition, ‘synthèse (299 792 458 m/s)’ has no such obvious context attached, but again is centred around warping synths and woozy bass tones wrapped around bold beats. Over the course of twelve minutes, it swerves from oblique bleeps and minimalist electronic squiggles and arabesques, via slow-building crescendos, to passages approximating straight-ahead dance music that you can actually get down to. As the track progresses, its form gradually dissolves. The soundscape is increasingly rent with bleeps and whispers and tranquillity always gives way to tension after a few uncountable bars. Microbeats and circuit spasms come to dominate the swell of hyperenergetic electrodes in synaptic collapse. Finally, nothing is left but a quivering whistle which slowly decays to nothing.

What does it all mean? Probably precious little. Transfert / Futur is about the journey, and the algorithms, rather than the meaning. It’s not a journey that traverses from A to B, but burrows its way into its own unique space.

AA

Nicolas Bernier

Nakama Records – NKM014 – 23rd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The title sounds like a Radio 4 quiz, or perhaps some selections for ‘Call my Bluff’. The accompanying blurb outlines how the album consists of three nonsensical musical conversations between Malaysian nylon guitar player Goh Lee Kwang and Norwegian bass player Christian Meaas Svendson, and describes it as ‘the story of the first encounter between two different mindsets, nationalities and generations trying – and totally failing at – making any sensible dialogue with their respective musical languages.

Success and failure are relative, of course, and one may contend that there’s no success like failure. It’s in the disconnect between artistic vision and the material realisation that unexpected creative outcomes emerge. The three pieces – I would probably hesitate to describe them as ‘compositions’ given that they are, in effect, haphazard jumbles of notes played over and across one another – are indeed sonic babble. But it’s still just freeform jazz to my ears. And for once, this isn’t a complaint or criticism.

The description reminds me of those days when every conversation feels like a misfire, and you miscommunicate with everyone you encounter. Try as you might, you never connect as intended. A jovial quip lands as an insult, a reply to a simple question leaves your interlocutor nonplussed and you realise you’ve misunderstood or misspoken, or otherwise just gabbled a stream of random bollocks for no apparent reason. You question whether the fault lies with you, or the world at large. You burn with shame. You want to hide away, an avoid people for a while. I say ‘you’; I mean me, of course, and as usual.

It takes a certain – nay, special – ability to separate and absorb any shame or embarrassment to place a document of those misfires and disconnects out into the public arena with the free admission of failure. But then again, failure in intent does not necessarily equate to artistic failure. And the disjointed, discordant jumble of notes on the three pieces – respectively entitled ‘Gibberish’, ‘Balderdash’, and ‘Drivel’ are entertaining and stand as art in the sense that they document a collaborative creative process.

At the heart of Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel is an exploration of language, and the apparent obstacle of linguistic disparity. I’d long assumed -and believed – that the language of sound transcended linguistic boundaries. But on delving into the development of this skewed collaboration, I realise that while this may be broadly true, it is not a universal truth, and am reminded that context counts for a lot.

But the language itself matters. Dialogue doesn’t have to have explicit meaning or linear cohesion to convey something. It’s as much about interpretation as intention: the receiver / listener will inevitably bring their own perspective and one man’s throwaway nonsense is another’s serious art. The accompanying pencil for the owner to draw their own art into the blank white cover is a nice touch, which adds to the interactivity. The listener is inevitably – and incontrovertibly -implicated in the process, and this inclusion only serves to accentuate this point.

And for all its self-effacing flippancy, Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel stands as a work of art. The very word selection is telling. In dismissing its very own existence as lesser, it does so using elevated language, indicative of an advanced and expanded vocabulary, while also adhering to the rule of threes. This is not by any means an illiterate work. Quite the contrary, in fact: Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel is a celebratory work.

AA

AA

Goh Lee Kwang & Christian Meaas Svensen – Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel

PNL Records – PNL040 – 20th April 2018

Extra Large Unit is an appropriate collective moniker: More Fun Please! is a live recording of an expanded iteration of Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit ensemble, and features some twenty-seven musicians, in a line-up which features three grand pianos. Yes, three grand pianos. Excessive? Hey, if you’re going to go large, why not go uber-maxi, all-out massive?

The accompanying blurb explains that ‘The challenge of composing for so many musicians, while also maintaining the qualities and identity he had established with Large Unit, pushed Nilssen-Love to new creative levels. This was a monumental task…’ And More Fun, Please! is a monumental album. The question is, how much fun can you handle?

In his liner notes for the album Nilssen-Love writes, ‘When writing music, I search for extremes, pushing boundaries: physical, dynamic, instrumental limitations, if any, how fast and how slow can one play, how loud and how quiet. I search for unusual ways of thinking. I want to give the musicians trust and have them take initiative and to feel the responsibility of what it is to be an individual player in a group context’.

More Fun Please! is a thirty-minute aural rollercoaster, half an hour of highs and lows. At times, it sounds like a classic cartoon soundtrack, parping brass and sudden bursts of percussion; at others, it’s brimming with oriental exploration and eastern promise, and at others still, it’s utter bloody chaos, discord and cacophonous mayhem. In between, there are passages of trilling, tooting, droning and scraping, brought to abrupt halts by immense orchestral strikes – and I mean immense, earth-shaking, and borderline galactic in scale – and plinking, bibbling xylophone breaks.

The brass is beyond wild. Words simply aren’t enough.

The whole thing is an orchestral frenzy, a riotous ruckus of everything all at once, with sustained crescendos that seem to last forever.

It’s a lot of fun… but half an hour is probably about as much of this kind of fun as anyone can handle.

more_fun_please-42547043-

Bearsuit Records – 20th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Try as I might – and I do, I really do – I find it impossible to avoid words like ‘weird’ ‘whacky’, and ‘oddball’ in reviews of anything released on the Edinburgh micro-label Bearsuit Records. This is no reflection of a lack of vocabulary on my part: it’s simply what they do. Every boutique label needs some kind of signature or house style, and a micro-label really needs a niche. Bearsuit specialise in stuff that’s so far out it’s beyond.

Fear of the Horizon is actually pretty conventional by Bearsuit standards – but these things are all relative. ‘Eamon the Destroyer’, the album’s first cut, arrives in a flourish of expansive prog-rock guitar and twittering electronics, all on top of a thumping beat that’s pure dark hip-hop. And then the guitars really takeover and we’re in territory that’s suspiciously close to be being categorizable as ‘rock’. But then ‘The Positive Approach of Talkative Ron’ swings into view in waltz-time and goes all weirdy… and then there’s whistling and another epic guitar solo.

Pancultural influence are infused within the glitching electronic fairground fabric of ‘Woman With the Plastic Hand’, with its stuttering beats and woozy organ sound, while ‘Vandal Schooling’ brings with it a crunch of industrial noise and stabs of bold orchestral brass, taking a sharp turn from abrasive to mellow around the mid-point and locking into a metronomic hard, industrial-disco flavoured groove near the end. For the most part, though, the sounds are soft-edged, mellow, supple, analogue.

‘The Horizon Project’ brings together mellow and woozy, its mellow motifs and nod-along beats cracked with a stylophone break and underlying hiss of distortion. It runs contra to the chilled beats and quite accessible lead melody.

‘Weird’ ‘whacky’, and ‘oddball’… they’re all entirely appropriate adjectives, but fail to account for the depth and range of Fear Of The Horizon. As hard as it may be to take seriously an act going by the name of Bunny & the Invalid Singers, there’s real merit to this work that goes far beyond the superficial quirkiness. ‘Weird’ ‘whacky’, and ‘oddball’ don’t convey the wistfulness, the melancholy, the nostalgia, range of emotions, moods and mindsets.

This is where I should sign off with a suitably witty flourish, or some pun-based punchline, but such flippancy would be to only further undermine the true merits of an album which clearly shows no fear. Fear Of The Horizon is a fun, entertaining, and enjoyable work but don’t let the oddness and goofiness lead you to believe it isn’t serious, or art. Because it’s most definitely both.

AA

Bunny & the Invalid Singers – Fear Of The Horizon

Jahmoni Music – JMM209 – 23rd February 2018

James Wells

Straight into weird shit territory here. Wordless, atonal vocals layer up, ululating and droning and whatever, the tape stretched and slowed and generally fucked about with, while a monotonous bass throb and thumping industrial beat holds an insistent four/four. Think The Fall crossed with Throbbing Gristle. It’s not the full picture, but is a flavour of ‘To Evacuate is Difficult and Infrequent’. It may or may not be a song about bowels. But probably is.

DJ Marcelle is certainly not a DJ in either the conventional or contemporary sense: nor does she present the image of the club DJ throwing down bangin’ tunes for the euphoric masses. Her website uses a kind of Scooby Doo Mystery Machine typeface, and her tour photos all document the soups she’s consumed. This explicit lack of coolness is a cause to celebrate her as an artist. This is not about trends or commercial endeavours: this is about making art with sound.

‘To Reveal the Secret’ is a lo-fi mess of sample loops and clattering drums, and calls to mind the jittery experimentalism of the early 80s avant-garde scene: again, the shadow of TG looms, but equally, the playful oddness of early Foetus and lesser-known acts like Meat Beat Manifesto offshoot Perennial Divide. It pretty much bleeds into ‘Walking Around Aimlessly’, another mash-up of looped samples and old-school tape effects, mining that seem of William Burroughs cut-up inspired audio experimentalism that marked Cabaret Voltaire’s first few albums. Firecracking percussion and wild analogue bleeps provide the fabric of the frenetic finale, which lands in the form of ‘To Sing Along’. The irony is as heavy as the bass, and it rounds of a set that’s noteworthy primarily for its weirdness and apparent celebration of the random.

And random’s where it’s at. Psalm Tree is weird but groovy.

AA

DJ Marcelle