Posts Tagged ‘exploratory’

Hypershape Records – 22nd October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Chronology can be a real bitch sometimes. Linearity is incredibly overrated. How can it be that even now, the world can be so far behind William S. Burroughs’ concept that the conventional novel in its staid, conventional, linear form is passe, and ultimately fails to represent life as it’s lived? Iron Speaks is a release that may trouble some sequential obsessives, as it was in fact recorded before 2020’s Deathless Mind, the fifth album from Stephen Āh Burroughs, formerly known as Stephen R. Burroughs of heavy makers of noise Head of David. Since 2013, he’s pursued subterranean channels of darkness via the medium of fundamentally ambient music, but with an ancient and spiritual undercurrent.

As the press release explains, ‘Iron Speaks has become known as the ‘lost’ Tunnels of Āh album since it was abandoned as the fifth album release due to it sounding ‘unengaged’ to writer Stephen Āh Burroughs; until now. After reworking the original material, Iron Speaks emerges as a rediscovered official sixth album release.’

This is perhaps to overstate the album’s mythology – being shelved for a time is one thing, but to attain ‘lost’ status within three years another. Nevertheless, fans who’ve been keen about this album’s development will likely be happy with both its eventual emergence and its content, which is predominantly a dark whorl of bleak, churning ambience laced with a ghoulish shriek of feedback and general top-end tension. And tense it is: the six pieces bleed together to forge a continuous work that offers no respite and continually works at the psyche and the gut, twisting and gnawing at both. Time stalls, and you find yourself sucked into a subterranean space that’s dark and disorientating.

According to the accompanying blurb, ‘The material deals with the transitional stages of life and death, and it’s an ominous possessive piece of work. As ever though, the darkness of Tunnels of Āh’s output stems from and towards a place of infinite light.’ None of this is so readily apparent on listening, with any light feeling particularly distant as Burroughs leads the listener deeper and deeper through tunnels that rumble and surge with dense walls of noise – and sometimes, it hurts as the weight of it all bears down on the listener. It’s a rich, dense, elemental sound, born of earth and minerals.

We’re told that ‘The title, Iron Speaks, is a reference to the chapter in the Koran which states that iron emerges from the heavens as a gift to mankind. This is often graphically depicted as a blazing ball of molten fire approaching its earthly target, and that image perfectly encapsulates the sonic dynamism of this album. This album is a consuming experience as it slowly enters its intended orbit to its chosen point with inevitable crushing impact.’ The tile track does indeed pack that crushing impact, an oscillating tumult of treble atop layers of rhythmic squalling; in contrast, ‘Every Hour Wounds’ inflicts a different kind of pain as the lower-end notes bounce like oxygen bubbles in murky water in a deep, dark pool. Ominous drones and hums hover before an industrial slash of sheet metal strikes.

The album’s six pieces all sit around the seven- or eight-minute mark, and are densely-textured, and often quite oppressively heavy works. The first, ‘Wardens’ is a smog of bubbling murkiness, where the sound churns ad churns, like dense cloud and uncomfortable gut churning. Long strains of feedback scrape out over a barren wasteland, and ominous hums and drones hover over heavily-textured earth-shifting grind. It’s ultimately not really about ‘engagement’, but about tone texture, and atmosphere, and this is bleak, dense, and uncomfortable, and in a way that draws the listener in. Thunder rumbles, and the experience is quite discomforting. It’s more than that: it’s claustrophobic, suffocating. ‘Terminus Est’ clanks and chimes and booms out dolorous, depressing notes that offer no space to breathe or to reflect. It leaves you feeling compressed, and if not necessarily anxious, then far from relaxed or soothed, but instead on edge and unsettled – and this is why Iron Speaks is a strong work: it has the capacity to have a palpable effect on the listener.

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6th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

For many, Leeds will be forever synonymous with goth, as the spawning ground of The Sisters of Mercy, as well as The Mission, The March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Rose of Avalanche. But then, Leeds has always been so much more, and anyone who’s spent any time around the city in the last decade and a half will be aware that the only thing that defines the city’s sound is a complete eclecticism. There may be a leaning towards noisier stuff in recent years – well, the last ten or so – but the fact is that truly anything goes, and that’s the absolute joy of the melting pot that is such a diverse and thriving city. Bands like iLiKETRAiNS and Blacklisters, for example, couldn’t be more different, and the same is true of breakthrough acts Kaiser Chiefs and Pulled Apart by Horses.

And so here we land on Terra Incognita by Leeds-based electronic music collective Urban Exploration, which is either their third or fourth album depending on how you view their catalogue, and if you consider Utopic, Heterotopic and Dystopic as separate albums (and I probably would, but this doesn’t really carry much relevance to the task at hand, namely of discussing the new album).

The first track, ‘Beacon’, is a voyage unto itself, beginning a semi-ambient track with some subtle beats before mutating into a full-on beat-driven banger. It’s nothing short of full-on club music, and in the span of six minutes, they’ve spanned multiple genres and landed themselves squarely in the ‘eclectic’ category. ‘Virtual Light’ – presumably referencing William Gibson’s dystopian cyberpunk novel, places a looping synth motif to the fore, and it’s stark and detached. They’re big on references: ‘Kepler-186f’ is the name of the first Earth-size planet in the so-called ‘Habitable Zone’, and orbits the red dwarf Kepler-186, about 500 light-years from Earth. As such, the bands interests and influences are clearly apparent and very much on display here.

The pieces are long – the majority extending well beyond the five-minute mark – and exploratory. Terra Incognita definitely feels like it’s venturing forward and breaking new ground, tiptoeing around the space between tangerine Dream and The Orb. It’s a lot of space, and Urban Exploration seem keen to traverse it.

The full twelve-track set is a dense and dark, semi-ambient affair, which, in balancing ambience with defined beats, invites comparisons to another act who emerged from Leeds, who’ve gone on to do great things, worriedaboutsatan. The press release gives the warning / threat / promise that ‘Terra Incognita transports you to alien lands that are strangely familiar…’ and indeed it does. There is a lot of space, a lot of oddness, a lot of dissonance, and a lot of otherness circulating around Terra Incognita. It’s ain intriguing and well-realised work that is truly worthy of being described as ‘eclectic’, its experimental span leading the listener on a voyage into unknown territories, both earthly and far, far beyond.

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Editions Mego – EMEGO305 – 28th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

BJ Nilsen’s focus has long been the ‘sound of nature, the nature of sound and the effects these have on humans’, and his exploratory collages and soundscapes tend to draw of field recordings and myriad other sources to create often contrasting, and dissonant works, and Irreal is very much dissonant and contrasting, with moments of tranquillity and subtle, quivering elongated drones disrupted by battering blasts of difficult noise.

The liner notes outline how ‘Irreal is a selection of recordings from different situations encountered in Austria, Russia, South Korea and The Benelux. The range of sound is as wide as is the emotional impact which slides from the unnerving to the shimmering and gor- geous. Doors, bells, birds, wet snow falling from a tree, hacking of wood, water dripping in a cave are all exquisitely captured and moulded into vast landscapes of sound. Human voices, string instruments, descending trains, oceans, winds, grass, trees. These diverse sonic elements are grafted around and upon each other to create a rich tapestry of sound. Electronic embellishments harness the whole to create a singular expressive canvas. The 3 part suite concludes with the Beyond pebbles, rubble and dust, a grand glacial work which serves as a masterclass in extraordinary transcendental drone.’

I’m instantly primed for some challenging scraping drones as the first few seconds of ‘Short Circuit of the Conscious Thought’ build tense, treble scratches, and am immediately puzzled when it halts and there are just clicks in silence. It’s as if the file has inexplicably glitched. From the quiet, a trilling, rippling drone emerges and hangs like a haze – but that smooth stillness carries a tension, which ruptures with distortion and bands like a dozen car doors slamming simultaneously, and at the most unexpected of times. In the final minutes, it evolves into a slow-pulsing minimal ambient Krautrock sequence reminiscent of Tangerine Dream.

Rumbling thunder cracks and crackles all around at the start of ‘Motif Mekanik’, and it booms and grumbles all around a low, ominous drone, and the track is a tumbling tempest of amorphous noise like a raging storm circling and hovering, drifting back and forth, and it’s unsettling. The contrast of the sounds of the elements and the metallic scrape of the eternal drone is perhaps the most obvious way in which Nilsen highlights the relationship between nature and humans, the man-made and the organic. It also intimates the tensions at the heart of that relationship, as strains of ear-splitting feedback cut through the murk and mumble, and it segues quietly into the expansive final composition, the monumental thirty-eight minute ‘Beyond Pebbles, Rubble, and Rust’ – and I know ‘immersive’ is a word I probably use excessively, but it’s entirely appropriate as I find myself swimming amidst the thick, slow—moving sounds of the piece.

Lazy bleeps, like R2D2 on a low battery or the Clangers on ketamine bibble into the mix, before fading out to a drifting mist of dark rumblings that present not immediate routes into the heart of dark mass, only an impenetrable mass of sound, like a mountain rising to the heavens, its summit hidden by a low cloud base. A low bass registers almost subliminally, a single note repeated slow and regular, booming out dolorously. Not a lot happens over a very long time, but the effect is cumulative, and as you sit and stare while the drones and spectral wails of ambience envelop, you find yourself in contemplation and searching for the meaning.

There are all shades of reality, spanning the unreal and the hyperreal. But the irreal is not real. However, where the irreal is distinct from unreal lies in the perception – not just something unreal, but estranged and otherly. In drawing on so many found sounds and field recordings, Nilsen’s album is in fact rooted in the tangibly real, bur recontextualises it, shifting the axes so as to present that reality through the filter of human intervention and incongruity, and as such, distorts that reality to present an interpretation which in turn becomes a fiction and therefore not real, or irreal.

As the rain hammers outside on this early July night, following a day of heavy storms, it occurs to me that what Nilsen articulates through his sonic juxtapositions, is that the relationship between human and nature is precarious: we, as a species, are not nature’s friends, and that progress is disruptive and often damaging – and it’s the human way to command, control, and harness nature for our own ends. But that superiority is an illusion, a delusion, and humanity will always be at nature’s mercy. The relationship is not interdependent or symbiotic, and we need the natural world , whereas it does not need us. In time, we may reach a point where our planet is uninhabitable to us, and to many other species, but it will exist long after we have ceased to, just as it did before. Darkness descends, and at the close, the album tapers to silence – and this is as it will be.

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Potomak – 31st January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

hackedepicciotto is Alexander Hacke (Einsturzende Neubauten) and Danielle de Picciotto (Crime & The City Solution), and The Current is their fourth album It’s pitched as being ‘their most powerful album yet,’ and the press release explains that ‘after composing desert drones for their previous album Perseverantia and dark foreboding melodies for Menetekel, their new album moves forwards, gaining in speed and energy’.

The energy is abundant, but it’s dark and flows in subterranean currents. Recorded in Blackpool, of all places, there is little sense of illumination in a work that’s dominated by shadow, although that’s by no means a criticism.

‘All people / are created equal’ de Picciotto announces in a stilted monotone which echoes out across a bleak and solemn soundscape of atmospheric, picked guitar and dramatic strings which glide and swoop over a swirl of electronic crackles, indistinguishable voices and dolorous bells. Over the course of the piece, she utters various permutations of the phrase, revealing new meanings with each arrangement.

There is very much an exploratory feel to The Current: this is not an overtly linear work, or an album comprised of songs in the conventional sense. These are eleven distinct ‘pieces’ which are more spoken word / narrative works with music than anything, although this misrepresents the fact the words and sounds are very much equal in their billing. And yet there is a sense of progression, as the rhythms become stronger, more forceful, and more dominant as the album progresses.

‘Onwards’ plunges downwards with a grating bass pitched against a relentlessly rolling rhythm; ethereal, choral vocal harmonies and cold, cold synths forge an unusual juxtaposition, and the result is powerful, stirring deep-seated emotions that swell in the chest as the energy rises.

In contrast, ‘Metal Hell’ goes post-industrial with metallic clattering an scraping disrupting a choppy, processed guitar riff that cuts a murky path over an arrhythmic mess of percussion, and the title track thunders a slow martial beat to build a grandly epic piece that conjures images of sweeping vistas dominated by rugged mountains and dense forests.

Things take a turn for the unsettling on ‘Petty Silver’, which finds de Picciotto writhe and wheeze in a sort of little girl lost voice against a backdrop of chiming xylophone and a heavy synth grind that’s pure Suicide. The penultimate track, ‘The Black Pool’ opens with a cluster of samples from news soundbites or similar about ow ‘the UK is fucked’ (fact, not an opinion) over some swirling ambient drone and a Michael Gira-esque monotone vocal trip

When the pair share vocal duties, Hacke’s cracked, grizzled growl is the perfect contrast to de Picciotto’s clean, airy yet tense and high-string delivery. And it’s the contrasts that make The Current: it isn’t any one thing, but a number of things simultaneously and while the rhythm section resonates deep and low, there’s lot going on at the front of the mix, and it’s this dynamic that gives the album a constant movement. To dissect it beyond this would be do damage the effect: The Current is an album that possesses a subtle force and brings submersion by stealth.

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hackedepicciotto – The Current