Posts Tagged ‘field recordings’

24th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Kemper Norton’s kept a steady trickle of releases coming for some time now, and while the last couple – Hungan (2017) and Brunton Calciner (2019) – had bypassed me until now, the consistency of previous works, from Cam (2013), Loor (2014), and Toll (2016) was more than enough to ensure my immediate interest on the arrival of Oxland Cylinder. His music always has an intrinsic sense of place, however elliptical, and if on the face of it Oxland Cylinder appears to break this trend, the accompanying text is informative:

‘In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century the majority of the world’s arsenic was created in Cornwall and Devon. The “Oxland Cylinder” was one of the methods used and was a revolving iron tube used to process and vapourise arsenic pyrites. None of these devices remain intact.’

Immediately, we’re transported to England’s south coast over a century ago, and not only to a bygone era but a practise essentially lost to history. And in this context, Oxland Cylinder takes on layers of meaning and caries a certain historical weight.

If the first piece, ‘halan 5’, which introduces the album with discontiguous electronic scrapes and buzzes, and a swell of bleeps and bloops, an analogue bubblebath that slowly eddies and swells, feels like so many other post-Tangerine Dream ambient electronic drifts, it’s also an evocation of a process akin to alchemy, only instead of turning lead into gold, it turns minerals into alloys, including lead.

Oxland Cylinder forges temporal spaces through the medium of sound, slow-spun ambience that conjures a certain mental blankness into which the listener is free to project their own sense of alternating coastal countryside and industrial production. Some will likely visualise Poldark, although the ruins that remain today tell little of the intense labour, heavy mining and vast engines involved in the extraction of ores and pyrites and their conversion to various alloys as lined the south coast at this time.

‘Dark as a Dungeon’ finds the first occurrence of vocals: it’s a sparse shanty with ringing electronics building a glistening, metallic backdrop to the lilting vocal melody. Singing about mining against funeral echo-laden rings feels like a sad thing.

Oxland Cylinder is as rich in evocative depth and subtlety as the south coast is in social and industrial history, and an absorbing album irrespective of context or intent.

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Kemper Norton – Oxland Cylinder

The accompanying text records that ‘n is a collaboration between close friends Nathan (London) and Neil (Devon). The first album is a collection of seven words which were sent by text and used to inspire and direct the playing and production’. And so, we have insight into the title and the process, but what matters is the end result.

Delicate notes, distanced apart in time, hang in the air, dripping slowly like drops of water from an icicle. And so ‘Trust’ forms, slowly, gradually, imperceptibly, a ringing note at a time; the mood is optimistic, but tentative, fragile. Deeper, fuller, piano notes creep in, but remain at a distance.

‘Subtle’ certainly fulfils its title’s promise, and while there is a gradual growth of an ebb-and-flow, the form is very much forged from soft, rippling notes from beneath which incidental bumps and scratches occasionally emerge.

The power of music like this is the infinite room given for the listener to interpret, ad to project: to fill the vast expanses of space with their own emotional response. I’m as guilty as the next music critic of describing music as ‘haunting’, but what does tat actually mean? For me, it’s about a personal resonance, the way a single note, hanging in a suspension of reverb, evokes memories and feelings, likely completely unconnected in any way to the music itself. But, when the mind is given subtle stimuli which encourages introspective wandering, sensations buried and locked away suddenly rise to the surface, free of the constrictions of linguistic association.

Minimalist is the word: n is sparse both compositionally and sonically, with a hushed ambience rendering the sparing works in a way which accentuates their quietness. One wouldn’t listen to a work like this and highlight a standout track, although ‘Awe’ marks something of a departure from the barely-there spatiality with a fuller sound comprising long, turning, drifts of sonic mist and chirruping birdsong – something which returns in the final track, ‘Truth’, which is uplifting in its tranquillity as I’m reminded of the sounds of early spring, the trilling chatter a confirmation that winter’s gloom is finally losing its grip and light and life can blossom once more.

N is a wonderfully simple, yet meticulously considered and exquisitely executed work, which contains and emanates everything and anything you want it to.

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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

Soundtracking the Void – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Collectively and individually, Gavin Miller and Thomas Ragsdale (worriedaboutsatan, Ghosting Season) have produced an impressive volume of work – although perhaps even more impressive than its quantity is the consistency of the quality. They’ve always been something of a yin/yang pairing, and the individual differences are integral to their collaborative works. So, while Ragsdale tends to bring the beats and beefy bass, Miller is the man who contributes wistful soundscapes and delicate atmospherics. The fact they’ve released solo efforts within a few short weeks of one another not only highlights their productivity, but affords the opportunity to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of their musical approaches.

Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 marks not only the first in a prospective series, but something of a departure, being almost entirely beat-free (there’s a distant clattering on ‘Pick Up Sticks’ but it’s almost buried by the sonar bass frequencies), and adopting from the outset a soft, piano-led sound and an elegiac tone.

In contrast to Gavin Miller’s near-simultaneous solo release, Shimmer, Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 is a much more overtly ambient work: the electroacoustic elements are filtered by synthesis, so while Miller’s ambience contains elements of shoegaze right at the fore, Ragsdale takes abstraction as his form, and runs with it. Many of his signature elements are in evidence: layered electronics, strings, and field recordings are all carefully interlaced to forge a sonic cloth as delicate and intricate as lace. However, the vocal samples lifted from film and radio which can be found in abundance on other recordings and in his live set, are as conspicuous by their absence as the beats.

In abstraction lies evocation: with so little overt or explicit signposting, the listener’s mind wanders free through the intangible forms. Without any temporal location in sonic terms, it’s left to the lister to fill in the gaps of space and time. But the titles of the compositions are referential, with several making direct reference to nursery rhymes – ‘Pick Up Sticks’ and ‘Four and Twenty’, for example. They remind us that so many of these rhymes have a darker undercurrent. Elsewhere, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ lifts its title directly from The Shirelles’ 1960s hit. Sonically, there’s no relation, but again, the sentiment of the title connotes a certain sadness, even anxiety: vintage pop lyrics, too, often cast shades of darkness when you scratch the surface and wipe away the bubblegum delivery. And it’s creeping darkness that pervades the slow, deliberate sonic expanses of the more dolorous passages of this album, of which there are many.

And so Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 provides the conduit for the listener to engage with their own interiority, exploring at leisure and from a distance, the images and scenes conjured by the mind’s eye in response to the sonic provocations. There’s something disquieting and disorientating about Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 – an album you feel first, and hear some time later.

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Thomas Ragsdale - Honley

Gizeh Records – 31st August 2018

The Great Lake Swallows is a collaboration between Canadian cellist Julia Kent and Belgian guitarist/tape machine manipulator Jean D.L. The former came to my attention some time ago, and her nuanced style of playing had yielded some compelling works. Jean DL, however is an unknown quantity to me, and I came to approach the release without any real preconceptions. I leave it with none either. It’s ambient and droney, but offers infinite layers. The Great Lake Swallows doesn’t really fit anywhere in terms of genre, and this is very much a positive. Sometimes, music simply is.

The Great Lake Swallows is a graceful and co-ordinated suite in four parts, and finds the duo creating sonic interplay that displays a certain musical connection, even telepathy. Collaborations of this type, which find musicians with such different approaches (and modes of instrumentation) requires a certain intuition to achieve coherence.

Its brevity contrasts with its scale and scope. The four tracks have a total running time of a shade over 25 minutes, but the aching cello bends and melts over hushed, brooding atmospherics to create compositions of great atmospheric depth and imbued with great significance. At times manifesting as dark portent, others seeping sadness without words to describe it, the layers build and pull at the senses almost subliminally.

The press release informs us the album was recorded in Charleroi, Belgium in 2015 during a video installation with Sandrine Verstraete, and that the music was created using field recordings, processed guitar and cello and serves as a soundtrack to the video of the same name. And the soundtrack qualities of the compositions are very much evident: the parts bleed together to forge a single, continuous piece, which slowly and subtly transition between place and mood.

On ‘Part 3’, a low throb slowly oscillates beneath the ebb and flow of strings that weft and warp, before ‘Part Four’ forges an expansive vista of surge and swell, as ghostly voices echo in the shadowy background. The effect is haunting, but also beautiful and as a whole, the work is deeply evocative. The Great Lake Swallows doesn’t just occupy space, but creates it.

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Constellations – 24th August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Automatisme is the moniker of reclusive glitch artist and electronic music producer William Jourdain. Transit is the follow-up to 2016 debut Momentform Accumulations, and has been formulated using modular synth racks and a vast library of field recordings.

As the title suggests, Transit is an album of movement. In transit are not only the creators, but the listener, who finds themselves being taken – often at pace – to unexpected destinations. But there is no stopping – each port of call is no more than a glance and a wave out of the window, perhaps a quick photo, before you’re on the move again.

The first suite – ‘Bureau’, a work in four movements, combines ambience and rhythm to often disorientating effect, and explores brooding expanses of sound and juxtaposes them with often jolting beats. ‘Bureau 0’ rapidly shifts from softly swirling cloudlike ambience to snarling, grating overloading noise – and back again. Blast of distorted beats and speaker-crackling overdrive create some disturbing kind of Dalek disco. ‘Bureau 1’ casts shades of gloopy glitchtronica which crackles and hisses, before bleeding into the more overtly groove-orientated ‘Bureau 2’. Groove is all relative, of course, and there are natural non-beat-orientated rhythms, too: shuddering oscillations swell like thunder on ‘Bureau 3’.

‘Registrariat’ stands alone between the ‘Bureau’ and ‘Bateau’ suites, and forges a more overtly dance beat. Only, the tempos shift erratically and sampled voices echo in the swirling sonic mists, and it gets too fast and before long, you feel your heart race increasing and instead of wanting to get down, you’re on the edge of panic.

The two-part ‘Bateau’ builds tonal intensity and volume, culminating in a dense eddying swell of noise that fills the cranium and creates an all-encompassing throb.

And it’s only at the final destination – a roar that abruptly leaves silence – that the album’s overall route becomes clear, a deleterious course from A to B via Z, Q and an unexpected assortment of curious places. You cast your eyes back over the map but it by no means conveys the experience of the territory. And after a pause, a moment of quiet reflection, you can’t quite recall the sequence of events that brought you here. You turn, and start to retrace your steps…

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Room40 – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

In certain circles at least, Tony Buck requires little to no introduction as the percussionist of longstanding Australia purveyors of avant-jazz trio The Necks.

Unearth is an immense departure in many respects, not least of all in that it not a percussion-led composition. His first solo work, recorded over a number of years, is an expansive, long-form piece spanning some fifty-one and a half minutes.

It’s a quiet, unsettling composition, with layered sounds building and overlapping, dark rumbles and drones juxtaposing with vague clattering incidentals, hisses, scrapes, hums, drips, plops and thuds.

Around the fifteen-minute mark, conventional instrumentation emerge, with ratting percussion, sonorous bass notes and picked guitar strings drifting across sampled voices and fragmented field recordings. However, it’s clear that the tension isn’t about to break any time soon, and nor is Buck about to unleash a square slice of rock tunage. Plinks, plonks and rattles shade across creaks and yawning ultra-low bass which hangs dense and heavy in the air.

There is a transitory moment of graceful musicality around the half-hour point, where chiming guitars and irregular, delicate percussion combine to create a subtle passage that’s ethereal, atmospheric and pure post-rock. And here comes the build: cymbals clatter and crash in a rising crescendo; gongs boom, and a tempest of sound rises as if from nowhere, as the treble of electronic bleeps cut through the evolving cacophony.

Things to settle into a less disturbing, less abrasive roll of swirling ambience thereafter, with chanks and chinks trembling over skittering sinews of sound stretched over weary, low-end drones which crawl and scratch.

Nothing about Unearth is easy or accessible, although Buck’s grasp on the slow-evolving dynamic of the longform composition is abundantly clear as the gradual transitions flow s effortlessly as to be unnoticeable.

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Tony Buck -Unearth