Posts Tagged ‘field recordings’

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

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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

Makiphon – 17th February 2017

James Wells

Not an argument. Not a line of anything. Row is the sound of people rowing. It may make for a more interesting work if it was the sound of a couple bawling one another out, trading insults and chucking furniture. The creak of the oars in the rowlocks create a grinding, monotonous rhythm. Everything else is noise.

Voices. Dutch voices. The scoosh of oars cutting through the surface, the drag and pull, the rumbling splash. The rhythmic calls of the cox, the repetitions of ‘c’mon’ and hurgh!’ all blend to create an insistent, semi-industrial throb. ‘Row Out’ calls to mind, oddly, the backing to TG’s ‘What a Day’, the dense, clumping beat and thick, grating groan.

‘Row In’, unsurprisingly, brings more of the same, and not even in reverse.

Andreas O. Hirsch – Row

Dronarivm – 18th July 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Like most writers, and not just music journalists, I sustain myself financially with a demeaning, underpaid yet unduly stressful and arduous day-job in an office. The multinational firm who employ me, being fifteen years behind the times in terms of progressive thinking who have in the last year and a half decided halt the future is digital and that the place to pitch for market share in the coming years is on-line, have gone all blue-sky thinking and have fitted out a large rectangular room in each office with rising rows of seats, like some hideous postmodern parody of a colosseum in MDF. These ‘in the round’ meeting rooms, where the speakers stand in the middle (and consequently have their back to a quarter of the audience at any given time) have been preposterously named ‘agoras’. While throwing out quips about fluffy rabbits and jumpers, I’ve managed to decline all meetings in said room by claiming to be agoraphobic.

The reason for this preamble is that this album’s title is something of a play on words, a hybrid of ‘agoraphobia’ (a fear of public or open spaces) and the suffix ‘phone’, meaning sound. It only half works, in that phonia and phonic tend to refer specifically to speech. And, as anyone with access to a computer will likely know, ‘agora’ (in reference to either a space in an office or a word which simply means ‘public’ or ‘outdoor’) is a misnomer, in that the term ‘agoraphobia’, coined by the German psychiatrist Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal, was taken from the Greek ἀγορά, meaning ‘large public square/marketplace’ and -φοβία, -phobia, meaning ‘fear’. Still, based on the popular perception of the two terms, it makes an obvious punning sense which works in the context of what the album is about, in that it’s ‘a work which explores the relationships between people in given environments, and is specifically set in public spaces, namely the squares, or plazas’.

One might broadly classify this as a work of ‘ambient’ music, but in drawing together field recordings and manipulating the sounds and incorporating them into the rich sonic tapestry that constitutes samples and shimmering drones which form the material of Agoraphonia, Giannico and Aldinucci have gone far beyond the realms of background music and of atmospherics. Agoraphonia is a deeply evocative work, and one that requires a substantial degree of attention and focus.

Created using sounds submitted on-line, the album is a new kind of collaboration, and the end result is a work that requires attention and contemplation. Voices, passing cars and motorcycles and a low-level continuous chatter run through an indecipherable public speech seemingly made outdoors – at least judging by the trebly, tannoy echo – run through the first track, ‘Koutoubia’, as long, lingering drones simmer and eddy, building slowly in volume and intensity.

‘Plaza de Mayo’ finds the soft drones upscaled to vast, multitonal sonic washes which all but obliterate the voices audible at the start and end of the track. But this (im)balance is integral to the album’s purpose. In the world, the voice of man is not always dominant, and the relationship between human life and the environment it has created and inhabits is one which is infinitely variable and in constant flux.

There’s also the relationship between public and private, which at times is uneasy and for some extremely difficult and in some respects the recordings here are manifestations of that seemingly eternal fascination which surrounds the two states, which do not necessarily stand in diametric opposition or exist in binary formation. Giannico and Aldinucci do not offer answers here, but instead provoke thought as they lead the listener through the various locations.

 

 

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