Posts Tagged ‘minimal’

Mongkong Music – mkng-01

Digital release date: 4th June 2021 / Physical release date: 4th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Having been introduced to the world of microtonal experimentation around a decade ago, I’ve found a certain fascination in those close lenses on the most minute of details – the musical equivalent of peering through a microscope and seeing objects and life forms on a granular, even cellular level. I’ve also learned that anything that can be rendered or viewed from a micro level, it’s probably been done, or otherwise is within someone’s sites to do, or I simply haven’t found it yet. Take, for example, the ensemble Microtub – not a small bath, but a trio of microtonal tubas.

Mycrotom is not a microtonal tom drum, nor a microtonal extension of the work of the Vegetable Orchestra (a ten-piece collective based in Vienna who make music using instruments crafted from actual fresh vegetables). In fact, the moniker is somewhat misleading, for as the press release notes, ‘Tom Simonetti alias mycrotom has created rather large-format sound carpets in the Bertolt Brecht mechanical engineering city of Augsburg. He now presents the same: soundscapes on which you can go out of work and walk away.’

So, it’s actually about sound carpets. I have to confess that I chuckled a little on reading that, before reminding myself of my own habit of describing works as ‘sonic tapestries’ and going into detail about the ‘fabric’ of numerous compositions – and that was before I listened to the album.

The pieces are built on interesting juxtapositions – sparse motoric beats click metronomically through gloopy synth basslines that could have been lifted off early 80s electro cuts on Wax Trax! while xylophone-type chimes ring out lilting motifs. Extraneous sounds are looped to forge unusual rhythms, and there’s a muddy, murky aspect to the sound that makes it difficult to separate the different elements.

Many of the synth sounds are vintage in style, squelchy, thick, fuzzy-edged, and while the arrangements are sparse, the effect is far from minimalist: there’s quite some density to the sound, and what’s more, a lot of Ratoratiyo pursues quite danceable grooves, and with a hybrid of 90s minimalism and 80s robotix, it feels completely removed from anything human.

‘Logic by Machine’ contains human voices – sampled, distanced, detached – against a sparse, rhythmic loop. It’s anything but comforting, and leaves one feeling even further adrift, alienated. It’s a strange experience that twists at the cognitive filters in unexpected ways. After all, none of the elements are new or particularly unusual – but their assemblage is, and in ways that are difficult to place a finger on. And it’s that difficulty of placement that lies at the heart of the challenge for a listener. You ask yourself ‘how does this fit with my experience?’ and ‘where do I belong in all of this?’ There are no handholds or footholds in terms of emotional resonance, in terms of experience. And precisely what does this convey? The sounds may be warm, but the experience is somehow cold, with a sense of separation.

It’s from this place of distance, a position of removal, isolation, that we begin to explore the spaces of Ratoratiyo, and the exploratory adventure begins.

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Edelfaul Recordings – 5th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Just as you should – at least ideally – never judge a book – or an album – by its cover, so you should never judge a musical project by its geographical origin, or judge the population by their government. This is particularly important as a point of note right now, and especially in context of this release. At home, we’re often led to believe that arts are of a lesser importance in the face of a pandemic or any other crisis, but history – and social media – will tell you otherwise: the natural human response to any trauma or crisis is to immerse oneself in either the creation or consumption of art or music. When bombs are dropping, people write poetry. It’s both a coping mechanism and a means of documenting events, and there is a clear logic to it: for me, writing helps to order things, both events and my own thoughts. The very act of writing gives mental effluvia a sort of solidity.

Spirit Skinned, the press release informs us, is ‘a duo rooted in the musical underground of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’ and goes on to note that ‘The area is known worldwide as a high tension zone, and the small musical scene that bred Spirit Skinned enjoys a reputation for an uncompromising and often radical sound approach, paired with a rare level of perfectionism. If anything, their music lives up to that notoriety.’

Watching the news, one would be forgiven for being shocked and amazed that there would be any kind of music scene in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, let an underground one. But even during sporadic war, life does go on, and citizens are always desperate to maintain some sensed of normality, and this is clearly true of Ben Ronen (aka diburnagua), former vocalist in various punk and noise projects in the Tel Aviv area and Ofer Tisser, producer/instrumentalist and a central figure in Jerusalem’s underground music scene, who have come together as Spirit Skinned.

The pair’s eponymous debut is pitched as ‘spanning the gaps between grime, industrial, hardcore, musique concrete, politics and expressionism’, and across the course of the album’s seven tracks, Spirit Skinned wanders far and wide stylistically. And you can’t criticise an album for any lack of focus when its focus is set so wide.

Many of Ronan’s crazed, yelping, barking vocals are largely impenetrable, and often partially submerged beneath layers of noise, not least of all highly dominant percussion: heavy industrial clanks and cracks dominant, but then again there are swamps of alternative and buoyant indie lurking in the mix.

‘Dry Season’ introduces the album with a slice of minimal DIY that’s brittle, spiky, and more than just a bit quirky, and lands somewhere between Young Marble Giants and Einstürzende Neubauten. Reverb bounces all over the place, while a slow, lowdown bass squirms away. They conjure seme tense and atmospheric scenes, and the claustrophobic, repetitious throb of ‘Leaving Room’ evokes the impotent rage of early Swans: it’s the sound of frustration vented through shouting into the void against a backdrop of music that bludgeons. ‘The Root’ is built around a monotonous pulsation that passes a significant nod in the direction of Suicide, but then there’s braying free jazz sax all over the top of it, and in combination, they’re pretty punishing. There’s a physicality to the music that’s affecting as they lunge from doomy drone to fractured, splintering harsh noise.

The album’s final track, the eleven-minute ‘Once Was Blind’ is sprawling monstrous hybrid of dark hip-hop, jazz, and psychosis. It’s like a beat poetry night on a bad trip. It’s a suitably weird end to a weird album, and one that’s well worth hearing.

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Lustmord + Nicholas Horvath – The Fall / Dennis Johnson’s November Deconstructed

Sub Rosa – 20th November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

According to the press release and liner notes, The Fall is a deconstruction of November by Dennis Johnson. My knowledge of the source material is limited to the same, which explain that November was written for solo piano in 1959, and is the first example of minimalist music composition – and that it was also the inspiration for La Monte Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano (1964). This may or may not be useful information, as may or may not be the fact that this collaborative effort strives to ‘reduce Johnson’s original November to its core element and place it in a landscape of complimentary sound. And as such ‘echo’s [sic] November but with further resonance’.

It’s a sixty-six minute work split into four segments numbered I through IV, with classical pianist Nicolas Horvath playing the piano parts, while Lustmord brings the atmospherics. How that translates is that the album’s first piece is a full twenty minutes of instrumental piano work, played slowly and delicately, with an acre between each note as it drops and hangs in the air against a backdrop of a fierce gale that buffets against a microphone. If you’ve ever tied speaking to someone on their mobile phone on a windy day, you’ll be aware of how the gusting air’s buffeting creates a sense of disturbance, an interference. Around the midway point, the disturbance shifts from being breeze-like to a deep, surging groundswell, something dark and resonant, an amorphous sound that rumbles and expands, then fades and returns in waves, ebbing and flowing slowly, and all the while, the sparse piano plays on.

And that is pretty much it: slow, deliberate piano – individual notes, struck a bar apart – and a distant rumbling backdrop that fills the empty space, sometimes barely, leaving little but empty air, others more densely, a wash of sound filling the air with levels of abstraction. At times, like rumbles of thunder, and others, like unsettling fear chords and an ominous vibe, but never anything concrete or tangible.

It isn’t much to go on, and while it is atmospheric and intriguing, it’s not entirely enthralling either, and I suspect the same is likely true of the original, a work that’s more concerned with concept than reception – something that can be done, and so is done, and example of avant-gardism promoting the project for its own ends rather than a something to necessarily be appreciated. There are things to appreciate, as it happens: The fall counterpoints ominous and graceful nicely, while also paying tribute to and raising awareness of a seminal work that’s been largely forgotten, eclipsed by other works by other composers, with Dennis Johnson’s renown falling far short of the likes of John Cage and Philip Glass. And on that basis, and on the basis of the original work’s true significance, this is worth tuning into.

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25th November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Following what, at least to the outside world, appeared to be a fallow spell between the release of beech and its attendant remixes version, during which time elk became elkyn, Joseph Donnelly returns remarkably swiftly with a new single, ‘if only it was alright now’.

It’s a sentiment that’s so, so relatable right now as we find ourselves eddying along in a relentless tumult of who knows that the fuck. And in the space of just over three minutes, Donnelly captures and articulates all of the uncertainty and wraps it around with a warm, thick blanket of home and opens the window to let the light in.

It begins in what’s swiftly become trademark style, his quiet, introspective vocals almost a mumble, trepidatious, accompanied only by sparse, picked acoustic guitar. And it’s truly beautiful, in that most intimate, soul-searching of ways. But from here, things evolve as layers of textured sound build on one another, and at pace, and in no time, galloping drums are bounding along, pushing the song onwards, and it’s a rush – a clean, uplifting rush, like a warm breeze on a perfect summer’s day, where the clouds are just wisps, high in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Comparisons and references that spring up here and there, but to evoke them feels futile, and moreover to diminish the emotional and sonic richness of the work, which exists in its own self-made space, and completely apart from all external forces of influence and time, creating a brief but magical moment you wish could be frozen to last for all eternity.

2nd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Back in July, elk impressed with the Beech EP, a magnificently understated work of haunting grace. The project of 22-year old Leeds based multi-instrumentalist Joey Donnelly, elk has now evolved into elkyn, which comes with certain connotations of what elvin is to elves, and is certainly easier to find on-line.

This first release under the new moniker features re-imaginings of the songs from beech by family and friends, including Miles. (brother Mikey), Mark Peters, S.T. Manville, Tim Wright, and others.

It’s not entirely surprising that the artists who’ve reshaped the songs have focused on their dreamy quality, and Mark Peters’ soft, soporific take on ‘yue’, which was aired in advance of the release is representative.

With the exception of ‘something’, which on this release is retitled as ‘here’ (which sounds like a Depeche Mode doing dreamwave), it’s the same songs in the same sequence, but such a very different record.

Although being twice the length of the original, ‘avenue’ is perhaps the least radically altered, at least in terms of the song itself between an extended intro and outro. Elsewhere, Miles. brings some stark synths and waves of ambience, not to mention sampled narrative to ‘Seventeen’, and it’s a radical transformation as the softly-picked acoustic song becomes a wistful dapple-shaded shoegazer, with Joe’s voice floating on a cloud above it all. Shed Seven’s Joe Johnson retains the brittle fragility of ‘winter’, and the last song, ‘stupid world’ sees Tim Wright introduce some grinding, wheezing organ drone and some stuttering to add more weight and tension to the cracked melancholic introspection.

What makes this release is just how sensitive and considered the reworkings are, completely transforming the songs – in very different ways – while preserving their essence and integrity.

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29th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

True to form, details of the theory or process behind Gintas K’s third release of 2020 are sparse: ‘Played & recorded live by Gintas K 2019. Recorded live at once, without any overdub; using computer, midi keyboard & controller assigned to vst plugins’.

What he presents here are three longform compositions, between fifteen and twenty-one minutes apiece, each accompanied by an ‘extension’ piece, of around five minutes or so, which tacks on to the end. The pieces are untitled, beyond ‘Track One’ and the date and what I assume to be the end time of recording.

K works from a palette of synapse-popping digital froth, tiny bleeping tones that fly around in all directions like amoeba in a cellular explosion, which builds to some neurone-blasting crescendos of whirring electronics and fizzing bursts of static and sparks. Amidst a swampy swirl of squelchiness rises a hum of interference, like an FM radio when a mobile phone’ been left next to it. ‘track one’ dissolves into a mass of amorphous midrange; its counterpart ‘extension’ reprises the glitching wow and flutter, ping and springs of the majority of the preceding twenty minutes, and follows a similar structural trajectory, only over a quarter of the time-frame.

‘track two’, recorded the following day in November of 2019 is, ostensibly, more of the same, with birdlike tweets and twitters fluttering around random clunks and thuds. Here, initially, there is more restraint, fewer fireworks, and more space between the sonic somersaults, until, briefly but intensely, about five minutes in, when a fierce blast of static cuts the babbling bleeps, washing away the sound to silence. Granular notes trickle in a minuscule but rapid flow which hurries keenly toward the conclusion, only to return for the extension piece, sounding rather like the tape being rewound.

Bloops, glops, tweets and twangs abound once more on ‘track three’, and if the pieces on Extensions are given to a certain sameness, it’s testament to Kraptavičius’ focus and dedication that he explores such a small sonic area in such intensely obsessive detail. Gintas K creates intensely insular music, which picks through the details of its own creation in a microscopic level, and if his spheres of reference seem suffocatingly introverted and inwardly-focused, then that’s precisely because they are, and it’s welcome. Instead of eternally reflecting on his emotions, like so many musicians, his work emerges from an infinite loop of self-reflectivity concerning its own content, and as such exists in a space that is free of such emotional self-indulgence. If this is indulgent – and perhaps it is – it’s equally scientific and detached, which very much paces it in a different bracket. And as Gintas K continues to pursue a most singular journey, it’s most educational to be able to tag along.

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gk rec.

Christopher Nosnibor

This makes for quite a refreshing change: it feels like about two-thirds of my reviews in recent months have been marked by a compulsion to comment on artists going into creative overdrive during lockdown and whacking out releases of new material because they’re not currently touring or working their day-jobs. But for Lithuanian electronic experimentalist Gintas Kraptavičius, it’s business as usual, with a steady flow of output over recent years, and with Amnesia being his second release of 2020.

One of the things I personally admire about Gintas as an artist is how broadly he explores the field of electronic music, with works ranging from minimal ambience to deep dives into microtonal territory, and a whole lot in between. Amnesia conforms to no genre or form, and instead spreads its myriad suggestions from across a host of conceptual spaces to create something wonderfully vague, and also vaguely wonderful.

The release comes with no information whatsoever about its concept or purpose or recording, beyond the fact that it uses drum samples by Travis D. Johnson. Those samples aren’t neatly assembled to form looped rhythm tracks and solid structural foundations for a work with an overt linear trajectory or other sense of solid form.

Amnesia contains a single track which spans a massive forty-four minutes, and begins with crackling, interweaving synths waves which crackle and fizz with distortion, while thumping clatters that sound more like shuffling, clumping footfalls than drums crash sporadically and arrhythmically.

There are some crescendos or swirling noise and shrill, trilling feedback notes that whistle and screech over churning blasts of bilious noise, violent sonic storms. There are segments of laser bleeps and skittering short, sharp toppy notes fire into a swirling morass of mid-range extranea.

A delicate piano tinkles in a nuclear storm and a stammering clanking rattles and clangs behind and alongside. This is a dominant feature of Amnesia: there is always a background and a foreground and a significant degree of contrast between the two, which is both textural and tonal. Harsh top and midrange are laced against softer, more gloopy lower spectrum sounds.

Time slips, drips, dribbles and cascades through a shifting sonic multiverse that’s often uncomfortable, at times undemanding, as the track transitions between ambience and abrasion, and towards the end it takes a turn towards synapse-collapsing early 80s power electronics.

What do you do with this? Where do you take it? What is it all about? There is no clear message, no distinct or decisive form, resulting in a longform composition that meanders and swerves in all directions but ultimately leads nowhere and articulates little – and that’s more than ok: Amnesia is not about sequence and making a bar, but about capturing a sense of vagueness and a certain lack of purpose, of point, and it does so magnificently.

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Ideologic Organ – SOMA034

Digital release date: July 3/10 / Physical release date: mid August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ideologic Organ label owner Stephen O’Malley effuses over Ai Aso’s ‘immaculately crafted form of minimalist pop music skirts the edges of tensity with the manner and with the skill of a tight rope walker, calmly balancing repeatedly at every step, with a combination of surety and the risk of a slip, a fall, and an unknown uncoiling of events’.

Pop may not be a genre commonly associated with he label or the Sunn O))) founder, but Ideologic Organ do have a track record for venturing beyond the expected and showcasing some unusual talents, and Ai Aso is definitely one of those, as the nine tracks on The Faintest Hint demonstrate. Legendary Japanese rock band Boris accompany Aso on two of the pieces, but if you’re expecting powerchords, keep moving on.

Picked acoustic guitar alone accompanies Aso’s voice for most of the first song, ‘Itsumo’, and indeed, much of the album, and even with the multi-tracked vocal, it’s a simple, spartan, and intimate recording. The guitar and voice are in the room with you. And they touch you accordingly.

‘Scene’ is more post-rock, a slow, quivering bass chord echoes out against chiming guitar notes and Ai’s soaring ethereal voice calls to mind Cranes at their most delicately haunting, but also at times is simply a shy humming that’s endearing in its understatement and apparent reticence.

Sometimes, quietness and sparseness simply seem to equate to sadness, and the low, mumbling low-note repetitions of ‘Gone’, despite the words being unintelligible, emanate an aching sadness, while in contrast, ‘I’ll do it My Way’ carries something of a playfulness, not to mention a certain Young marble Giants lo-fi bedroom indie vibe. The straining electric guitar discordance that disrupts the singsong easiness of the song toward the end is a nice touch. She trills, swoops and croons on ‘Floating Rhythms’ in a way that sounds like she’s singing to herself – and this intimacy provides a large part of the appeal.

If there’s anything about The Faintest Hint that may suggest ‘amateurish’ to some, that’s certainly not the reaction from my ears: Aso’s minimal approach to songwriting and performance gives a rare immediacy, and it’ss unhampered by conspicuous production. It’s touching, intimate, and special.

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Wormhole World – 10th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Aaagh! It’s food porn overdose on ‘Jesus, God of Tower Hamlets’, the first track on ‘Looking After The Duck’, the new album by Crumpsall Riddle, aka Steven Ball and Jude Cowan Montague. Ball drones out ingredients – an Instagram wet dream or recipe for disaster dependent on your perspective – and a ream of random shit that seemingly splices news headlines and myriad found phrases read in a monotone like a shopping list over a thrumming drone that’s reminiscent of Suicide before Cowan Montague wails the fuck over it all in a truly demented fashion… and there it is: the soundtrack to our times. Nothing makes any fucking sense. To return to a paraphrased third-hand summary of Deleuze and Guratari’s assessment, a schizophrenic mindset it the only sane response to a late capitalist society. So what about now? Is this the end days of capitalism? What does anything even mean? And is looking for answers the most futile pursuit ever?

It’s clear JCM thrives on collaboration, and to describe her as ‘flighty’ is no criticism here: eclectic and diverse would be equally fair synonyms, but would fail to fully capture her free-spiritedness where it comes to her myriad creative projects. Steven Ball proves to be an inspired choice of co-conspirator for the making of musical mayhem. Suffice it to say that the abstract post-punk of Looking After The Duck, which comes with hints of Wire, couldn’t be much further from Hammond Hits, the uber-retro collaborative album recorded with Matt Armstrong, recently reissued on vinyl: while this album was an exercise in reconstructing a vintage pop aesthetic, Looking After The Duck indulges a far more experimental urge, and manifests as minimal, lo-fi indie affair that’s more reminiscent of Young Marble Giants.

‘Is this the end of the clock?’ they chant drably, repeatedly, on ‘Terra Unknown’, while circuits fizz and analogue synth sounds whizz and swish every whichway around them.

Wibbly electronic drones, pulsations, and oscillations abound, and a disembodied, wordless backing vocal provides the backdrop to abstract atonal spoken word on the nine-minute ‘Songs of Sol’, a would-be folk shanty in a parallel universe. And then it descends into a humming wash of bubbling pink noise and an analogue thrum that rises and falls, ebbs and flows, while Ball continues a never-ending monologue diatribe of randomness, a William Burroughs style cup-up without the focus. Yes, I’m struggling to find a thread of sense here, but sense of overrated in a world in which sense and linearity have all but dissolved.

The album as a whole is a disconnected, disjointed testament to postmodernity, collaging more vintage sounds – a trilling organ synth sound quivers a mournful backing to ‘The Old Man’ – with fragmented slivers of extranea, and leaning toward more arbitrary song structures over linearity. Looking After The Duck is, to my ears, leftfield and brilliantly out there: many will find it plain weird and tuneless. Many would be wrong: it’s oddball experimentalism that spawns innovation and progress. It’s also truer to the internal dialogue than many would admit, and it’s this uncomfortable truth that can be unsettling. People are scared to be presented with a mirror to their minds. This knowledge doesn’t make Looking After The Duck any less awkward or uncanny. But it is strangely brilliant, and no mistake.

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Bad Paintings – 28th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

My introduction to Elk came a couple of months ago, when I accepted the invitation to see US touring artist Dylan Rodrigue and travelling companion Sie Sie Benhoff playing a few streets from my house. How could I refuse? I wasn’t disappointed by any of the acts, but that night, Elk were a revelation.

Elk is essentially the project of 21-year old Leeds based multi-instrumentalist Joey Donnelly. According to the accompanying text, his brooding and beguiling work on debut album Beech marries up the sound of Daudi Matsiko, Florist and Talons with the lyrical depth of Phoebe Bridgers. Being unfamiliar with any of these – and pardon my existence in a cultural vacuum – I’m judging Elk in isolation and on their own merit. This doesn’t seem such a terrible strategy. Elk’s music emerges from isolation, but also a place of otherness.

Live, Elk is Joey with his brother, Mikey, and it’s Mikey who’s the mouth and the presence, the chirp and the banter. Joey is practically mute, almost embarrassed. He’s the very epitome of shy and retiring. This comes through in his music, too. And such beautiful music it is, too. Words almost fail. In my review of that live show, I drew comparisons to Sigur Ros and commented on Elk’s ethereal post-rock leanings. They’re in evidence here, too, but it’s perhaps important to also note that Elk don’t share the twee, ersatz fable-like trappings of the Icelandic precursors. Yes, it’s fragile, folksy, post-rock, but it’s very much distinctive and affecting without being affected.

Beech contains just seven tracks, and is spare and concise in every way: the arrangements are minimal and uncluttered, with room to breathe in these inward-facing sonic spaces. These are songs that send shivers down the spine, and yet it’s incredibly difficult to articulate the precise source of their effect – which is of course precisely the key. The best music just creeps up on you, reaches in and touches the innermost parts by subliminal, subconscious routes. The fact the music of Elk is so understated is integral to its emotive power. ‘Stupid World’ begins as a simple acoustic composition, with Joey’s plaintive voice hinting at Neil Young and J Mascis, as much in its sad introspection as anything.

It’s quiet, hushed, the very definition of introspective. And it’s truly beautiful.

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