Posts Tagged ‘minimal’

Sub Rosa – 26th November 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

In the scheme of Ghédalia Tazartès singular career, which saw him featured more prominently in dance, theatre, and cinema than on record – a career spanning back to the mid-late 70s yielded just thirteen albums – this release is significant in several ways, not least of all in that it contains probably his final recordings prior to his death in February 2021 at the age of 73. It follows his last album release, Superdisque, which was released a full decade ago, in 2021. It also documents a collaboration that almost never happened.

As the story goes, ‘Tazartès and Chatham had met once in 1977 at CBGC’s and had not seen each other since then when they were asked by their mutual agent to play a private show in Paris. This happened in September 2018 in a house with a garden where sax player Steve Lacy had lived back in the 1990s. This album presents the recording of this show plus another show at La semaine du bizarre festival in Montreuil, France a year later, mixed with a couple of studio sessions.’

Their coming together yields something – and I’ve struggled to find a word that comes anywhere near describing what others have simply classed as ‘indescribable’ and ‘unclassifiable’ – most otherly. Tazartès singing is, in itself not only unique as a style, but also as an experience. It’s less about what it conveys as such, and more about how it touches you. It’s certainly not singing in the conventional sense; and yet, it is very much musical, rather than mere vocalisation. Tazartès sings from different parts of the body, and his voice tremors and quivers, trills, gargles, and ululates.

On the four parts (or ‘actes’) of the ‘Jardin de Simone’ performance, Chatham’s sparse, minimal backings provide a shimmering backdrop that ripples and glimmers softly. On ‘Acte 1’, it’s chiming notes, picked, on a clean electric guitar, while on ‘Acte 2’, it’s wavering woodwind which accompanies Ghédalia’s soft croon. Scraping strings create a dolorous discord alongside a wailing, weeping, skittish vocal performance on ‘Acte 3’ while the fourth and final piece floats into the atmosphere in amorphous waves if sound.

The three parts which make up the ‘Semaine du bizarre’ set are quite different, with Chatham’s backing on the ten-minute ‘Acte 1’ being denser, the electric guitar rattling and with strains of feedback filtering through the stuttering notes. The stutters are not of hesitation, but of tightly-reined tension, and over time the form evolves into an elongated tapering drone. The vocal adopts an almost falsetto-range droning quality, at times shifting to a guttural throb, at others, an open-throated note sustained on, and on. Woodwind drapes and twists around like fingers of mist. In combination, it feels mystical, in an impenetrable, occult way. Overall, this set is more drone-orientated, Tazartès’ vocals venturing more toward the lower register, the growlier, the more atonal. And yet, in places, he soars almost operatically, albeit descending like a punctured bellows after, while the instrumentation wheezes out, fatigued.

The vinyl finds a performance on each side, while the digital version features a bonus cut, appropriately entitled ‘Encore’. This, too, is quite drone-orientated, with the addition of a certain hint of an Eastern twang.

As a whole, Two Men In A Boat feels like a meditative work, and one which exists out of any kind of context, real or imposed. Without any constraints in terms of structure, culture, time, place, or even meaning – explicit or implied – the performers can be found revelling in the freedom of musical explorations. These are songs of the soul, and Two Men In A Boat is a unique document.

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Bearsuit Records – 12th November 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s unusual to open an album with a B-side from the lead single, but there’s nothing usual about Eamon the Destroyer or Bearsuit Records, and the scratchy soporific drone and distorted / filtered vocals of ‘Silver Shadow’ – which reference the ‘small blue car’ to which the album owes its name – makes for a worthy introduction by means of introverted minimalism. It’s largely representative of an album that’s slow sparse, minimal and somewhat lugubrious.

I take the nom de guerre Eamon the Destroyer ironically. That may be wrong, it may be some unpleasant prejudice, and if so, I do apologise. This isn’t a PC matter or issue. But names come with certain associations, and the connotations of Eamon aren’t particularly warlord, at least to my mind. No diss to any Eamons, but the name is about as warlord as Gavin, Kevin, or Craig. No doubt there are some brutal twats by the name of Kevin, but, well, y’know, it doesn’t evince fear. The concept of ‘the destroyer’ is one of something harsh, brutal, obliterative, too, but that also isn’t the case here. Consider Ah Puch the Destroyer, Mayan god of death and disaster whose coming would mark the end of days. There is nothing explosive or devastating about A Small Blue Car – it is not a violent sonic blast of earth-shattering, annihilative proportions, yet it does, strangely, evoke a sense of near-finality. There is an all-pervading sadness that hangs over the album’s entirety, a sadness that’s slow-creeping and heavy, like a weight that pulls you down, bending your back with the effort

‘Humanity is Coming’ is downbeat, gloomy, and things get particularly dark and dense on the short instrumental ‘The Conjuring Stops’, with a heavily phased synth yielding a pulsating throb in the style of Suicide. ‘The Avalanche’ also brings some weight, with lots of granular sounds and bolds bursts of sweeping synths in the choruses that contrast with the woozy drone and is perhaps how Leonard Cohen might have sounded in the early years of his career if he’s chosen Moods instead of an acoustic guitar. The end result, musically, is like Stereolab on Ketamine.

The slow rasp of single cut ‘My Drive’, with its whistle of feedback and detuned radio in the distance while the picked guitar – spacious and delicate – curls like smoke into the darkness, and it piles on the melancholy.

‘Uledaro’ follows, a dolorous jumble of discord. ‘Nothing Like Anything’ is conspicuous by its near-cheeriness ‘wake up / the sun is out / we’re almost home’, Eamon intones in a rare glimmer of optimism. There’s whistling and levity, and it’s almost, almost a pop song. But of course, it’s not. And perhaps it’s more me feeling autumnal, but the happiness only accentuates the sadness, as if the jollity is a mask to sorrow so inexplicably deep that it has to be covered up. The nights are dark, the world feels a very long way off and a long time ago. It’s time to hibernate, with A Small Blue Car for company.

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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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