Posts Tagged ‘Postmodern’

Room40 – RM4143 – 9th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

This cassette release’s liner notes are prefaced with an epigraph from Fredric Jameson, one of the preeminent writers on postmodern theory. It reads, ‘It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.’

One of the most profound things about Jameson’s writing is that much of it seems more true and more relevant now, than when it was first published. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism appeared in 1991, with the rather more succinct The Cultural Turn, which collected his writings on postmodernism form 1983-1998 distilling his critique of the era. The present feels like postmodernism on steroids, a relentless blizzard of media, technology and consumption progressing at a pace that evolution simply has no hope of keeping abreast of. The worst spins ever faster, but our bodies and brains aren’t equipped for the environment we’ve created. And it’s capitalism that drives much of the pace, perpetually reinventing, recreating, reselling to milk the market dry. And any suggestion that the pandemic would cause a rethink is already proving to have bene but wishful thinking. Capitalism has made off the situation, even when high-street retail and hospitality has been dying, and now the race is on to get everyone back to work, back to the office, and to supply those ever-growing demands.

This, then, is part of the context for Robert Gerard Pietrusko’s new album, and the press release provides a more granular and specific level of context, explaining how ‘On Elegyia, Robert Gerard Pietrusko reflects on notions of accumulation and decay, calling specifically on his memories of the demise of the Soviet Union. The sudden collapse of the USSR shocked the world and in that moment came an intense and wholesale reveal, that spoke to the impermanence of all political and social structures, no matter how fixed they might appear. Using this as a compositional metaphor, Pietrusko creates an edition of muted sonics, rich saturation and submerged low energies.’

The album and the compositions it contains are highly structured, ‘based on five piano motifs that are repeated with constant variation and extrapolation across the album’s nine tracks. In structure, harmony, and timbre each piece attempts to capture the contradictory condition of a macro-level stasis versus a tumultuous interior, rigorous movement but no progression, and a threat of its own undoing’.

Indeed, the greatest threat to capitalism is always capitalism itself, and it’s the endless recycling and regurgitation of ideas that keeps it alive: each revival is a reimagining of the past that exploits the ache of nostalgia, which grows ever stronger the worse the present becomes.

And so it is that Elegyia mourns the passing of the past through its subtly-sequenced movements of droning ambience and slow-turning mellifluous aural abstractions. The nine-minute ‘Perishing Red Skies’ sets the tone and is formed from slow-turning waves and the most gradual of movements. The motifs are often buried beneath broad washes of sound, and twist and warp further out of shape as the album progresses – but they are, breaking through the waves, at times discernible, bobbing around in eddying flows. Sometimes, the feel is quite light-hearted – but then, at others, it feels vaguely threatening, while at others simply contemplative. How I miss those periods of quiet introspection, before work, family, and simply life took over.

Dark clouds build on the two-parts of ‘The Lost Seasons’, the second occupied by a stammering oscillation of slow disruption to a smooth, soft surface. It’s soothing, but is it real? Postmodernism is all about surface, about deception, about appearance, and so one must inevitably ask how much of Elegyia is art, and how much is artifice? take the sepiatone cover image. It’s an evocation of a bygone age – but it’s simply a shortcut, a signifier – rather than the signified.

And these are the questions to ponder as you cast away on the drift, and without expending too much energy on what lies beneath the surface.

Elegyia is a delicate and finely-balanced work, with expansive sweeps and fine detail coexisting, layering atop of one another, reforging its own reality in the moment.

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Unseen Worlds – 25th September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Pitched as ‘the gleeful, heart racing sound of hijack, hotwire, and escape’, Carl Stone’s latest release of a remarkably lengthy career is a smash-and grab hotch-potch of percussion-driven pieces.

Writing on the album on its release, Stone comments, ‘These tracks were all made in late 2019 and 2020, much of when I was in pandemic isolation about 5000 miles from my home base of Tokyo. All are made using my favorite programming language MAX. However distinct these two groupings might be they share some common and long-held musical concerns. I seek to explore the inner workings of the music we listen to using techniques of magnification, dissection, granulation, anagramization, and others. I like to hijack the surface values of commercial music and re-purpose them offer a newer, different meaning, via irony and subversion.’

Stone’s purpose is integral to appreciating the album, because the sounds with which it I formulated are the epitome of derivative, and without that context, one may be inclined to consider Stolen Car a serious endeavour rather than a work of subversion and commentary.

It begins with ‘Huanchaco, is a hyperactive mess of undulating synth which duels with freakout freeform jazz horns, all propelled by some frenetic drum ‘n’ bass beats.

Stammering, overlapping vocal loops provide the fabric of ‘Auburn’. Cut and spliced in such short fragments as to bubble and blur, and as everything melts into a foamy soup, there’s a fast-pace indie tune playing on the radio in the next room, and this in turn melts into the r’n’b pop froth of ‘Au Jus’, a chopped-up summary of the sound of the autotuned contemporary mainstream – slick, stylised, and devoid of content.

As the album progresses, everything seems to accelerate, growing more dizzying as K-pop and Katy Perry are whipped into an out-of-control fairground. Each track feels – and sounds – like listening to the entire top 40 single chart for the last five years with each single playing simultaneous and 25% faster than recorded. With the quickening of the pace also comes an increasingly bubblegumminess, but also a sense that things are out of control. It feels like a metaphor for postmodern culture, its endless acceleration built on a perpetual recycling whereby surface substitutes depth.

Stolen Car is a disorientating rollercoaster of a ride – a joyride where the joy is edged with panic as the smile becomes a fixed plastic grin as the fun turns to fear that at any moment you’re going to flip off the road, meet head-on with a wall, or worse still, carry on going, ever faster, forever….

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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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Pomperipossa Records – 10th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The Stilling, according to the accompanying text, is ‘a phenomenon whereby the wind speed on the planet seems to be slowing down for no known scientific reason’. Given the nature of climate change and what seems to be an increasing number of more violent storms hitting the shores of what no longer feels very much like a green or pleasant and, it seems hard to credit, but there are no shortage of articles which discuss this phenomenon which began in the 1960s or 70s, although recent months have seen reports that wind-speeds are beginning to pick up again.

For now, let’s remain with the narrative that inspired the album which ‘explores this state of discomfort and perplexion’, and locate it in a context of wind speeds sowing while the pace of life and the flow of information have accelerated exponentially and in direct proportion to wind speeds slowing over the same time span.

For their fourth album, drøne, the duo consisting of Mark Van Hoen and Mike Harding (not the Mancunian singer / songwriter / poet / comedian who was popular in the 70s and 80s), have enlisted a role-call of contributors to add strings, noise and vocals to their unsettling mash-up of samples and random sounds layered up and over one another.

They promise ‘the trademark drøne sounds of static, radio voices, field recordings, modular synthesizer and found sounds, recording chance sounds right up to the final mix add to the dynamism and energy of the album’. And the stilling very much is a mess of incongruity: car horns cut through chatter and chanting while ominous hums and tremulous top-end flickers and tweets.

‘Scream – its all you can do now. Overwhelming, scatter-gun information delivery has us confused, bowel churningly fearful and appalled at the nature of the changing times. We are biologically, psychologically and emotionally able to cope with slow evolutionary change, but struggle with revolutionary, violent distortion or mutation. This leaves us anxious and even desperate for a firmer footing.’ So says the press release, summarising the lived experience of the postmodern condition in just five lines.

With segments of monologue and dialogue chopped up and scattered, sometimes overlapping with one another as well as the musical backing, which isn’t exactly musical or backing, so much as a shimmering, shifting sonic collage, if not exactly reminiscent of William Burroughs’ audio experiments, then very much a sonic interpretation of the cut-up technique in its simultaneous representations of multiple events and perspectives. Because every moment is a moment of change and the pieces on the stilling are constructed around a continual shift, it’s disorientating by design. Scrambling the mutter lines, it’s the soundtrack to your soundtrack.

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PRLP11_front

Christopher Nosnibor

It seems as if this release is designed to cause maximum confusion. It’s called 2014 and is being released here in 2017. It was ‘originally’ released by German label Attenuation Circuit on 8th August 2017, and has been – so far as I can make out – independently released by the artist himself, with the subtitle of Attenuation Circuit 2017. Given the album’s contents, it sort of works.

The accompanying blurb – which is in fact culled from a review published on August 12th (is this chronology messing with your orientation yet?) is a curious mix of hyperbole, unusual metaphors and theoretical reference points:

‘Gintas K will shower the ears with a whole lot of incredible data streams, all clustering electronica bits and bytes that drop down in a wild way. As if data communications had been flushed through the shower head, tumble down and ending up together in the drain. Strangely when the tap is closed and these electrodes have calmed down in their dripping ways, they actually form beautiful sounding music… well, music might not be the word for all to say, but it does feel like there is a lot of beauty to be discovered in these busy data dada streams.’

As much as the quirkily playful application of abstract digitalism does clearly it comfortably within the framework of Dadaism, it’s also a work which readily aligns itself to the postmodern, in the way that it effectively recreates the experience of information overload, and does so in a fashion which is both nostalgic and retro (the sparking circuits are more dial-up than fibre optic) and executed with a certain hint of parodic pastiche. At the pace of progress as it stands, even 2014 feels like a point of nostalgia on the cultural timeline: a year which predates the vote for Brexit and the accession to power of Donald Trump, it may be a year with little going for it and which has little to mark it as memorable, but many would likely concur that 2014 stands in a period which is better than the present.

2014 is certainly one of Gintas K’s noisier and more challenging releases. While Slow was a subtle and quite quiet, delicate work, 2014 is far more up-front and attacking in every respect. It’s also more difficult to position, in that it absolutely does not conform to simple genre categories like ‘ambient’, instead straddling vague brackets like ‘electionica’, ‘industrial’, and ‘experimental’.

Hurtling from the speakers from the get go streams a barrage of gloopy digital extranea, a glissando of chiming binaries and a dizzying digital wash that flickers and flies in all directions, an aural Brownian motion of beeps and bleeps.

The eight-minute ‘max’ starts very much as ‘min’, with a full three minute’s silence, before a brief crashing facsimile of some metallic kind of percussion makes a fleeting appearance. There are sporadic clunks and scrapes and minute glimmers of higher-end frequencies, but for the most part, the silence of space dominates the clutter of sound.

‘5 zemu ir max2’ sounds like R2D2 having a seizure, with occasional blasts of distortion and random thuds punctuating the frenzied stream of bleeps. It’s ten minutes long. And I have no idea what the title – or indeed any of the titles attached to the individual pieces – stands a s reference to, just as the overarching 2014 has no obvious connection to the seven tracks it contains.

Crackled a gloops and bloops and whiplash blasts of static, crashes like cars impacting at speed and jangling rings all congeal into a digital mush which bewilders and disrupts the temporal flow. 2014 is disorientating, and not just in the immediate moment, but in terms of a wider placement and sense of time / space.

Gintas K - 2014

Music Information Centre Lithuania – MICL CD 089

Christopher Nosnibor

A retrospective collection is perhaps the most instructive place to begin when being introduced to the work of a late artist with a substantial body of work to their name. And so it was that Fonogramatika, 26-track collection culled from seven projects from between 1970 and 1981 featuring the work of Lithuanian composer Antanas Rekašius (1928-2003), as performed by the six-piece Apartment House ensemble came into my possession for review. My first contact with a composer clearly of some renown, but of whom I had absolutely no prior knowledge. A small amount of research revealed the composer is believed to have committed suicide, aged 75, after suffering poverty and depression.

There’s nothing depressive about the quirky music on offer here: indeed, there are humourous touches at every turn in Rekašius’ lively, unconventional and often quite audacious musical works.

Anton Lukoszevieze’s substantial liner notes (subtitled ‘Unsettling Scores and Unstable Tendencies’) are informative, and help to provide some kind of handle on Rekašius’ work, but needless to say it was extracting the disc from the incredibly heavy-duty and immaculately-presented four-way gatefold sleeve (really, the packaging super, and you really can feel the quality) and actually hearing the music therein which proved more instructive.

Rekašius’ style is often informed by jazz, but with a keen ear for atmosphere and experimentation, using the instrumentation of a chamber orchestra to create a range of effects. There’s a fluidity to the compositions, and a certain deftness which makes for rapid and often unexpected transitions from sparse, stark atmospherics to wild brass. The strings howl and mew, bend and bow, and Rekašius makes a trademark of combining dissonance and subtle melody. In fact, it’s the fact that there are strong, albeit brief, passages of melody, and a ken for swinging rhythms and off-kilter repetitions that render the works so beguiling: the listener can marvel at the scope and style of the compositions, the apparent randomness and the dynamics which are worked into the pieces, because yes, it is all very clever. But equally, it’s possible to simply enjoy the music.

Often, the music is jarring, but Rekašius invariably pulls back from the brink of spine-jangling awkwardness with cadent musical flourishes which are pure joy. Wild cacophonies, lumbering menace, twisted folk fiddle and notes that simply sound ‘wrong’ all contrive to keep the listener alert and entertained. ‘Atonic I’ (the individual tracks on each album are known by number only, with the exception of those from Phonogram) evokes the soundtracks of old, silent movies. If anything, Fonogramatika demonstrates just how able Rekašius was at turning his hand to different styles and making them work, while at the same time adding his own idiosyncratic stamps to them. The musicianship of the Apartment House players shouldn’t be underestimated, by any means: they play with nuance, intuition, and passion.

It’s now 13 years since Rekašius’ death. While his work has been performed in the United States, Italy, France, Finland, Sweden, Germany and Hungary, as well as Lithuania and Russia during his lifetime, his substantial output, which includes nine symphonies, 12 ballets, seven concertos and an opera-oratorio, Rekašius’ legacy seems rather limited in most territories. Perhaps the release of Fonogramatika will go some way toward addressing this, and earning Antanas Rekašius wider posthumous recognition.

 

Rekasius

 

Apartment House Online