Posts Tagged ‘Room 40’

Room40 – RM4163 – 3rd December 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Field recordings are rarely something one would consider ‘contemporary’, although if you think about it, they invariably capture a moment in time in some way or another, be it the morning of the dawn chorus or the grind of machinery which is firmly post-industrialisation; the sounds committed to tape all document history in sound.

Ian Wellman’s latest release is quite specific in its focus on present times. It is almost impossible to avoid the pandemic; it has, after all, affected all of our lives, and in myriad ways. As the accompanying text states, ‘If this past couple of years has taught us anything, it is that to hold someone closely is not something we may take for granted. The bonds of friends and of family are tenuous, as tenuous as the world that we find ourselves in.’ While most attention has understandably been given to the vulnerable, the bereaved, and the sufferers of long covid, there have been long—terms and slow-evolving effects on everyone. And this is what Wellman soundtracks with subtlety and care here.

The parenthetical ‘(Police Helicopter Activity Increased – Jul 2020)’ is brief, but it’s impactful. On the one hand, it’s a simple snippet of the sound of rotors; on the other, it’s the kind of conglomeration of low-flying helicopter buzz that makes you duck and look up and feel paranoid: police helicopters hovering or circling overhead always do, right?

The final moments of ‘It Crept into Our Deepest Thoughts’ bursts into shards on abrasive noise in the final moments. It’s on ‘The Toll on Our Daily Lives’ that Wellman really encapsulates the struggle. The first four minutes are dislocated ambience, which reflects the general sense of detachment and distance, but the last minute is dominated by a rising tide of noise, a surging swell. And it speaks because it really is the sound of swelling tension and anguish. The reality is that living through this is not something that belongs to a ‘model’, there is no fix by means of re-engagement. This resonates because it speaks to and of the building anxiety, and it builds because maintaining that level of alertness, that level of fear, actually has a cumulative effect in real terms, and we’re simply not designed to process life in the now. There is nothing normal about this, old or new, and ‘The Toll on Our Daily Lives’ encapsulates this perfectly, both in its title and the sonic smog that ambulates broodingly, again growing in density and becoming more oppressive and heavy and harsh as it progresses. You feel not only the weight, but the tension. It’s real, it’s palpable, and it’s a direct reflection of life as lived.

The interludes, too, are so very visual and evocative: a cock crows and what sounds like rainfall and passing cars crackle and splash on ‘(Ash Falling on Power Lines – Sept 2020)’ (the ash of wild fires burning), and there’s a post-apocalyptic feel to ‘(Wind Against Decaying Bus – Jan 2021)’, and they all combine to create what the blurb describes as ‘a devolving diary of unsteady moments and the assurance of change as the one constant in our collective times’.

‘As The Beast Swallowed Us Whole’ veers between ominous rumbling and near-ambience and surging, cracking textured distortion that borders on noise, and there is nothing comforting about this album. Even the final track, the optimistically-titled ‘The Light at the End’ is woozy and disorientating, and evaporates into a crackle of static that ends abruptly, and feels more like the light being snuffed out. You want to be wrong… but life… it’s a killer. Swear all you like, but whether or not it’s going to be okay remains to be seen.



Hallow Ground – 10th September 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Breathing is important. If this sounds flippant or facetious, well, perhaps it is a little, but there is a more serious undertone. It’s something we do subconsciously, and something we take for granted will just happen as our brain keeps the bellows pumping. We only really notice breathing when something disrupts it, it becomes laboured, or we’ve exercised hard.

And yet the importance and benefits of controlled breathing as part of meditation, for managing anxiety, and for dealing with panic attacks is widely documented and promoted. But even for those who have been taught the techniques, how often do we remember to deploy them at moments of peak crisis? Moreover, beyond those specific settings, breathing properly is something that’s chronically neglected as we slouch over our keyboards, taking short, shallow breaths that fail to fully expand the lungs and oxygenate the blood stream.

The ever-innovative and ever-intriguing Lawrence English’s Hallow Ground debut finds the composer working ‘exclusively with an organ for four compositions that are exercises in »maximal minimalism,« as their creator himself notes in a nod to Charlemagne Palestine, who coined this term.’ The liner notes explain further that ‘While it seems somewhat fitting that those four pieces based on a steady flow of air were conceived and recorded in a situation of accelerated standstill caused by a respiratory disease, the Room40 founder is not so much concerned with capturing the zeitgeist than rather incorporating the spirit of time itself. »It is a record about presence and patience,«’.

Patience is indeed required when listening to Observation of Breath. It stands to reason that there is a concerted focus on elongated, quivering drones, and the first of the four pieces, the ten-minute ‘The Torso’, with its dank, dark rumblings and extraneous interference carries sinister allusions, particularly when reflected upon in context of the album’s cover art. The torso may well house the lungs, the system of breathing, but all too often finds reference in stories of murder and dismemberment, and we’ve all wanted to strip off our own skin at some point, right?

The theme continues its trajectory in the titles of ‘A Binding’ and ‘A Twist’ which follow. These are short pieces, both sparse, droning works that are overtly organ, with the latter in particular taking the form of a gloomy funereal church recital. There’s nothing like a funeral to make you contemplate your breaths, and to consider how many you may have left in your body. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we ignore and avoid thinking about breathing: the moment we notice it, be it short or irregular, we worry, in the same way as we panic about palpitations. To become cognisant is likely to observe an irregularity, a difficulty, in a most fundamental function, and rightly or wrongly, doing so reminds us of our mortality. We hate to be reminded of our mortality: it terrifies us half to death. The irony.

In context, the album’s finale, the twenty-minute title track, which occupies the entirety of the album’s second side, on which all elements of the previous three compositions coalesce and distil into something monumental and epic. Not a lot happens: it’s simply a quavering continuum of sound that undulates and eddies slowly, unfalteringly, less like a stream than a crawling flow of larva. But to go with the flow is to fully engage with the album and its slow-shifting textures. It’s perhaps around halfway through ‘Observation of Breath’ that I finally realise I am becoming aware of my breathing at last. Conscious, I slow it, inhale to full expansion through the nose, hold, then equally slowly release out through the mouth.

Observation of Breath is a well-realised exploration of expansive territory in altogether smaller detail, and one that offers more the more you allow it to become a backdrop.



Room40 – RM4130 – 13th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m still recovering from the last Celer release I covered – the four-disc Future Predictions, released only last summer. It wasn’t harsh or sonically challenging: it was just really, really long. This one, however, is rather shorter, comprising twelve tracks with a running time of just twenty-nine minutes.

It is, notably a departure. As the press notes detail, with In Light Of Blues, ‘[Will] Long pivots away from long-form works to create a series of vignettes that capture the essence of his aesthetics interests. The record condenses and refines his compositional methodologies forming each piece as an acoustic miniature speckled in hazy harmony and evocative tonality’.

As such, as much as In Light Of Blues is a departure, it is also very much a continuation of his previous work, while concentrating it down to shorter snippets – but with no loss of power or depth. Long’s comments on the reason for this departure are illuminating:

‘It was months ago, but it could have been weeks, days, or even hours since then. I stopped wanting to hear loops, I wanted to stop it. I added brass; trumpets, trombones, and more horns. I cut it out like words from a book, and sewed it back together. Burroughs. These movements are merely to stay alive, to stay moving.’

In citing [William] Burroughs, Long’s observation that ‘You wake up from a truck horn passing in the early morning hours on the nearby freeway, or from a dream that you can’t tell was a nightmare or a loving memory… Someone walks by on the street wearing the same perfume. I drew out each place, each scene, and put the story there. It might have been with you, or without you. All I know is that you were there somehow the whole time, even if you weren’t’ marks a striking parallel with some of Burroughs’ statements on the way the cut-up technique was an attempt to being art closer to life: “every time you walk down the street, your stream of consciousness is cut by random factors… take a walk down a city street… you have seen half a person cut in two by a car, bits and pieces of street signs and advertisements, reflections from shop windows – a montage of fragments”.

While the pieces on In Light Of Blues are composed from a montage of fragments, instead of jarring against one another and crossing over one another to replicate the blizzard of simultaneity that is life, they blur together to create a slow-creeping sonic mist. The details are obscured, the edges indistinct, the definition vague to almost absent. Some of the pieces are fragments in themselves: the second of the three ‘Melancholy Movement’ compositions is only fractionally over a minute long, and there are a number of pieces of similarly brief duration.

Time appears to be something of a leading preoccupation on In Light Of Blues, as titles including ‘Days Before the Change’, ‘In the Intimate Hours’, ‘After All Time’, and ‘Precious Past Hours’ indicate. The titles suggest a certain urgency, an anxiety, even, over the passing of time that’s not necessarily apparent in the music itself. But as is so often the case, with ambient / abstract musical forms, the music conveys only some aspects of the full meaning or intention, and beneath comparatively tranquil surfaces often lie more trouble currents, and there are numerous billows of darker, denser sound which rumble and stir, evoking brewing storms amidst the soft layers of the pieces here.

Perhaps this is the real pleasure – and perhaps also the purpose – of In Light Of Blues. It’s an album that can simply be allowed to drift along in the background, the darker clouds occasionally tugging the attention while, in the main, it may pass largely without the demand for focus. But closer attention yields greater rewards, in the sonic depths and subtle textures that reveal themselves through that engagement, and to seek the space beneath the surface, to explore its context and origins and consider what it may mean beyond the surface yields more still.



Room40 RM401 – 1st May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

One aspect of postmodernism that can be both intriguing and frustrating is its tendency to contradiction. Moreover, the way in which postmodern criticism centres in on the contradictions of postmodern art, culture, and society, and extrapolates how postmodern art revels in the contradictions inherent in postmodern culture without in any way seeking to resolve them. Postmodernity seems to suggest that questions are enough, without need for answers. But are they?

Living in England, I’ve witnessed post-postmodernity taken to the most meta of levels in recent days having witnessed Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempting to detail the new guidelines for managing the COVID-19 pandemic on our small island, and am, along with the rest of the nation reeling at the advice that if I can’t work from home I should go to work, but I shouldn’t go to work if possible, and if I do have to go to work, to avoid public transport, and if I am working from home, it’s ok to go out as much as I like for exercise but only if essential, and I can meet people from other households, but only one person and it must be outdoors, and while maintain a 2-metre distance, which is the same as the distance as from people in public anyway.

Where am I going with this? Apart from more questions, more rhetoric?

Less is more. But sometimes, it’s also less. Lawrence English’s latest offering consists of two longform tracks, of around twenty minutes a piece, corresponding with a side of vinyl or cassette, although at present, Lassitude is only being released as a download. And not a lot happens.

‘Saccade (For Elaine Radigue)’begins with a trilling, rapid-oscillating drone that hangs in he mid-range. It doesn’t do anything, and doesn’t go anywhere, but gradually blurs. No, the sound remains static: the perception of it blurs. At least for a time, after which the notes slow and melt together.

There’s less texture and less shift to ‘Lassitude’, which sustains an even hum for the majority of its twenty-minute duration. It has no direction, and no substantial content, but that isn’t the purpose. There are tonal shifts, gradual gradients down, but they’re slowly incremental, almost subliminal. And ultimately, to what end?

Perhaps there is no end: perhaps this is the end. Perhaps the end has been coming, slowly, all this time, and our lives to now have been a waiting for the end. Perhaps not. What do we know?


St. Petersburg

ROOM40 – EDRM426 – 4th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one for the David Lynch fans, but also fans of experimental industrial noise, and those who appreciate works which exist in the realms between media.

Factory Photographs was one of a number of commissions made by the curator of the exhibition David Lynch: Between Two Worlds, a retrospective exhibition held at Brisbane’s Galley of Modern Art in 2015. The exhibition featured Lynch’s works in painting, sculpture, installation and photography, and included a large section of his Factory Photographs: shots of factories in various states of disuse, taken over several decades.

Raised in the country, surrounded by woods and farms, Lynch developed a fascination with the architecture, the machines and ‘the smoke and fear’ of factories from his visits to his mother’s native Brooklyn. HEXA is Laurence English and Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), and Factory Photographs is their sonic response to Lynch’s images.

While Lawrence English’s work is often typified by a delicate approach to sound and the use of delicate field recordings, it’s clear that the inspiration and the collaborative input of Stewart have pulled him toward something altogether more visceral: Factory Photographs is an intense and brutal work.

‘Sledge’ rumbles and crashes in with some heavy noise, an amorphous roar barrels and funnels a dense sonic cloud, from amidst which shuddering throbs grind and thrum. Each piece is a blast of earthmoving noise, more evocative of a super-scaled atomic destruction than heavy industry or its demise and dilapidation. Yet as noise without clear definition or shape, it’s still highly evocative, and does correspond with Lynch’s conception of ‘the ideal factory location’, with ‘no real nature…’ This is sound which is brutal, harsh, unrelenting and unnatural, wholly man-man made yet wholly inhuman. The barrage of noise is built from a conglomeration of hums drones and thunderous sounds on sounds, roiling, churning. The rhythms are not percussive, but born from cyclical undulations, the churn of industry at its heaviest, in its earthiest form: the mine, the quarry, the drilling rig, the smelting of ore and the forging of metals. But of course these are only echoes of an industrial past: the factories lie empty now, derelict or inching toward dereliction, and the workers have gone, transferred, replaced, relocated, on the same scrapheap as the rusted machinery or otherwise forced into alternative careers.

As crushingly depressing as the factory may have been, its absence leaves only a lack and the question of progress, but as what cost? But equally, the earth-gouging sounds of Factory Photographs reminds of the finite nature of the earth’s resources, in particular fossil fuels. What is left apart from irreparable scars on the landscape once every last scrap has been excavated? Where is the future?

Dark, sonorous notes hang heavy on ‘A Breath’, and Factory Photographs is rich in gloomy atmosphere. Sheet metal thunder resonates through vast empty spaces, and clusters of clangs reverberate in the grimy darkness to create a bleak and oppressive sensation. The turbulent roar of ‘Vertical Horizons’ is harrowing and unforgiving, building to a shrieking howl of feedback while the regular rhythm of heavy machinery rotating is replicated on ‘Over Horizontal Plains’, while thuds and distant rumbles continue endlessly beneath. Digging, dredging…

It’s unsettling but exciting, and the prospect of an audiovisual work, featuring, with Lynch’s approval, the original visual montage of his photographs in 2017 is a thrilling one. Meanwhile, the album more than works in its own right as a dark, stark and uncomfortable collection of pieces which shake the listener’s sensibilities and leaves a hollow, uneasy sensation in its wake.

Guide to Saints – SNT016

Christopher Nosnibor

The opposite of contrast. Absolute sameness. White on White, as a concept in visual terms, suggests invisibility. A white object in a white room, or a white brushstroke on a white background is ultimately camouflaged. However Dulux may sell it, white is an absolute. How does this translate to a sonic palette? An Infinity Room (AIR) is the vehicle – or durational sound project, if you will, of Australian artist and composer Julian Day. White on White collects three pieces

‘Intercessions’ takes the form of a continuous mid-range drone. It has a duration of 45 minutes. Three quarters of an hour. Listen to the tone… marvel at how it remains the same. Or does it? Just as the mind struggles to process images passed by the eyes when starring at a vast expanse of nothing – of white on white, or the imperceptible changes in colour as paint dries – so the messages from the ear become subject to the introduction of aural mirages when presented with a single, unchanging sound, or a sound which changes so gradually as to effect unchangingness. The pitch does, indeed, change, and additional layers are gradually phased in to bring new depths and dimensions, as skipping back and forth along the track at random renders clearly apparent. But being so, so gradual and so, so slight and subtle, the changes are imperceptible in real-time. The album’s shortest track at a mere seven minutes, ‘Rhetoric’ is also the most overtly rhythmic, the intertwining piped notes interweaving to render a dainty melody. But it’s more about the interplay between the notes and the way they interact in the air and in the ear than about making musical entertainment.

‘Void’, here in an edited form and with a running time cut down to twenty-seven minutes pulses gently for is duration a single note, throbbing for an eternity eventually graduates to a widescreen wavering drone, the texture and tone of which slowly changes, but again, slowly, so slowly.

White on White is an album which is likely to test the patience, and equally, the mental equilibrium. Focus on it too closely, it becomes tedious and frustrating. Focus on it too little, and it’s hard to appreciate its infinitely subtle progressions. Find that interzone and you’re in a place where its presentation of nuance upon nuance makes sense. Don’t force it, embrace it.


Infiniy Room - White on White

Room40 – RM469 – 20th May 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

The liner notes describe Memory Fragments as ‘a collection of compositions from sonic fragments recombines, thinned, edited, rejected, re-listened to, improvised, forgotten, filtered, slowed, remembered, reworked, erased, detuned, undone, layered, cut, compressed, trashed, moved, accelerated, pasted, composed, played and exported – undergoing a slowly evolving transience and sedimentation to arrive at this fairly constant state.’ In other words, it’s a collage of fragments which have been utterly fucked about with and manipulated so as to render them unrecognisable. The notes also draw attention to the fact that as integral to the ‘finished’ work (and one must question when a work is the result of such a convoluted succession of processes, to what extent it can ever be truly considered finished) the process is, the listener cannot, and will never hear the process, and the process is something which the artist will only recall through the filter of memory.

These are extremely spacious compositions. To begin, a single note resonates…. And then silence. The notes are some twenty seconds apart. The listener becomes attentive to the silence. Gradually, subtly, but so quietly, the sounds build. The build, the delay… are these notes backwards, or is there extraneous noise loitering in the silence, which then becomes shrinking semi-silence? You listen. You need to listen. And then, to pause for thought. It’s not music to get down to, but to contemplate. It requires focus.

Elongated notes expand as they’re dragged and stretched across time and space. Heavy sounds hang and linger. The track titles are evocative rather than literal, cumbersome but descriptive. Again, some refer to the process, while others carry allusions to how either the artist feels or the sensation. ‘Built on Folds and Braids’ builds a densely-layered wall of tonalities, fizzing and hissing static tears through an ominous low-end and arrhythmic globular beats. ‘Sparseness Gave Way to Infinite’ carries the closest approximation of a tune, but it’s slowed to the point that the output is little more than a protracted groan. The thick, burr-edged electronic sawing of ‘Broadsided by Sudden Swells’ is a dank, fear-inducing sonic experience, bleak and weighty.

But with the seed of awareness sown, it’s impossible not to hear these sounds without returning to the process, and I found myself contemplating the original fragments, the source materials. Specifically, I wanted to unpick the recordings, to examine the ‘original’ Warnecke had done to them. But thinking backwards through the process only provides so much food for thought: as noted in the liner notes, the released version only represents a moment in time, a point at which the artist has deemed the material satisfactory for release. But where could the sounds be taken in future? Is this a ‘definitive’ version? What would the result have been had the project been continued? Such questions are of course unanswerable, but provide fodder to chew on while Memory Fragments unravel from the speakers to form a sonic cloud that’s almost impossible not to get lost in.


Pierce Warnecke - Memory Fragments


Piere Warnecke Online

Someone Good – RMSG014 – 18th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Lawrence English, sound sculptor and the man behind the Room40 label and subdivision Someone Good, has a god ear and a keen sense of what makes for interesting and unusual listening. The liner notes to Mi Wo centre around English’s recollection of his discovery of Ytamo while touring Japan in the early to mid 00s. Specifically, he writes of how the first time he saw her perform, he was completely enthralled by the unusual and soothing music Ytamo conjured.

Listening to Mi Wo, it’s immediately apparent what he found to captivating. There’s an otherworldly quality to the music, and the sounds emerge and fade into one another as if created by some invisible force.

Ytamo’s style is built on diversity and eclecticism, while simultaneously, it’s about understatement and subtlety. The methods by which she draws together seemingly disparate elements transcends not only the boundaries of genre, but also culture and time. Despite its overt modernity, there are motifs and atmospheres which hint at traditionally-rooted music with ancient origins.

Laid back jazz vibes filter through and gradually evaporate in the sparse digital washes of ‘Autopoiesis’, and jaunty bleeps and whistles flicker lightly through trilling easy listening tones and mellow, bumping beats. The familiar blurs into the unfamiliar, with unexpected resonances. Subtly powerful, Mi Wo is a work of musical alchemy.



Ytamo on Soundcloud

Someone Good – RMSG – 18th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Reading the info accompanying the album, I was relieved to learn that it has nothing to do with football. Granted, it says more about me than it does anything or anyone else, but I’ve never been a huge fan of sport. It probably never helped that apart from being quite a handy medium-pace bowler with a nifty Yorker, and a decent cross-country runner (I discovered early on that by getting a move on, I could be back in the changing rooms, showered and reading a book before anyone else got halfway round the course. I loved reading, and hated communal showers), I was shit at sport. It also happens that many of the kind of people who are big sports enthusiasts simply aren’t my kind of people, and I consider fantasy football leagues the biggest, stupidest waste of time going. But let’s not focus too much on the cover art (I’m thinking that despite Tuttle’s Australian background that it’s baseball rather than Aussie rules, but what do I know? And what do I want to know? It could be squash or lacrosse for I care. What matters is that Andrew Tuttle’s fantasy league is about a utopian environment. Said environment sets social interaction against total isolation, self-reflexivity against self-confidence.

It’s an interesting proposition, and Tuttle plays an interesting and rather unusual array of instruments in order to create the sonic structures by which to explore this concept: computer, synthesiser, banjo, and acoustic guitar. Hardly your average configuration for music making. But then, Fantasy League is not an average album, in any respect.

Broadly speaking, it’s an ambient work. Banjo and guitar are present, but woven subtly into shifting, drifting soundscapes of drones and undulating widescreen sounds. Bubbling, bleeping electronics, ripples and swishes are all fundamental parts of the album’s sonic fabric. The strummed and picked strings add a unique slant amidst the burrs of fizzing treble bursts which erupt, wibbling every which way: with hints of hillbilly blues over a static hiss on ‘Forgtten Username?’ and gentle folk motifs informing ‘Forgotten Password? before insect scutters scrabble all over and devour them, the resultant output sounds like country music from another dimension. Elsewhere, there are Tangerine Dream-like moments, notably on ‘Public League’, where multiple time signatures pulse and interweave to form a sonic latticework.

What renders Fantasy League so intriguing and compelling is the way in which Tuttle distorts the familiar: the sounds themselves are no challenge to compute or comprehend, but the way in which they’re juxtaposed and twisted together is uncanny, as if Fantasy League is a soundtrack from a parallel universe. And it sounds like a place well worth visiting.