Posts Tagged ‘Sampling’

Room40 – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Mass Observation by Scanner – the vehicle of the prodigiously prolific Robin Rimbaud – surfaced in 1994 as an EP. It was (in)famously sampled without credit by Björk on ‘Possibly Maybe’, resulting in a lawsuit that led to copies of Post being withdrawn and a sample-free rerelease. Sidestepping the issue of originality and ownership – specifically the notion that lifting from a sound-collage – the controversy provided Scanner with an unexpected level of coverage and arguably brought underground avant-garde experimentalism to a new audience.

Not that any of this really made any impact on Scanner’s trajectory, in terms of musical direction or career, and Rimbaud’s text which accompanies this expanded release is objective in its assessment of its form and formulation: ‘Dehumanised communications, beatless, radio signals drawn in live to tape, and accompanied by dial tone pulses and abstract textures, Mass Observation is a highly suggestive picture of a particular place in a city at a very specific time. A form of Sound Polaroid as I tended to call such recordings.’

Words seem inadequate for describing the temporal dislocation and unsettling atmospherics woven throughout the recording – an entirely different mix from the original, as Rimbaud explains: ‘Two mixes were captured directly onto DAT tape. One of which would be officially released as Ash 1.7 Mass Observation, an EP that featured a 25 min version of one of these sessions, but until today the second longer expansive mix has never been heard. Each quite different from the other.’ Presented here as a single track with a duration of 54:29, it’s a dark, disturbing sonic journey that has no obvious sense of direction.

I’ve no interest in laboriously and meticulously comparing the different versions: Mass Observation is very much a work that invites immersion in its atmosphere, and is about the overall effect rather than the minutia of detail – which in some respects is ironic, given that the overall effect is the result of the compilation of near-infinite details, overlaid and juxtaposed, recontextualised and realigned.

This versions, however, isn’t entirely beatless: a thudding trudge fades in after a couple of minutes and hammers out a dolorous funeral march while electrical currents eddy around in the ether, at times almost hesitant, pausing as the vaporous swirls twist and drift. But when it fades, it fades and is gone, washed a way in a drift of shifting found sound. Sharding scrapes of metallic treble sheer the senses with sharp, blade-like edges and simmering drones interweave hypnotically.

Ominous rumbles and snippets of dialogue, distant, reduced to a barely audible mutter-line and occasionally rent with blasts of distortion and static from the fabric of Mass Observation. Cut through the mutter line to reveal… more muttering. Silent eyes behind screens… 24/7 CCTV and phone taps. At times, all the voices, all at once, echo across one another. They slow and blur. The snippets of conversation are mundane, humdrum, banal – but this in itself adds to the effect. This is the everyday, captured, and if anything, it resonates more now than it would have almost a quarter of a century ago. Now, surveillance has reached totality, and there is no escape.

The effect of listening to the disembodied echoes and whirring electronics of Mass Observation is disorientating, and the whole album is a paranoia-inducing, disturbing wreck of sound – not because it’s uncanny, unfamiliar, strange, but because it’s so real.

AA

 

Scanner – Mass Observation

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Ventil Records – V008

Christopher Nosnibor

Variations on Bulletproof Glass follows 2016’s Decomposition I-III which also featured Christina Kubisch, and set out to explore – and demolish – the well-worn thematics of field recordings.it represents something of a deviation in terms of its methodology, as well as its focus. This fourth decomposition collapses material rather than location, and places a very different focus on the concept of field recordings, centring not on the out and about, but the controlled space, and with a clearly defined specificity.

Variations on Bulletproof Glass is a literal title, being constructed from ‘waves which were transmitted through a bulletproof glass pane while it was exposed to major physical impacts’. But of course, like most works which are devoted to a microcosmic sound source, that source becomes increasingly obscured the closer the lens looms. While there are moments that do sound vaguely evocative of glass, cracking and splintering, there’s not a single classic crash and tinkle, a solitary smash and splinter. None of the sounds here betray their origins, and Kutin and Kindlinger have manipulated the source material to forge something altogether in a different sonic sphere from the pieces that lie scattered at source. There may be hints of scrapes and ricochets on/off glass, but there’s nothing which overtly says ‘this the sound of glass’ in the (de)construction of these samples. Because this is bulletproof glass, for a start. It has different properties, and can withstand greater punishment. The consequence is that so must the listener: this is challenging, and difficult to readily access.

‘X26’, the first of eight pieces, clanks and scrapes, and the chanking treble is countered by woozy bass. It has all the hallmarks of experimental dub, and even builds some dense, gut-churning rhythmic pulsations and dynamic beats – none of which even hint in the slightest at the source of the sounds. ‘Throne’ is a jolting, stop/start attack, and Elvin Brandhi’s vocals are stark, dishevelled, wild and wide-eyed. ‘PANE#2’ blasts away at a beat that echoes Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Discipline’ as synth-like sounds howl and wail aggressively before tapering to a quieter place.

Elsewhere, the sonorous, trilling done and scrape of ‘L.I.W’ is uncomfortable, and not for a single second does one listen to this and think that this is an album to mellow to, or even to function to. It’s not just distracting, but the sound of abstract obstruction.

AA

Kutin Kindlinger – Decomposition IV

Editions Mego – EMEGO226 – 24th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The latest work from Florian Hecker, A Script for Machine Synthesis is described as ‘an experimental auditory drama and a model of abstraction’. The press release continues, explaining that ‘A Script for Machine Synthesis presents a complex simplicity that spirals in an unending manner as an audio image of the uncanny valley. It is the third chapter in the trilogy of text-sound pieces Hecker has collaborated with the philosopher Reza Negarestani. A resynthesized voice outlines procedure as procedure itself unfolds… The suggestive encounter with a pink ice cube is a conceptual point of departure for a scene in which linguistic chimeras of descriptors are materialized through synthetic trophies, mental props and auditory objects. Exeunt all human actors, A Script for Machine Synthesis is an experiment in putting synthetic emptiness back into synthetic thought.’

I’m reminded of a number of theory-based text works centred around automation and abstraction, ranging from William Burroughs’ cut-ups and Brion Gysin’s permutations, to Philippe Vasset’s 2005 novella, ScriptGenerator©®™, via Stewart Home’s experimental audio piece, ‘Divvy’, which used computer-generated voices to read the two simultaneous narratives. The concept of the removal of the author from the creative process is nothing new, and while a robotic takeover may have been more greatly feared in science fiction works of the 1970s and 1980s, the fact of the matter is that the threat is greater now than ever before – but people are generally too wrapped up in reality TV or killing themselves just to make ends meet and to pay the bills that the technological developments of the last decade or so have gone largely unnoticed: instead of a seismic shift, the takeover has been gradual and insidious.

A Script for Machine Synthesis exists in a strange territory between territories, or, more specifically, times. While drawing heavily on the paranoias – and, by its sound, technologies – of preceding decades, it’s very much a contemporary work in terms of its concept if not so much its rather retro-sounding execution.

A Script For Machine Synthesis is not an album one listens to for its textual content: it is a drab, monotonous work which centres – aside from the introduction and credits – around a single track some fifty-seven and a half minutes in duration. Slightly fuzzy monotone voices narrate the process of the process in the style of technical manuals, and lecturing a highly complex theory in the driest, dullest of styles, while bubbling synths and electronic scratches and bleeps provide distracting incidentals which aren’t quite distracting enough to break the monotony. It’s hardly riveting from a sonic perspective, either. At points, the words become practically inaudible as digital distortion and file corruption disrupt the audio. Skittering, warping interference do more than interfere with the audio flow, but create a certain cognitive dissonance which engenders a sort of subliminal tension: I find myself growing twitchy and jittery, manifesting in increasingly awkward head-scratching, and a difficulty in sitting still. It could just be a unique individual response, ad of course, any experiment will produce different results with different subjects, but sitting by candlelight with a relaxing pint, I can’t readily identify any other factor which may explain my growing discomfort.

This is, of course, the ultimate synthesis of theory and practice, and more than anything, the experience of listening to A Script For Machine Synthesis bears strong parallels to the digitally-generated screeds of text published by Kenji Siratori in the late 90s and early years of the new millennium. That is to say, it’s a concept work which, while far from enjoyable, is undeniably admirable in its audacity and its absolute commitment to explore the concept at its core to its absolute end. This is art.

 

Hecker - Script