Posts Tagged ‘sound collage’

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sampled without credit by Björk on ‘Possibly Maybe’, resulting in a lawsuit that led to copies of Post being withdrawn and a sample-free rerelease.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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Perpetual Motion Studios

James Wells

The backstory is one I can relate to: Dominic Franciso, aka the brilliantly-named Space Monkey Death Sequence recounts how at the age of twelve he decided to fight sleep and watch more TV, with his channel-surfing landing him at the start of an episode of The Twilight Zone. The episode in question, ‘People Are Alike All Over’ stuck with him, but on revisiting it a decade later, the experience wasn’t the same – although this particular episode out of all of those he watched, resonated in a peculiar way.

I’ve long maintained that sleep is the enemy and is for wimps, and in this line of work, I find I’m not so much nocturnal as around the clock. Granted, I spent most of my teenage years watching weird shit, bad sitcoms, and late-night Channel 4 in the hope of something with nudity rather than The Twilight Zone, but I certainly get how these formative experiences are integral to a person’s development, and how returning to those experiences of youth will inevitably bring forth a range of emotions and that the sense of ‘same but different’ can be disquieting. It’s not the film or TV show that’s the issue, but the underlying sense of looking back into one’s mind as it was, from an adult perspective.

People Are Alike All Over is not an easy album to pin down, or to get into. ‘No Brain’ is a classic example of why this is: a difficult mash-up of bits and pieces, it lumbers from jazzy wig-out to hefty hip-hop beats, while sounding like the tape was spliced at random in a studio located in a coral cave half a mile under the sea. ‘All Brawn’ is a spaced-out, disorientating affair, and ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ is not a cover of Tiffany’s 1987 hit, but woozy wobble of an instrumental with slithering, crunching extraneous sounds and anxietised samples (lifted from the episide of  The Twilight Zone in question) incut.’Diaphragm’ is a Spartan dirge that calls to mind Movement era New Order and The Cure’s Carnage Visors, and elsewhere, ‘Funeral Pt I’ sounds like some weirded-out whale-song, a woozy drone of underwater depths, and a metronomic drum machine accompanies a fractal, chorus-laden guitar on ‘Leave’. Samples crackle away in the background as flashes of synth swirl around and pass like comets through the strangely uncanny soundscape before spiralling into almost drum ‘n’ bass territory.

People Are Alike All Over is unsettling and intriguing, and best of all, it’s inventive and atmospheric.

 

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Silo Rumor – May 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Given the ubiquity of music, perhaps now even more than at any time in human history – and music has been an integral part of life for as long as we know, in ever-evolving forms – it’s something that is generally taken for granted. Few consider the function, or functions, of music, and those who do are more often than not academics: the average individual is unlikely to devote a great deal of time to dissecting precisely why they listen to the music they do, or what it is that specifically draws them to music. That said, the more avant-garde and theory-based the art becomes, so more consideration is given to its purpose, and in some respects, this seems somewhat paradoxical given that much of the work in this sphere is not what the majority would necessarily consider ‘music’. And so we have Jonathan Uliel Saldanha’s Tunnel Vision, a collection of pieces recorded in and around the tunnels of Porto. Part field recording collage, part abstract, part ambient soundwork, the album’s seven segments are not overtly musical, in that they do not feature any of the conventional features of ‘music’.

While the concept of ambient music is now well established, and the theories around it also representing well-trodden territory, it’s still worth considering the purpose of an album like this. What kind of experience does it offer the listener? Specifically, what is the point? After all, Tunnel Vision is, ostensibly, little more than drones, moans, hums and thuds with occasional snippets of voices. And if anything, it’s not really ambient: it’s far too tense and unsettling for all that.

‘I’m what some people call The Tunnel. Whereas most are drawn to what’s on the surface, in the skies, or in space, I’m drawn to what’s beneath the surface,” says the anonymous speaker on the tile track. He continues: “Space seems exotic, mysterious, because it’s distant, far away enough not to fear… the underworld is a void that sits right beneath our feet. It evokes fear…” And while Tunnel Vision is concerned broadly with the use of ‘resonant spaces’, the overall mood and texture is very much of the space below than the space above and around. The purpose of this music is to evoke the space which frightens us, which pricks those subconscious fears through the medium of sound. It’s about conjuring the unfamiliar and appealing to the senses in a way which unsettles them by means of the concordance of the rumbling of distant thunder which rolls beneath a shifting soundscape of mournful brass and unexpected clashes of sound.

The three tracks which occupy side two are noticeably longer, than the four on side one, and feel more formed, building on the atmospheres which emerge through the layering of long, low hums and drones, twittering flickers snippets of voices and thuds and clumps.

And so it is that one does not listen to Jonathan Uliel Saldanha’s Tunnel Vision for its musicality, or for entertainment. Nor does one interact with music on this level for relaxation purposes, but instead to confront subconscious and primal fears. To marvel at the mind which could create such sonic challenges, and to feel a sense of discomfort that’s essential to moving out of one’s comfort zone and instead be shaken into feeling something that evokes a response beyond immediate comprehension.

 

Silo Rumor

Jonathan Uliel Saldanha Online

1empreintes DIGITALes – IMED 16137 – 5th May 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It looks like a box set. But it is, in fact, simply a CD in a box. A very elaborate box at that. It works a little like a matchbox, the interior of which folds out to reveal extensive liner notes in French and English, written by Parmerud himself, and which provide interesting and instructive insight into the four compositions. Created between 2005 and 2011, the extended pieces are united not so much thematically as compositionally, the sounds collected and collaged rather than being shaped into conventional musical frameworks.

‘Dreaming in Darkness’ is forged primarily from small sounds, spaced apart from one another. A chime, a chink or a clunk, and then silence before a scrape or a click or a bump. It’s fragmentary, the origins of the sounds unclear. Taking the question of what a person who cannot see dreams about, Parmerud explains that the piece is an attempt to create surrealistic fragments of a blind person’s dreams. As the piece progresses, the sounds become increasingly densely packed, and with longer durations and overlaid, building sinister abstract scenes: in fact, not so much scenes as shifting shadows and variations in light.

The bubble of conversation marks the opening moments of ‘Crystal Counterpoint’: a recording which sounds like a restaurant or party, the chinking of classes and general hubbub of people grows and stops abruptly with the chime of a glass. Inspired by the sounds of the parties Åke’s parents used to host, and which he would hear from upstairs, the piece uses the very same glasses to create a wealth of sounds, from long, low drones to higher hums, elongated undulations and quick, bright glissandos. Grand swells of sound rise and cease suddenly, replaced by strange, quiet drifts of sound: it’s very easy to forget exactly what you’re listening to. But if anything, awareness of the origin of the sounds only heightens the experience, as you’re likely to marvel and wonder just how glasses could sound like an oboe or high winds across mountain tops. In his notes, Parmerud notes that there already exist a large number of recordings which explore glass sounds, and it is, indeed, an interesting piece to place alongside Miguel Frasconi’s ‘Standing Breakage (for Stan Brakhage)’ (clang records, 2016).

‘ReVoiced’ moves away from musical abstraction and instead uses the voice as its instrument. A single voice is layered up on top of itself exponentially until a whole crowd of one voice is speaking. It’s actually quite a disconcerting experience. Voices are subject to all kinds of manipulation: sped up, slowed down, pitch adjusted, stretched, overlaid, echoed and delayed, in myriad permutations. Chants and dialogue and ululations, crowds and multiple languages meld together, and gradually, extraneous sounds – hard, heavy slabs of sound – crash in, while sharp-edged sounds slash for create a dull, percussive element to the slow-building torture of the familiar becoming twisted, distorted, abstracted and unfamiliar.

The final track, ‘Necropolis – City of the Dead’, is a musical tour through the catacombs of an imaginary city which contain the remains of some of the greatest music of all time. ‘But the condition of the musical bodies that rest in the crypts is unfortunately in various states of decomposition’. As such, in combining a well-worn joke (which is usually about Mozart when I’ve heard it) with a project to assimilate and deconstruct fragments of existing works, ‘Necropolis’ is a sort of a collage. Classical, jazz, film soundtracks, many renowned and bordering on recognisable, at least in essence, all fade in and out and collide against one another.

While the title track may pick over the bones of musical history, it equally breathes new life, and the same is very much true of the work as a whole: the parts are disparate, fragmentary, scattered in origin from around the globe and individually amount to not very much at all. But the sum is spectacular, an experience which is thought-provoking and which has the capacity to be quite unexpectedly affecting.

Ake Parmerud

Åke Parmerud  Online