Posts Tagged ‘Sparse’

14th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I’d take cheap red win over red, red wine any day: back in the early to mid-90s as a poor student (back when such a thing existed), Liquorsave – the off-license department of Kwik Save, who at the time were selling their No-Frills baked beans for 3p a tin – it was possible to purchase a bottle of Hungarian red wine at 12% ABV for £1.85. It was actually better – by which I mean not only stronger, but also fuller-bodied – than the £5-£6 bottles of French wine. Nowadays, cheap mis under a fiver, but I’ll still stand by budget wines from the right sources, and in the absence of pubs, people, and life in general over the course of a year of lockdown, cheap red wine has become a friend on a par with strong Polish lager.

Anyway: on ‘Cheap Red Wine’, Muca and the evasive, semi-illusory Marquise paint a laid-back, smoky picture from a minimal sonic palette, evoking the spirit of smoky basements bars of times gone by. It wasn’t so long ago you could find somewhere down some stairs that was open till 1 or 2am and sip a bottled beer or a whisky and feel like you were somewhere else while people smoked… but time is relative. Nevertheless, the easy-going, laid-back jazzy vibes of ‘Cheap Red Wine’ evoke a pretty deep nostalgia, and it hits harder than the song itself, which is simple, melodic, reflective, landing somewhere between Amy Winehouse and Portishead.

Based around a simple acoustic guitar and Muca’s magnificent vocal that drawls, but isn’t quite lazy per se, ‘Cheap Red Wine’ builds to incorporate layers of strings and a wandering electric guitar solo, and conveys a heavy ache of emotion, too. An understated instant classic.

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Cheap Red Wine_Artrwork_Kelly Emrich

Panurus Productions – 2nd April 2021

Sometimes, an understanding of process helps in shaping the appreciation of a musical work. Sometimes, it doesn’t. When presented with Only Then by Left Hand Cuts Off The Right, I can’t decide either way. The album contains two longform tracks – the twenty-five minute ‘2 – 6 – 17’ and the thirty-five minute ’23 – 6 -19’. Both were recorded live, and showcase a blend of improvisation and composition. The track titles do, unsurprisingly, mark the dates of the performances, both f which took place at the legendary Café Oto in 2017 and 2019.

On the former piece, a scraping drone hovers somewhere in the distance, relentless, nagging, always in the background but always within the reals of awareness: you simply cannot tune it out. Atop of this, there are crackles, scrapes, flickers, scratches and microcosmic, microtonal glitches, and gently tinkling picked notes casting sparse scales and oriental motifs, with the zither providing a unique, and, to western ears, exotic flavour. Over time, the details dissolve and blur into a metallic scrape that gnaws at the senses as allow, slow, undulation persists long after any trace of melody had dissipated, swallowed by currents of dissonant sound.

Slow-hammered xylophone notes emerge and steer toward the end of the first piece, and then stop: cue a cascade of applause which reminds us that this isn’t a studio work and that this happened. Not just that live performances used to be a thing, but, quite simply, that the audio contained here is not a studio-controlled contrivance, but an event that happened in real-time. Something about that realisation is strangely affecting.

Coughs and splutters and a general clamour of voices preface the fall to silence and the first echoing sounds on side two. Audience behaviour is so telling: the respect (or lack of) given to a artists whose performances are on the quiet aside can make or decimate the enjoyment for may of those present. Here, Left Hand Cuts Off The Right command over half an hour of hush. From clattering drips and clangs, the track builds from sparse sound echoing into emptiness, slow-dropping notes decaying into a soft ambience.

As to the technique and the technical aspects, the press release informs that ‘both sets were created with zither, melodica, synthesizer, bent electronics, field recordings, mbira, tape loops, percussion and effects. Side A comprises of 6 improvised sections each with specific performance, composition and sonic parameters. Side B is centred on 2 pre-recorded compositions which are mixed and performed live and interspersed with improvised sections for set sound sources.’

It’s actually quite difficult to unravel precisely what this means, beyond the fact that often the composing, improvising and performing processes overlap – informing one another as new works are created. And while the live performance of prerecorded pieces interspersed with improvisation and improvisation within predetermined parameters are clearly different disciplines, ultimately both methods combine a certain element of random with planning. Moreover, while delivered as works in the ,ids of an eternal evolution due to the nature of their form, these pieces as performed and as recorded are not works in progress, but works in their own right.

Only Then captures a moment – one I suspect many of us wish we could return to right now.

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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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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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Grappa Musikkforlag – 24th August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

I used to watch a fair few horror films when I was younger, but don’t get to so much these days: my wife isn’t a fan, and, moreover, I can’t watch movies and listen to music at the same time. Spending my evenings reviewing means it’s the movies that have had to give. But when I did have the time to watch horror movies, I always preferred the films that unsettled the mind rather than overloaded the senses with in-yer-face viscera and gore. It isn’t necessarily that I like to be scared: I just like to be mentally challenged, and the imagination is a powerful thing. For the same reason, I usually prefer to invest the time in a book rather than TV show or movie. Greater effort tends to yield greater reward, and what’s more, the mind can conjure scenes far beyond the scope of any film set and special effects.

The mind’s eye is a terrible thing, but also a wonderful thing. Just look at your dreams: they’ll likely present vistas beyond anything you’ve ever seen in any movie. And even if not, these scenes are your own, rather than something pre-presented, the product of someone else’s imagination.

Rooms & Rituals is an album which engages the mind and encourages it to explore the darker recesses. The compositions are haunting, to the point of being outright scary. tapping into the deeper realms of the psyche, teasing out the horror of disquiet, and poking around in those dark, uncomfortable places. The voices are those of no less than ten female singers, although not necessarily at the same time. This is, indeed, a choir like no other.

‘Steamsaw’ sets the tone: dark, ominous, rumbling thunder and fear chords drifting almost subliminally… It’s minimal, and it’s a discomfort you can’t quite put our finger on. But it’s there, it’s real, and it gnaws at the pit of your stomach. ‘Pulser’ is eerie. Voices, disembodied, and as if rising from the grave, amidst unintelligible guttural utterances from the underworld, shrieks, and industrial pulsations and the occasional, sporadic clash of grating undifferentiated noise conglomerate to forge something stomach-churningly tense.

‘Ritual #3’ is a series of bleeps and tweets over a low-end rumble, and is reminiscent of some early Whitehouse, minus the trebly shouting. ‘Rise; is a voice lost in a gale, the sense of dislocation, distance and isolation rendered palpable in the drift. ‘Hymn’ pitches vocal melody that’s evocative, haunting, almost a Celtic folk piece, against a gnawing hovering synth hum, and elsewhere, ‘Gleam’ goes gloriously minimal, trilling organ pulses providing the backdrop to ethereal vocals that drift skyward.

Collectively and cumulatively, these pieces move and unsettle the listener, bringing a sense of dislocation, and disorientation. It creates a space for pondering. This is art.

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Trondheim Voices

Cat Werk Imprint – CW11 – 8th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The inspiration for Olivia Louvel’s latest album (fantastically presented, like its predecessor, in a DVD size digipak) casts an arc way back into history. Louvel, it transpires, was fascinated by the lives of Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I – two queens who existed simultaneously on the same island, during the 16th Century – a period dominated by men. Two queens who, powerful and celebrated in their own lifetimes as well as posthumously, would never meet. And so, on Data Regina, Olivia Louvel sets herself the challenge of addressing their simultaneous yet entirely separate, disparate narratives of these two bitter rivals, and presenting distinct voices as she charts their adversarial relationship.

The twenty years during which the two queens reigned simultaneously were fraught, tempestuous ones, punctuated by battles on the Anglo-Scottish borders, disputes and reconciliations, and ultimately saw Mary Tudor sentenced to death and executed.

Effectively two works intertwined – ‘The Antechamber; and ‘Battles’, with the latter comprising a sequence of relatively short instrumental pieces positioned between the longer ‘songs’ – Data Regina is no polite period drama in musical form. It most certainly doesn’t correspond with the popular Elizabeth-slanted syllabus readings of the period, or correspond with the backdrop generally presented on degree-level modules taught on ‘Elizabethan’ and ‘Renaissance’ Literature (the Renaissance was late to reach Britain in relation to the rest of Europe). Herein lies an immense problem, of course: how can we learn from history when so much of the past is unknown, shrouded in layer of mystery and obfuscation as the result of political (self)interest? Would the present be as fucked as it is if we all had a better knowledge and understanding of history? Maybe, maybe not. The age of Elizabeth I, of Shakespeare, of – my preferred man of letters, Christopher Marlowe – is a long way in the past.

Data Regina an album of dark, haunting electronica, which stands in a league of its own: it has no obvious reference points in music, history or elsewhere. It’s a bold project, for sure, and Louvel admirably achieved her ambitions with a work which conveys its intent without becoming overly mired in explication and cumbersome narrative segments which disrupt the flow.

Louvel sets the tone – both musically and in terms of narrative – with the dark swell of ‘Battlefield’. Vaporous in its atmospherics, the track combines echoey beats which clatter and rattle around between resonant, woozy basslines and sparse, drifting notes. ‘My Crown’ weaves a haunting spell, slow pulsating electronics and mournful strings first float and then rise to a tense climax. At times, juddering electronics and stuttering, glitchy rhythms spasm and render scenes of claustrophobic intensity, Louvel’s detached, icy vocals eerily menacing. The pieces – they don’t follow clear or conventional song structures – are intense sonic explorations of character and voice.

‘Langside, 1568’, is a dark, dolorous interlude, the fractured vocalisations preface the marching drums which dominate the barren landscapes of ‘Deploy’ and ‘Battle’. It’s uncomfortable, queasy listening, the elegance and grace of the sparse compositions and Louvel’s voice countered by a discomforting undercurrent that runs throughout. It’s by no means an easy, accessible work: in fact, Data Regina is dark and turbulent and often uncomfortable, but it is deeply compelling.

 

Olivia Louvel - Data Regina