Posts Tagged ‘Synths’

Mongkong Music – mkng-01

Digital release date: 4th June 2021 / Physical release date: 4th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Having been introduced to the world of microtonal experimentation around a decade ago, I’ve found a certain fascination in those close lenses on the most minute of details – the musical equivalent of peering through a microscope and seeing objects and life forms on a granular, even cellular level. I’ve also learned that anything that can be rendered or viewed from a micro level, it’s probably been done, or otherwise is within someone’s sites to do, or I simply haven’t found it yet. Take, for example, the ensemble Microtub – not a small bath, but a trio of microtonal tubas.

Mycrotom is not a microtonal tom drum, nor a microtonal extension of the work of the Vegetable Orchestra (a ten-piece collective based in Vienna who make music using instruments crafted from actual fresh vegetables). In fact, the moniker is somewhat misleading, for as the press release notes, ‘Tom Simonetti alias mycrotom has created rather large-format sound carpets in the Bertolt Brecht mechanical engineering city of Augsburg. He now presents the same: soundscapes on which you can go out of work and walk away.’

So, it’s actually about sound carpets. I have to confess that I chuckled a little on reading that, before reminding myself of my own habit of describing works as ‘sonic tapestries’ and going into detail about the ‘fabric’ of numerous compositions – and that was before I listened to the album.

The pieces are built on interesting juxtapositions – sparse motoric beats click metronomically through gloopy synth basslines that could have been lifted off early 80s electro cuts on Wax Trax! while xylophone-type chimes ring out lilting motifs. Extraneous sounds are looped to forge unusual rhythms, and there’s a muddy, murky aspect to the sound that makes it difficult to separate the different elements.

Many of the synth sounds are vintage in style, squelchy, thick, fuzzy-edged, and while the arrangements are sparse, the effect is far from minimalist: there’s quite some density to the sound, and what’s more, a lot of Ratoratiyo pursues quite danceable grooves, and with a hybrid of 90s minimalism and 80s robotix, it feels completely removed from anything human.

‘Logic by Machine’ contains human voices – sampled, distanced, detached – against a sparse, rhythmic loop. It’s anything but comforting, and leaves one feeling even further adrift, alienated. It’s a strange experience that twists at the cognitive filters in unexpected ways. After all, none of the elements are new or particularly unusual – but their assemblage is, and in ways that are difficult to place a finger on. And it’s that difficulty of placement that lies at the heart of the challenge for a listener. You ask yourself ‘how does this fit with my experience?’ and ‘where do I belong in all of this?’ There are no handholds or footholds in terms of emotional resonance, in terms of experience. And precisely what does this convey? The sounds may be warm, but the experience is somehow cold, with a sense of separation.

It’s from this place of distance, a position of removal, isolation, that we begin to explore the spaces of Ratoratiyo, and the exploratory adventure begins.

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Klanggalerie – 18th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s no questioning Eric Random’s pedigree, having begun his musical career with The Tiller Boys with Pete Shelley and Francis Cookso before becoming part of the post-punk and experimental milieus of both Manchester and Sheffield, recording his first solo works at Cabaret Voltaire’s studio, and later fronting Nico’s band until her death in 1988. But while many artists dine out on their former glories – and it’s true that since the majority fail to scale to any great heights, a brimming resumé is something to celebrate, there’s equally a certain truth in the belief you’re only as good as your latest work.

No-Go is his fourth album since his return in 2014 following a lengthy time out. Pitched as a step further into an electronic dance direction, and inviting comparisons to Wrangler and Kraftwerk, No-Go is brimming with 80s stylisations, and all the 808 and Akai snare cracks and robotix vocals you could imagine are crammed into these eleven tracks.

A jittery stammer runs through the entirety of the opener, ‘Synergy’, while all over, multiple other synth sounds swipe and bleep over the ultra-retro groove, and all over, Random recaptures not just the sound of the late 70s and early 80s scene in which he was so deeply immersed in, but also the feel of the period. It’s easy to forget just how vibrant the energised spirit of newness was around that time, with the rapidly evolving – and ever-cheaper – technology opening new doors to seemingly infinite possibilities. This was music that sounded like the future in every sense, and while a lot of it may sound dated now, the fact there appears to have been some kind of revival or renaissance under way for the best part of the last 30 years speaks volumes. Of course, where Random differs from the oceans of retro revivalists is that he’s not attempting to reconstruct a fantasy version of a bygone era: he was there, at the cutting edge, doing precisely this.

‘Compulsion’ is a bleak wheezy cut with tinny marching drums and vocal that are oddly reminiscent of early New Order in their flat, distanced delivery. It’d Depeche Mode that spring to mind in the opening bars of the buoyant yet bleak ‘Is the Sun Up’, but then

‘Sinuous Seduction’ leaps out on account of the sample of William S. Burroughs narrating a segment of Naked Lunch, and while one of the numerous passages about giant black centipedes may not be revelatory or even particularly inventive, it does serve as a reminder of Burroughs’ vast influence on music, in particular acts like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, who swiftly recognised the analogy between the cut-up and the sample, something Burroughs himself had initiated with the experiments he conducted with tape in the late 1950s and early 1960s with Ian Sommerville. But then, equally, there’s just something about Burroughs’ creaking, dry-as-sticks monotone that is just unbelievably cool, and also sends a unique shover down the spine, distinctive to the point of being immediately recognisable, and also really not of this world, that detached, flat intonation about stuff that’s plain weird is perfectly suited to the music of the early years of the electronic age. The track itself is sparse, monotonous, robotic, and while it’s as much an example of doomy Eurodisco in the vein of The Sisterhood’s Gift, it’s not a million miles away from The Pet Shop Boys circa Disco – and that’s by no means a criticism.

Sandwiched between this and the blustery hard-edged disco of ‘No Show’, the ‘It’s come again’ offers some welcome respite with its more loungy leanings. Things get lively to the point of dizzying with the last few tracks, which are uptempo an mega-layered with bewilderingly busy arrangements, and it’s a tense climax to an album that shudders and judders, bubbles, foams, and fizzes with electronic energy.

In going back to his roots, Random has really hit the zone and delivered some old-school stompers in the process.

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Village Green – 13th January 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

For those who aren’t down with technospeak, a ‘soft error’ is computer language for a faulty occurrence in a digital memory system that changes an instruction in a program or a data value. And so it is that the duo – known simply as Tim and Rupert, both of whom have musical backgrounds in dance music/DJ culture and composition for film, theatre and TV respectively – who make up Soft Error, strove to evoke the idea of happenstance and serendipity in the naming of their collective output.

I’ll not squander space scoffing at the middle-class connotations of a hipster electro duo called Tim and Rupert, and shall instead concentrate on the fact that Mechanism is very much an album born out of experimentalism and improvisation, and balances organisation with random, contemporary with vintage as it folds together modern electronica with classic Krautrock.

While delicate piano notes hang in the air to create a serious, ponderous air at the start of the albums first track, ‘Silberblik’, the introduction of cinematic synths, with tightly modulated oscillations and soaring sweeping expansive notes spreading to forge a richly-coloured panorama, the tone soon changes.

Mechanism demonstrates a preoccupation with contrast and evolution. Gloopy synths bibble and bubble in looping motifs to create a muzzy atmosphere. Synthetic strings sweep and slide over the busy electronic sequences, and it’s this juxtaposition of the (ersaz) organic and mechanical which defines the album’s sound. But Soft Error are by no means content to tie themselves to any one genre. Propelled by a classically 80s drum machine beat, and as such a much sturdier, straight- ahead groove than the album’s other tracks, ‘You Caught Up’ is a post-punk electro stormer with gothy shadows around the corners.

‘Turncoat’ brings some sturdy beats against a monotonous, undulating bass groove, and contrasts with the hypnotic sway of the desert electronica of ‘Motorbath’, which has a smooth spaceyness about it.

Surging, swelling synth abound, building rich layers of sound over interlooping, shivering shimmering rhythmic backdrops, but the tracks ae neatly clipped, trimmed and pinned back to exist within remarkably concise time-frames. And this is good: when a track locks into a grove, sometimes it’s fun to get carried away, but often, it can become tiresome. Soft Error don’t flog a groove indefinitely or push it past the six-minute mark and there’s never a sense that they’re looking to simply fill air here.

That doesn’t mean every track’s a gem: the closer, ‘Everybody Run’s is a bit of a standard, smug analogue-tweaker Krautrock dance effort, but that’s more a criticism of the soft-edged sounds used to render an accessible and rather hipsterish looping motif than the overall shape of the tune. And across the album, Soft Error show they’ve got a knack for decent tunes, as well as for textures and subtle melodies. Smarter than your average, and a whole lot less indulgent.

 

Soft Error