Posts Tagged ‘texture’

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.

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Fabrique Records – 18th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Berlin-based composer and sound artist Jana Irmert has approached her third album for Fabrique with a view to exploring the way in which sounds have a certain sensory aspect. There’s a way in which music touches us, not just aurally, nor emotionally: some music you really do feel. Beyond music at the louder, harsher end of the spectrum – be it electronic or more conventional in its instrumentation, this is something that is perhaps more common to experimental forms, where contrasting sounds and the shapes and textures of those sounds are more the focus than the unity of a collection of instruments for create ‘songs’.

Articulating how music makes you feel is one challenge, but articulating how music itself feels – or moreover, how the sounds themselves feel – is an immense challenge. Because writing, like any other art, can often reveal its authors limitations, however well they’re working. Every artist has their own personal limitation. Francis Bacon was unable to paint feet, for example. The greatest limitation is invariably the disparity between concept and execution, and often, for musicians, it’s articulating the sound in their head using actual instruments – or, if not articulating the sound, conveying complex emotions through the medium of sound.

Jana Irmert’s challenge here was to render one sensation through another. “I felt I wanted to get closer to the sounds, feel their structure and surface and how they contrast each other,” she says. And, during the process, her recordings yielded some quite unexpected results: “It turned out the processed sounds resulting from hard materials would often have soft and tonal qualities whereas those made from ‘soft’ materials like water or air would ultimately be of percussive or harsh and noisy character.”

The opening bars of the first piece, ‘Lament’, are unexpectedly dense and heavy, a rugged, grainy tone that grinds from the speakers before slowly tapering down to something rather more tranquil, yet draped with the weight of melancholy. Moving into ‘Against Light’, Irmert creates a much more upbeat ambience, a shimmering, shuffling stuttering of sound, and it’s gentle, but not entirely calming or comforting, like being stuck in a tractor beam, a glitching loop that affords no forward trajectory.

With the sounds of the sea, the title track initially seems like it will fulfil the description, offering something soft, soothing, immersive. But as layers build, darker sounds clunk and rumble and loom and lurk in thickening shadows.

There is a certain sense of progression over the course of the eight compositions, with more percussive sounds coming increasingly to the fore. In doing so, the album gradually moves from intangible to something altogether more substantial, its physicality developing an almost corporeal tangibility.

Listening to The Soft Bit, one feel as though one is somehow in nature, and surrounded by nature, from the clouds, and the air – invisible, yet capable of substantial force when moving as a wind – to solid objects – stones, trees, the ground beneath the feet. Listen, inhale it all in, and feel it flow.

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CD Unsounds 68U – 15th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

No-one plays guitar quite like Andy Moor. Renowned for his work with purveyors of expansive and exploratory avant-jazz The Ex, Moor’s solo work takes that guitar work from a collectivist, band setting, where it’s a part of a conglomeration of instruments, and places it directly under the spotlight.

As the liner notes explain, Safe Piece is an exploration of the question of parenting while maintaining an artistic practice. Choreographer Valentina Campora, who initiated the project, began testing the possibility of dancing onstage with her baby as an experiment. The project became a series of 8 performances where Campora performed with the baby for a small public. Andy Moor, father of the child and Campora’s partner, accompanied and gave a sonic context to this experiment. Each performance was filmed by visual artist Isabelle Vigier for the video Safe Piece (a film).

Tye tracks sequencing is segmented in a way that perhaps make more sense in context of the filmed pieces. There are three themed chapters, if you will, pieced together in chunks – but identifying any specific thematic unity that connects them is difficult. Moor moves between single-string pings and frenetic fretwork. But for the most part, this is sparse and lugubrious downturned fret buzzing notes slumping down like a machine winding down as the batteries run down or clockwork unwinds to a crawl. There’s some growling, gut-churning low-end that provides substantial contrast with the nagging of the picked top notes. There’s fret-buzz and warped, slashing chord chanking, stuttering stop/start shudders and jarring , jolting unmusic, that’s uncomfortable at times – not just a bit awkward, but fully squirm-inducing, setting the nerve-endings of the teeth on edge.

Across the album’s thirteen pieces, Moor’s minimal style that centres around scratching and scraping and all other kinds of angular guitar abrasions are front and centre. Discord and atonality are his signatures – but at the same time, he conjures myriad moments of fractured musicality. Hums and thrums and crunches crash through picked chord sequences and segments that sound like tuning up and down in frantic search of the note and not quite finding it.

Safety is paramount, but Music For Safe Piece brings a cognitive dissonance that’s difficult to process in places. But we know that comfort is overrated, and that art should proffer challenges, and Music For Safe Piece brings plenty.

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Not Applicable – 25th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Chris Sharkey’s first album released under his own name is what I suppose one might call an ‘environmental’ album. Not an album about the environment in the broader sense, or the ecological sense, but in the sense of having been inspired by the artist’s surroundings, and the music herein is a direct response to that in many ways. While so many releases from the last year have been environmental in the context of creative responses to lockdown and a shrunken vista consisting of four walls and the view from the window, paired with a pervading anxiety on account of the 24/7 news media and social media doomscrolling, Presets comes from a very different perspective. First and foremost, its inspiration is travel.

“I had been touring and travelling a lot. Lots of long car journeys, the M1, driving between shows in Europe. Long waits in airports. The occasional long-haul flight to play farther field. Throughout this period my relationship to music changed. I found that listening to songs or short pieces would leave me agitated and frustrated. I’d been listening a lot to Actress, particularly ‘Ghettoville’ and ‘Hazyville’ which really worked for me on the road. I wanted a music that develops slowly over time, drawing you in, making you forget about the clock. Music that has so much grain and texture that you could almost pick it up and turn it around in your hands, examining from all sides. Like a physical object. Music that resembles something you might see out of the window of a plane, high above the clouds, a meteorological event or a storm on distant mountains from the back seat of a car.”

I can certainly relate to the agitational effects of listening to certain musical forms while in transit: I always had to stop music and be on full sensory alert on arriving at a train station and walking through an unfamiliar city, for example, and since lockdown, I’ve not been able to listen to my MP3 player at all while walking around anywhere.

The physical setup for the album’s production was minimal, and Presets is the product of two months’ intensive recording, producing hours of material. But this was only the start of a protracted second stage, which Sharkey details as follows: “As the process continued, I would select my favourite parts and create playlists just for myself. By the end I had over 4 hours of music that lived on my phone and whenever I would travel, I’d listen. Over the course of the next 5 years: touring, travelling, listening, I slowly whittled it down to what you hear on Presets.”

In short, Presets is the product of many years’ work – not just the five years in post-recording evolution, but the years of experience and observation that preceded its creation also. It was, unquestionably, time well spent: while many of the individual segments are quite short – mere fragments – the album as a whole sees them sequenced and segued so as to feel like one continuous piece that gradually transitions between tones and shades. It’s also an immense work, clocking in around the eighty-five minute mark. It’s very much a good thing that it’s intended as a background work, because it’s practically impossible to sustain focus for that kind of time. But Presets is about not focusing, about disruptions and interruptions, about life.

It begins with quavering, key-ranging notes that do, at least vaguely, sound like guitar, before layers of processing build, before the source instrument becomes lost, evolving to conjure organ -like drones and entirely abstract washes. Before long, particularly over the course of the eighteen-minute second track, ‘the sharecropper’s daughter’, you find yourself not so much listening as floating along with the sounds as they slowly creep and shift.

The titles are sparsely descriptive and evocative at the same time: from ‘blue cloud, red fog’, to ‘scorpion bowl’ via ‘detained at the border’, there are hints of mini-narratives attached to each piece, and the sense of travel and movement does come across through the difficult drones and scrapes of feedback that build and buzz through the foggy murk.

It’s an epic work, and a major achievement.

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OUS – OUS027 – 7th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The accompanying text reports that Bit-Tuner’s seventh album, EXO ‘marks a milestone in his work’ and tells of how this ‘widescreen and beatless opus focusses on musical storytelling and atmospheric depth’.

EXO is unquestionably cinematic, with synth washes that are simultaneously soft and cloud-like, but achieve a density by their layering, and they conjure a breadth of sound, too, that evokes vast vistas that stretch from horizon to horizon. This isn’t ambient in the conventional sense, and while ‘beatless’ is a largely accurate description, it’s by no means formless, without rhythm, or without a certain sense of sensory attack. There’s a deceptive amount going on across the album’s eight pieces, and EXO is an album that doesn’t simply require attention, but demands it. This is not all wimpy, wispy sonic contrails that hang in the air: EXO has a certain solidity, depth, force that renders it anything but background. You can’t settle down and chill out to this, and while the musical storytelling may not be immediately apparent, the atmospheric depth is all-encompassing.

The prefatory single ‘Passage’ very much sets the tone, and on revisiting the piece here, it’s apparent just how much the mewling top-line, that semi-resembles a lost, plaintive seagull lost in the sweeping swathes provides a contrast and focus: this is an ambient work with intense focus, and, despite the absence of beats, a strong focus on rhythm. Then, ‘Valve’ pulses and throbs and crackles with distortion and decay around the edges and while it’s expansive, it’s also probing inwards toward the depths of the listener’s psyche. This isn’t music you can just leave running in the background: it continually grabs you and draws you in, demanding attention. And at times, it’s downright difficult and edgy.

‘Disbander’ pulses and grinds, low-end hums undulate and swoop into subsonics while mid-range interference collides against thumps and crackles and upper-frequency skitters and flits. There’s a lot going on, and while it’s anything but dark, it is incredibly tense: if you equate ambient with gentle, soft, and soothing, think again. ‘Ghost Light’ hits something of a Tangerine Dream stride, and electronic blips approximating beats coalesce to create a rhythmic structure that pulsates and throbs.

So is this ambient? It certainly doesn’t conform to the notion that it’s unobtrusive, or in an way calming, or soothing, and any contemplation encouraged here is rent with challenges. How does it make you feel? Ambience is so often geared toward the cerebral, but there’s a physicality to EXO, however subtle and subliminal: there are textures that make your skin crawl, tonalities than make you twitch, tense, and tingle.

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Gizeh Records – 26th April 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Aidan Baker has done it again: pulling together a brace of collaborators to form a perfect triangle, See Through is a magnificent sum that’s greater than the parts, showcasing the way relinquishing individuality in favour of collectivism can yield something… other. And See Through is decidedly other. The press release describes the process, an evolution and layering: ‘The project was brought to life through Baker exploring textural rhythms created by sampling small, sharp and abrupt sounds on the electric guitar and then sequencing them in a drum machine to form the bedrock of the tracks. Mueller then added his particular, signature brand of intricate, hypnotic percussion to the mix and the compositions began to grow and take shape. The pair agreed that the pieces needed a more human touch and Coloccia was invited onboard, contributing processed vocals via looping, tape manipulation and microphone feedback.

To describe it as ‘ambient with beats’ – a phrase I’ve used to describe worriedbaoutsatan, who sound nothing like this – may be vague, but it’s accurate. It’s all about the slow build… and the percussion. Starting with higher-pitched finger drums, it evolves to a polyrhythmic experience. Insistent tribal drumming hammers a martial beat that underscores wraith-like vocal echoes and soft, supple surges of abstract ambience… the effect is mesmerising, hypnotic. Snaking hints of the exotic twist through the hazy infusions of the sprawling eight-and-a-half-minute ‘Repeat’, which finds the percussion dampened, dulled, yet no less insistent as it clumps and clatters along in the swirling sonic mists.

See Through is an album of evolution, and the tracks seep into one another to form a cohesive but ever-shifting sequence. As is the case in respect the album as a whole, the percussion is key, and changes between each piece, backing off and rising to the fore once more.

‘Summer’ takes a more ambient direction, the beats subdued and submerged, muffled and distant and pulsing through a viscous, subaquatic density, before the title track ventures deeper into darker territory, an unsettling, shifting rumble that shudders and shuffles, suffused with incidental scrapes and vaporous drones which creep in and out of the frame like ghosts, like drifting mists, like so many intangibles. It’s dark, uncomfortable, disorientating, and extremely difficult to pin down -which is precisely its indefinable source of both its appeal and its artistic success. It builds to a scraping crescendo around the 8-9minute mark.

The final track, ‘Harmony in Distance’ wafts drifting ambience over a soft rhythm that builds in intensity, until the soft sonic washes and drifting vocals give way to a rising thunder of drums that drive the album to a tidal climax.

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Neurot Recordings – 11th May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The band’s biography locates them as ‘standing at a crossroads of light and dark’, and we learn that Chrch create ‘epic, lengthy songs, with a massive low end, and a supernatural vocal presence, in a perfect blend of height and depth’.

Epic is the word: this, their second album contains just three songs, the shortest of which is just shy of ten minutes in length.

It begins with the twenty-two minute behemoth that is the appropriately-titled ‘Infinite’. Slow-picked notes, bathed in chorus and reverb hang in suspension. Dust motes drift in the spaces between them, and time stalls in a freeze-frame. Gradually, the percussion begins for form rhythm in the background, and some semblance of form begins to emerge. It’s around the five-minute mar when the dual vocal – a banshee howl and chthonic growl – tear through a landslide of trudging guitars so slow and low as to be positively subterranean. The mid-section is delicate as a butterfly’s wing, before the second heavyweight segment proffers forth some kind of doom rendition of classic rock, like Clapton on Ketamine, multiple lead guitar lines intertwining at a fraction of the conventional tempo.

‘Portals’ focuses more on the infinite power chords, screeding feedback, bowel-shaking bass and screaming demon vocals. It’s the soundtrack to a descent into the infernal abyss. The trudging riff that dominates the second half is enlivened by a majestic lead part and Eva Rose’s captivating vocals which soar and glide magnificently. I shan’t deny it: I’m a sucker for a shoegaze voice pitched against slabs of guitar as heavy, grey, and grainy as basalt.

The final cut ‘Aether’ is by far the lightest and most uplifting in its tone, and pushes further into shoegaze territory, despite its agonizing 40bpm pace and the anguished screams in the background. It feels like a crawl toward the light at the end of the tunnel, and despite the thunderous weight and the howling agony which permeates every note, it feels somehow redemptive.

The heavy passages – and they’re seriously heavy – are broken by protracted periods of tranquillity, of mesmeric beauty and delicate grace. But, truth be told, the format’s growing tired, the tropes of the dynamics embedded to the point of predictability now. And so it all comes down to execution and the details. On Light Will Consume Us All, Chrch venture – subtly – into different territories, territories which exist beyond the template of what’s now the doom standard. And it’s well executed. Really well executed.

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Hallow Ground – HG1703 – June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

TAR is the fourth solo album by Tehran-based composer Siavash Amini, although he’s joined by Pouya Pour-Amin on electric double bass and Nima Aghiani on violin. Not that the individual instruments are readily recognisable in the thick sonic swirls which combine to forge the ever-shifting soundscapes of TAR at least in the main. But when Aghiani’s violin weeps and bleeds emotive from amidst the amorphous aural clouds which turn and taper, billowing and rolling, throbbing and pulsating.

‘A Dream’s Frozen Reflection’ begins droney but gentle, but inside the first two minutes breaks into a serrated sonic tempest. Music that sounds for all the world like a circular saw accompanied by a saw played more conventionally (does anyone play the saw any more? Or has it more or less gone the way of the comb and the washboard?) isn’t an easy sell, but Amini creates an intense aural experience that immerses the senses. But for all the harsh tones, there are contrasts in abundance, and through forging a shifting soundscape, the atmosphere changes, sometimes almost subliminally over the course of the piece.

‘Rivers of Tar’ plunges into murky, dark territory, but crystalline glissandos cascade through the eddying clouds of sulphur, while graceful strings rise and sweep expansively. It’s hard to determine whether or not it really carries an emotional resonance, but as a listening experience, it’s got more than enough range and features some passages which do have that vital drag.

At times, ‘The Dust We Breathe’ is barely there, delicate contrails of soft ambience washing in and out. There are periods dominated high-volume undulations of grating, snarling noise early on, but over the course of its fourteen-minute duration, the track drifts quietly and softly into the background.

It’s Amini’s ability to manoeuvre, effortlessly and almost untraceably, the trajectory of the four compositions from head-crushing abrasion to lulling calmness which is the greatest achievement of TAR. It’s an ambient album which carries a sting in the tail sharp enough to hurt, while equally massaging the mental receptors with its delicate tones.

The extent to which TAR translates Amini’s desire to explore ‘the fragile tensions between and individual and collective subconscious’ is largely irrelevant: TAR is an unexpectedly dynamic work, brimming with texture and contrast.

Siavash Amini – TAR