Wednesday, 15 September 2010


This website has been discontinued as of September 15, 2010.
Please direct yourselves to and bookmark it. All the reviews that were published here have been transferred on the new website, though they're still archived here to make things easier for everybody who linked them. See you there!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

CHRISTOPHE CHARLES / I8U – Unter Den Linden / Und Transit

Admittedly, your reviewer is still far from enlightenment in regard to the generation of Unter Den Linden. Christophe Charles refers to a concert by Mark Fell in 2009 as a “Grundton” for the composition, then specifies that sources recorded in the same year and in 1987 (!) were also used. Then again, there’s a mention of a prior piece called “HCDC”, made after the death of Daniel Charles in 2008, and a hint to Massenet for good measure. These scattered pills of knowledge should not detour the potential audience from the fact that these 30 minutes surely belong in the high ranks of acousmatic music. A masterful sequence of quiet environments and breath-holding atmospheres, ruptured by extraordinary moans of flying airplanes (as loyal readers know very well, I could listen to those sorrow-eliciting sliding drones for the whole extent of my residual life and die happy). Even the most insignificant constituents become essential, including the chugging of various vehicles or the weak signal of a radio. The composer’s insightfulness does the rest, highlighting the existential breathing that perennially underlies silence in the “right” way, creating a world of vacant presences that place the addressee inside their sheer enormity, ultimately reminding us about what “sensible listening” really means.

I8U presents the sonic result of her observation of “a particular passageway in Minoritenplatz” as she was attending an artistic residency in the Austrian city of Krems. For a second time I am left guessing by the liners, which didn’t manage to let me comprehend if that area was subsequently utilized for a quadraphonic installation, or just inspired it. Und Transit - mainly derived from field recordings - stands on its own legs without the environmental component, though. It is largely based on stationary gaseous matters and distinct tones, motionless chords and slightly anguishing impressions depicted by an otherworldly frozen ensemble (except the first movement, which – at the risk of derision - might vaguely recall the “legendary” intro to Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”). One remains enthralled by these stunning suspensions, enhanced by sharp ultrasonic frequencies that successfully divert our attention from the outside world’s remote manifestations while mixing seamlessly with the evening’s crickets. The struggle of this excellent work to prevail over the depression drawn out by the misshapen mazurka echoes coming from the neighbouring hill emphasizes the seriousness of the gap between actively researching human beings and pork-swallowing retards quite effectively. And yet, both sides share this cosmic macrocosm we were thrown in (which, to be honest, is rather degrading). Therefore, play this in utter quietness to appreciate its true worth: the fourth track - “Freitag” - is the decoding key for shaving the hairiest hearts.

Sunday, 15 August 2010


A conceptual prolongation of his previous Flock And Tumble (also on Sonoris), Furl incarnates a somewhat more structured version of Seth Nehil’s accumulation of organic, environmental and instrumental substances. It is difficult to approach this work without thinking of it as a cycle of compositions, for the chains of events appear planned with extreme care. However, the sense of unfathomable ambiguity and doubt about the actual origins of the sounds heard are typical of this artist’s field of research. The feel of imminence and contiguity, the space left to each manifestation for being weighed up and evaluated by the listener’s imagination, and the circumscription of vagueness within the borders of a fractional solidity are all strong points of this album, which gives perspectives on the manipulation of sonic phenomena that are both innovative and familiar – especially for those already acquainted with Nehil’s output.

Five pieces are comprised in the disc, the duration not exceeding the limit of ten minutes. They make the time flow quite fast, given the numerous invitations to scrutiny during their unfolding. Nehil applies restraint and congruity as not many comparable composers are able to; he places a percussive incident right before or after the extended tones of something appearing as spectra of processed ringing metals, mixing the elements with customary attention amidst the tiny granules of a rustling vulnerability. Urban flavours were definitely used – unobtrusively, never overwhelmingly. The inexactitude of certain frail reverberations is perceived as an ideal dressing to happenings that stimulate and confound rather than affirming an explicit point of view.

According to that logic, the most absorbing chapter is “Swarm”, in which human voices (one of the record’s very few recognizable constituents) are utilized in puzzlingly anomalous fashion: short phonemes (say, “Hoo”, “Hey”, “Ha”, arranged in slightly out-of-phase mode) seem to depict a condition of precariousness, hesitation expressed by developed creatures arrived on the scene of existence with huge delay. Like the testing of an echo, in a way, or a hopeless call to check if someone responds even if the eyes aren’t seeing anything in proximity. It’s a strange, fascinating moment that beautifully complements the fleeting mirages of this acoustic microcosm. Those who loved the preceding release will not want to miss this, which keeps showing various unopened doors leading to inexplicable discoveries.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


Being quite active in other lines of work (a naturalist providing recordings of environments for movies and documentaries) sound designer Douglas Quin does not publish the fruits of his research with excessive frequency (the last I recall from him was the wonderful Oropendola – we’re talking 1994 or so). But there’s no doubt about the value of the ones he decides to release, such as what’s comprised by this stunning LP.

Fathom was entirely realized by deploying and minimally treating sounds that Quin seized during Polar trips (both North and South) by immersing hydrophones below the water surface. The gathered materials include walruses, whales, seals, orcas, plus various types of moving or breaking ice, all from an underwater perspective. The superiority of the recording detail, in conjunction with a rare case of unblemished vinyl (no pops and clicks, and – curiously enough – the initial groove hiss seems attuned with a whispered pitch itself) make sure that the experience is spectacularly connecting. Not only a direct participation to the actual occurrences is convincingly approximated; we also become aware, little by little, of an impressive kind of cosmic musicality. The wailing walruses heard in the faraway distance while the forefront of the mix is taken by rhythmically percussive clacks amount to a genuine composition; the strange glissandos characterizing a sizeable part of the second side of the album may be animal in their origin, yet resemble a singular synthesizer processed by atypical marine effects.

The capacity to rivet an audience through the painstaking acoustic depiction of mere realities (even if the circumstances in which they were captured are far from easy to repeat) is what separates professionals – better if gifted with a unique sensibility – from those who just stick a mike around and throw any walk in the woods they collect on the market. No need to say where Quin belongs, and the limited edition of 300 copies should suggest what to do. Promptly.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

ANGUS CARLYLE – Some Memories Of Bamboo

Since Carlyle’s name was new to yours truly, I went for a Google search and the most satisfactory description was the following: “… Angus’ work explores the intersections between culture, technology and creativity. More specifically, he is interested in how our constructed ‘landscape’ modulates a sense of the relationship between human beings and the environment”. Not a truer word indeed, as this collection of location recordings testifies. Limiting the action to the small suburban district of Kami-Katsura in Kyoto, this man succeeded in presenting an artifact that is not comparable with the current overabundance of field recording-based releases – a dime a dozen lately – as in this case the sounds really tell a story of their own, perfectly portraying the difficulties revealed by each setting and the fickle temporariness of the situations he researched through. Carlyle is very precise, explaining in the enclosed booklet circumstances and utilized materials, adding his reflections about those moments.

That said, it is pretty pointless to merely list the acoustic pictures contained by Some Memories Of Bamboo: there are several that we come across quite regularly, a few less widespread than others and, at times, rather extraordinary. Seaming together natural and urban voices is not a difficult task these days, yet Carlyle accomplished a nice balance of clarity – namely an easy identification of the source – and elusiveness, either derived from a malfunctioning piece of equipment or caused by the long distance from which certain scenes were captured. The repetition of a computerized announcement on a bus appears almost as lyrical as a nocturnal bird; a restaurant’s muzak fragment is so softly restrained that, once framed in this particular milieu, it becomes plain lovely - like a whisper of summer wind.

Pure poetry is found in the record’s finishing episode, an old woman singing an ancient Japanese tune, then chatting amiably in broken English with the fellow soul who happened to record that moment. They talk, among other things, of the beauty of a well-visible moon in an afternoon’s blue sky. Reading in the liners that this frail lady was recovering from a heart attack is touching, her will to keep living and appreciate the sheer magnificence of the universe’s phenomena a teaching for many people who grieve over trivial matters and minor frustrations, unable to see the essence of what’s necessary right in front of them.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

GIANCARLO TONIUTTI – qwalsamtimutkwɁitalucʻik

A reclusive gentleman from a land of cold silences (Friuli, extreme North East of Italy), Giancarlo Toniutti has carved an individual niche amidst the obscurity of the really serious sonic experimentalists over many years of barely reported activity. The man is highly esteemed by those in the know, despite the relative scarcity of releases (besides other things, he's been a collaborator of Andrew Chalk and Jason Lescalleet). This CD, whose name is in Nuxálk language, is subtitled “and now he almost did make himself into hemlock needles, it is said”. Cryptic messages that find their acoustic expression in a kind of music that, in the originator’s words, “deals with the dynamics of perception itself as an element of a sharing experience”.

Originally intended as a sound-field for exhibitions by visual artist Luisa Tomasetig, this piece – which lasts a full hour – was created with an object that existed only for that purpose and today is no more: a “rattle-harp”. Basically, it’s a 145 x 85 drift metal plate, various meters of steel and metal wire with “tintinnabula” attached, plus “accidental” bone and wood. It was played with a “num”, namely the arco of a Mongolian instrument called “morin xuur”. Everything you just read testifies about the type of person Toniutti is: looking for the core essence of the matter and for the actual meaning of a gesture, certainly not content with the first plaything found around. Quite a difference with certain alleged experts of installations, not to mention those who buy expensive toys to pollute silence with records exclusively justified by the money used to release them.

The concrete upshot of the recordings (which were completed between 2001 and 2002) is a gorgeous work that has nothing to envy to the bona fide masters of the genre – say, a Jonathan Coleclough. The organic quality of the soundscape – essentially, a series of deeply resounding bowed drones with click-and-clatter protuberances in the background – requires total openness in its effectively overpowering low-frequency radiation. At the same time this music asks for repetitive reproduction, unafraid to reveal a raw magnetism to anyone able to identify a soul in the place where humongous rumble and ruthless growl rule.


Saturday, 10 July 2010


Despite the obligatory credit to Fabra and Håfström – active participants in the installations of which this music constitutes the sonic component – the sounds in Graf Spee were entirely generated by Carl Michael Von Hausswolff, a bona fide master of the subliminal action of frequencies on the brain. The sources are unspecified – sine waves, presumably – but the authority that these permanent wavering pitches establish on the listener’s will is inescapable and, ultimately, desirable, as one literally becomes addicted to this type of nerve-kneading feeling. For the umpteenth time, though, I wonder why we can’t have a chance of listening to this sort of material via CD. If these propagations were conceived for a walking space, the necessity of flipping a vinyl (also existing in a 50-copy “art” edition with a pictorial insert signed by the artists) tears the mesmerizing enchantment to pieces.

The first part is the most “minimalist”, if you forgive the expression. An incessant throb that mutates according to the volume level and the position you’re in (needless to say: no headphones) is interspersed by an indeterminate “something” that I couldn’t manage to decipher, a fragment of a church choir maybe, or just an electronic invention (in that case, all the more flabbergasting for this reviewer) appearing in a mist and emitting a short enigmatic figuration, a question mark of sorts in a brainwashed gaze. The oscillations perceived when playing this segment loud are extraordinary, almost hurting the rear of the head in selected circumstances. At moderate levels, the effect is not too far from Eliane Radigue’s mind-numbing processes. Please consider the latter a mere reference: Von Hausswolff is Von Hausswolff.

Side two is even more mysterious, if possible. A concise hypnotic section is repeated for 12 times, giving a “rhythm” to our attention which is called out, sustained and abandoned in a minute and a half or so, only to be coaxed back by the exact replica of the previous track, until conclusion. The snippet per se is another fulfilling coalition of pulsating tremors, felt in the body and vibrating through the cranium rather than “heard”. Its plausibility is confirmed by the physical acceptance of it as a natural phenomenon acknowledged on a primary manifestation. After a while, we hope that it never stops, as if suddenly threatened of being deprived of an essential element for survival.



Two long-time collaborators reunite to satiate our appetite for unsophisticated depth once more, managing to draw out heart-warming consequences in the 35 minutes of The Earth In Play. In spite of the fact that marine recordings were utilized and that images of water adorn the sleeve, the CD is not drenched in liquid sonorities, actually perceptible only in the first of the two nameless tracks, a five-minute prologue of sorts with Tate complementing the aquatic echoes with the strained oscillation of the processed sounds of an accordion – or squeezebox, as he calls it. Perhaps a souvenir left by his erstwhile neighbour, the late Kathleen Vance, heard playing that instrument on a couple of earlier releases by Yorkshire’s purest artist.

Holloway’s classic bottomless sound is at the forefront in the longest track, obviously the album’s nucleus. It’s a simple yet profound piece, initially orbiting around subterranean whispers (presumably obtained by slowing down the pitches emitted by a wooden flute) that go away and reappear, either reciprocated or balanced by a meagre piano, additional – and slightly dissonant - droning constituents (Tate is also credited with guitar) and infrequent percussive touches: a single hit, a reverberating clang, small gestures that nevertheless weigh a lot in the music’s economy. The effect, as I listen in a torrid July afternoon characterized by the boundless mantra of cicadas and the occasional faraway tolling of the local bell tower, is just wonderful. The positive thoughts and the best intentions we used to have - forgotten for years now - return for a short while, giving the mere illusion of new existential openings as a present.

Quiet World / Fungal

CELER - Dwell In Possibility

There are many titles but no actual subdivisions in the music comprised by the two sides of this LP, whose tracks were recorded by Will and Dani Long at home in 2008. As always, the sounds were obtained via a painstaking work of degeneration and reconfiguration of the timbres coming from normal instruments and machines. However, this time the final result is special as we abandon precincts characterized by worn-out terminologies and genres, approaching instead a condition which is nearer to a singular kind of extrasensory fog than “new ambient”, or whatever name you may want to stick on it.

A slight differentiation exists between the parts. In the first, human remnants seem to be still present: unrecognizably altered voices (perhaps a handful of singers, somewhere), or just traces of someone’s activity appear and perplex, attributing an additional degree of uncertainty to an indescribable combination of factors. Everything revolves around a constant instability of nebulously stifled clusters – occasionally following a synchronization of sorts, elsewhere amassing one over another in indefinite fashion – that get suddenly cut at one point, leaving us quite flummoxed.

The other face of the coin is represented by the relative steadiness informing part of the second side, also defined by the type of vibrational/irrational power (mainly originating from a creatively skilled equalization) which only certain adjacent frequencies can elicit. Sudden increases in the thickness of the sound’s inherent rumble are capable of annihilating the shimmering textures that some of these recordings are endowed with. Ultimately, this mix of situations brings the whole to the same state of sonic ambiguity perceived previously, the amplified influence of the lowest possible susurrus literally clutching the nape of the neck at elevated levels of playback.

In both cases the outcome is impressive, causing a temporary postponement of alternative actions, and the few pops due to the vinyl are not detrimental to a compelling involvement. Dwell In Possibility indisputably belongs among Celer’s paramount releases and its reissue in digital format would be very useful for this writer’s personal needs of infinite-repeat abstraction.

Blackest Rainbow

Sunday, 27 June 2010


Excellent materials on Richard Garet’s recently founded label, enclosed in an abundant hour of sounds suitable for concentration and active listening. i8u's "Rarefaction" consists of a humming drone (enhanced by virtually inaudible acute frequencies) whose corporeality and intensity changes with the passage of time. Think an earth loop/ultrasonic activity kind of palette with deeply booming surrounding pulses, imprinting the membranes quite effectively without shock or surprise. Just a nice and increasingly mesmerizing piece made with intelligence and good taste, splendidly functional in this early summer Sunday afternoon replete with chirping sparrows and chattering wrens around the house. On an entirely different note, Christopher Delaurenti first subjects us to the strident ejections and electrically morphing ambiences typifying "Sigil", then contributes to the improvement of our aural awareness in the longer "Nictating" via whooshing loops of whispered post-industrialism that repudiate colour in favour of mechanical pulse and grey mist, until a series of slowly declining electronic arcs and a few subterranean murmurs appear, ending the track on a slightly anguishing hue.

The sonic world of Gil Sansón - expressed in the eight movements of "La Montana Se Ha Ido" - is informed by subtly deployed field recordings and concrete matters rendered scarcely recognizable by the studio treatment; while certain chapters may result a little predictable, a couple of suburban soundscapes and the motionless solidity resulting from opportunely processed layers of environmental manifestations make sure that a degree of respectable acoustic artistry is maintained. Brian Mackern and Gabriel Galli close the show with a composition - "34s56w/Temporal De Santa Rosa" - containing Morse code messages, complex resonances and various kinds of unfathomable intrusion. Alarming atmospheres take shape from a rather static ground, the ensuing music more or less on the level of the best heard on the CD, enriched by a puzzling finale characterized by a vaguely familiar alien melody, transposed to progressively lower registers amidst incessant crackles and discharges.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

HAPTIC - Trebuchet

The operational area for Haptic – Steven Hess, Adam Sonderberg and Joseph Clayton Mills - is that of mesmeric elusiveness informed by a measure of physicality, causing a feel of anticipation for an event that might materially occur, but we'll never be able to realistically justify. There's no credible method to describe the acoustic phenomena that the trio engenders, if not by trusting adjectives that by now sound stereotyped, when not plain worn out: organic, tactile, laminal, throbbing. All hopeless attempts to seize what’s uncatchable.

Quite often, this sagaciously deployed mix of treated field recordings and unspecified instruments contains sounds that are more similar to the amplified version of certain indiscernible frequencies emitted by the insides of our ear than to the different external examples that one could muster. The layered clusters of harmonics - equally effective in an enticing segment like the introductive “Counterpoise” and in the development of the cryptic scenarios heard in “Three” - enrich sonic topographies mainly expressed through a low-definition mantric inertia, finding a reference point (admittedly vague) in artistic realities such as Andrew Chalk and Christoph Heemann's late Mirror. On the other hand, the third and longest chapter “Four” is constructed with mildly interfering matters, actual essences (am I hearing concealed firecrackers and bell towers in there, together with the helicopters?) and granular crunch submerged by subsonic tremors, at times calling to mind environments rendered well-known by Asher. Haptic do possess their own nature, though, which is beautiful to ascertain upon repeated spins.

Ultimately, the quality of Trebuchet is directly proportional to its capacity of "freezing" the listener and, along the process, making the brain work in a subliminal way. The awesome muted hums appear as a memento of the decaying aspects of intellect, finely contrasted by the purity of the screaming children appearing in the disc's very last seconds, as to represent the new beginning of a cycle that once was believed to be endless and instead is about to be broken by something ineluctable.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

MATHIEU RUHLMANN – Gravity Controls Our Myths

A fascinating title introduces the latest outing by Canadian Mathieu Ruhlmann, who’s been active for many years in the sonic fields where fading memories, concrete elements and awareness of the impossibility of changing a life’s destiny meet, often with deeply affecting results. This is an ideal case in point, an impressive work where everything is more or less recognizable but we can’t really put a finger on what’s being listened to. Gravity Controls Our Myths diffused its fumes incessantly this afternoon: unobvious messages directed to the archive of consciousness that keeps discoloured postcards of mournful reminiscences inside, ready to be taken out as a certain scent or a particular reverberation emerge.

This music is like a sizeable rock held in the hands of a kid standing in front of a deep sea. You keep observing it under the sun and it’s a familiar enough object, then – once thrown down in the water – the contour gradually loses definition, rapidly becoming an unevenly blurred vision. The same happens with the sequences of images that Ruhlmann presents: they may be starting from the most normal activity – sounds that you’re sure of knowing, yet still don’t attempt to describe in fear of a poor figure. Human and animal components are definitely predominant - even the sighs emitted by an infant inserted amidst nocturnal faunas and all kinds of manual tampering, environmental and urban echoes and domestic banality functioning as magic powder for foggy evocations (“On The Fabric You Shine, Latern”, “Nest”).

Simple fragments of melody played on a slightly detuned piano are accompanied by a sort of indistinct chorale in “The Sea Of The Spirit”, among the album’s absolute tops, also shaped by additional natural materiality and distantly echoing drones that come and go from the mix. Such a kind of piece is what convinces me that this is one of the finest statements released by this composer, a reminder of individual vulnerability if we ever needed another. It surely deserves a responsive audience, comprising those who can appreciate the value of an open wound.

Semper Florens

Monday, 31 May 2010


The dedicatees of this pair of gorgeous soundscapes by Richard Chartier are, respectively, Steve Roden and William Basinski. Regarding the latter, the magnificently scary ebb and flow of the indeterminate cavernous resonance characterizing “A Desk For Mixing” is defined by its originator as “the starting point for the collaborative work Untitled 3” between the two. It is an awe-inspiring, utterly splendid track, simplicity and profoundness fused in thought-stopping suspension.

On the contrary, the 47-minute “Fields From Recording 1-8” – the title a gentle irony on the origin of the piece, whose source are processed location echoes born during travels across several continents – is one of those episodes causing us to put a question mark of sorts on Chartier’s deserved reputation as a man working at the margins of audible. In fact, it is not the first time in which this writer experiments with seriously increased volume while listening to his creations, thus enjoying an outcome that is probably at the opposite end of what the artist had initially envisioned.

By giving the proper attention to the original materials and the method with which the composer deploys them, the musicality of contemporary life is exalted, the listener inclined to forget the crudeness of people’s feelings and the heavy consequence of extreme metropolitan lifestyles. Chartier manages to filter the pessimism out, channelling the resounding features of certain environments into masses of frequencies that result both ethereal and concrete, finding a poetry of sorts in what started as a cold manifestation of hypothetical evolution.

Occasionally the focus is shifted on the animal side. A barking dog appears camouflaged amidst the urban din, whereas magnificent exotic birds make their presence fundamental in a section. Still, we’re not in front of a sheer collection of aural snapshots, which may be more or less successful but essentially means nothing. A Field For Mixing is a specialist stimulation of the emotional response that aware individuals feel when confronted with the altered order of familiar factors.


Sunday, 30 May 2010

AIDAN BAKER - Blue Figures

I have been trying to unearth functional words to portray the sensations that Aidan Baker’s music elicits for over a decade now, but conveying the right metaphors every time has gradually become unfeasible. Suffice to say that - even in the theoretically more “normal” records - there are always places in which everything connects, another step to transcendence the ultimate outcome. This afternoon it happened at the beginning of the third track of this CD – “Untitled Drone” – which is shaped by a permanent, apparently interminable elongation of neighbouring loops engendering a soft contrast of malleable hums that, in turn, determined a condition of utter numbness – a mental void, as they call it - in yours truly. The birds were singing marvellously and the wind was blowing gently, making the branches of the surrounding trees waver. That everlasting sound tied my soul to the most heartbreaking quintessence of a personal universe that might be about to end, at least on its earthly shape.

Thanks to certain types of vibration, though, a man can state of having had the good luck of comprehending that the worst moments of life are still worthy of being savoured. This record – which, for mere historical data, was recorded live in Berlin and Prague in 2009 – is just an additional chance that a musician gifted with a deeper level of perception gives to someone prepared to experience the kind of inside tremor that inevitably leads to the recognition of our absolute ignorance. Once that move is made, the meaning of the word “harmony” is definitely clearer, and a new day begins without the obligation of listening to people talking, because you know where you’re going and, above all, what you need. And that, for sure, is not coming from a human entity.

Basses Frequences

Saturday, 22 May 2010

JIM HAYNES - Sever + Severed

Jim Haynes is not an overly prolific record releaser, so when he decides that his material is ready for publication it must mean something. Thanks to Sever we’re the fortunate receivers of a splendid drone-based album (a reductive definition, in fact), but also witnesses of the definitive authentication of a style that has by now become instantly identifiable. The four movements include all the acoustic gifts that we’ve come to expect from this artist. Crackling, rustling, various kinds of concrete tampering, interference, pulse, competent looping, stretched distortion in turn becoming a tantalizing undercurrent highlighting a multitude of indecipherable additional activities. The whole sounds entirely human, yet somewhat alien.

What makes everything work in these consistently engaging amalgamations is Haynes’ ability of blending ingredients into a unique harmonic richness, which is compatible with the receptive listener’s system in utterly unexplainable fashion. Even the most hypothetically disconcerting emissions have a reason to be exactly there where one finds them and not only exist, but influence the addressees. When a scene is suddenly interrupted there’s no time for remaining deluded because, almost immediately, a new factor of psychological gratification intervenes to raise the level of alertness – until you get numb again, surrounded by the customary mantle of sympathetic frequencies. It goes on and on, comfortingly familiar echoes and ominous signals succeeding without exhaustion. It’s magnificent stuff, enriched – in the limited edition reviewed here – by another CD (Severed) whose 17 minutes let us savour some of the original sources with which the composer prepared a new painstaking attempt to dissociate our very selves from the junctures of a cheap reality, once more rewardingly.


Thursday, 20 May 2010


For this session, materialized in 2007, Polwechsel comprised two percussionists (Burkhard Beins, Martin Brandlmayr), a saxophonist (John Butcher), strings (Werner Dafeldecker on double bass, Michael Moser on cello) and the hypothetically pivotal figure of John Tilbury, who results instead entirely incorporated in the collective’s sound taken as a whole; his personal incidence is, at times, far from conspicuous if ever valuable.

Immediately after the elapsing of the initial seconds of Michael Moser’s “Place / Replace / Represent”, the first in a brace of extensive pieces, we illusorily believe ourselves to be the ultimate addressees of an essential acoustic report. The music, brilliantly recorded by Martin Leitner and Wolfgang Musil, is in fact executed with undiluted severity bordering on the maniacal, the players focusing on distinct gestures like if they were their last acts on earth, the fastidious care with which every strained note reveals primary harmonics and composite overtones at the basis of a growing sense of inside involvement that places the listener’s seat amidst the performing musicians almost factually. It is not implausible, indeed, to perceive the tiniest human component while attempting to decode the messages; the soft whistle of the air exhaled from someone’s nose is clearly identified in a couple of stiller segments, which makes one imagine tight-lipped absorption and shut eyes in pursuit of a barefooted kind of rightness. In the midst of unmitigated tones, coarse scrapes and impulsive droning clusters, an amazing shade appears for only a few precious instants: it’s a “resonance piano”, namely – in Nina Polaschegg’s words – “a recording of single piano chords played via speakers into the strings of a second grand piano”. A hauntingly gripping presence, whose elusiveness seems to signify an insinuation of declining memory, its sonic worth a critical constituent of this stunning work.

Dafeldecker’s title track is both a direct response to the nearly religious atmosphere of the previous piece and a study on abrupt dynamic shifts, mostly typified by the alternance of straightforward motions in semi-silent environments (in turn characterized by a deeper attention towards the noisy features of the instruments, which get amplified and made resonate for long) and huge clouds of abrasive materials, impressively - and unwillingly - recalling David Jackman’s massively rasping snarls at one point, circa five minutes in. In between, various kinds of oscillations, gliding squeals on metal, a meticulous pondering on the placement of the residual events. Each signal is carefully considered, reciprocal nods useful for the artists’ preparation to the next flood of grittiness. Distinctive voices are in truth discernible – listen, for example, to how Butcher manages to let us hear the sax chirruping acutely, when differentiating cumulative notes and sheer clamour becomes more problematic.

And yet, whatever individual accent a pair of specialist ears might recognize, what lingers on following several days of deep scrutiny of this album is the impression of a communal levitation that, as it often happens, finds its origin in the inhospitable land where the importance of “surpassed” concepts such as timbre, pitch and harmony is secondary, and all that's heard is rendered authoritative by an edifying lack of pretension.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

DIS.PLAYCE – Habitat

This CD contains 38 minutes extracted from the soundtracks of two cityscape installations: “Ian W.Coel” (Frankfurt) and “Karl Ortmann” (Karlsruhe). I usually approach this kind of record with extreme suspicion, as we’re by now grown used to – and pretty much worn out by – people utilizing field recordings with the purpose of not having a purpose. Take the sounds, place them on record, release it and go on to the next “project”. But Dis.Playce (Maximilian Marcoll and Hannes Seidl) added something that feeds our motivation: composition. The selections comprised by Habitat – whose dedications and intents are explained in detail in the inside leaflet - are interesting in a way that is proportional to the intelligence shown by the assemblers in the logical disposition and crafty merging of the single elements. Although it is a fascinating listen when you raise the playback level, feeling completely encircled by the urban manifestations characterizing both pieces, only through a headset one is able to determine the true value of the compositional endeavor, becoming aware of the many subtleties that the seaming of the different segments reveal. In synthesis, the sonic report functions even when separated by its original raison d’être.

I couldn’t understand if the mesmeric qualities of some of the parts derive from additional processing of the sources, or it’s just a mastery in looping the constituents in such a fashion that the cyclical imageries start generating a slight harmonious aura of their own. But the secret allure of this work lies exactly there, in that – more than sheer environmental gradations – we have the impression of hearing actual music. Entrancingly affecting our psyche, the soundscapes influence the circumstantial reality without the need of recurring to violent impacts (except for a short anarchic section in “Karl Ortmann”) or excessive schizophrenia. All it takes is concentration and wide-open ears, and the reward will soon materialize. Natural or metropolitan, the spirit of these echoes doesn’t matter; what really counts is the gratification that arises from the act of listening. A rare accomplishment in the rapidly expanding universe of self-professing “sound artists”.

Creative Sources

Monday, 3 May 2010

BJ NILSEN – The Invisible City

A distinguished accumulator of field recordings and correlated studio treatments, BJ Nilsen creates music that fluctuates between ephemeral and material, not failing to maintain a vision of the world’s real traits that, in his soundscapes, never cease to elicit interest. The Invisible City – announced by Jon Wozencroft’s routinely impressive photographic cover artwork – is definitely one of the best exemplars of Nilsen’s sound art, a record that could be filed in different departments of a hypothetical archive without erring. Naturally, drones form the basis of most everything. Halfway through crudeness and mortality - touches of more typical instrumental timbres like Hammond organ and guitars wrapped by a veil of strange frequencies, altered animal emanations and processed fumes – this work hardly reveals its fairly indecipherable facets in settings that might be deemed as “static” only by extremely superficial ears.

The majority of the tracks seem to signify an ascension of sorts, from a near-degradation level towards a high pinnacle that, inexorably, remains just conceivable but is not actually reached. We wait for something serious to happen – an explosion of violence, a shaking of our confidence, a breaking of fossilized convictions – yet are left with a mere potential, the intuition of a bigger (and somewhat ominous) impending occurrence. This excludes any tendency to ambient innocuousness: the way in which the sonic events unfold, revealing luminous interstices amidst a general sense of bleakness, furnishes the listener’s mind with the idea of a scrupulous procedure whose results are evidently magnificent and, at worst, perplexingly attractive.

If a slight disapproval, so to speak, exists then it must be directed to the composer’s will of listing, in each piece, every single source from which the action derives. Sometimes it is better to leave judgments and (mostly) errors to the mind's eye, capable of making apparently unrelated elements combine marvelously in a private merging of textural features and implied meanings. Ingested as such, this release offers lots of captivating perceptions to investigate, substantial gratification coming either from sheer contemplation or relatively uneasy involvement.


Thursday, 22 April 2010


Once again, the inexpressible sense of potency received as a gift from Daniel Menche’s experiments affirms its dominance, this time in a 39-minute piece based on recordings of waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest, processed and enhanced in the studio with some measure of electronics.

The compositional configuration in Kataract follows an arc of sorts, an itinerary defined by ominous, devastating and, at the end of the day, spellbinding tones. The initial pulse is accompanied by an intimidating kind of reverberation, akin to the animal perception of an earthquake that’s about to become manifest. It doesn’t take too much for the massive wall of noise to come out and destroy as the liquid sources are corrupted and re-sequenced, thus giving life to varying degrees of dynamic shift and shape modification. We hear feedback, synthetic waves, heavy percussion, powerful wind, aircrafts, even screaming – but, as always, it’s all a figment of our imagination.

What we get for real instead is the quintessence of a positive brutality generated by natural phenomena. The mastery in Menche’s craft transforms this simple yet critical element in a means for entering a state of transcendence typical of his finest creations; so remotely distant from the discounted amassments and alterations recorded on CDR by a gazillion of wannabes. He collects sonic essences by exploiting the intensification and the inside structures of an environmental occurrence, letting the beneficiaries understand the parameters and the regulations that, ultimately, are innate in every type of chaos.

When the incessant ferocity is finally placated and the music directs towards an adequate conclusion (strangely enough, with a sound that recalls an amplified flow gurgling down a drain underlined by impressive subsonics), one feels like having been invulnerable throughout. On the contrary, a superior force just overwhelmed us. This artist is an unsurpassed extractor of harmonic significance from wholesome violence, and we’ve been shouting this for almost 20 years now.

Editions Mego

Thursday, 15 April 2010


Two synonyms associated to Rothkamm's name considered as an adjective – frank – are “open” and “transparent”; that’s exactly what the tracks shaping this record feel like. Thanks to a set of algorithms and computers put in motion without secondary human intervention, we benefit from a valuable therapy consisting of uncomplicated – minimal, you may say - electronic designs that, at the same time, are austerely efficient and, in a couple of examples, plainly stunning.

“Gui” utilizes a modified sliding guitar sample as a hooking “theme” in such a tantalizing fashion that Wim Wenders might wish to grab it for the second edition of Paris, Texas; “OOO” makes us wonder instead if a reiteration of overlaid choir scraps is indeed the sound that will be heard after our vanishing. Perhaps the main aspect to be chewed over is the music's overall tendency to reveal facets that are both positively “present-day” and hinting to the past. More than “ambient”, in fact, one tends to think about certain episodes as some sort of slowed-down development of constructions grown from selected branches of the German cosmic era. The impeccable linearity and the untainted geometry of these structures are definitely relatable to that area of exploration.

This notwithstanding, a clear reference to the typically uncompromising traits of Rothkamm's work is also detectable. Creativity that doesn't need excess to affirm its value, only the sureness and the deep conviction that an idea, or even a single fragment, is sufficient for the instigation of an important artistic signal if that lone element is given the proper light and angles. There lie the rewarding aspects of Alt, sounds that enhance the positive features perceived by the mind during a listening session, stimulating a dynamic response that goes well beyond the mere “I appreciate it/I don't” feedback.


Saturday, 10 April 2010

PETER WRIGHT – An Angel Fell Where The Kestrels Hover

For starters, can anybody find a better title? Difficult, I’d say. Peter Wright tickles once again the drowsy end of consciousness, for the occasion excluding barbed-wire distortion to cuddle the responsive audience with his trademark protracted reverberations, jangling overlays (courtesy of those celebrated 12 strings) and, in general, overstretched hallucinations. This music constantly hides – good or bad things, it doesn’t matter – thus forcing that moment’s mental position to shift. We decide that something must be done, because what’s currently happening is not leading us anywhere.

So, following a short gentle intro (“Fell Asleep Here”), you let the entrancement of “Sunstroke” take command and starts daydreaming about some sort of impalpable truth that might be expecting behind the corner, a place where everything works as planned and you’re not supposed to struggle for what should be due – "rights", they used to call them. In “Lavender Buzz” blackbirds sing, insects do what the track’s name says and there’s seemingly nothing else to care for, regardless of the urban souvenirs utilized by Wright, a memento of the inevitability of a confrontation with the actual world. “River Lea Time Lapse” introduces the serious droning, the kind of inward-looking humming of frequencies that resemble a low-key choir, gently embraced by additional parts imbued in tremolo and echo. Wonderful piece: a deadpan facade that nevertheless shines, its composed charm utterly splendid.

“London Is Drowning…” is slightly more anguishing, offering a mournful stasis as the soil in which the roots of an implicit pessimism are nourished by looping liquids and vague remembrances of a ringing timbre. The castle of resonance generated by this superimposition of sorrow and luminescence features a magnificent room of mirrors: feeling entirely misplaced becomes really easy, yet painlessness affirms itself after the initial melancholy. “…And I Live By The River” – an extension of the previous track (and a reference to Clash?) – sees the currents flow into a different, but still motionless tonality, the unmistakable gradations of recollection an inestimable aid in the battle against the inexplicability of certain internal commotions. “Kestrels” ends the movie in style, puncturing the heart with glowing beams and moaning lows, sealing the experience with a stamp of uncertainty characterized by a moderate conflict between the upper partials.

Despite the endless repeats and the unremitting analysis people may want to subject it to, An Angel Fell Where The Kestrels Hover is a rather unexplainable work, a statement open to thousands of diverse interpretations, mostly based on individual acuity. The generative methods and the inherent moods that brought to the creation of this umpteenth resplendent record are discussed by the composer on this interview with yours truly. Anyhow, words ring hollow when the sound is this profound, and this solitary man from New Zealand is definitely among the deepest artists around today.


Thursday, 8 April 2010

DRAPE – Dream Words

Ryan Gracey and Spencer Williams are Drape. Their work – as easily deduced from titles like “Cosmic Juices” and “Thin Air” – deals with slowed-down breathing, ethereal matters, blurred colours. In a word, what was once called “space music”. And, of course, it is mostly based on synthetic waves, celestial samples, repetitive ebb and flow and – needless to say - drones, pushing the sonority to occasionally well-affirmed consonance (“Goldenmouth”) and, in the finest examples, wrapping it with a blanket of unplumbed secrecy (“The Pillar And The Post”). So you’d expect your purple prose peddler to launch his customary tirade against the overpopulation of this sector of electronica. Not this time, no.

There’s something – and I still have to understand what exactly is – that makes me appreciate this record quite a bit. It is indeed a very serene release, well structured designs succeeding without anxiety, each detail in its correct place; and, for good measure, a degree of legitimate authenticity is perceived. Hints to pages from the Eno book, and also from the golden era of people such as Robert Rich and Steve Roach are not missing, yet you can almost touch the concentration and the genuine dedication with which Gracey and Williams painted the hues and chose the combinations in the studio. One detects the hours of labour behind Dream Words and – either you like the final result or not, and this writer does value the effort for the large part – this is already a valid reason for respecting the men who created it. Which, given the unproblematic access to this zone for practically everybody, equals a praiseworthy achievement. Honesty and acceptation of one’s limits will always be more precious than bogus saintliness shrouded by supposedly inscrutable, entirely mono-dimensional stasis.

Gears Of Sand

Monday, 5 April 2010

JOHN LUTHER ADAMS – The Place We Began

“…To return to the place we began and know it for the first time…” is both a quote from T.S. Eliot and the root of this enthralling offer by John Luther Adams. A couple of summers ago the composer found a number of boxes full of previously utilized reel-to-reel tapes, dating from the early 70s; he decided then of reassessing the material in order to create “new soundscapes from the fragment of my past”. You may assume a theory similar to that which brought William Basinski to the generation of the majestically regretful Disintegration Loops. Yet this record does not evoke anything analogous, in that these newly generated pieces – though containing echoes recalling something that’s achingly missing – present an alternance of nebulousness and more visible details (such as in “In The Rain”, characterized by partially intelligible field recordings) which, after opportune treatments and instrumental additions in the studio, delineate the music with a completely original morphology. The final results are dyed with the type of tonal paleness that - once connected with an emotional state - elicits dejection and faith at the same moment.

Neither Adams specifies the sources that were used, nor he lists the instruments chosen for their enhancement. All we’re left with is a sonically amorphous plan, its development largely articulated in successive aural sunsets and repeated chiaroscuro junctions achieved via a superior management of the frequency spectrum, making the most of the originator’s ability in fusing heart-piercingly subdued tones and spectacular subsonic activity. This generates an impressive display of different types of pseudo-stasis, in which fundamentally inert dynamics get nourishment from the inside, as it happens with the minor undercurrents that are distinctly felt between the toes even when bathing in the calmest waters. The gradations discerned in the title track and in the initial “In A Room” summon up ghosts of bowed vibraphones and rubbed glass, whereas in the masterpiece “At The Still Point” the speechlessness caused by a fantastic reiterative evanescence juxtaposed with other colours of this misleading palette (possibly including piano, but you’re never sure) compares this chapter’s inward-looking temperament to the finest pages of perceptive minimalism, the absence of recurring geometries notwithstanding.

A wonderfully understated album by an equally elusive artist, who leaves the essence of sound doing all the speaking. Like in the best dreams, which inevitably fail to materialize.

Cold Blue

Sunday, 4 April 2010

DALE LLOYD – Akasha_For Record

After releasing music by a number of intriguing artists on his own And/OAR imprint, Dale Lloyd comes back as a composer with this limited edition on picture disc, and he does it with a vengeance. Hard as one tries, classifying this work is awfully problematical. Maybe these sounds were born to stimulate the less comforting sensations residing in our head and pierce a deceptive idea of protection through an uninterrupted generation of disbelief. These uncertainties involve both the utilized sources and ourselves, observed in the cosmically irrelevant role of discreditable entities that should remain speechless for ages before even trying to utter a word about what the awareness of a pure phenomenon really means.

In essence, Akasha_For Record is a series of sonic pictures whose incidence on the close environment’s resonance is sinisterly effective, and the equivalent can be told of its psychological consequence. Lloyd focuses on a restricted quantity of constituents to develop soundscapes that amplify the need of personal seclusion. The responsive listeners are going to face perplexing echoes and concrete-yet-mysterious compounds that may sound recognizable for a moment. Still, when they’ll try to detect the exact cause of an illusory fulfillment (or, more properly, of the subsequent distress), regret will be awaiting behind the corner. The nearly indistinguishable features of several of these infected vistas – halfway through metropolitan undertones and Thomas Köner’s exploration of forlornness – materialize for a while; afterwards, they either vanish completely or morph into some sort of ill-fated, unhealthy luminescence. A mere figment of the imagination, symbolizing the unfeasibility of determining what is the specific factor that, at the same juncture, cuddles solitude and scares like an ominously silent threat.

The contriver writes that the vinyl constitutes a primary component in the procedure, accumulating “dust, pops, crackles etcetera over time”. My copy doesn’t seem to cooperate in that sense, except perhaps for the incomparable needle-in-groove low rustle at the beginning and end of each side. But what I’m convinced of is that we are indeed dust, an insignificant graffiti waiting to be sandblasted off the existence's wall by the pressure of unconcern. This splendid album is a perfect reminder of the man’s miserable condition of deluded omadhaun, and an anticipation of the kind of acoustic intuition that will probably be met when, at long last, the process of human failure on this planet has reached its ultimate stage.

Elevator Bath

Friday, 26 March 2010

PAUL BRADLEY / COLIN POTTER – The Simple Plan + Accretion

Abrupt changes in life determine a lot. Subsequent occurrences go well enough, or the chosen course leads to disaster; we’ll never know in advance. But after a page is turned, there’s usually no way back and the truth must be accepted as it is. Both Paul Bradley and Colin Potter recorded this music under the influence of “significant new chapters” in their personal existence, deciding to leave the results of the studio procedures virtually untouched and with just a minimal intervention of the computer, utilized only to record and arrange the sounds.

Reality may indeed change, although when people like Bradley and Potter are involved you instantly identify the consequence in terms of sound. It’s spelled “magnetic drones”. In this field the pair belongs to the upper echelon, regardless of the instruments used (in this occasion, synthesizers and guitars processed by “a selection of new and classic pedals”). The Simple Plan constitutes the original root, five tracks whose mood – always confined within the borders of virtual stillness – ranges from extremely harmonious to reasonably contaminated, in either case filling the environment with a blend of resonant vibration and mild unease. The 135-copy special edition reviewed here, now sold out, comprises a bonus disc – Accretion – containing three beauties born from the reworking of the basic material yet sounding even more intense, to the point that this writer maintains a slight preference for the latter CD (though the sonic essence is exactly the same).

The electronic cloud that cuddles our nerves in everlasting stasis (repeat mode is obviously suggested) symbolizes the ideal practice for forgetting – at least momentarily – about any aching that might be trying to attack your determination in remaining balanced despite eventual negative circumstances. It is also a symbol of the fact that certain things remain unaltered, as one can still count on the earnestness of elected sculptors of hypnosis when all that’s needed is a couple of hours of mental peacefulness. Words aren’t contemplated when the explanations are given by morphing layers of waggling pulses, and this work offers plenty of that.