Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Installment 29 • Experimedia label profile

ASYMMETRICAL HEAD Feeling Sorry For Inanimate Objects



KOEN PARK Everything in Shadow

'Experimental' is an appellation that's been bandied about increasingly to the point where its currency has been somewhat devalued. It's presumably whatever residual caché there might be in this term that Ohio-based label and arts organization, Experimedia, seeks to draw on in choosing to hang this sign above their web-window. Whether or not it has effectively served such a purpose is debatable, it's a term that's always been liable to repel more than it attracts. But the crucial thing here is the capacity 'experimental' has to signal to a particular type of music user something challenging, something that will make demands of this intrepid audio-explorer, but that will ultimately reward, and transform the listener from simple passive consumer of commodified product to something higher. Yes, there is work to be done with the 'Experimental' (we understand), but implied is that the fruits are that much sweeter for those who do the work.

So, to the wares on offer. Experimedia deals in digital and physical publication and promotion of music and visual arts it deems interesting. Its catalogue covers a broad stylistic range taking in ambient, electronica, electro-acoustic, experimental, sound-art, microsound, glitch, avant-garde, and minimalist. It has lately raised its profile, with label curator, Jeremy Bible, putting himself about through various forums and modes, not least of which his own musical project with sidekick, Jason Henry. Ramping up Experimedia's physical release output (most have been digital download), Bible & Henry propose two offerings along with three others: from veteran avant-ophile, Illusion Of Safety, and newer acts, Asymmetrical Head and Koen Park.

Experimedia CDs come with strong visual linkages, those of Bible and Henry tucked into tall, three-panel fold-out packaging with artwork featuring nature forms photographically translated to abstract. This pair of releases evidences these sound artists’ rudeness of musical health. Vector is an affair of gritty atmospheric driftzones, all discreet swathes of granular oceanism washed in mercury. Residing in an interzone between sound art and music, paradigms of indeterminacy and structure contend for dominance at various points. Parallelling the visuals of the artwork, forces of abstraction and dissonance pull conventional musical instrumentation away from melody and consonance. The production style has a corroded and abraded feel, with piano and cello consorting with processed voices and percussive crackle, seeking to register themselves over the dust-blown contours of its frayed canvas. Tracks like “Alska” checks in to Jeck land, scuffed vinyl and loop-base swept by a chill wind from nowhere and steely industrial-strength noise. Metallic mesh fused with static rumble swarms over “Fndt” in a sticky forest ambience. The nightmare quotient of Vector tends to grow as it proceeds, with the queasy “Vctr” ramping up to the discomfiting “Lmp”, the set reaching closure in unquiet quietude.
is broader in its stylistic range, and more approachable overall (less 'experimental'?! You decide...) with a more open sound field, less prone to settling density and noise-mongering incursions. The eponymous tracks bookending the set are relatively serene driftscapes, largely composed of horn-like smears of tonal figure stretched across ambiguous evacuated ground edged with rustling and fibrillating field matter. For reference points, look no further than the lately quiescent Paul Schütze, notably on the apocalyptic nightscape that is “Dstromsh”, all time-stretched sound-spectres, an ill trumpet wind (more Kondo than Hassell) blowing through it. Elsewhere are the crepuscular expanses of “Yetisltk” and “Yetiatk”, “Sphotnblp” toying with tintinnabulations, “Luupn” playing with processed pianistics, and “Cldstrct” creeping with string striations. Overall Shpwrck finds fascinating fusions of crepitating atmospherics, environmental effluvia and unforeseen against-the-grain elements, infused with the spirit of early Schaefferian musique concrète, to articulate an engrossing shadowy imagism.

Next up is a new set from Illusion of Safety, a name long established in the vanguard of experimental post-industrial soundscaping. Dan Burke has been active across three decades - albeit far less lately, with a score of CDs on fierce labels like Die Stadt and Staalplaat under his belt. The Need to Now, a punning paranoid title alluding to the machinations of the military and intelligence services, provides for a new generation to encounter IOS's dystopian collaging, corrosive archaeologies, and nervous atmospherics. Burke’s late-period work, wrought from electronics, laptop and contact-miked hand-held objects along with samplings of radio, TV and vinyl, has a less spattered audio-canvas. It's more liable to interleave its tight-wound viscous ambiences with suspenseful lacunae. There are still the same up-close field recordings and obscure objects of acousmatic desire, and IOS continues to indulge his proclivity for sudden transitions, from fearful din to brooding near-beauty. Bricolages of distended voices, samples, rhythms and altered instrumentation predominate. The quietude of “Lost” is wracked by low-level swirls of whistling tones, crepuscular ambiance, and faux-naif melodic delicacies in surreal juxtaposition with the prevailing toxicity. “A Purpose” crawls through a gloopy femme-vox morass, infested with all manner of clicks, cuts, whirrs, whorls, and wooze, and synth irruptions. And “About When” takes a wrong turn into a lounge jazz cocktail nightmare, as writhing concoctions slip-slide into passages of distorted music-band and plinkety piano playing. Overall Burke summons an unholy gathering of discreet charm, malignant metal and fizzing field tones in unheimlich manoeuvres, fermenting immersive tracts of perturbance and unease. Recommended for lovers of immersion in perturbance.

Asymmetrical Head is Orlando FL-based William Rosario, who flies under multivariate colours, covering bases from post-industrial machine-funk, EBM and electro influences on the one hand to 90s Ambient and IDM stylings, with a smattering of broken beats, hip-hop method, even a dub(step) nod. Though traces of the founding fathers of these musical states, the likes of Kraftwerk and Public Enemy indirectly, Aphex Twin, Autechre, The Orb, and FSOL more directly, are detectable, Feeling Sorry For Inanimate Objects is very much sui generis. It's an intriguing collection that, no sooner you may think you have it pinned down, veers off down new avenues, seeking other folds and fusions. The familiar refuses to be tagged lest it risk breeding contempt, seeking a shack-up with something alien for exotic trans-fusions. So while “White Elephant” lets loose guitar funk and synth-squelch on a spidery rhythm base to make neo-tribal retro-futurist electro- (it has to be heard!), “Pig Lizard” entertains a close encounter of the queasy kind with an unsettled ambient descended from some of SAW II’s more ambiguous elevator-scapes. “Abandoned Bike”, on the other hand, channels distant techno signals through the old industrial blender. The long-form finale, “Beartrap in the Ocean?”, goes back through just about every styling in the electronicists’ style guide, letting itself be eaten for a moment by a glitch-fuelled noise-demon, before surprising with song-lines, keyboard warmth, squirrely acidisms, even string and woodwind interpolations. Quite a trip in this particular Experimedia ship.

Finally in this round-up there's Koen Park, known to his Mum (whose garage in South London apparently provides a base for part of his split-site operations) as Ian Hawgood. Dividing his time between here and a small flat in Tokyo, he peddles a lo-fi electro-hip-hop-pop-folk-shoegaze hybrid goes... vintage keyboards, circuit bent casios, drums, piano, field recordings, melodica, harmonium, glockenspiels, samplers, drum machines, live drums, field recordings, effects pedals, tape recorders, and computers. Sixteen tracks, many of them sub-minute cameos, come clustered in an hour of Everything in Shadow. From the outset “An Urban Rose” sets a pleasant downtempo tone that speaks of BoC couched in the language of lo-fi bedroom chill. Mention of BoC is not idle here, for Koen Park deals in that same vocabulary of hazy wistfulness, of children’s chatter and off-stage patter, warbly-spangly analogue keys, also with the groovy beats, ja. On “Your Broadcast” a certain remote melancholia plays about the edges, offset by Ninja Tune-type funky drummer loops, an oft-present element providing a sometime needed bounce or ballast. Two more lengthy pieces conclude the set. “I Fall Into You” and “Wake Me, It's Time To Sleep” are more consciously reflective, especially the latter. The former retains the serene synth motifs, letting them disport themselves among babble and broken-beat, bird calls and insects, and mellifluous guitar motifs. The latter is more experimental soundscaping than the backwoods neo-chill of the early part of the album, yielding to guitar atmospherics somewhere between étude and simple exploratory plucking, rustles and whooshing fragments sweeping and panning across the soundfield in a sea of viscous flotsam. The bedroom poetry of Everything in Shadow comes from an attractively nostalgic stable, carefully crafted with a deliberate insouciance, and imbued with a lively fertile spirit which wins Hawgood some latitude for some less substantial material along the way. • ALAN LOCKETT

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Installment 28 • Symbolic Interaction label profile

ANXIO GREEN Autumn Honey
RUDI ARAPAHOE Echoes From One To Another

DIF:USE Mandrake



IZUMI MISAWA Speaking behind the Raindrops

DAVID NEWLYN Relatively Down


THE RETAIL SECTORS The Starlight Silent Night

VARIOUS ARTISTS The Silence was Warm

VARIOUS ARTISTS The Silence was Warm vol.2



ZEBRA The Black & White Album

Symbolic Interaction is a recently established label operating out of Yamanashi, Japan, founded by Kentaro Togawa. Its ambit of ambient, electronica, shading marginally into indie/post-rock territory, declares an affinity with the likes of Type and Miasmah, on the one hand, U-cover, n5md, and fellow Japanese imprint, Plop, on the other. While there's a world between the uber-elegant ethereal cinematics of Rudi Arapahoe and the chugging guitar concatenations of boss Togawa’s The Retail Sectors, the releases under review here suggest a coherent spine around which a fairly diverse roster of artists may spiral, from a closely cloistered 'A' (Anzio Green) to a more free-floating 'Z' (Zebra).

First up, then, is Anzio Green, a project which sees Mark Streatfield (aka Zainetica) and Wil Bolton (aka Cheju) conspire to sell a dummy to those anticipating a beat-slathered set of IDM pop-tronica. Previous form on their own imprints (Rednetic and Boltfish respectively) proves deceptive, as their first collab, Autumn Honey, turns out a quite different tidbit; while not wholly abstaining from rhythmicity, it largely targets reflective atmospherics and nature-inspired soundscapes, the latter partly prompted by track titles referencing skies, mountains and rivers. Streatfield and Bolton use conventional sources – predominantly electronics, keyboards, and guitars - the resulting five pieces hosting gentle cross-currents of guitar and electric pianoid melodic embellishments. Early Arabesque overtones yield to less exotic but still evocative pads layered with melodies traced by guitar lines. Overall AG seek to enshroud themselves in unwonted frequencies, spooling out creative couplings of acoustic-electronic over extended tracks. These tend to configure themselves into swell-relent surge-recede patterns in tonal swathes, here arcing in crystalline timelines, there stretching serpentine to imaginary horizons.

Hybridising compositional strategies come from sound artist Rudi Arapahoe, who choreographs a sequence of elegiac pieces into a refined whole in Echoes From One To Another. Perhaps the most liable of the whole SI roster to be embraced by contemporary home listening electronicists, Arapahoe's opus is the catalogue's most artful and fully developed in conceptualisation and realisation. Essentially a sonically-mediated journey from the moment of death through veiled passageways into the hereafter, EFOtA mixes equal parts Pärt-ian holy minimalism with the ambient and post-classicisms of the Sylvain Chauveau-Max Richter camp and the gentler non-rock end of post-rock (Helios). A discreet distillate of Akira Rabelais’ Spellewauerynsherde suggests itself via the fluttering and floating of hauntological female voices mixing with breathy flutings. An incantatory mise-en-scène develops, a remote hiss and shadowy aura suffusing proceedings with designer mystique, as discreet electronics rub gently against chamber-esque strummings of harp or guitar, or wistful piano wringing heartstrings. The whole falls in with the recent fixation with a sort of nouveau electronic purism, with pianistics and guitarings a la Sakamoto-Noto or Nishimoto (cf. Monologue) to the fore. Still Arapahoe does well to occupy more desolate-delicate territory rather than the doom-ism of recent kindred spirit output from the Type/Miasmah axis of evil. Notice should, however, be served that there are times when the spiritual overtones may waft rather too strongly for those not totally comfy with such edges-of-New Age-flirting aromas, be they howsoever therapeutic.

Dif:use apparently started out as a laptop supergroup, including Don and Roel Funcken (Funckarma, Quench et al.), Cor Bolten (Mecano, Legiac), Hanno Leichtman (Static), and others. Several years on the Dif:use jus is reduced to Don and Roel with Cor member Bolten assisting. The brothers, already familiar to beat-driven IDM/electronica heads under multiple aliases, work it out in largely beat-shunning mode in this incarnation. Sure, Mandrake is dynamic and in forward motion, but distinctly less muscular than their customary strain. Dif:use is definitely the nearest the Funckens have come to an ambient setting, albeit one characterised by their particular hyperactive take on electronic texturalism, weaving spectral voices and strings into a synthetic stew with a myriad of unidentified floating sounding objects. Their dub-infused sensibility manifests in a production in which echo and reverberation abound, the overall hallucinogenic effect recalling previous Sending Orbs work as Legiac. At times the air kicked up by the mass of sounds and effects gets a little stuffy, and would benefit from a lighter more minimal touch, but overall a sophisticated set of digital soundscaping results, with all manner of processed drones and waveforms spooling out, here into Namlook-esque interstellar overdrive there into sci-fi lullaby.

Oakland producer Dustin Craig is behind Headphone Science’s excursion into pretty poptronica, Painted. Fluttering textures swirl amidst a slew of ambient vocal samples on opener “5CM”, with station and airport announcements and engine roar patching into the drifting ennui of nonplace lingering and loss. “Life is a Dream” is a representative specimen, wherein an ultra-pretty keyboard motif resonates from within a teeming mass of machine clatter. Elsewhere Craig tends to put melodic figure too literally at the centre, as in the pianoid post-classicisms of “Makoto and Mai”, appeasing with blithe beats. The whole affair is one of light bites with light beats, in fact. Of the five remixes annexed to the set, Sokif lards glockenspiels over “Life is a Dream,” and in so doing tips the original over into blandishment and tweeness; Electricwest (Patrick Benolkin) does it better, injecting satisfying space and welcome wooze into his ambient hip hop hybridisation of “Spirits at Night”; Fugenn & The White Elephants finds in “Clouded in Treasures” an old-school ambient-techno/IDM workout of bleepy-bloop and banging and “Coil Online” is lost in translation by Broken Haze into a broken beat-cum-deep-chillout affair squiggled all over by pitchshifted piano graffiti. The Retail Sectors (Kentaro Togawa) re-conceives “Makoto & Mai” the only way he knows, completely removing it from its source sketch, and rendering it as a somewhat laboured postrock-meets-indie guitar workout.

Lowriders Deluxe is the work of four gents for whom this is the first collaboration. Mark Streatfield and Joseph Auer, beat-centric electronica-mongers known from other projects and labels (Zainetica, Cyan341, Rednetic, U-Cover) handle the keyboards and rhythms. The two team up here with guitarists Simon Thomas and Clive Burns, each player contributing processed percussion and FX to cook up an IDM-ambient fusion stew. Cocteau Twins, Spaceman 3 and Slowdive are all namechecked as influences, and Future Deluxe certainly has something of their spirit secreted within its folds and rhizomes. A post-Pygmalion paradigm pokes through on “Offworld Colonies” and “Test 4 (Alternative Version)”, while the whole swims in a distillation of the ethereal reverb haze of Robin Guthrie. “Interlude” and “Internal 1” draw upon hip hop-tinged IDM templates more Streatfield’s end of the street, while reminiscent overall of the old-school 'ELM' of Global Communication and Black Dog evidently more Auer's. Much of the album in fact locates itself at the intersection between the two main protagonists’ styles – between deep Detroit and a more shadowy retro-futurism, the air filled with warm Warp winds and AI airs.

Speaking Behind The Raindrops begins ominously with xylophone and toy piano plonking, and a deliberately childlike voice intoning what might be doggerel or something about chocolate (clue: it’s called “Chocolate”). Izumi Misawa threatens to unleash a grisly playroom affair of J-pop lounge whimsy, which gratifyingly fails to fully manifest despite the uber-cutesy cast list of “vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, kalimba, moon-bell, hand cranked music box, kawai-toy piano, Schoenhut toy piano, bass-melodion, MFB, ion, CS-01, voice, kaoss-pad, effect, rooms, toys, many many percussions...” The ill-starred start in fact presages an odd assortment which is nowhere near as twee or queasy as the prologue suggests. Second piece, "Pray For Rain", turns its keyboards away from path of tweeness toward Reichian marimba minimalism, which, along with various chimes and processed effluvia and a discreet lulling beat, conspires to create a far more alluring piece of faux-chill electronica. "Chairs" follows up with further substance, locating emergent patterns of electro-blips within a subtle kick-throb and liquid bass, before coating this in musique concrète curlicues, and Misawa's treated vox to create an avant J-Pop confection akin to a minimalised Bjork in tandem with Tujiko Noriko. The rest is less arresting, but replete with a ferment of abstract electronics, slightly wonky textures, found sound, field recordings. A cornucopia of processed plonkings and tuned tappings in effect. Would appeal to questing lovers of electro-acoustic bedroom-fiddlers, like the 'C's - Cokiyu, Caroline - and maybe a touch of the 'P's too - Psapp, Piana, et al.

Relatively Down sees David Newlyn move away from Boltfish beats (present albeit sparsely on Ancient Lights) towards a more arrhythmic ambience. Short pieces involving processed field recordings providing peripheral resonance to solo guitar (cf. Moteer/Mobeer material) or piano études (cf. Library Tapes, Peter Broderick, et al.). The relatively more developed “Overview” differs in being a stretched out drone work. Newlyn has a way of adding an element of dissonance and quiet drone to transform what would otherwise be simplistic muzak pluck or plonk - details such as backwards fibrillations, a light feedback halo attending a piano part, or discreet treatments to acoustic guitar. The album as a whole is dream-like and pretty but parts of it feel like reprises not only of earlier tracks but of more of the same kind of pleasant parlour formalisms we’ve been getting the last few years from neo-classical inclined recontextualists from Max Richter to Helios/Goldmund. The mid-point "Send Me a Postcard" rather ruptures the dream-feel by going Boltfish, with tip-tap boxy-beats, plinky piano and retro synth wibble. The aforementioned “Overview” provides a return to atmospheric form, though a regrettable return to beaty blandishments a la Album Leaf is made, further disturbing the tone of designer naturalism set in the album's early passages. Ultimately, Relatively Down’s UK provenance and its appearance on a Japanese imprint find congruence in a certain unassuming Haiku-esque ellipsis.

The Retail Sectors’ Subject Unknown features label supremo Kentaro Togawa, who spins out ten axe-mediated pieces of string-driven things, while the likes of Si Begg, Maps and Diagrams, and Headphone Science provide remixes that seek to further extend the tracks’ possibilities. The album reverses the expected sequence by starting out with the remixes, none of which set the tone for the bulk of what is to follow. Tracks like “The Distress” and “The Lonely Shy Boys Fly To Sky Again and Again” are representative of the Retail Sectors house style, lyrical lattice-works of guitar chime and blur earnestly noodled out over a moody monobrow drum and bass bedrock. Subject Unknown is generally more at the contemplative and wistful end of the post-rock spectrum, though a frequent compositional strategy sees the well-modulated guitar tones turned to fuzz-buzz squalls to give the music extra heft. The Starlight Silent Night finds Togawa re-asserting this manifesto of sonic intent, the aforementioned weaving of guitar-pluckery with song-propelling drum machinery sounding much like what would have ensued had Yellow 6 gone over to Morr Music to do a series of instrumental indietronica covers of bands from, say, Explosions In The Sky to Interpol. A veritable orgy of plectronica, of strum’n’bass, of post-rock with a mid-80s style of drum machine thwack, this is evidently an earlier oeuvre, characterised by a certain uncultured and unfettered spirit. Togawa’s whisper-to-a-scream strategy is already much in evidence, with quiet-loud juxtapositions of crystal chord concatenations (“The First Step to Fly Again”, “Finally, People Unconsciously Hope That Their Savior Die”) and uncouth fuzz-blur lacerations (climaxes of “Forlorn Dreamland” and “Song About a Girl Who Killed Herself Yesterday”). Perhaps here Togawa's headstrong naiveté might be seen by some as one of the album's strengths.

Those wishing to sample SI’s wares without full commitment to this or that artist may avail themselves of the facility offered by the two compilations the label has put out in the short period of its operations. Its first full compilation, The Silence Was Warm, shows it to be no slouch in the genre, showcasing several of their key roster men: Library Tapes (a pretty piano etude awash in vinyl crackle), Headphone Science (an elegant piano-based piece), and The Retail Sectors himself (a stately weave of chiming electric guitars and bass with a flame-broiled, drum-based attack escalating to a climactic roar). The set further serves to provide a platform for kindred spirit Japanese-based practitioners in the melodic electronica and ambient post-rock sphere: Tanaka Munechika, Oba Masahiro, and Aus (Yasuhiko Fukuzono), not to mention UK-types from Cactus Island like Maps & Diagrams and Weave.
The Silence Was Warm Volume 2
repeats the eclectic recipe of mellow electronica, neo-classical and post rock stylings, while extending it over two discs. SI rosterites like David Newlyn and Lowriders Deluxe are joined by natural bedfellows - Bitcrush, Ontayso, Yellow6, D_rradio, Cheju, and Quiroga, among other less familiar names - for a double dose. An array of cameos that serve to survey the range of stylings and archaeologies in the field while simultaneously seeking to provide a coherent thesis. CD2 achieves this latter more efficacy than the first, refined electronic pop of a 12k-Plop-Moteer stripe predominating, with the likes of Moskitoo, Aus, Pawn, and Phon-noir proposing well-turned out pieces. The album moves gradually towards more IDM-inflected atmospherica as it progresses, but is still recognisably SI-styled.

As if David Wenngren had not already conceived a sound attenuated, dusty and minimal enough with his Library Tapes project, there's now his Xeltrei, a new venture with a Swedish collaborator named Erica. Litotes is a half-hour set of short pieces that combine piano with atmospherics wrought from field recordings and computer processing. The piano presents with the same sparse blur of decayed resonance as Wenngren self-plagiarises his Library Tapes. Occasional peripheralia – distant train clatter, marine environments, winds, and ghost machinery - add further atmospherics. The air of an archaeology of found fragments or artefacts prevails. The various found sounds and effects enhance atmosphere with a by now familiar anti-veneer of dirtied air and incidental noise scuffery. There’s an air of decay and mortality, and, again, an alignment with a tradition of similarly inclined work – of fragility-flaunting minimalism – and names like Goldmund, Sylvain Chauveau, and Rafael Anton Irisarri. Litotes is in fact a literary trope in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary. Thus one might feel inclined to observe that Xeltrei’s Litotes is an exercise in understatement which lives up to the aforementioned concept as a clever piece of musical forebearance that is nevertheless replete with meaning. Alternatively one might opine, litotically: not bad, not great. You decide.

Yaporigami, an artist characterized as purveying a breakcore-electronica-IDM hybrid, is trailed as dealing in “very sensitive subversive sounds by a Japanese paranoid.” His Saryu Sarva is, truth be told, less distinguished by sensitivity or subversion than duration, with CD2 taking the contours of CD1 of Yap’s origami and delivering them to be refolded into shapes resembling still-vibrant forms of the now-defunct Merck and Defocus roster. Names like Quench, Machinedrum, Jimmy Edgar, and COH illustrate the ambit of coverage. On CD1 Yaporigami generally trafficks in upbeat to blithe to wistful melodics smoothed over an assertive, at times hyperactive, breakbeat base. A notable pattern typically involves the juxtaposition of gentle with ungentle, tracks like “thirteen” and “thirty one” letting music box-like chimings get roughed up by post-junglist assault, while the ambiance of “Nomad” allows its blithe synth-tone coasting to be irrupted onto by bass attack. Elsewhere lie tenebrous micro-symphonics (“HulL”) and sci-fi meditations (“Ars”). CD2 reels out fifteen varying retoolings, some cleaving to Yaporigami's originals (Yee-King, Con Brio), while others recontextualise them with other flavourings: Quench hip-hops “HulL” up, Machinedrum boom-baps “Citroen” down, while Jimmy Edgar surprisingly lets “lie” lie in beatless drift serenity. Elsewhere to be found are dark techno gear (Reteric), more breakcore spatter (Yu Miyahsita), and the odd slo-mo darkside crafting (COH).

Zèbra's The Black & White Album is something of a shaggy dog stray finding a welcome within the SI homestead. According to Roel Meelkop and Frans de Waard (the man who gave you Goem, Kapotte Muziek, and Beequeen, among others), the recording was passed on by any number of potential patrons for being too off-kilter. And in fact much conceptual mischief and general oddity manifests, initially in external dressing, e.g. in scientific graphs with impenetrable textual commentaries, and track durations misrepresenting actual times. The set itself is a collage of techno and disco, noise-mongering, and sampledelic antics, “Dream Music for Diamand Redheads” being representative; it makes a tentative gestural nod towards Romanticist euphony before morphing into a marching slab of upright techno and a looped voice sample. “Last Night A DJ Saves My File” digitally as well as morphologically mangles Indeep’s 80s classic, peppering it with telephone rings and sundry spicy interpolations. In terms of sonic-conceptual forebears, de Waard and Meelkop's exercise in bricolage-styled playroom mischief - self-styled “meltpop” - bears a loop-y stamp that nods clearly towards the spirit of :zoviet*france, while the loony leaps from avant- to electro-/disco to pop remind of the likes of KLF or 808 State, or, in brief orgies of low-end technoid minimalism, nudge towards Pan Sonic. • ALAN LOCKETT

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Installment 27 • Tripping the Cerebellum / An overview of Brainwork

German electronic music of the past 30 or so years seems, at least to most aficionados, divided equally between two camps: post-Berlin school and post-techno. Perhaps this is a hasty, and broadly inaccurate observation, but face it: after Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze (not to mention Kraftwerk, Cluster, and a gaggle of other artists liberated from the confines of krautrock) burned their respective paths, many aspiring synthesists seemed to jettison original concepts for more easily constructed (and less cerebrally taxing) synth/sequencer hoedowns. Then along came techno, and then the very ambiguous “electronica” (slot within that enormous divide other sobriquets such as IDM and electronic listening music and ambient), and suddenly bedroom producers realized that the Teutonic regime didn’t have to mandate every note that emanated from their beloved Rolands. What really happened is that Germanic-based electronic music split off into two rarely overlapping concerns: those who preferred to slum in the TD/Schulze wasteland, and those energized enough by the worldwide electronic music movement to essentially abrogate pre-existing conditions.

Musician Uwe Saher’s career began in the early 90s, right in that murky gray area where what was known as EM crossed paths with the burgeoning post-techno/electronica scenes exploding across Britain and Europe. Like many Germanic technicians of the era, he possessed a modest home studio decked out with many of the obvious tools of the trade (synths of the aforementioned Roland variety, plus Akai, Oberheim, Korg, Yamaha, and numerous effects units), his first forays into composition particularly redolent of its time. A good portion of his back catalog is self-released, and some it issued by Joerg Strawe’s Cue label, all of which realized in the finest DIY tradition. Looking back across Saher’s catalog, now ten discs strong, reveals an artist perfectly aware of what was happening in the day, richly endowed by his Teutonic legacy but well-versed in the happenings occurring on a daily basis around him. The worldwide trance phenomenon was hardly lost on Saher, who inaugurated his Element 4 project just for that purpose, and though not on par with the more richly varied Brainwork material, shows he was just as adept at bringing home barnstorming dance music as his goa compadrés.

Listening now to his 1991 debut Sunrise, 17 years on in a world with a (to say the least) decidedly different musical climate, one might almost think it primitive, naïve even, and in many respects it is. Tracks such as “Dance of Dolphins” and “The Walk” are equal parts Jarre and Vangelis, irising synth sweeps that are often submerged in rapid-fire sequencer pulsations, but even from the outset it’s clear that Saher’s talents, nascent and evolving, were considerable. His gift for composition, and, yes, melody (sometimes a dirty word when discussing most European synth/sequencer artists), is evident and considerable; though all his recordings possess a wealth of arresting sounds, it’s important to understand that he obviously spent enormous time working out the best ways to make his synths sing. On the follow-up, Brainotronic, the entirety of the pieces make use of the “tronic” suffix in their titles (“Bellotronic”, “Funnytronic”, et al), and though somewhat gimmicky, Saher’s gift for play and compositional exuberance is heartily rendered throughout. Mind you, too, that these early records contain short, concise works; crafted during a time when the 20-minute piece was de rigueur in post-TD EM; Saher was practically alone amongst colleagues who never met a motif they didn’t like, or felt could go on for hours. Apparently, pieces like the Robert Schroeder-like “Rockotronic”, with its galloping drumbeats and triumphant synths, and “Discotronic”, which reoriented electro-pop for inheritors of the Teutonic blueprint, suited Saher’s mood just fine; this disc doesn’t remain stationary for nary a moment—brash, juiced-up and fiery, it often out-does Jarre at his own game, with a deeper bottom-end that Jean-Michel could only dream about.

Then along comes 1993’s Back to the Roots, and, sure to its title, all bets are off. We are now back in Dream-land, where the sequencer is king presiding over a phantastical landscape alive with kaleidoscopic electronics splattered vividly like a painter’s hues across an immense, stark white canvas. But, keeping to the credo imbuing his shorter works, Saher simply reapplies that technique to empower and flesh out the pieces here, giving both his ideas and machines the necessary room to breathe and radiate. The opening twelve minute “Singing Seas” again makes ample use of Schroeder-esque drum patterns, while Saher alternates between chords that coo, whistle, and pump up the rhythmic undertow. “Analogic” partakes of some of the more cerebral noises so beloved by TD circa Force Majeure or Tangram, strange spooky sounds that Saher weaves between crystalline arpeggios, burgeoning sequencer, and other shiny, reflective surfaces. The fifteen-minute “Desert Trail” benefits from quite a magnetic sequencer line that, although certainly on this side of Dream-y, percolates through a swirling soundscape just alien and awry enough to transcend simple genre music.

1994’s Rhythm Base is an altogether different kettle of fish. In fact, just four albums in, it’s evident Saher’s got a firm grip on his muse and knows how to massage it to his advantage. The “extra” sixth track is dedicated to The Orb, and, after experiencing this record in its entirety, one can surmise how Saher’s become quite taken with Paterson and co. In fact, Saher not only embraces similar Orbian infatuations with oscillating melodies and electronics that shift like great sonic tidal patterns (such as on “Aquanautic Excursion”), but, like Paterson, he truly gets in touch with his inner Froese here. Forget any charges of derivativeness, either; Saher’s morphed into quite the canny operator at this juncture, erecting a foundation that would only get richer in both tone and execution. But…drink deep of Rhythm Base first; this is the good stuff. “Slow Motion” might move at a languid pace, but the curlicue synths and bubbling sequencer motifs if anything suggest a lazy afternoon moonwalking. Saher revs up the title track with a whole fusillade of congas and shakers, the better of which props up the swelling symphony of chords with some chunky bass and fluttering keyboard stabs, so that right when those beefy snares kick in you realize you’re not in Berlin anymore, Toto. And that final extra track Saher so Orb-dedicated? A brilliant swab of ambient techno beauty it is, too, trancey synths, woozy bass and percussive magmas that also happen to channel Biosphere of the same era, and is every bit as galvanizing as whatever R&S, Rising High or Eye Q were throwing up at the time. One of Saher’s best records.

The following year Saher issued Brainwork V, Melody & Ambience, two hours of music sprawled out over two discs that seemed like both a culmination, mark of intent, and developmental statement all at once. There is an immense amount of music to ingest here, Saher honing his craft along dimensions previously charted (Vangelis’ influence remains keenly felt, as does the aforementioned Jarre, and, of course, the Berlin School grads), but across the records’ breadth Saher continues to push against the constrictions of genre music, in manners reasonably successful by any measure. Stylistic embroidery and rampant eclecticism aside, enough wonderful sounds dance out of the stereofield to satisfy both the jaded and virginal. Disc one, the “Melody” section, does travel in varying moods and architectures: “A Small Movement” and “Memories”, for example, sport fetching, almost catchy percussive tracts amidst their brightly thwacked synth constructs that stop just short of being cloying thanks to Saher’s innate economy of means. “Warm Wind” and “Jamaican Holidays” both dabble a bit in new-agey climates that doesn’t do the rest of the record any favors, a path that Saher will indulge in soon enough; a sense of “melancholy” and personal issues seems to permeate the “Melody” disc for the most part, but Saher’s one for generosity when it comes to spreading the wealth. The second disc, nicked “Ambience”, sets the controls for the heart of the sun, redeeming most everything that’s come before it, Saher letting those Berlin influences erupt in cataclysmic glory. “Sonic Vortices” vibrates and weaves its sequencer filigree in sumptuous, technological delight, Saher’s synths glittering like the light of refracted stars. “Liquid Mind” begins with a subdued electronic thrush that recalls Patrick O’Hearn’s earliest missives, but once Saher brings in the interstellar sound sources that twinkle in the background, there’s no doubt we’re in wide-eyed space music territory for sure, planetarium-poised for quick liftoff. Beautiful.

It was surely only a matter of time before Saher plied his trade in front of an appreciative audience, and that became reality with the unveiling of 1996’s Live & Unreleased, culled from performances given in 1993 and 95. Saher dips into his already respectable back catalog to excavate some chestnuts ripe for the picking, sliding easily back and forth between zippy ambient techno tropes and full-on Berlin School orchestrations. That he can juggle these respective genres so effortlessly demonstrates a grace gained from the expense of getting to know his synths real up close and personal. Aided and abetted by guitarist Gerd Lubos (who also helms the post-TD-inflected Strange Inside) no doubt adds some differing textures and a sharper contour to Saher’s aural fantasies, but by no means is Lubos mere window dressing—if anything, his respectably tasty licks and wailing cries suggest a choice Radio Massacre International set, albeit minus a third hired hand. So what arises is the zesty “Black Seagull”, which imagines what Rupert Hine might have done to Berlinische kosmische had he worked with Froese and Co. instead of The Fixx, Lupos’ expertly slicing his way through Saher’s beatbox bounce and candy-coated synths. “Mindwaves” wraps and whorls its symphonic strings around some more engaging 90s techno rhythms, ear confectionary of the highest order, but the album’s centerpiece is surely the 19 minute live version of “Sonic Vortices”, which finds Saher’s synths in rapid transit, his sequencers the stuff of locomotive dreams, choreographed in stark, repetitive tonalities that fairly ignite the atmosphere.

It was at this point in the mid 90s that Saher seemed to reach a stylistic impasse of sorts in his music. He’d been steadily releasing an album at roughly yearly intervals, clearly a man keen to mark out his time instead of trucking in quickdraw redundancies. His work, to again draw comparisons with Robert Schroeder, began to take on more “personal” qualities that briefly flirted with “new age” connotations. 1997’s Sensual Reflections, much like Schroeder’s Pegasus, is a more casually “elegant” affair, adrift with laissez-faire synths, arrangements buttressed by dew-eyed trip-hop rhythms, and music courting commercial avenues Saher seemed to ignore in years past. It’s his least demanding, and possibly least interesting, recording, but it’s not without its moments: “Dreaming China” uses the kind of Oriental spliffs favored by the era’s most crass Narada artists but survives thanks to Saher’s reliance on synths that skyjump instead of saccharinize. “Thrill Zone” revisits slow trance territory, its punchy bassline and opulent beats a feature in numerous techno dreams of late 90s chillout rooms, but for the most part Saher appears too preoccupied with the clichés already becoming rampant and stillborn at the time, the flavors of which drag most of these compositions through the mud.

In retrospect, Sensual Reflections now indeed feels like the aberration in Saher’s catalog that it appeared to be at the time; later (and most recent) successive recordings bear this out. Back to Future brings back the Berlin School model in all its stripped down glory, except that the artist has apparently discovered the joys of British drum 'n' bass, sending his brash sequencers tumbling amidst a spiky forest of whiplashed snares, upping his BPMs to near frantic levels. The opening “4AM Machines” illustrates this brilliantly, Saher ensnarling a sequencer line of hyperdriven extremes smack dab in the middle of a veritable tornado of chopping synth effects. “Sanddunes” continues the assault on the listener’s imaginarium, though Saher does in fact tone down his propulsion systems to encompass a more immersive sonic landscape; LTJ Bukem this isn’t, but, then again, Saher doesn’t pretend to be, as he’s just as comfortable ekeing out his own singular voice amongst the d & b glitterati. Infectious, to coin a descriptor, lively in execution and engaging as all get out. 2006’s Soundclouds then does a literal about-face, trading beat-jiggery for the more familiar realms of abject space. It is of course the space environs long explored by numerous Germanic astronauts previously, but over the years Saher’s hardly lost his way with a sequenced phrase—such exalted moments arise here pretty much constantly. “Rainpearls” gusts across barren plains, riding currents of prismatic bursts of percussion, at turns majestic and enigmatic. Saher is back to unspooling his creations across double-digit lengths, and the results are fairly remarkable. “Silverlake” could easily be a lost Schulze piece from the 70s, except that Saher’s whooshing Moogs and bedazzled choruses sound utterly contemporary—no mean feat. The 15 minute “Sky Trains” is the highlight, though, vaporous squalls emerging out of a black sky to do battle with coarse synths spitting metal and beats industrialized out of silicone jelly, the kind of piece the Front Line Assembly chaps wished they could concoct out of Delerium if only they weren’t so myopic. Saher’s course of action, all pomp and circumstance, trumps such notions, in spades.

Which brings us to the present, and Saher’s most recent outing, the 2008-released Ten, so-christened as an anniversary release for the artist in addition to his, well, tenth Brainwork document. Saher makes no bones about this being an unabashed Berlin School “homage”, which it most gloriously is. The man obviously delights and remains transfixed with the art of old-school analog synthesis, where the tactile twisting of knobs and flicking of relays made such hands-on necessities the prime component of much classic synth music from the pre-digital eon. As such, Ten not only feels like a summation to some degree, it reaffirms Saher’s uncontested command of his studio, its tools, and those beloved, crusty, molten metal sounds. “Traffic” churns and burns, its sputtering sequencers infused by the power of a thousand transformers. “Atlantica” erupts out of the stereofield like a supernova, Saher squeezing what little air is left out of his patchcords, his electronics atomizing the studio. “Pacifica”, all 21 minutes of it, is so enthralling in its beautifully etched simplicity—a low-strung rhythmic figure moving up and down the scale, enshrouded in glowing LED readouts and the luster of distant synth starshine—it should read as a template for any young upstart completely unaware of what to do with his newly acquired modulars. Across a still-evolving palette of recordings, it’s evident Saher’s in firm control of his inner dualities; all Brainwork and much play ensures Uwe’ll never be a dull boy. DARREN

Friday, December 19, 2008

Installment 26

BLUETECH Phoenix Rising (Somnia)
HIBERNATION Some Things Never Change (Aleph Zero)
MAGGOTAPPLEWONDERLAND Shards of Subtle Being (Bitetheapple)
MARK MAHONEY / M. PECK Starfest 2007 (Mahoney & Peck)
MOON WIRING CLUB Shoes Off and Chairs Away (Gecophonic)
MOTIONFIELD Optical Flow (Somnia)
ROEDELIUS Back Soon (Barking Green)
VATAFF PROJECT Kalitz (Aleph Zero)

Attempting to chart the history of the Dwight Ashley/Hans-Joachim Roedelius/Tim Story triad would easily fill a chapter in any encyclopedia electronica, so it’s sufficient to say that between the three of them they make one helluva brave noise. Ashley and Story already have a number of excellent collaborations between them, including the minor classic A Desperate Serenity on the defunct Multimood label (well worth seeking out); Story and Roedelius have recorded together as Lunz, with two worthwhile discs to their credit. Now the three are an item, their debut Errata credited to the puzzlingly nicked A.R.S. If you discard whatever ridicule (or irony) might be gleaned from that abbreviation, you’d discover the well-wrought potential met and delivered on the trio’s first long-player. Who does what is difficult to discern, which often makes for the best combinations: both Story and Roedelius no doubt contribute most of the acoustic piano parts, but all three masterfully tweak their electronic gadgetry in blissful anonymity. Basically, there’s nothing else out there that sounds quite like this. “Incubator” reincarnates early Cluster thanks to its chimera-like structure, one part quacking pulse, one part purring background noise, numerous parts strangely flanged electronics. On “Gefallig”, someone’s tickling the ivory plains under a shuffling, fading sunset of a rhythm while faux horns blow and delicate if tenebrious effects phosphordot the landscape. Both “Inclement” and “Squiggle” chart murky terrain, peculiar electronic doodles zipping about like elfish simulacra; squishy rhythms become a gamelan orchestra conducted by astronauts as stabs of rasping synth wail in protest. For reasons unknown, the closing “Ruminator” brings things back to “normal”, its Budd-ing pianos suggesting early evening come down from those atmospheric highs. Quasi-chilling but not chilled, this is a trio light on its feet, nimble of phrase and savvy in composition, trading dark and light with extraordinary finesse and crystal clarity. DARREN

Evan Bartholomew’s Somnia label, all releases exquisitely packaged in hand-sown paper folders, is fast becoming this decade’s label of note, poised to set a standard which others must inevitably follow. The label muddies through the genre underbrush, coloring outside the lines to neatly offset pigeonholing and keep us consumers wanting more. One of Bartholomew’s more gregarious aliases is Bluetech, making his Somnia debut with Phoenix Rising, proving the point most emphatically that Somnia often plays out like a more open-minded Fax for the aughts. “My Dear Friend Kronos” and “What the Night Reveals” are a feisty one-two punch, both tracks’ ticktock metronomic probosci delving deep into layers of quicksand synth, gurgling electrical surges, and cranky outer atmospheres whose drunken lilt keeps the listener constantly off balance. “Riding the Sky Elevator” shows Bartholomew in top form, its spitting, blackened beats and rusting electronics a bleaching out of IDM tropes long in need of some retooling. The closing “Invocation” tidies things up quite beautifully, thanks to Alyssa Palmer’s hallucinatory vocalizations, Bartholomew one of the few synth stylists out there able to properly massage voice out of the vacuum of software. Motionfield (one Petter Friberg) toy with similar phraseology, but achieves his ends in more studied, considered, contemplative ways. Optical Flow is a simply gorgeous piece of ambient shoegazing minus the requisite guitars and affective singing. Friberg is a man of obvious patience and it shows in these eight fragile creations. “Embrace” glides effortlessly on carpetbagger synths that flutter gently on shafts of sunlight, its uncomplicated beat at once simple yet strident, propelling the rising sounds forward like dandelion seeds surfing a breeze. The caresses of “Nightwalk”, the pitterpatter of little beats tiptoeing amongst a soft underbelly of glitches, imagine Biosphere and Patrick O’Hearn consummating their respective aesthetics in one very passionate shimmerscape of pulsing ambience; “Midnight Metro”, adding percolating rhythms to the mix, takes you out from under the edge of night to wisk you far into the dreamier underground, where sprites dance on liquid waveforms. Another gem in an already sparkling catalog—Somnia only shines on 777 of their crazy diamonds, so get ‘em fast before the light fades altogether. DARREN

May was originally performed by Taylor Deupree and Kenneth Kirschner as their contribution to the OFF Festival in Lisbon, Portugal. With the latter at the ivories, the former manipulated the strings inside, and both simultaneously partook in the electronic processing of the ensuing sound. The results are microtonal swarms and feint oscillations that combine to surge like waves through immobile clouds of scintillating particles. Listening to them is like being drawn into a gently swirling funnel of sound. It envelops and absorbs you. At the same time, although the persistence of electronics is high, the physicality of the off-centre, detuned piano notes wash oddly against its central pulse, opening elastic spaces in the mix. Consequently, the work is static yet agitated, very limited in terms of materials yet sonically rich, concentrated yet opening out onto vast expanses. Suddenly yet quite nartually, around the seventeen minute mark, the piano shuffles out from the crystalline haven of tranquility of before and finds a moment of lucidity, a sharp, well articulated, and highly despairing, melody that brings the fragility and vulnerability of the arrangement to the forefront. From there, the silver confetti trails of sound build to a formidable and foreboding wall of noise, against which strained, high pitched piano chords are like someone wincing. The duo then tie up their loose ends, allowing the piano to plunge into the proceedings less and less, as gleaming details of noise spread out to form a cave full of growls. It is this tension between ruminative sorrow and sparkling processing that makes this album a strong, affecting listen. MAX

So where has that old genre warhorse ambient dub gone, you say? Well, in the first place, nowhere: the bastard child of trance—goa or psychedelic, take your pick—just went underground since its 90s heyday, ready to resurface when the climate’s right, usually via labels like Israel’s best-kept secret Aleph Zero. In that part of the world, trance remains a non-maligned form, incorporating vast swathes of culture into its maw, crawling out of pithy mindlessness into the realm of niche respectability. Hibernation’s debut leads the charge: the product of astute programmer Seb Taylor, Some Things Never Change has the epic sweep of a historical novel, the tracks informing a progression across post-techno music’s shifting dichotomy carped from nearly 20 years of rhythmic bluster. “Trickle” manages to patch together cascading harps, angelic vocals, digital beatslaps and whipping slo-mo triphop rhythms into a carefully balanced, artfully composed amalgam of contemporary exotica. “Lazy Radio” spins the dial at lightning speed, playing fast and furious with its urban blush of beat, 50s jazz whimsy, Africanized fillips and stringy synth effects. Only problem is that Taylor best keep his wits about him: “Glitch Police” muckrakes along a disingenuousness axis, more concerned with hackneyed lounge lizardeering than aberrant digital discourse. At least the later “Seven Steps” redeems the album’s flaccid middle, a lavish trek across Miles of smooth Rhodes that struggles to redeem those airless 90s wastelands coined “acid jazz.” Indeed, Taylor’s obvious love for models horn-swoggled and steeped in swing give this generally appealing debut just the right amount of street cred, even if mandated by the rank and file of the digital domain. DARREN

Created to honor the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, synthesists Mark Mahoney and M. Peck make us believe space is truly the place on Starfest 2007, recorded live in front of what must have been a spellbound audience. Taking their cues from the usual 70s Teutonic suspects, the duo tweak the model just enough to bring some much-needed vitality to an often tired genre. “Initial Launch” begins as you might expect, with requisite radio broadcasts pinging everything’s a go, but once the sequencers begin chugging away both artists let loose with a barrage of astringent effects. “Entering A Foreign Atmosphere” simultaneously becalms, bedazzles and bewilders, twinkling synth stardust across frozen tundra, all wrapped up in a twisting corkscrew of oscillating pitches and forlorn mellotron. “Alien Shore and Unworldly Outpost” might take electronic music’s vocabulary a bit literally (the ambiguity of science fiction imagery is too critical to its audio analog), but Mssrs. Mahoney and Peck are synth wizards of a high order, reaching deep into the looking-glass to extract a fusillade of sonic lifeforms that tickle our respective fancies—coolness. Peck is also one-third of the ungainly named Maggotapplewonderland (aided and abetted by two other gents manning various guitars), working well outside classic EM boundaries where electric bass guitars and electric baritone guitars speak their minds as expressively as their electronic counterparts. “Terminal Unfolding” features synths folded and creased into the oft-menacing architecture fomented by A. Jones and R. Shapton’s string-driven thingies, signatures recognizable but harried on by the pulsing circuitries surrounding them. “A Fragile Truce” commences with some tentative synth sprinkles from Peck, but the guitarists’ quick response, teasing electricity, plangent chords shapeshifting and intensifying the atmosphere, reveals an industrial-strength stew of a stripe seldom devised by post-Berlin School alum. Vivid and cinematic, with a sense of reckless endangerment situating the music right at the abyssal edge. DARREN BERGSTEIN /

Moon Wiring Club work in a recently minted subgenre of distinctly British electronica dubbed hauntology, wherein everything from triphoppy rhythms to dessicated beatscapes are entwined within snatches of radio broadcasts, vocals ripped from the netherworld, and the types of warped, unique sounds pioneered by the likes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. More tellingly, hauntology-related artists bring a definitive air of Anglo whimsy on board as well, often suffused with voice samples from arcane cinema and buttressed by an indigenous “folky” aesthetic that could include archly rural musics as well as seminal early 90s post-techno electronica recalibrations. The Club flirt with all the above in spades, enshrouding their magical moonbeams over 22 tracks that read like a public library catalog of the peculiar and sonically twisted. Pieces like “Wandering Bishop” harness a decrepit inner-city riddim (shades of Mo’Wax and their ilk) to spirits talking amidst gibbering synths, but simply plucking out individual pieces for evaluation is a fool’s gesture. What the Club does so effectively is provide a glimpse into the mind of exhausted madmen steeped in British art history looking to mussy it up by any means necessary. If buggy ambient connotes that “The Crystal Set Begins to Function” in Richard D. James flat, so be it; the Club seem able to hold up any electronic genre puffed out in Britain over the last 40 years and refract it through a funhouse mirror. What pops out is at turns puzzling, ominous, curious, unsettling—the ear merely transforms these delectable sonic oddities into semisweet morsels begging for the taking and swallows ‘em down, whole. DARREN

New to the world of Hans-Joachim Roedelius? Back Soon is a handy primer of his more recent work, tracking pieces from the early 90s right up to previews from forthcoming releases (and one previously unreleased track, the brilliant post-Cluster luminosity that is “I Enigma”). So what you get is a cross-section of the, yes, enigmatic Roedelius, containing smatterings of his somewhat less compelling but still commanding piano-based works along with the electronic gimcrackery he’s built his four decades-plus career on. Roedelius’s love of the piano underpins all fourteen tracks here, regardless of whether they draped in electronic ornamentation or not; the man’s art remains consistently inventive and eclectic, working everything from Asian motifs (“Poetry”) to quivering downtempo electronica (“Something Happened Here”) into his amazingly varied template. Keyboard prowess aside, I’ve always been partial to his indulging the more awry, experimental tensions central to his muse; the pieces here culled from unabashedly acoustic, piano-centric albums such as 1993’s Tace! and 92’s Romance in the Wilderness display Roedelius’s lightness of touch and command of dramatic beauty, but deeply personal reflections notwithstanding, it’s when he jacks deep into his imagination that the fireworks truly erupt. “B In Utero (Love Came)” still brings his trusty grand into the matrix but it’s offset by deft electronic touches and fleet rhythms that are anything but business as usual. The truth is that no one collection can be truly representative of Roedelius’s unassailable body of work, but Back Soon certainly gives it the old college try, and is an adequate place for the novice to start. DARREN

The other recent Aleph Zero joint is by Bulgarian musician Victor Marinov, who resists pigeonholing as much as Hibernation, bending distaff sounds and genre like elastic bands honed from mercury. As Vataff Project, Marinov joins an elite group of musicians carving impossibly dense musics from a seemingly limitless palette of texture and rhythm. Incorporating instruments (samples?) of his native land into his exotic beat pharmaceuticals (such as the snakecharmer flutes that skirt across the smoky atmospheres and gelatin squelches of “Orpheus Forest”) infers that Marinov paints Kalitz as a veritable travelogue of ideas and images far-flung, ancient, and techno-graphical. In this regard, the record’s success hinges on some broad aesthetic shoulders, but Marinov pulls it off with marvelous aplomb. Orbian philosophies encumbering interspatial dynamics and chocolate-thick beats shore up the ghost shimmers of “Inner Beauty”; “Patayasa” is a glimpse into Marinov’s sonic arboretum, bird-song morphing and twisting into an ornithologic glitchery of rainforest trills and rhythms arising from some very humid freezones; “Utc”, like most of the previous tracks before it, refines the artist’s finely-etched organica thanks to buckets of glurpy synth, fizzy contrails and Raster Noton patterning. Note as well the immaculate, gorgeous widescreen production throughout that resolves every sound on Kalitz in picturesque high definition. Forget moribund poseurs like Banco de Gaia—it’s now Vataff Project’s green machine that sports the brightest sheen. DARREN

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Installment 25

BEEHATCH Beehatch (Lens)
LOREN CHASSE & MICHAEL NORTHAM The Otolith (Helen Scarsdale)
CISFINITUM Tactio (Mechanoise Labs)
RICHARD GARET L'avinir (Winds Measure)
RAPOON The Library of the Dead (Ewers Tonkunst)
RAPOON Obscure Objects of Desire (Vivo)
VARIOUS Listen (Duckbay)
WENDT Unreleased Music For Visualizers (Miatera

Unless you’ve shuffled off to Mars these last decades, the backgrounds of Phil Western and Mark Spybey, who make-up Beehatch, should engender instant, if not total, recall. Spybey goes way back to the influential Zoviet France, and has made many a name for himself recording as Propeller, Dead Voices on Air, and as a member of Reformed Faction (a Zoviet France reincarnation/reinterpretation) and Skinny Puppy IDM offshoot Download. Western not only also figures in Download, but has diligently pursued a career crisscrossing more hybrid electronic musics than you can shake a synth at, his productions boasting tenure in ambient techno (Floatpoint), lush psychedelic trance (Off and Gone), post-industrial IDM (Plateau), and outré limits (Frozen Rabbit); his solo album World’s End ain’t chopped liver either, portraying the artist as an itinerant free radical bisecting genre with the greatest of ease. Both bring all this expertise to bear on their Beehatch debut, a wild wild west of mental mood machines, surreal byte-play and software run joyously amok. Like its namesake, the record commences with a buzzing malevolence, soon mixed into the sinister groove careering of “Facing Up to the Facts,” which recalls Wire bassist Graham Lewis’ similar techno perversities as He Said. In fact, Western and Spybey pepper a few more song-based pieces amongst the overall instrumental politic (the vocals often well-processed so they become simply another sonic piece of the puzzle) to dynamic effect. But Beehatch upsets the apple cart in more ways than one, carving up all manners of genre into audiomulch: from the strange somber environs of “Tis” and dark-hued, Aphex Twinned drill ‘n’ bass of “Warm and Fuzzy”, to the 70s synth sparkle of “Something Too” and tainted love electro-stylings of “I See Your Light Dying”, Beehatch music takes what it wants from electronica’s storied history and jettisons the rest, leaving the sticky-sweet residue for us to hungrily lap up. DARREN

On The Otolith, surreal imagery shares lyrical roomspace with the ebb and flow of ruffled sounds stolen from countless trails traversed between 2003 and 2006. Michael Northam's nomadic lifestyle has figured in his recordings for some time now—here remnants of his time in Estonia, Battery Townsley, Epesses, Gorge de Veveyse de Fegire, and Bruxelles are displayed prominently. Loren Chasse, on the other hand, plays the oud, autoharp, bowed wires, harmonium, bells and gongs. As the album opens up both play to their respective strengths while now and again making fleeting forays into each others dimensions. It begins with a dust-dry ambient buzz that slowly increases in volume and intensity on “The Broken House”, looping and spinning around itself to form a cobwebbed tunnel of abstract cacophony. “Spinning Cloth” throws the proceedings back into a richly textured fug of javelin rain and the whirring of electronic wasp wings. Henceforth the disc wends through enough detours to retain its primal sense of otherness, while always remaining delicately balanced, abstract and austere. A ghostly snatch of field recordings grow gritty and cluttered on certain works, spread out and fuse into a variety of shifting hums and drones on others, or else stand out as crackles of sonic percussion in relatively sleek, seductive, and moderately unstable arrangements. The duo remains forever faithful to a calmness of spirit, and accordingly the changes that arise are never especially bold, but spontaneity and meaningful dialogue are always held high. A sustained structural tension is held between these two husks, resulting in a wealth of tiny incidents that slowly draw in the listener's environment. In a manner not dissimilar to some of Tarkovsky's films, these tenuous pieces bore a hole directly in the atmosphere. MAX

Cisfinitum is Russian soundscraper Evgeny Voronovsky, a man whose name doesn’t exactly get antenna vibrating, but his original, multi-level approach to environment-crafting damn well should. He’s released only a handful of recordings, utilizing all available media at his disposal (CDs, CDRs, MP3 files) to empower his sturdy sonic evolutions; 2007’s collaboration with Rapoon surely raised his cred significantly, but Tactio is the one that ought to raise the shackles of the yearning masses. Recorded live in an ancient Roman cathedral where Voronovsky incorporated the space’s natural acoustics and spatial dynamics in his compositions, Tactio absorbs the penitent aura of its surroundings, its seven movements a grand display of hushed awe and reverberant mysticism. Clanging bells are blended into coarse, stark textures, their infinite decay left to drift and merge into a series of long, time-slowed drones. Occasionally, strange elements are woven into and out of the mix—a blush of gnarled noise, rolling waves, rhythmic poltergeists—that only serve to heighten an already tense atmosphere on the verge of collapse. On the fifth segment, looped, cascading bells return to signal in a new march of activity colored by the tangs of precious metals and small cyclones threatening to rip the sonic veneer to shreds. Voronovsky eventually coaxes some leathery percussive loops out of his holy mainframe, using them to bring the hissing mantras of the closing sixth movement to an exhausted conclusion. As the tumultuous events gradually wind down, all that’s left is the cathedral’s natural ambiance embracing both satisfied audience and Voronovsky’s spent electronics, the pillars of heaven having been thoroughly shaken and stirred. DARREN

This audio-document from Richard Garet is based on an elegantly simple formula: that which is “to come” arrives, unexpectedly yet with surprising ease, from a source outside history, and in so doing interrupts the continuity of things. It's a formulation propounded by the late Jacques Derrida, which Garet resurrects through a set whose dimly-lit unstable nature maintains a sense of wonder and majesty while simultaneously being structurally refined, like an architectural plan, such that the transitions seem born of an inner musical necessity. Despite its ostensible suspension, the opening passage of pointillism also comes across as an uneasy particle mass, which beats as it sweeps, like dizzy honey bees in a bucket of tar. It slowly and painfully gives into a midsection in which things grow more episodic. Spindly electronic tones and incidental sounds swirl like dandelion tufts in an alien space, cosy and creepy at once. The subtle technician in Garet then looms up again as he steadily lets the surge subside with attentiveness and feeling. Following these ear-catching moments, in a ironic manner, an album built around unpredictability ends with some rather standard electronic grit and granular fluttering. It all sounds carefully and cleverly thought through, without excluding spontaneity. MAX

The always prolific Robin Storey returns with two more Rapoon outings that tangentially veer off from his well-established template. Over the course of his long, post-Zoviet France career, his is a chameleonic talent, one responsible for erecting a network of tribal linguistics and loop ideologies that remain utterly original in their sound design and yet, like the equally tenacious shark, constantly move forward to ensure their longevity. Both of these recordings shore up such an approach. The Library of the Dead on first listen appears to be a slighter work in the Rapoon oeuvre, but repeated exposures reveal fortunes favoring the puckish. Central to this recording are the vocals of Russian singer Tatyana Stepchenko, who recorded songs for Storey a capella for him to slice, dice, and rearrange at will. Her wordless gesticulations fall somewhere between Lisa Gerrard and Alquimia, and by orbiting his eddying constructs around her, Storey wisely builds upon the ecclesiastical tenor she so richly evokes. Cycled into a typical Rapoon fabric of gorgeous, spiraling loops, the result lacks the more knotty ritualistic energy of older works like Easterly 6 or 7, but still packs numerous surprises such as the ever-swelling “Rising”, its electronic repudiation of orchestral bombast suggesting an (un)holy merger of Gas and Arvo Pärt. On Obscure Objects of Desire, recorded for the Polish label Vivo, Rapoon takes the gloves off, overdriving his amplifiers, capturing the friction and sculpting it into large blocks of nucleonic fuzz. “The Emptiness of Institutions” does indeed promote a caustic sort of isolationism, the chants of ancient monks lost in clouds of radioactive spittle. “As Close As Possible” utilizes a phantasmagorical mélange of alien choirs and splintered sounds, the closest in form that Storey’s been to his old allies Zoviet France in years. “The Emptiness of Art” reeks of portentousness, and proudly so: strangulated violins arch over blasted landscapes that echo noises flanged beyond recognition, through which curious incidental electronic fluctuations scamper and curdle. Not wholly dissimilar to mid-90s Rapoon, yet there’s more going on than meets the ear—tweaking his tried and true formula ensures that both of these exploratory works refuse to simply tell the same old Storey. DARREN /

Packaged in a petite, gray-cardboard, letter-pressed sleeve, the Duckbay label’s aptly titled Listen has come out of nowhere to announce itself, quietly, unceremoniously (much like the sounds within), as one of the finest collections of esoteric ambience to hit the racks this year. Serene soundscapes, scabrous drones, transitory pulsewidths, staunch digital minimalism…it’s all here, awaiting one’s immersion into its beckoning, warm bath. There’s nary a duff track in the bunch: label honcho and compiler Jordan Sauer’s hit one right out of the park on his first at-bat, corralling together the crème de la crème of the worthy unknown, the brash upstart, the clandestine operator. Sauer might not force you to, well, listen intently to these myriad works (it’s not the kind of music associated with strongwilled persuasion); the sounds are potent enough to speak for themselves. “U.Me,” by IJO, wraps you in a warm, fuzzy gauze of discarded digital detritus and solipsistic electrostatic crackle, the listener watching in abject resignation as his bedroom disintegrates around him. For Elian, “The Feeling Has Passed Me By” manages to conjure up great longing, illustrated by a particularly edgey piece of dronemeal that resembles rivulets of acid rain splattering on pavement. Son of Rose makes music that pops in and out of focus like the flickerframes of antique projectors on “Flocksandflocks”, a pinging chorale of disc-error loops volleying across oscillating chimes. Entia Non reveals the noises curdling out of abandoned tunnels dug by pernicious insects on “Silt”, while Chubby Wolf (the female half of atmospheric wunderkind Celer) makes the oxygen absorbed by macrobiotic flora and fauna expand, contract and resonate throughout the fibrous contrails of “A Wispy Tear.” As the finale, Ryonkt’s Basinski-meets-Budd smeared pianoscape “Circulation”, unspools dreamily into the room as December gunmetal skies engulf a dim orangey sunset outside my window, I can’t think of a more serendipitous way for such a hugely engrossing Listen to conclude. DARREN

Alexander Wendt has created a standout piece of sound architecture, setting out with “Confluence of Indus and Zaskar: Part One” in a grimly figurative mechanistic vein, before giving onto a gradual, overawning array of treatments and concrete effects that accrue with unsentimental inevitability, ultimately descending into slow collapse and tiny sussurations coarsing through the ash. The structures throughout are fairly simple, but there's ample pleasure in the sounds themselves. “Lot”, for one, is like a sped-up calliope plowing into a snowdrift of filters and dub delay, while a tinselly glimmer of stacked arpeggios germinates in the soil of “Not”, and “Sun” unravels like a frayed-wire flareup. “Hub” is the most aggressive track, built from speaker-humping sub bass and a white hot pattern of bit-crush and beat-repeat. Whether whipping up these uncanny shapes, tumbling into a gravity-free bounce or settling into relatively easygoing little fugue’s marked by an implacable harmonic curiosity, there's an inscrutable determinism to all these pieces. Works are immaculately assembled insofar as there is a certain motorik drive and mathematical discipline in the intervals. So too in the fact that, owing to this strict determination, the odd ectoplasmic bass synth waver or stream of shivering dissonance stands out like a glob of ink spurt across a school exercise book. The contrast is sharpest in the early works, where, trapped in a tube, a binary bickering unfolds against a dark digital weir. In later works, the contrast proves effective in still different ways, the digital blinking amid a placenta of precisely calibrated fuzz making for a beguiling mixture of the more conventional and the unearthly. Wendt begins with an acquired fortune (hand-me-downs from Raster-Noton and the like), but in the duration and management of these works he gathers together and poises himself to hurtle beyond these limits and establish something less constricted and more kinetic. MAX

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Installment 24

RUDY ADRIAN Desert Realms (Lotuspike)
JOHAN AGEBJÖRN Mossebo (Lotuspike)
DARSHAN AMBIENT From Pale Hands to Weary Skies (Lotuspike)
CRAIG PADILLA Below the Mountain (Spotted Peccary)

Here indeed are an eclectic bunch from the Spotted Peccary family of labels, of which Lotuspike is now a “member”. No monstrously dramatic changes have taken place because of this "merger", except perhaps to broaden Spotted Peccary’s outreach; if anything, the label is now poised, along with Hypnos, to become a central operation along the loci of ambient/atmospheric music.

New Zealander Rudy Adrian has quietly amassed a respectable back catalog over the years, mostly for the Netherlands EM label Groove Unlimited, caressing a wide range of styles, from the aforementioned ambience of his earlier Lotuspike release Moonwater to the more rhythmically buoyant, sequencer-intensive calculations found on Kinetic Flow and Starfields. Many an electronic musician has found inspiration in landscape, going as far back as Eno with his benchmark On Land (amongst numerous others). Desert Realms apparently stoked Adrian’s muse from his touring in 2002 of Utah’s otherworldly terrain, a land of stark, epoch-scored vistas, incorporeal climes and steep grades. Tracks such as the opening “Saguaro Silhoutte”, with its wordless chants and upwardly spiralling drones, and the shifting dusky synth reverie of “Fading Light” are well-wrought, impressionist fantasies that manage to succeed independent of their earthen analogs. Being a longtime enthusiast of Adrian’s work, there’s little doubt that he’s a composer and synthesist of significant charge, yet, as satisfying as Desert Realms is, I’m not convinced that the grand landscapes he seeks to evoke are mirrored in the final constructs. Regardless, there’s some quality work here: “Subterranean River” benefits from a blur of bells and shimmery percussive accents smeared into a widening maw of synth; “Of Clouds and Mountains” feels like water vapor coalescing gently in a chilly morning sunrise, similar to Thom Brennan’s opalescent tone poems; “Rocks Under Midnight” likewise allows delicately rubbed electronics to vibrate and pulse throughout its many diaphanous layers. Conceptual illustrations aside, Adrian remains a composer of no small measure—coaxed from a minimal array of soundmakers, Desert Realms is a laudable work of abject beauty.

Who is Johan Agebjörn and where has he been all this time? Though probably a new name to most, his bio on (and his website) shows him treading in quite divergent streams, creating piano-based compositions in addition to Italo-disco under his Sally Shapiro alias. All over the stylistic map it might be, but Mossebo blew me back—totally engaging, lithe in execution and elegantly produced, its luxurious ear candy handily updates the early 90s heyday of Euro ambient techno. Agebjörn’s influences run a wide gamut: he himself notes the ballast of Autechre on “Ambient Computer Dance” (the Incunabula era), and Lisa Barra’s wordless (and sometimes wordful) vocals recall that other Lisa-nicked chanteuse, Gerrard. (Elements of Erik Wøllo and Candice Pacheco pop up as well.) Barra’s baleful coos and energized whispers play all kinds of acrobatic games across Agebjörn’s rhythm tracks, trading their hypertexts with arctic synths, the odd piano, and even themselves, Agebjörn admitting a fondness for vocoders and chopped-up voice edits. All due respect given to the Delerium boys and any Enigma worshippers/wannabes out there, but here’s sultry techno-trance done right. The opening “Dulciter Somni” makes a good argument against such ultra-polished digital faux “world” music, Agebjörn setting up a fairly simple drum machine riff over which Barra swoops and swoons amongst pink-purplish electronic flotsam. One of Mossebo’s particularly notable graces is that its richly-detailed fabric comfits a largely uncluttered music: Agebjörn no doubt clings to the less-is-more school and milks that credo for all its worth. Thus “The Sound of Snowflakes Touching the Ground” appears quite enamored of its pristine subzero minimalism, pitter-pattering beats skating below Barra’s cries as if on a thin icepatch, and the two-part “Siberian Train” actually feels more epic than it is, Agebjörn’s locomotive programming and delineated synths reminiscent of Tangerine Dream’s classic “Madrigal Meridian”, or even a distantly-engineered cousin to their own “Love On A Real Train.” In any case, Mossebo is like some brilliant bolt out of the blue, unexpected, surprising, ever-rejuvenating—built for the future, Johan?

Michael Allison, aka Darshan Ambient, considers From Pale Hands to Weary Skies his best work yet, and, despite a career that’s still in its infancy, with creative moxie to burn, a convincing argument could be made that his assessment might well be true. Conceived while Allison was in the throes of a life-threatening illness, he subsequently mined the final result during his lengthy convalescence, and once your ears have drunk deep of this remarkable offering, you’d reckon that his near-death experience virtually electroshocked both his muse and psyche. It certainly shows in the energized spirit of the music; much of this new recording marries a more overt rhythmic sensibility to the usual Darshan Ambient post-Eno template, but Allison’s music has always been about more than pat categorical metaphors. Erected with nimble hand and equally imaginative finesse, his is a voice unique in worldwide “ambient” music due to his gift for melody and an emotional instrumental range that never sacrifices vibrancy for passive new-age sentimentality. “The Furniture of Time” leads thing off in fine fashion, Allison playing an absolutely charming piano motif atop squeaking electronics and a tousled rhythmic counterpoint of tablas and ticktock soft-synth beats, assuming one of those naggingly insistent melodies that stick in your head forever. The pealing twangs of “The Look of Amber” suggest the contemplative ideals of Patrick O’Hearn in their late afternoon simplicity, all lower-key chords and alabaster moods. “Palace of the Windowed Rocks,” with its fleet percussive line, electronics that snap to and fro like weathered rubberbands (replete with irising space whispers) and subtle piano phrasing, is one of the more sumptuous pieces of melancholic ambience to come down the pike this year. Allison’s getting better all the time—physically and artistically—his sonic alter ego proffering the perfect sonic balm for all concerned.

And now for something completely (relatively speaking) different. Craig Padilla’s name deserves more than just a passing nod amongst post-Berlin school aficionados. He’s released some superb space music and sequencer-driven works over the years, both solo and in collaboration with fellow sonic auteur Skip Murphy, and, more importantly, swept aside the usual Teutonic affectations in an effort to spin off from those hoary, 35-plus year old battleaxes. Yes, the vocabulary’s recognizable, but the syntax has been tweaked: the music on Below the Mountain (the inspiration of which comes again from landscape, specifically Padilla’s home around Mt. Shasta in Northern California) suggests rugged earthly embraces except that its palette harkens more towards the quantum mechanics of interstellar pioneers Tangerine Dream and Schulze. All irrelevant anyway—beguiling moments await within. Immediately appealing and subtly clever, the opening “Current” benefits from a little elfin countenance of a synth figure that invigorates the ever-shifting expanses made by well-oiled, well-tendered yet soft machines. Like a boomerang, “Woven Planet” tugs at your memory cards as it recalls the classic moments of TD’s Ricochet, gurgling sequencers rippling under bulging updrafts of graysky electronics. Padilla is able to achieve a near perfect balance of sci-fi futurism and landscape veneer: the ten minutes of “Windspell” see a return to slow tempo sequencer and chugging, Exit-like cymbal acrobatics as Padilla folds his mosaic of rhythms into thick clouds of majestic, undulating chords, 70s déjà vu all over again but brushed over with 00s gloss. The closing 22-plus minutes of “Alturas” is the real barnstormer, however, Padilla coaxing various skeins of star-twinkle, metallic dewdrops, blossoming backdrift, and, ultimately, a corkscrewing, hypnotizing sequencer pattern whose complex tangles burrow right into your cochlea. Padilla’s scored some major hits in the past, but this particular slice of systems music’s a real humdinger; it simultaneously fades back and radiates. DARREN /

BVDUB Return to Tonglu (Quietus)
CIVYIU KKLIU & ILYA MONOSOV Cartolina Postale (Winds Measure)
DAVID PARSONS Earthlight (Celestial Harmonies)
MIRKO UHLIG The Nightmiller (Mystery Sea)

Latest in a brilliant run of submersive aquifer ‘tronix from Brock Van Wey, going by the name Bvdub. Drawing a line straight through minimal techno regimes first internationalized by the early Kompakt sides of Reinhard and Wolfgang Voigt (specifically his releases as Gas), drawing in Chain Reaction notables such as Porter Ricks and early Monolake, connecting spacier Detroit imperatives, and finally culminating in a subgenre popularized by other similarly-inclined producers (Quantec, Deepchord, Koss, folks on the Echocord label), Bvdub continues to refine his sound to the point where he’s rapidly becoming a benchmark for this slowly expanding microgenre. There’s a lot of this kind of stuff engulfing our precious aural canals at the moment, which could be a detrimental thing to our psyches if the music wasn’t so wholly compelling. Of course, you have to meet it halfway or the molasses-thick minimal repetitiveness, minor key chromality, and dense weeds of reverb might get on your nerves. What separates Bvdub’s take on this strand of boom-tschak oceanic electrogauze is twofold: a general segregation from basic foursquare rhythms and a sound design suggesting natures personal rather than forestral. A true son of the loop da loop era, Bvdub is our best foggy bottom sculptor, chipping away at Detroit’s rusting corpus, exposing a mellifluous core few realized existed, working with a virtual paucity of sounds that achieve their grandeur by sheer act of repetitive will. It doesn’t hurt that this is a noise exquisitely lush, plush, and limned with hush. The title track, with its puffing beats, wheezing cymbals, and velveteen ambience, plays like an Autobahn for the isolationist set, soft, wet, weepy, and low. Desolate synths shudder in the moist air, refracting and echoing endlessly on their cloudburst flights, as on the closing “It’s Too Late,” Bvdub slow dancing with tears in his eyes. Do we gleam infinite melancholia here? Utter despair? Errant euphoria? It’s a combination of all three, a music that revels in its own emotional ambiguity. Go on—immerse thyself. DARREN

Concerning Cartolina Postale, quite apart from the message and its content that comes scrawled like grafitti on the back a postcard, the handwriting and style of a letter is often just as effective, if not more so, in conveying a certain human presence. The metal plate scrape and toothpicks that play a music box like bony fingers speak well to this: an elephant has a better chance of squirming through the eye of a needle than one does of alighting upon any inkling of a message here; the material is far too diffuse. There is a certain style at play, however, and thus some modicum of presence. Specifically, it's one that asserts itself through an interruption of the vagaries of time and any notion of totality. This isn't achieved positively but negatively: during its twenty-three minutes, the album is largely devoid of structure; it doesn't establish an atmosphere; and there is little, if any, trace of intent. What's left is a gradual drift of sonic dust through which single notes on music box gleam intermittently like tiny lights. As with a postcard, it's the fingerprint of a particular time and place; and like every fingerprint its a radical singularity. Only in this case, admittedly, it seems more about secrecy than identity. A devilish little postcard, this is. MAX

Percussionist Metcalf marks the end of a trilogy of sorts with Nada Terma, squaring the circle that began with his previous collaborations with fellow aural tribesmen Roach and Seelig on 2003’s Wachuma’s Wave and 2004’s Mantram. On this seventy-three minute excursion into the wild frontier of elder music and ancestral shamanism, Metcalf’s manifesto becomes wholly recognizable once the recording gathers steam, his percussive arsenal a baker’s dozen of frame, udu and earth drums, further augmented by the softer accents provided by tapping on clay pots and seed pods. Multi-instrumentalist Seelig surrounds Metcalf’s war-drumming in a cushion of bansuri flutes and plucked dilruba in addition to building some rich harmonic overtones thanks to his own vibrato of a voice. Roach, of course, wraps the whole affair in so many of his typically vivid, color-enhanced tones and myriad, swirling atmospheres it situates the listener right at the center of some ancient, mysterious retreat. Subtly altering moods predominate: what can feel like a powerfully earthshaking music one moment slowly shifts gears into climes both seductive and spiritual. But don’t get the idea that this is some exercise in well-dressed new age tedium—Roach’s heavenly noises time and again provide the foundation for Metcalf’s rock-solid beatstorms, particularly during the first indomitable half hour, the physicality of the drummer’s extraordinarily propulsive thunderstrikes practically a force of nature. Roach and Seelig have no choice but to keep pace by superimposing their own distinctive sonic flavors onto the febrile stew; naturally, the desert shaman’s kaleidoscopic textures reincarnate all sorts of primordial demons, through which feint Seelig’s piercing winds and arcing strings. The lengthy journey the album makes across its expansive running time does it justice—this is true trance music, relentless, hypnotic and very alive. DARREN

A seriously underrated talent that has embraced the same respect and awe for immense landscape and mystic realms as comrade-in-arms Steve Roach, composer/synthesist Parsons has for well over two decades realized a singular body of work that has embraced both an ambient ethos and the intricate, meditative harmonics of North Indian classical music. Parsons likens his work to the alap, the elongated introduction to Indian ragas, and in many ways such a description perfectly encapsulates the methodology of ambient music in the most literal sense, removed from yet reflecting Eno’s dictum of “music that can be simultaneously listened to and ignored.” Definitions often need upgrading, however: Parsons’ music is about as ignorable as the mountain vistas he often titles his epic pieces after. Abundant with prodigious chords, tones stretched thinner and thinner at such altitudes they beg for oxygen, and inveighed by the magnetic tensions brought on by otherworldly forces at play, Earthlight is evocative in the most fantastical sense. The record’s glacial pace mimics the breathless pulse of tectonic plates shirking millennia, but monodimensional drone this isn’t. A pronounced mystic quality informs all of Parsons’ music, and the strange regions he traverses on this superb excursion are no different—space music of a spherical nature, austere yet finely-wrought and patterned, buoyed by a surfeit of mysterious textures and alien cadences, the album is wonderfully disorienting, suggesting rugged confines as well as farflung artifices. The title track irises open to reveal a multitude of erupting, heavenly electronic lightbeams soon to be pierced by an eldritch motif of misty mountain modulars and cushioned bells. “Altai Himalaya” harkens back to Parsons’ eponymous classic Himalaya, aerated blasts of synth drifting in the wake of stratospheric jetstreams. Both “Beyond the Light” and “Corona” reveal a composer who’s come a long way since the simple two-chord notations of Tibetan Plateau: vari-hued pigments of electronics flow silkily into and out of one another like kaleidoscopic oils, buffed by tablaesque sequencers, pealing intrasolar radiowaves and, in the case of “Corona”, truculent synths howling into the deep night. The penultimate twenty minutes that is “Bathing Light” seems to end too abruptly even at that considerable length, but taking into account the buzzsaw cut of its synths, its baleful atmosphere and incessant rhythmic momentum, it portends something of a new direction for Parsons, who once noted that his music was “about bathing in the sound.” Surely a most inviting proposition, for on Earthlight, the water’s mighty warm indeed. DARREN

In The Night Miller, there seems to be all the infinity of Mirko Uhlig's own absence—that is to say, it's a pure hole into which drains all of his past penchants for machines of esoteric purpose vainly struggling to jar or achieve autonomous operation. This is also to indicate that Uhlig's new resistance is a kind of non-resistance; a sensitivity to the elements, to their contours, density, dynamics, and timbre. He appears equally open to their symbolic import: to the way these sparsely textured atmospheres enable creation, time, infinity and multiple discrete universes to merge in a satori flash. As a CD, it lasts all of 36 minutes and spans some three tracks. It begins as a beatific luminescence that breathes air and ripples out into an imagined distance, evoking a weight of being behind every act. Uhlig's melodies develop slowly and the oneiric structures betray an undercurrent of stealthy depths. It's these depths that run into the albums second work, "Wooden Waiting", where an intense focus upon the fine detail of the unfolding electronic fields spreads over the immense richness of acoustic detail. Such slow-burning episodes of beautiful, elegant, emotionally affecting passages of ambience finds in the albums final piece an effective counterpoint, as grainy, hissing loops shake up and then paralyze the tracks motion. The move creates a dim space into which single guitar notes and rasping massed melodic lines withdraw, leaving the dawning sensation that all is evaporating in impenetrable darkness. Neither especially active or passive, The Nightmiller nevertheless manages just enough permutation and variation of a limited set of materials. As a result, the sounds and spaces between them often float. Those acquainted with the vicelike brutality and recalcitrantly challenging Uhlig may find his wholehearted adoption of this elegiac tone difficult to fathom, just as those who begin here will find it hard to believe he's ever done anything else. MAX