Monday, November 24, 2008

Installment 23

COLOURFORM Visions of Surya (Virtual World)
ISHQ Timelapse in Mercury (Virtual Space)

OOPHOI Wurm Series 1 (Glacial Movements)

STEVE ROACH / ERIK WØLLO Stream of Thought (Projekt)
VARIOUS A Cleansing Ascension (Elevator Bath)
VARIOUS Resonant Embers (Edition Sonoro)

Cornwall-based reclusive Matt Hillier, man of a thousand aliases—more recently Elve, Ishvara, and Indigo Egg—returns in most readily recognisable form, Ishq, a moniker he made a name with in the ambient community with the intelligent psy-chill of 2001’s Orchid. Timelapse in Mercury is the 4th release on Virtual and first in a new sub-imprint, Virtual Space, which projects "deeper and more outerspace music and explorations and music to float to" as its mission statement. Hillier apparently began the album before Orchid, but has taken till this year to properly finish it, and it now bears some of the distinguishing sonic features of his more recent Virtual releases. Perhaps a finishing "refresh" has given a new sheen to timeless timbres, space-dusted and stretched into swathes of interstellar overdriven lushness. Hillier’s trademark hyper-synthetic cosmicity extends into a space-drift planet suite in several movements. TiM is suspended somehow between infinite stasis and constant motion in manner conducive to shifting from peripheral listening to focused head-phasing, a habit of genuine ambient listening which much so-called "ambient" fails to cultivate. Hillier is something of a wizard of the cosmic-chill sound palette, not content, unlike many of his psy-peers, to peddle generic preset solutions, finding timbres that are recognisably within the genre template but tweaked enough to be otherised. They hang in space and twinkle like bright stars shifting in tonality or radiance. TiM’s expansive spatial quality, with all its textural nebulae and supernovae, is undulled by the passage of time. Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in Virtual Space.

Meanwhile, back in the Virtual World, Hillier changes nomenclatural robes for those of Colourform, an exchange over time and space and existence, in view of collaborator Jake Stephenson’s sad demise in 2005. Visions of Surya is the third VW release (following Magik Square of the Sun and Infinite Garden), and is a more world-ly counterpart to the space-y TiM. VoS is as highly coloured and imaginative as TiM, coming on more like a kind of exotic sonic travelogue. Stephenson would have been known in Megadog-gy circles in the 90s as Optic Eye, and it occurs that the Virtual enterprise might be seen as a more grown up version of the children of that particular bong. Colourform channels aura-visions of an idealised Orient, with a kaleidoscopic quality echoing previous VW albums: it floats and drifts, wibbles and woobs, but with feet more in something like soil, hinting at a tangible real world below the virtual surface of its audio-culptural vagaries. When energies are gathered into rhythmic heft, beats are sweet and modulated, decorative rather than propulsive. Through Colourform, Hillier has drawn on Stephenson’s legacy to compile an electronicist’s delight of post-Orbist tones, pads and drones, choreographed for maximum horizontality while saying no to mindless dopedom. Its message a fitting epitaph for the imaginatively starved. Feed your head afresh. ALAN

Glacial Movements inaugurates the Würm Series to curate imaginary treks through the ice-fields of the most recent glaciation era. Artist brief is to create uninterrupted long- form pieces, a channel for immersive work articulating "the abyssal silence" of "the endless ice age". Gigi Gasparetti, Oophoi ideator, is as good as his word on An Aerial View, promising an “airy drone with minimal variations”. He expressly shuns the Dark-mongering sonic tropes of deep-freeze bleakness, summoning up instead some of the spirit of Ur-Ambient. He eschews the broad brush of regulation issue low-end rumblings and atonal harshness in order to delineate a vast white expanse with more delicate synth brushes, a subtly evolving canvas for the simple swirls of an elegiac theremin. Gasparetti imagines himself “in flight over this Sleeping Earth, a solitary winged-being surrounded by winds, air, water, and ice”, a flight represented in a light and aerated long-format tract of endlessnessism. In the background a crystalline hovering with intimations of the weightless, effortless, as Gasparetti loops and re-loops, with minute thematic and timbral variations. Echoes of early Kosmische types suggest themselves: Göttsching perhaps, Cluster possibly. Midway the wide-openness of the soundscape attenuates to slender organ-like keyboard tones, intensely serene, as if floating on thermals toward stillpoint. Rather than morphological modelling of glacial geography, Oophoi depicts a kind of infinite floatpoint. Discreet environmentalisms add extra depth along the way, though the later sections, instead of building further, seem rather to divest themselves of layers to open up to a pristine minimalism. An Aerial View is the sound of a slow, sad, serene smile on the void. ALAN

Vibrant, eclectic and at times fetching mindmeld from two gents whose collective talents are more simpatico than you might think. Stream of Thought's back cover notes this recording as a “continuous stream of sonic consciousness in 19 parts”; though the many pieces stagger their running times, making for an episodic (neé filmic) narrative that may or may not rattle the chains of the proletariat, is of no import—such an accumulative variety of pulsing textures is so soldered they transcend the sum of the album’s numerous parts. Erik Wøllo’s musical background strikes similar chords to Steve Roach’s, as he’s trucked between atmospheric, drone, and even pastoral guitar ambience with equal ease, his recent recordings displaying a joie de vivre that deflected sentimentality by simple dearth of their years-etched acumen. The smoldering aftereffect of Roach’s still-fresh Landmass hovers like a Damoclesian blade over these proceedings, imbuing their entirety with the requisite compositional tension, but the duo’s salutations, styles, and substances merge effortlessly nevertheless. And surprises lay in store for those of patient dispositions. On the opening piece, sun-dappled guitars dance ceremoniously across a Steve Reich-ian flatbed of chiming percussion and ascending synths. This then morphs into the second movement, a recognizable Roach-mantra of whipping modular bass sequencers that the two free-associate a phalanx of electronics over. Similar patterns/patterning emerge as the album further unfolds, yet the one persistent conclusion to be drawn is that, much like the nebulous quality of REMsleep dreamstates, everything seems ephemeral, just out of reach, hallucinatory: so much occurs within each of the 19 segments that the various micro-events taking place can only be discerned by the spectator’s enthusiastic revisitation thereof—or at least by damn fine headphones. Roach and Wøllo tinker with each other’s muse to such calibrated effect that the resultant miasma becomes nigh on impossible to dissect, much less describe fully. Strange, offworld sounds curdle and ebb; rubbery beats spontaneously blossom only to quickly combust; guitar kindling icily shatter as they breach glacial membranes; shoals of deep space radiowaves oscillate through parsecs of blackness, designing malevolent shapes. Choose to explore each rapidly changing tributary singly (the closing fifteen-minute cavalcade of whorl and whirlygig alone nearly mandates the repeat button) or course down this Stream as its makers intended. Either way, Roach and Wøllo got their senses working overtime—and ours, too. DARREN

Sagely practitioners of electro-stalactites that glimmer amidst pulses of hiss, flutter, and bubble, Elevator Bath here acknowledge their ten years of existence and, without dabbling in the quixotic, gather together traces of what is still yet to come. A Cleansing Ascension amounts to nothing less than a constant bath of sounds, lights, images, and movements from the likes of Matt Shoemaker, Keith Berry, Jim Haynes, Rick Reed, Dale Lloyd and Adam Pacione, to name a few. The artists on hand summon a wide breath of events that travel in material waves and which build to substantial proportions such that listeners may float on them like straws. The vast majority of tracks are previously unreleased and a good many click, spit, gurgle, and growl with subterranean menace. "Warning Ataraxia", from the aforementioned Shoemaker, knows moments of ever-heightening subterfuge, as sheets of high end debris grow more caustic and ride out on a crest of propulsive electricity. Others never entirely outstrip this basic setting, but they effectively take it up in different ways. "Untitled 149", from Francisco Lopez, drips and reverberates like a cavern deep beneath the surface of a distant planet, while Dale Lloyd's contribution features a rich, sumptuous drone that is wreathed in swooping high frequency susurrations, and which becomes ever-more frazzled for having been so rudely disturbed from its sedimental slumber. Although dystopian drones are generally the rule, warm, floating chords and temperate half-melodies, such as those that shadow Tom Recchion's "Drift Tube", appear at crucial points throughout the work so as to illuminate the stereo spectrum. The proceedings thus remain clearly in focus even while being highly vulnerable and challenging. MAX

Resonant Embers compiles Paul Bradley and accomplices previously released through parent label, Twenty Hertz. Seven artists linked by a shared aesthetic (let’s call it "experimental") with differing takes: a harder outside of sound art and austere ambience with a soft centre of post-Romanticist melodic drones. First up, NWW collaborator, Matthew Waldron, re-cranks his irr. app. (ext.) vehicle for an discomfiting drive fuelled by a wierd mixture of dissonant effluvia. Inside “Whickering Mechanical Parapropalaehoplophorus” a slowly modulating sound hovers behind an up-close rattle and hum. Twisted moans and a buzz rendered with slapback echo (airplanes? Insect buzz?) infest the sound field. There ensues a woozy stagger attended by an ineffable feeling of fascinated discomfort. There are more corroded metal shapes and post-Industrial wastelands on “Animate structures No.1”, over which environmental collagist jgrzinich scatters a windblown array of field recordings of high tension wires and rummagings from the blasted post-Soviet heath of his adoptive Estonia. His piece sounds less like electronic music than the inarticulate speech of nature’s dark heart. More palatable musical soundscapery comes from Miguel Tolosa and project manager Bradley. Tolosa’s project Ubeboet offers in “Agone” an ecstasy of haunting ethereality, smartly smudged. Strings at a remove and sub-aqueous operatics whisper forth from within a carpet of delicate pads, a euphonic shimmer of drone guilded by a ghost violin. Tone-poetry in motion. The unjustly unsung Bradley seems lately to have gradually removed the acousmatic veils from his sounds to reveal their guitar-generated nature. He spools out an electraglide in blue of weaving guitar strata not far removed from Aidan Baker, current doyenne of drone-guitarscapism. “Kaleidoscope” is admittedly more synthetic, less gritty, but still imbued with textural detail cycling across the stereofield, further tones being twirled into a mix of pristine steel lightly blurred at the edges. In between, veteran Colin Potter in “Bella (direct current)” alchemises liquid drones from base metal (bells, actually), sounds swelling and relenting, hypnotically heaving. Bradley protegé, Maile Colbert, and mysterious accomplice Tellemake, spins her voice through a series of looping devices and VLF recordings, in a style somewhere twixt a less woozed-up Grouper and a more corporeal version of the vox-spectres from Akira Rabelais’ Spellewauerynsherde. A mournful closure comes via doleful occasional black humorist, Andrew Liles, who plays it straight here; the breathy lilt of a violin steeped in Balkan noir emerges from some doom-laden low end-of-pianisms to unravel through ominous tolling. Liles’ “The Relentlessly Banal Landscape” strikes as a rather spare and sad affair, and fails to sound the right endnote for what proves to be a curate’s egg of a collection. ALAN

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