Friday, October 10, 2008

Installment 19

AKIRA KOSEMURA It’s On Everything (Someone Good)
LABFIELD Fishforms (Bottrop-boy)
STEPHEN PARSICK Cryotainer (Parsick)
STEPHEN PARSICK Fuzzstars (Parsick)
QUA Silver Red (Someone Good)
QEBO Wroln (Low Impedance)
JASON SLOAN Ending [Light] (Slo.bor Media)

Lawrence English is a busy man. A real jack-of-all-trades—music journalist, sound artist, installation organizer, label chieftain—he’s worn more than a handful of hats in at least as many years. As owner/operator of the stalwart Australian experimental indie Room40, he’s amassed a catalog granted deserved respect for its iconoclastic broadview and refusal to be pigeonholed. Somehow, in the midst of all this, he decided to launch another label, Someone Good, pretty much the direct antithesis to everything Room40 represents—in other words, it’s the owner/operator putting an English spin on, of all things, (electro)pop. Releases by The Rational Academy and Lullatone cultivate confectionary shoegazing and tinkertoy J-pop, respectively, with fairly saccharine results; thankfully, the balance achieves some manner of redress courtesy of Akira Kosemura and Qua. The ingratiating It’s On Everything instantly Plops Kosemura down in the company of similarly-striped folks such as Sawako, Filfla, and Sakamoto/Alva Noto, gene-splicing glitch detritus, pindrop percolations, and motor hum with tender piano chords plucked from his trusty grand. Best of all, nothing seems overly precious; Kosemura’s emotional restraint is his virtue, experimental zeal his trump card. All these qualities come to a head on “Pause,” where children’s voices become talking head edits subsumed in rushes of radiowave static, Pan Sonic-esque high frequencies and a disarmingly naïve melody played out on faux xylophones. On his third recording, the mini-album Silver Red, Qua doggedly skips down that primrose path towards pop; live drumming grounds chopped up acoustics (guitar, piano) glimpsed through an Oval tunnel of loops, but such a rhythmic undercurrent does the disc few favors. Were he to jettison such “mainstream” leanings and focus his attention where it mattered most (the astringent drones closing “Silver Red 1” beg for larger investigation), Qua might find that all elusive sweet spot. Until then, Silver Red is all a clatterbox, long on rhyme, short on reason. DARREN

The line between drone and the onkyo aesthetic of contemporary electroacoustic improvisation gets blurrier every day. Good news is there’s more manna for us perpetually unsatisfied customers—bad news is that said manna’s so often starved of originality, some of its makers confusing paucity with invention. Ingar Zach, who with David Stackenas comprises fifty percent of Labfield, is fast becoming familiar to EAI cognoscenti, an experimentalist little concerned with a staid “jazz” vernacular bent on shoehorning young ruffians such as himself who are motivated by textural tinct rather than dog-eared rules and regs. Whatever is revealed by the teeming meteorological din of Fishforms—particularly the 24 minute opener, “Gin”—at first glance is ultimately deceptive. “Gin” manages to sneak up on you in a way that is totally unexpected; stay the course, allow the varying layers to be stealthily revealed, and you’ll be rewarded dividends. Using prepared guitars, lo-fi electronics, undefined percussion and Zach’s clutch of electrified noisemakers, the sounds that first stir up on “Gin” feel like they’re being squeezed through a lemon press; below those initial lateral squeals and flatlined tones arise peculiar throbbings, the odd martial drumbeat, and strangely pealing drones that actually own up to finer detail the more intensely the orbiting soundmass is ratcheted. How Zach and Stackenas pull off this hat trick reveals two gents deft of hand and process, for little of their original instrumentation (triangles? String decay? Musical box?) is recognizable in a piece favoring such relentless forward momentum. Unlike their stylistic mirror Organum, Labfield don’t ultimately succumb to the pleasuredome obsession with noise: the looping strums of “Rin” enforce that notion, even when battered by digital gales. It’s déjà vu all over again when the concluding “Showa” adds a splash of metallic tonic to the earlier “Gin,” but when the grog’s this intoxicating, one can’t resist another nip at the bar. DARREN

Stephen Parsick’s name on its own probably doesn’t send tongues wagging, but it damn well should. He and his cohort have coined the term “doombient” in a valiant attempt to describe what they produce—most notably as the duo Ramp with fellow doombienteer Frank Makowski—but Parsick solo pushes enough envelopes to scatter any sort of catch-all categorizations to the four winds. Hatched in jet-black clamshell cases, both Cryotainer and Fuzzstars (released in ridiculously limited editions of only 25 each) plumb uncharted depths of interstellar hell, massed sonic choirs of great drones belching their oratory incantations from the centers of spatial chambers sucked dry of air. Subtitled “Music for Gasometers,” and recorded in front of a spellbound audience whose disembodied grunts and twitches act like unmoored spirits that Parsick weaves into the haunted mix, Cryotainer challenges even the hoariest of genre kingpins (Lull, Final, Sleep Research Facility) to seek refuge. Though spread out over eight tracks, the music cycles endlessly decaying refrains as one long monolithic journey through the void, deepcore synths charting slow, circular, whispery progressions. Based on improvisations wrought during rehearsals for some planetarium shows in Germany, Fuzzstars plots similarly isolationist trajectories. Low end vibrations shore up the sounds of distant chiming metals, synths channel the dying wavelengths of unseen pulsars, thick tonal clusters ebb and flow in a flux of zero gravity. Altering psychic states, suspending your time sense, and basically actualizing the abject terror of galactic solipsism, Parsick’s abstractions aren’t for those too squeamish to make the necessary existential leaps. The rest need seek out these objets d’sombre at once or risk missing out at their own peril. DARREN

The hyperactive gastric eruptions that are part and parcel of Wroln suggest Qebo might be the Pete Townsend of post-Autechre software abuse: as the masticated sonic onslaught unfolds throughout, one can imagine the two Qebotians swinging their laptops high overhead, a la the former Who guitarist, before crashing them and their itinerant sounds to the stage floor in self-destructive fury. Yes, Wroln is a violent music, spastic, shrill, and supercharged, but somehow the duo maintain enough control at the wheel to stave off anarchy…barely. Trouble is, who today has the patience for such well-wrought but technologically inchoate noise? The pincushion beat mechanics and thinly corrosive synth sweeps of “New Shit” make for quite the opening grabber, our savvy duo making mincemeat out of whatever polite ambience comes their way, electronics body-popping and short-circuiting at near-gabber speeds. The malevolent cell structure of “Cancer” is slow-growing at first but quickly metastasizes, as corrosive materiél congeals in a digital bubblebath, scoring their containers with acid reflux. Qebo’s follow-up to their rather excellent Flopper on the defunct Vibrant Music is a puzzle—perhaps they wanted to reinvent themselves as laptop contrarians, reacting against a perception that all is too warm and fuzzy in the electronic lumpenproletariat (although “S06th5ng” courts less abrasive realms, a unfrantic piece of regurgitative spit and polish). True or not, Wroln is tough going for even the most rugged laptop warrior, a more atmospheric sub-Merzbowian blast of arctic road chill made by two ‘warewolves quite indifferent to our tender sensibilities. ‘Course, that all depends on which side of the trackpad you’re on. DARREN

Run through a battery of modules, software, numerous processors and their respective interfaces, Frank Rothkamm seeks to make explicit in his sonic mock-ups of LAX the metaphors he postulates on the booklet’s hypertext liners. It’s a shaky construct to begin with, aurally and narratively—Rothkamm’s notes beggar tenuous suppositions between the “parallel” realities of Los Angeles’s stressed-out transportation system while simultaneously attempting to erect their doppelgangers in sound. A dubious undertaking, LAX ironically smacks of its own Hollywoodian “high concept”, especially since Rothkamm’s analogic is questionable, the text often reading like spurious silicon-age jabberwocky. Of prominent concern is the music itself, which fares marginally better. Rothkamm’s previous recordings suggested there was a unique new experimentalist in town, but the lackluster ideas scattered within LAX are much too inert to warrant concentrated listening. Stripped of context, a good chunk of the ten shortish pieces here recall the primetime of 50s fantastic cinema and 60s electronic academia—“Still Random Or Burial of Music” could have been an outtake from the Barron’s Forbidden Planet soundtrack, replete with the paroxysms of id monsters stomping across barren alien planetscapes. Rothkamm’s skill is undeniable, but little here is truly memorable; sketchy and indistinct, the various sawtooth waveforms, radar pings, coarse frequency pulsations, and gnarled machine ambience are innocuous at best, pedestrian at worst. Certainly far less inspired recordings are clogging the body electronic, yet Rothkamm’s laudable mimesis is unable to provide the thrust needed for lift-off. DARREN BERGSTEIN

Cage-y references and acknowledged Enoisms registered, Jason Sloan makes no bones about his initial forays into generative music and his own highly conceptual motives, but being branded a “copyist” should not concern him—the oceanic swells of Ending (Light) are potent enough to withstand the choicest scrutiny. Whether or not he’s his legitimate heir apparent, Sloan might well namecheck Eno when he ticks off this music’s founding fathers, however, the very process Sloan champions might compel him to add Steve Roach’s similarly inclined ethos to that reverential list. This double CDR set comprises just three longform tracks, the 53-minute “Open (Breathe)”, the 40-minute “Plain (Stretched Forever)” and the title track clocking in at a relatively modest quarter hour—sound familiar? I’d wager that cousin Steve buoys these dense tonefloats far more than uncle Brian—either affiliation fails to leech any inherent value from the works in question, but it only takes mere seconds of exposure to trigger instant flashbacks of the Arizonan shaman’s recent Immersion releases or, more tellingly, his earlier Structures from Silence. Though for this recording he traded in his usual ambient guitars for an “intuitive” software of his own making, Sloan’s inspiration arises out of the same chasmatic depths and mood-stabilizing expansiveness as Mssr. Roach. It might help to be in a particularly quiescent state of mind to fully appreciate “Open (Breathe)”’s epic grandeur, but it isn’t mandated; simply allow the shifting semi-precious respirations to assume the dimensions of whatever listening space is provided, and let osmosis take over. Though well-executed, the sonic architecture, “static” (an occupational hazard of the process, perhaps), even intentionally tepid in its emotional engagement, doesn’t prep you for the successive “Plain (Stretched Forever),” every bit the former’s polar opposite in both tone and temperament. Slowly but surely, like a flower’s petals welcoming morning sunlight, Sloan’s incandescent drones blossom and shimmer over icy surfaces of minimalist, profound beauty. Though the entirety ultimately becomes more than the sum of its constituent parts, the title track’s similar ruminations—irising opal notes that thinly vibrate with a palpable sadness—do act as a sonic bridge between Sloan’s beginning/ending dualities. Generatively speaking, automatic writing has rarely sounded so good—Uncle Brian would be proud. DARREN