Monday, November 10, 2008

Installment 22

ALPHA WAVE MOVEMENT Terra (Harmonic Resonance)
JEFFREY KOEPPER Sequentaria (Air Space)
THE MINISTRY OF INSIDE THINGS Ambient Elsewhere (Synkronos)
SYNDROMEDA & MATT HOWARTH Mythical Pursuit (Horizon)
WINTHERSTORMER Woodwork (Bajkal) Electric Fairytales (Bajkal)

This week, I dip my toes (and birth this post) into that subphylum of electronic sound euphemistically tagged “Berlin school”, or as it is sometimes ambiguously branded, “synth/sequencer” music. Though both terms are often used interchangeably, and usually with little thought to the exactitude of their definitions, shadings, literalisms, and descriptions, the measure of their journalistic shorthand not only tends to devaluate many of the artists operating under said sobriquets (in spite of the necessary evil that requires such terminology be used), but doing so often sets my own teeth on edge. The generation’s leading lights from whence such terms arose—pretty much all post-krautrock electronic music, though more specifically referencing Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ashra/Manuel Gottsching, aside from the misnomer that all these musicians were Berlin-based—never could have foresaw what they eventually spawned.

For the sake of argument and context, however erroneous one might think it, I’ll continue to use “Berlin school” if for no other reason than to maintain some sense of referent, order, understanding and sanity. (This will also be continued in one or two follow-up essays as well.) Regardless, the various artists who have splintered off from those 70s “movements”, geographical origins notwithstanding, seem to simultaneously embrace and distance themselves from the baggage attendant with the terminology. This is disingenuous at best, ignorant at worst: anyone working within a certain defined set of stylistic parameters, be it ambient, techno, dubstep, et al, are subject to whatever standards are ultimately defined by working within said genre. Essentially, you make your bed, etc. etc. Again, there’s a fine line between strict “genre music” (where the musician is comfortable working within their chosen categorical skin) and those individuals extrapolating, or at least expounding upon, the limitations of form. Both can, of course, be rendered either terminally retro and hopelessly derivative or markedly innovative, succeeding as such on their own terms. This column’s “roundup”, as it were, is not by any means intended to be comprehensive nor definitive, simply a glimpse into common aesthetics shared by some contemporary practitioners who nevertheless pursue differing objectives.

Gregory Kyryluk, whose predominant recording locus has been as Alpha Wave Movement, remains something of a under-recognized figure on the “scene” despite a career dating back to the mid 90s and an impressive (if smaller when measured against other Berlin school graduates) catalog. In fact, Kyryluk is one of the few odd men out—many of his recordings do indeed adopt the Teutonic syntax, but he’s equally limber at creating broadbased cinematic ambient that coordinate more than a few substantially arresting textures and motifs. Terra originally soundtracked a DVD sporting its name, though Kyryluk came to his senses and gave the audio portion a proper unveiling. It’s one of his most varied, and by dearth thereof, one of his most inviting works, alternately quiet and serene one moment, kinetic the next, yet of a well-considered piece (and pace) that thwarts charges of ideaistic schizophrenia. “Emerald Passage” in fact makes use of gorgeously exulted piano amidst curtains of synthetic strings, melancholic sans triteness, and most definitely not a barometer for what follows. “Liquid Garden” partakes of the kind of interspatial starshine that Patrick O’Hearn first dabbled with on his earliest Private Music recordings, synths bright and airy, augmented by gently swelling flurries of effects. Tracks such as the pregnant, deep-sky pulses of “Cloudmaker” demonstrate Kyryluk’s unabashed passion for landscape, while “Surrender & Flow” finally introduces softly ebbing sequencers into the Alpha Wave mainframe, a series of wonderfully throbbing patterns that recall Jonn Serrie’s more lucid moments. Kyryluk is nothing if not versatile, however: the laminate binding “Terra Infinitus” proffers moods that probe as they darken, dusky wafts of sound that give way to a beautifully spoked sequencer array of moogy goodness. Alpha-betize onto your shelves, pronto. DARREN

Third time is indeed a charm in Jeffrey Koepper’s case—Sequentaria demonstrates a guy who can’t be stopped, and no one should try. A man so in love with electronic sound and its capabilities that he proudly lists the equipment used for each track (though granted this is practically de rigueur amongst synth aficionados), Koepper possesses some extraordinary compositional dexterity and a flair for the dramatic that enable his roaring electrifications to deflect whatever cursory TD glances are thrown at them. And those referents exist in abundance: “Blue Sector” dodges bullets shot out from Hyperborea and Tangram; “Astral Projection” and “Near Machinery” feloniously challenge Thief’s similarly sleek, fleet, streamlined assaults; “Synchronous” is simply pure sequencer dazzle, informed by a supine grace underpinned with stealthy ferocity. Comparisons, influences, quotation marks aside, Koepper’s creations dare you to holler “foul!”—svelte and savvy, a smooth operator twisting knobs in a display of balletic razzledazzle, it’s apparent to anyone well-schooled in, well, Berlin school techniques, that Koepper’s malleability, his honest embracement of the Teutonic birthright, oozing the right stuff, neuters any charges of “retro” that might be levied. Once sent spiraling across the ten-minute breadth of “Creation”, as Koepper’s sequencers Prophet-ize a simultaneous second coming of Richard Pinhas’ own fevered (tangerine) dreams, the only necessary choice is one of total submission to its onslaught. Smashing. DARREN

Aside from hosting the long-running Star’s End radio show, and staging Philadelphia’s inimitable Gatherings series of electronic music events, Chuck Van Zyl’s an accomplished synthesist in his own right, and sorely neglected to boot. His Synkronos label hosted much of his own work (often cloaked under numerous aliases), either solo or in collaboration with other local musicians; the many cassettes Synkronos released in the 90s are now (rightly so) much sought-after collector’s items. In tandem with experimental guitarist Art Cohen as The Ministry of Inside Things, Ambient Elsewhere is the duo’s third album, a two-disc pack recorded live at various venues in and around the Philly domain. The jury’s out as to whether Van Zyl and Cohen’s finest moments ultimately arise in the breathy company of avid enthusiasts—nevertheless, studio-bound or not, their synchronous talents are duly crystallized herein. Inspiration still comes from areas Teutonic, neé Berlinesque, of course, but the disc’s stellar, often bravura, moments categorically blast “influences” to smithereens. Serious they may be as they plug in and coax glimmering textures from their respective instruments, but clearly the duo revel in sculpting these myriad, grandiose soundscapes. Van Zyl makes optimal use of mellotron and numerous string synths, particularly on “Science Fiction,” around which ghostly voices curdle and moog sprites engage in hushed reverences. “Dubzilla” and its cousin “Markzilla” effect reasonably yeoman mergers of contemporary IDM squish and Gottschingy guitar, Cohen’s massaged chords things of dappled beauty. “Poor Alice” finds the mellotron returning in force, buttressed by pinging bass figures and an insistent, sinister pulse. Disc two’s opening “Aphelion Season” works more scare tactics into the mix, Van Zyl’s electronics trading East Asian chimes with sounds of vast, cavernous natures. However, the eleven minute “Icicle Falls” is where Cohen really gets to shine, picking out gentle Frippian arpeggios amidst a qualitative backbeat and morningsun synths. In fact, if anything underscores what this dynamic duo achieve on Ambient Elsewhere it’s an enormous variety of sound and vision, light on categorical baggage, heavy on imagistic ballast. If ever these two gents can bulk up their catalog’s largesse, synth clergy the world over will be flocking for a glimpse of Things Inside. DARREN

Full-on synth/sequencer music is pretty much the name of the game regarding Belgium keyboardist Danny Budts, aka Syndromeda. He’s built a respectable career working his particular skein of genre music, consciously aping the more salient moments of both TD and Schulze when required. Mythical Pursuit actually wrings a good deal of compositional grit from the Schulzian model, Budts executing six fairly lengthy sequencer treatises of considerable zap and electrical pram. The distinguishing factor on this Pursuit, however, can be discovered perusing “collaborator” Matt Howarth’s accompanying comic, which is embedded in this specially enhanced CD and adds an demonstrably evocative visual element to Budts already frenzied tremolos. As interesting as Howarth’s panels are, however, immersing oneself in the Syndromeda soundworld wholecloth might well be the preferable method of interaction for the average listener. Such an approach is well worth the effort: “Hidden in the Asteroid Belt” modulates sequencer rush against tidal waves of soaring analogics; “Her Insane Majesty’s Entropic Empire” marries Howarth’s dystopian fantasies to Budts’ latent tangerine phasing, wind-whipped effects and interstellar soar. Budts’ tonal phraseology does cozy up a bit too closely to Berlin alumni for comfort, but ignoring what his objectives truly are—mining a seam of electronic music rich enough to coarse through a roster of international artist’s veins for over 30 years—doesn’t diminish from the palpable tensions he judiciously coaxes from his patchcord array. DARREN

Norwegian quartet Wintherstormer must sure as hell make the pillars of heaven shake whenever the electrical arcs of their synths brave the frigid air. Led by mainman synth artisan Terje Winther, this mesmeric group, with a mere two recordings to their credit (minus an official live CDR), are poised to become one of the prime flag-bearers of the aught’s synth/sequencer paradigm. With Redshift on indefinite hiatus, only colleagues Airsculpture and Radio Massacre International can mark out similar territory; that aside, the quartet manage a calamitous, incomparable noise. On Woodwork, synths breathe fire as sequencers tumble down their scored mountainsides like molten lava. A keen experimentalist propensity informs the group’s artistic bent, as vital an element in their make-up as the instruments they employ: “Musical Equitation Extracted from Firelogs” employs weird whispered voices, snatches of synthetic musique concrete, chattering percussives, siren-like synth wails, and demonic bursts of spectral electronic ephemera in a wild concoction recalling David Vorhaus’s White Noise as much as TD’s Zeit. The over half-hour “Monochrome" is a stunning tour-de-force that encompasses Reichian tinkertoy perambulations, morose blocks of synth, weeping mellotrons and processed flecks of errant guitar strain, a bracing display equaling the finest moments of its Teutonic forebears. The follow-up, 2008’s Electric Fairytales, in many ways betters its predecessor, an often mind-numbing, dizzying spectacle of electronic gimcrackery. “Cucumber Salad” is all sequencer spark and guitar oomph, barreling along fierce frontal boundaries patrolled by klaxon-like modulars and hollering ‘trons. The monstrous deepspace shoals of “Rising Ashes” portends great hostile landscapes where multi-limbed creatures roam, their footprints tactile evidence of electronics reconfiguring alien geography; synths intimidate each other as they circle about, moogs screaming, inimical soundbursts recalling similar flavors cooked up by Pauline Oliveros and Donald Buchla in the mad 60s heyday of experimental synth flight. Temporarily quashing the sequencer pulse, the quartet set off for regions unknown, and we willingly, voluntarily, enthusiastically accompany them. Utterly brilliant stuff, required listening for either the remotely curious or longtime diehard. DARREN

APALUSA Obadiah (Low Point)
ARCTIC HOSPITAL Neon Veils (Lantern)
COH Strings (Raster-Noton)
COH / COSEY FANNI TUTTI Coh Plays Cosey (Raster-Noton)
KYLE BOBBY DUNN Fragments and Compositions (Sedimental)
NILS HELSTROM Another Moment for the Memory (Electric Requiems)
I AM SEAMONSTER Nebulum | Constellatrix (Basses Frequences)
LULL Like a Slow River (Glacial Movements)
LIONEL MARCHETTI & SEIJIRO MURAYAMA Hatali Atseli (L'Echange des Yuex) (Intransitive)
SAWAKO Bitter Sweet (12k)
HOWARD STELZER Bond Inlets (Intransitive)
THE WINTERHOUSE Lost (Dataobscura)

A lowlight coven of guitar-drone crones has quietly emerged out of these grey'n'green Isles in the last year. The common ground between them is not simply source instrument, but the use of raw sounds and processing techniques along with a blending of ambient, drone and post-rock knowledge bases. The likes of mwvm, Wereju, and Low Point supremo Gareth Hardwick have been mapping this terrain, along with Nottingham’s Dan Layton, who now makes a bid for promotion to the front rank with his Apalusa project’s third and most substantial outing. Over the course of Obadiah’s 50 minutes, he weaves a drone-heavy fabric with dark materials drawn from somewhere between Justin Broadrick's Final frontiers and Stars of the Lid in tape-hiss happy mode (e.g. The Ballasted Orchestra's "Taphead"). Layton shows himself to be his own man, though, and more interested in the fluidity and extension of sonorities than in tonal terrorism. “Obadiah 1” sets the tone, building from edge of darkness palaeontology, navigating an ominous undertow before ascending in a heaving swell of reverberant processed steel strata, simultaneously rough-edged and mellifluous, moving into “Obadiah 2”. This second scenario has a more harmonic script, with similar serially billowing textures, noise-nudging, feedback-flirting. Final movement, “How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy, Mr Death?” heads back down to trawl around in a headachey vortex of abyssal churnings, tapping into a seam of underground digs of the type curated by noted UK archaeologists Jonathan Coleclough, Colin Potter and Paul Bradley. Sounds are stretched far out from source through heavy-duty software manipulations into twisted swathes and sinister rumblings attended by creeped-out phantasms. Heavy weather, but the ride’s worth it for the more questing adventurers at the dark-drone/ambient-guitar interface. The bonus disc, for those quick enough on the uptake, is a well captured live piece that should speak volumes to Kranky-ites and Hypnos-philes alike. ALAN

Arctic Hospital houses Wisconsin-based producer Eric Bray, already with a moderately-received Narita debut, Citystream, under his belt, and a sideline spot in ambient post-rock ensemble, The World On Higher Downs. Bray works a vein of techno that’s either dated or timeless, depending on your perspective, a mélange of, let's say for brevity's sake, '90s Detroit techno progressions woven with early Warp threads. First issue on Plop’s new "dance" offshoot, Lantern, Neon Veils spools out reels of solidly composed thumpy retro-futurism, though the cumulative effect of samey material proves somewhat cloying to these ears. The differences between opener “Sunset Circle” with its stiff metallic functionalism and “Encompass”, with its more elaborate barrage of electronic detritus is small, but in this difference lies the "I" that helps transcend the "D" in a (presumably) IDM hybrid that too often falls between two stools. Surprisingly, for one whose ambient aim is true in his TWOHD incarnation, the track-patients in Bray's Arctic Hospital are almost permanently wired up, struggling to juggle a certain barely restrained minimalism with the pull to full-on doof-ism. Tracks such as “Stepping Back” are full of busy battery that ultimately feels like a hollow illusion of purposive activity. “Night Carrier” finally seeks a radical solution by eating itself, or rather transmuting halfway into two quite different beasts/beats, before disintegrating into digital entropy. It may be claimed that the spirit of the age of technical prowess is captured herein, but the butterfly of substantial and individual vision is elusive. ALAN

The encounter of Ivan Pavlov (and Coh) with veteran underground counterculture maven Cosey Fanni Tutti on Raster Noton sends out signal even before noise is emitted: a communion of the designer post-digital uber-order of the RN universe with the chaos of industrial alt-performance. Purportedly Coh plays Cosey “deals with concepts of honesty, trust, privacy, communication as well as (perception of) sexuality.” This offers a conceptual get-out for a project whose musical merits are distinctly dubious at various junctures. Pavlov’s microsonic splicings of Cosey’s vocalese may be familiar to those with a knowledge of Maja Ratkje’s Voice album, but that worked more with the grain of the voice, whereas Coh retains slivers of signification in its textual content whose intended import is reinforced by lyrics printed in the accompanying booklet. Not that there’s a plethora of profundity in what seems very basic and (deliberately?) unpoetic verbal expression. What diversion there is to be had resides in the jouissance of the post- play with performance. Coh acts as main coordinator, chopping vox up into phonemes to function as cybernetic rhythm, as on “Near You”, or "Fuck it", a chaotic piece of lurch and stutter. Or turning syllables into lead lines, hitching plosives and fricatives to other sounds on the unkempt fragment-strewn collage of “Crazy”. Elsewhere Pavlov’s tech-trix defer to Cosey, on the sussurations and breathy humming of “Inside”, or the largely wordless “Lost”, whereon plaintive vox lies low before mounting slowly, time-stretched, strident screams adding to an air of abandon and derangement. File under experimental. And retreat.
 In contrast, Strings, Pavlov’s electro-acoustic study of string-driven things starts out as if offering a fresh spin on the glitch-funk and chamber étude formula of Alva Noto and Sakamoto (cf., Vrioon, Insen), but proceeds to take other instrumental and stylistic turnings, including a Rasterized Namlook/Öçal. At the start, “Andante Facile” in particular stomps on similar soft pedals to Noto+’moto with its blending of processed piano motifs with digi-rhythmics. Coh, though, is less clipped and diamond cut than Noto, allowing the raw into his audio-cookbook. His no(i)se is generally kept [Photo]clean, though not always pleasing to behold. On “No Monsters No Rock” guitars are brutally manmachine-handled, their skizzing giving way to sub-kerrang bludgeoning, with echoes of the poundings of Pan Sonic. The oud of “Spiritoso Con Amore” wanders innocently around—the suspense killing—before ending up in a den of excrescent digitalia that seeks to convert it to an unholy path to which it eventually succumbs on “Devoto Maestoso Al Fine”, dragged into a thicket of thrumming overdrive. The less studied treatments on the Orientalist saz and oud pieces on disc 2’s “SU-U”, a 17-minute exploration of the instruments’ timbres with sympathetic droning and (eventual) rhythms, is the most appealing piece, nicely balancing the "nature" of source sound with the "artifice" of engineering. ALAN

Kyle Bobby Dunn's intimate splice of acoustic performance with electronic sounds makes for an exfoliating scrub of an album, unctuous but studded with a miasma of abrasive particles that challenge the ear. His approach amounts to an exceptionally clear-eyed analysis of note frequencies and acoustics. It's altogether possible to be simply charmed by the restrained swells and tinkles of his considered soundworld. Nonetheless, the piano's asymmetrical runs and smears, and the finely crafted and diverse droning strings have a kind of subdued but no less effective experimental barbarism about them. The layered violin sounds on "Miranda Rights" creates an excruciating palimpsest of melancholy lyricism. This amounts to an immediate moment amidst an otherwise stylistically shifting music that articulates and emphasizes a number of the levels of gestural tradition found in the realms of modern composition, ambient, and electro-acoustic improvisation. "Sedentary I" is about the various angles and edges that catch and momentarily flicker against the grubbed and faded atmosphere. But especially in the later portions of the album, Dunn seems more of a composer; his eye leaning toward broad brushstrokes and melodic lines that wrinkle and pucker within the texture and curvatures of each piece. These works are thematic—in fact, in some places they are full of cinematic expanse and tension—but otherwise free in every way. The recording sessions and layering of which this effort is comprised took place over the span of several years, yet presented here Dunn's beautiful time, feel and touch seem flowing and undiminished. MAX

Rutger Zuydervelt seems to be going for some kind of record with the sheer volume of his Machinefabriek project's output over '07-'08. Whether solo or in collaboration, though, for the most part it’s been pretty much quality assured, his stock-in-trade a variety of DSP-squished tones pressed into service of post-rock progressions marking him out as one of the main torch-bearers of a post-Fennesz guitar generation. Oahu, a communion with experimental veteran Frans de Waard—of Kapotte Muziek, Beequeen and Goem, here in Freiband guise—consists in a pair of extended re-toolings of a one-minute Hawaiian slack-key guitar piece. Sliced up into half-minute segments, shuttled back and forth over a prolonged period, edited and finalised, two 20-minute pieces spewed forth. “Oahu 2”, Freiband’s offering, is a cold draughty and forbidding trip through bilious fogbanks, an unlovely exercise with a certain dirty ambient appeal. No disrespect to de Waard, who has been a sterling, and unsung, labourer at the experimental music culture-face for well over a decade, but in some parts noise annoys, in others a twitchiness attends the eventlessness. On “Oahu 3”, a more (however obliquely) melodic Machinefabriek is more targeted, the sounds both more faithful to source while being wrought into more distinct and diverting mutations with signature DiSsruPts, low-end vapours, and high-end detail. Overall, though, Oahu feels like a minor work of "interesting" but non-essential soundscaping, particularly when placed against the best of both of their previous separately conducted explorations. ALAN

Seeking background bumph on the barely heard of Irish drone musician Nils Helstrom led to a Myspace page announcing his presence with the doleful signature “chambers of deepening grey.” A list of influences revealed a larger pattern: names associated with late- and post-classical Nordic minimalism (Arvo Part, Johann Johannson, Deathprod) and Kranky’s spatial electronic soundscaping (Gregg Kowalsky, SotL, Tim Hecker, Christopher Bissonnette), consort with classical minimalism (Adams, Glass, Reich), and (post)modern soundtrack (Clint Mansell, Cliff Martinez). A pretty good map of Helstrom’s ambit of operations on Another Moment for the Memory, though Helstrom displays little interest in harmony other than the accidental in its seven ambiguous but involving sheets of shimmering drone-basing. At times cavernously expansive, but mostly an affair of fade-to-grey minimalism, there are traces of tonal consonance on certain tracks. The likes of “A Stranger To Myself”, might once have been a beautiful lulling lilt, but its euphony is all but effaced by Helstrom’s processing disintegrations. The artist prefers to enshroud any latent musicality in his material in shadows and fog. Mute hummings, buzzing modulations and the vapourtrails of overdriven signal processing obscure all but the most muted of melodies enfolded within these timestretched swells of whir and rumble. More often than not Helstrom sneaks around sonic spaces documented by the Monos, Mirror and Twenty Hertz collective, drawing drapes of dirty velvet over the forlorn figures barely animating its spooked nonplace. ALAN

Next an earth-shaking little release from new-ish French imprint Basses Frequences whose ltd. ed. CDRs come niftily housed in metal boxes—thankfully not of the insidious type that slowly eviscerate their spindle-impaled occupant. I Am Seamonster lives up to his offbeat name, at least on the chiming wall of blur that is Nebulum. Taylor Holdgraf, for I Am Seamonster is he, shuns the dank low-end of doom and shirks the dazzling high-end of ethereal, occupying indeterminate ground, one foot in the Fennesz/Hecker camp, the other Jeck-ing out Mathieu’s Radioland motions, maybe looking back at Young’s Theater of Eternal Music. Chronostasis abounds, albeit with a teeming micro-movement inside. It’s as if a cupboardful of trapped pop song harmonics were opened up and let out, scrunched-up after years of enclosure, and IAS were seeking to stretch and pull and smooth their faded and streaked contours into newly sonorous life. The tones mingle and achieve coherence only to lose focus and descend into a churning vortex of vibrant sub-forms. It's drone, Jim, but not as we know it. Companion piece “Constellatrix” crawls out from a different cupboard of abandonment, though. As bleakly cheerless as “Nebulum” is coruscatingly euphoric, it creeps and seeps at the edges of sentience, like the last trails of feedback from an amplifier long since deserted, or the ghosts of decayed returns captured in an old echo unit, sound and fury subtracted, signifying...who knows? Like a midnight walk through an evacuated factory still spectrally inhabited with the ghosts of dead machinery and lost souls. This is hardcoredrift, an engrossing little number all round. ALAN

The cross-hatching of field recordings from the town of Somerville, the Alps and Zurich Lake found on Jason Kahn and Asher’s collaboration Vista interrupts the stupor of lucidity and momentarily reawakens an oceanic feeling for the world and its far-flung extremities. The recording is indeterminate by reason of its fundamental structure. The two sound-worlds interrelate without fusing or forming a unity; the mechanical rooms and generators of Somerville amass and give rise to a resistance and a sense of dimension of material space within and against the wind and water sounds from Kahn. Vista is thus elemental, physical, yet also otherworldly, in fact, more so than anything one is likely to find in the back-catalogue of either artist, straining as it often does to frame a certain spectral presence. Consisting of a single forty-five minute composition, the work begins in a state of liquid insubstantiality, before being broken up and veering off into time-shifts. A grimy generator thrum is set to some rich sonic mush and a mechanical pulse that incrementally multiplies in density. All of these elements fold back and entwine themselves chokingly around a sound (water beating up against a rock?) that is both strangely muffled and claustrophobic. What at first ripples and rises darkly as if through obscured glass, near the end of the album is brutally, unforgivingly and starkly illuminated and, for all that—or, rather, because of it—oddly foreign and distant. As an ending, its thus more a dissolution than a conclusion, and a surprisingly effective one at that. In between these two points, the work follows a steady, consistent and yet exploratory path—constructing well formed telluric landmarks and branching off into a number of directions, thereby evoking geometric attributes constitutive of material space. MAX

By now Mick Harris has achieved a kind of apotheosis, occupying a hallowed place in the Dark Drone Annals, alongside, if with a slightly lower stature, the likes of Lustmord and Thomas Köner. These last-mentioned were the founders of the isolationist creed that arose from a ferment of industrial-ambient and dark-drone activity which Harris did much to carry forward in the mid-90s. Harris had a flair for the desolate and voidoid fuelled by a harsh audio-sensibility forged in the fire of Napalm Death. What had been less clear till then was a certain prowess in sound grabbing and scaping that drew the listener into the abyss without drowning them, most notably on 1994's isolationist classic, Cold Summer. Like A Slow River, not surprisingly, finds Lull still documenting similar psychogeography, as atonal murmur and reverberant wheeze consort with currents beneath the surface. For all its relentless dronanism and slab-like sonority, Lull’s minimal movements are fully felt in slow falls inward into abyssal depths. Lull charts a tonal topography bleakly remote from harmonic referents across five variations on a theme of sickly sub-bass slithers and queasy mid-range slivers, configuring sounding sources into varying modulations and vibrations, shifting cadence and timbre. Like A Slow River will fall, out of categorical imperative, into that black hole facilely labelled "dark ambient" into which much disappears from view, pulled down into lumpen-homogeneity by association. The Lull aesthetic might more accurately be seen, though, as a radical redraft of 80s/90s industrial power electronics with noise reduction on, allowing expression to subtler textural resonances of signal. However designated, Lull’s variation on a pessimist-humanist enviro-futureshock theme joins those from Rapoon, Oophoi, and GM curator himself, Netherworld, as an entirely congruent addition. ALAN

Lionel Marchetti plays with an experience of Hatali and Atseli—an Ancient Greek ritual revolving around an exchange of eyes—on this collaboration with vocalist Seijiro Murayama. As though a kind of Cerebus of its own, Hatali Atseli has a head for musique concrete, improvisation, and documentary recording. There is nothing congealed about certain stretches of time. As perpetual emanations, the breath of events in these places travel in material waves, calm but alive. Periodically, though, Marchetti will interject, fixing here and there certain lines of force in the form of hooting woodwinds and percussion or else ostracizing certain scrapes and rustles and leaving the proceedings to sound ominously threadbare. At times these movements amount to continuations or accentuation's more than real invasions. Hence one expects Marchetti does indeed maintain a fairly faithful experience of Ancient Greek ritual. There is also a kind of raising of the stakes going on, however, especially in Murayama's banshee wails and warped animal sounds. With the harmonization of Marchetti's fluttery gestures and Murayama's occasional—and somewhat distressing—returns to the dark night of animality, the proceedings are raised to a theatrical level, making this disc a manifold expression that incites one to respond in a variety of ways. MAX

Seth Nehil and Matt Marble are keen on subverting musical flow and yet they rarely seem any less alive to the situation. In fact, on account of their peculiar method, the opposite proves to be the case: the positive presence of Ecllipses is structured by a series of elliptical movements around an assortment of micro-temporal cut-outs. It's these very breaches and gaps that ultimately keep the resulting music both constantly moving and yet structured. Owing to this process, and the fact that at first the sounds seem to be issuing from fragmented and unrelated harmonic and rhythmic spaces, they have a tendency to seem somewhat bold and harsh. That being said, it's actually anything but simple messy soldering and abstruse perversion of electricity. The two demonstrate themselves to be exceptionally disciplined and they never seek assistance from outside their own internal necessities. Intervaled silences penetrate a low ground swell on "Skully", transforming an otherwise hypnotic ambience into a swirling, insistent and centreless piece. So too with "Flock", metallic percussion rattles like the links of a chain uncoiling and strings pointedly trickle around a few high end notes, foraging, amidst magnetic fluctuations, shortwave demodulations and spiraling squeals, for a melodic opening that is never allowed to quite take form. From here the pieces widen into a stately panorama of obscure and half-submerged gestures. By virtue of contrast, in these larger spaces of curved-wall acoustics, coated with fizzling drones, the tiny textural striations and other such open-ended masses of miniscule events are all the more beguiling, giving off a glimpse of the immensity and near emptiness of space. MAX

Microsound hasn’t exactly been a magnet drawing female artists in to its orbit, but exposure to Sawako’s provocative primrose apothecaries ought to change that in a heartbeat. It’s not necessarily an act of gender that makes her delicately-phrased tendrils of sound so luminous; coupled with a Zen-like approach to sound design and an obvious expertise blurring the acoustic and electronic interface, Sawako’s artistic abilities are anything but passive. Immersive, yes, yet it’s key to note that her works seek to engage rather than dissipate the attention of anyone expecting a parade of facile ambient non-entities to draw themselves across the speaker fabric. Her previous 12k outing, 2005’s Hum, wasn’t any less strange and wonderfully made than Bitter Sweet, but time has enabled Sawako to hone her drone craftsmanship beyond mere wafting tidal pools of sound. Truth be told, labeling her music with such terms as “drone” and “microsound” is ambiguous at best, foolhardy at worst. No doubt a piece such as “Looped Labyrinth, Decayed Voice” (the disc’s crown jewel) displays all the hallmarks—gently oscillating whirls, clipped bird twitters amidst the flapping of little wings, time standing virtually motionless as tones circle a widening black hole—a soundscape seemingly trapped in stasis yet robust with minute objects scurrying at the edges. At once mysterious and undeniably beautiful, it is about as near a “romantic” ideal as dronework could be. Lusher still is “Wind Shower Particle,” wherein Sawako’s parsed electronics blossom amongst an moist undergrowth of vine-covered guitars. Across the over nine-minute “Hugbug,” odd burbles and purring grumblings etch jagged lines throughout a refracted surface of Eliane Radigue-like summer-haze loops; gauzy and subtly eerie, it recalls nothing less than spans of orange twilight sun parting the branches of dewy forest, anticipating the biting evening air. Sawako isn’t shy of earthly constraints, either — introducing lovely refrains of processed cello and violin on “Utouto” lends an acoustic serenity to such becalming laptop environs, a “reciprocess” that draws out her onkyo roots in suitably demonstrative fashion. Far from a mere minimalist exercise, both this piece and the closing two (“Tsubomi, Saku”, and “A Last Next”) reinvent “new age” for the software set, elegant dritfworks unifying the artist’s pre-eminent dichotomies into a wonderfully melancholic whole. DARREN

Bond Inlets clothes itself in the minimum of matter necessary for its communication. One senses it is put together by design, that in it significance precedes and transforms the existence of the field recordings. But, at the same time, there is an active dialogue between the two, a sort of circular causality in which the terms are rendered indistinct and through which the work acquires a quasi-natural aura and manner of unfolding. The feebleness of Howard Stelzer's cassette-tape technology in its consternation before nocturnal insects, crackling firewood, and all manner of voices is palpable; and the substance of its memory hangs like weak thread in the yawning maw of Stelzer's sludgy, galloping drones. Stelzer's drones come in waves, long and slow, while the other gestures are bitty, percussive and often shrill, and are given salient structural impetus by their silent framing. As a structural system, this has real depth, and it lends itself well to observation as one approaches it from different points of view. The work continues to open out structurally as it moves along, and the reduced density brought about as a result allows the constituents of the music to come into individual focus. When this happens, a haggard melancholy is all pervasive; in the fleeting half-melodies, the warm though foreboding bass drones, and the fetishistic hiss—all so many residues of a living whirlwind that devours the darkness. MAX

Anthony Paul Kerby (APK), familiar to ambient-space adepts from his projects under the banner of The Circular Ruins, Lammergeyer, and Nunc Stans, here renews his file-exchange tryst with Robert Davies, himself with a number of accomplished DataObscura releases under his belt, to follow up their debut, Slow Promises. Davies’ euphonic take on ambient drone theory finds a compatible foil in APK. On such tracks as "The Four Corners of Night", the knowledge base of the latter’s spacemusic and EM schooling are well in evidence in embroidering around the former’s drone-deliveries which become fertile ground-level backdrops to spindles of sinewy synth figures. APK likes to steep his tonal material in a solution of environmental infusions so they end up with a filmy smearage, bringing out a teeming inner life of particulate detail. Lost is, overall, possessed of a brooding beauty and grainy grandeur, its soundings more electronic than Alio Die, less etherial than Oophoi, less devotional than Mathias Grassow, while sharing something of the sonorous spirit of all of the above. And with this second work, The Winterhouse cement their credentials in sonic articulations of imaginary place, as creators of meditative yet resonant loci of repose and reflection, turning to loss and isolation. Closing piece, "Clearing", shows the pair are capable of surprising mood shifts, as the dominant doleful tenor of the preceding movements is dispelled, clouds lifting in gorgeous elegiac aperture. This data may be Obscura but its muted melancholy and existential poesis feel close to home. ALAN