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

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