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

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

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