Thursday, October 30, 2008

Installment 21 / Hypnos label roundup

AUSTERE Solyaris
STEVE BRAND Bridge to Nowhere
M. GRIFFIN Fabrications
SANS SERIF Tones for LaMonte
SAUL STOKES Villa Galaxia
VARIOUS Message from a Subatomic World
VARIOUS Sounds of a Universe Overheard

America’s premier ambient label’s been churning releases out at fairly regular intervals in 2008, the better to continue it’s burgeoning rep while playing host to artists of varying levels of notoriety. In these days of the now ubiquitous CDR and virtually 24-hour downloading, when ambient music (and all related subgenres) can be had for a mere pittance (or a mere click of the mouse), it’s comforting to know that Hypnos and its founder Mike Griffin have stayed the course despite weathering sea changes in the marketplace and its insatiable audience. The Hypnos “ideal” has altered little in its twelve-year lifespan, but Griffin and Co. do on occasion tweak the model; this year’s offerings cross a swathe of genre, and have introduced some well-acknowledged, if “underground”, recruits to the imprint’s fraternity.

Judging by Solyaris, Portland, Oregon’s Austere couldn’t have picked a better name for their recording identity, although the Pacific Northwest collective do categorically mix it up if you’ve been paying attention to their back catalog pre-Hypnos. I must admit some trepidation regarding artists choosing “site”-specific monikers—it would be an understatement to say that branding oneself Minimal or Technorock might muddy the pudding, as it were—dispelling that sense of mystery and “myth”, unwittingly painting themselves into a corner. This is indeed the case on Solyaris, but thankfully the collective pull off their metaphorical hat trick in a (subtle) blaze of pragmatic glory. Apparently neither in the hollow vacuum of space nor the dimly-lit corners of our psyches can anyone hear us dream—consider that during the opening 15 minutes of “Seraphim”, where rising tones ache and shimmer, where errant corpuscles of sound occasionally interrupt the piece’s flowing circulatory system. Or partake of the massive near 40-minute trawl that is “Nictitate”, as heated moogs unspool threads of humid mist, envelopes are tightened, filters open and close like the rusting apertures of a gargantuan space freighter, and unidentifiable noises caress the emptiness. Little compositional momentum emerges; rather, a chain of irregularly dispersed micro-events is what keeps so much articulated tension coiling along the event horizon of the piece's collapsar. Positioned along axes of darkly similar persuasions—alum from Cyclic Law, Steve Roach’s The Magnificent Void, Sleep Research Facility—Solyaris doesn’t reinvent the drone aesthetic as much as reap its attenuated whirlwind.

If its gritty, grotty, granulated textures are anything to go by, Hypnos founder Griffin’s own long-in-the-tooth Fabrications, the follow-up of sorts to 1997’s Sudden Dark, hasn’t squandered its evolutionary arc. At least he puts his money where his mouth/sound is—virtually embodying the Hypnos gestalt, Griffin massages, coaxes, and exacts all manners of eerie sonic turbulence from natural, neé acoustic, sources. Other than signal processing, Griffin has abandoned “traditional” methods of aural mutation and frequency daubing in the realization of six elusive, often incorporeal, environments. Cliché is abandoned, too: rather than allowing the natural ebb and flow of liquids to generate tension, Griffin’s samples of ocean and waterfall on “Water is Silver” instead rubs its mercurial tide up against a ballast of corroded iron stirred within cloudbanks of disinterred reverb. Navigating us and his sounds through tunnels barnacled and wind-etched, Griffin’s fragmentary snapshots, depixellated, the emulsion bleached and stretched taut, require his nimble direction, and our fertile imaginations, to hammer them into tangible, if fleeting, shapes. A somnolent piece of hauntology such as “Devise” appears as if wrenched from a carnival of souls, its disembodied voices caught in EVP flux, just out of reach and trapped between dimensions thick with echo and (reci)process. As you may now glean, Griffin’s tactile soundscapes subvert the ambient model in no uncertain terms. He achieves a fitful balance between poles, neither Lull-ing his audience to sleep nor making them reCoil in abject terror, though exposed to the final cumulative 22 minutes that is “Sky is Glass Lit”—rife with a veritable catalog of extrasensory percolations, altering tableau, and ghost cadences—it’s clear Griffin’s aural fictions are the stuff of daymares rather than nightdreams, a threnody of compelling, edgy, anxious grimbience with precious few parallels.

With Villa Galaxia, Saul Stokes has realized the most playful recording of his career: springy in step and lactating purple, it even mischievously tugs at the fringes of (god help us) “electropop”. But don’t get too alarmed: this is a marvelously vibrant, engaging work of contemporary electronica that finds Stokes charting unexplored territory with his usual idiosyncratic gusto. Outerspace music, rendering the covers of antiquarian sci-fi mags Astounding and Fantastic in glorious harmonicolor, Stokes’s sonic bric-a-brac would find favor from those whose collections sport Bill Nelson as well as early Morr sides and magic fealties long ago forged by IDMistic platterpusses Aphex Twin or Bochum Welt. But Stokes is a true original, a savvy composer who refuses to merely tweak paradigms, boost plug-in ratios or jump to Warp nine with his controls locked to the heart of the sun. The sheer joviality of this recording is impossible to shake—like the spaceage art nouveau so relished by his colleague, Stokes goes back to the future encumbered in a cozy full Nelson. Other folks subconsciously flavor the stew as well: “Hello Radar” works Mouse on Mars rubberband rhythm-snaps into a gaseous Stokes configuration that pops and bubbles like the most exotic Stereolab experiments. “Vapor Trails” revels wholeheartedly in its old-school moog refrains and bleep coagulant. “Eta Car Is a Massive Star” (Stokes' gift for titular designation improves on each successive recording like a fine vintage) explodes in a frenzy of jocular snares, boiling beaker beeps and candystriped synths. And the beat/tone clusters perambulating through “Interrupted by Time” mandates tripping to the moon on (synthetic) gossamer wings, the artist smitten by his digital crushes, noises that fizz, fuzz, and fan out in equal measure, charged by headspinning rhythms agog in zero gravity. Quark strangeness and charm, Stoked by stardust.

A Hypnos compilation usually acts more as a statement of intent than a simple summing-up (or label stopgap between releases), and the latest to come down the pike are two of a perfect pair. Both Message from a Subatomic World and its companion Sounds of a Universe Overheard are inherently “ambient” in nature and ambition, but what distinguishes them from any of a hundred other doppelgangers is their ability to morph between sense and sensibility, sharing common stylistic ground yet unfearful of exposing what lies beneath the obvious strata. Handpicked and meticulously programmed by label maven Griffin, each artist presides over their own hard-won turf so that despite varying opinions regarding each collection’s value in toto, they're both worthy of commanding wet skin and curious eye. Of the two, desolation angels help to deliver many an agile Message in a bottle. Austere’s “Crystil” invents a drone that isn’t so much fragile as close to the edge, lo-end rumbles swelling under spectral choirs and atmospheric distortions. Relapxych.O trades in his deepdub aquatics for the frosted wineglass-rubbed starkness of “Distant Radiance.” Malignant Records signee Phaenon goes straight to the heart of darkness, reincarnating Lovecraftian gods on “Quantum Silence”, while ex-pat Cyclic Law-yer Svartsinn wrestles with eddies blackest ever black on “Cold But Strong.” Meanwhile, eavesdropping on Sounds of a Universe Overheard, we find contributors experimenting with old-world Teutonic engrams in addition to spatial lucidities. Jonathan Block’s “The Language of Rocks” journeys to the dark side of the moog in pure, beatless Schulzian homage; the miasma exploding out of M. Peck’s “Somna” is a virtual diorama of whirling flora and aggressive fauna that harkens back to mid-period Zoviet France; “Scarecrow” finds Kirk Watson drawing spooky figures from existential ones, shapeshifting odd shimmies, drafts, and buzzes out of a primordial soup of dawn-breached synths; Justin Vanderberg explores his own alien terrain on “Infection,” where near-extinct species nestled in abandoned hollows parse limpid drones that blossom quickly then recede in to the nightsky. The economic diversity spread out over these two worthwhile Hypnos joints is captivating enough to prevent even the busiest mind from wandering. Jump in at any point; the water’s just right.

Recent entries on the label’s CDR imprint Hypnos Secret Sounds are of such vivacity one wonders why owner Griffin didn’t deem them fit for “legit” silverdisc; it’s a pleasure they exist, nonetheless. Making the case for Steve Brand’s credibility is a no-brainer, but more puzzling still is why his profile remains negligible in the deep libraries of serious ambient collectors. Having built up a considerable catalog under both his given surname as well as the more opaque moniker Augur, Brand’s traversed intercontinental soundscaping, digital rainforest raga, au natural acousmatics and abstract experimentation with the greatest of ease. Bridge to Nowhere is scorched savannah ambient, lethargic and lush, breathy and breathless, keenly felt across the two lengthy sojourns spanning the title tracks, where Brand simply allows his balmy drones to expand and contract at will. “Through the Lens of Love” departs from the established norm with some well-ordered gamelan rhythms that brings the artist’s fascination with tribal elderisms to the forefront, but eventually his nest of mbiras and xylophones ultimately become subsumed in the sticky mix. Great stuff.

Mike Soucy, aka Darkened Soul, prefers to dive down 20,000 leagues under the sea in order to float Bathys to the surface. The large-scale impact of his scabrous drones hitting you over the head with blunt force trauma, Soucy designs some inescapably desperate scenarios of quite unsettling natures. Of course, as with most longform musics of such darkly atmospheric stripes, these endlessly shifting tonal wrecks stay for the most part static, which isn’t necessarily irredeemable. Darkened Soul will never be confused with the happy wanderer: the coruscating waves of echo and steel hull collisions of “Ateleiotos Agkareia” has roots sunk in decades-old bastard industrial obfuscants, which supports its clanky sturm und drang with some deeper imagistic heft, and also draws linkage to recent black metal brigadiers who’ve forsaken their guitars for samplers. “Trela” is all about dense vibration, as if a moth’s wings were miked then amplified a hundred-fold, on which caress a storm surge of galvanic rip tides. Things devolve when “Ypexairesi” unfolds its skein of cyclonic noise, oscillating static charges the color and texture of brillo glancing about the surrounding inimical terrain. Soucy doesn’t pull any punches on the closing title track, either; although the previous abrasive gusts are absent, in their stead hammers bang on grimy bulkheads, swap tensile blows with tongs, and occasionally erupt through the relentless and enveloping maelstrom. All told, simple but effective.

Tones for LaMonte is the debut recording by Sans Serif, aka intrepid explorer Forrest Fang, whose affinity for the works of minimalist composer LaMonte Young finds homage in this “one-off” project. Emulating in feel the elongated tropes of his mentor, Fang’s methodology in realizing these discrete, gradually irising sonic pupae was to manipulate the harmonics in “real time” as much as possible and in doing so preserving the natural organic flow of the resultant sound current. It’s about as minimal and threadbare a music as Fang’s ever done, surely the direct antithesis of his prior solo work Gongland, or 2006’s mutually satisfying collaboration with guitarist Carl Weingarten. As is, each of these beams of silvery sonic light are absolute gems, less “classically” organized than Young’s work, stripped of institutionalized polemics and unafraid to dapple in the kind of beauteous harmonics that characterize adjunct recordings such as Roach’s Structures from Silence and a good deal of the work of Eliane Radigue. So the eleven minutes of “Gamma” are delicately nuanced pulsations bending discrete layers of the color spectrum, while the confrontational, dissolving “bell” sounds imbuing “Delta” are less palliating on the ears. Sans anything but deftness of touch and flawless execution, these Tones display a limitless depth of aural profundity. Take notice, LaMonte, and prick up your ears. DARREN

Friday, October 17, 2008

Installment 20

ATMOWORKS / Label Roundup


EXUVIAE Settling Density
EXUVIAE The White Underneath


MARK TAMEA Buried Traktora
RAZZLOG Dark Side of the Mood

Back in the ambient mists of 2001 James Johnson joined forces with John Strate-Hootman (Vir Unis) to form AtmoWorks, providing a channel for a plethora of releases from friends and kindred spirits in the atmospheric electronic music field. Full of a sense of mission to facilitate independent artists in releasing music at will free from third-party agenda, their goal was to set up more direct modes for connecting listener with musician. This was achieved in large part via a website which notably offered a download delivery option long before this was de rigueur. Driven by a consciousness of the consumptionist strictures of the established paradigm of marketing, promotion and release, AW sought to offer a more flexible and direct outlet for creative output. Earlier this year, however, it was announced that Johnson had left the enterprise, with new energies being coopted in the form of John Koch-Northrup (better known as AW recording artist Interstitial) and Matt McDonough (aka MjDawn). Recent emissions from the label indicate that this change of personnel has effected something of a refresh, and AW has continued along the lines of its earlier genre pathway, with one or two unexpected and offbeat trajectories being added. Exhibits follow.

Starting off in relatively safe AW territory is Jonathan Hughes, familiar from kindred label The Foundry, through whom he released the moderately acclaimed Trillium and the virtual collaboration project Fluidities. On notes to Circumflex, his AW debut, Hughes professes to enjoy the feelings or images evoked by certain words, significations free-floating from signifiers. Something of this spirit of freeplay is evidenced in the track titles, which are typographical terms, and carried over into the focus on the micro- of design in the music's contours. In addition to his predilection for sound design, Hughes’s love of synthesizers is also apparent and appellant to typical frequenters of AW's portals. But for all that it is an elegant and composed collection, it ultimately lacks a spark of something ineffable to make it ignite. Longest track, “Dieresis”, contains everything that might be called Hughesian, characterised by a dynamic of gentle flickering that channels something of 12k's digital microsonics, combined with draughts drawn from the same well as Saul Stokes’ quirky ‘populist’ approach to electronica. Charming.

Originally released on AtmoWorks in 2002, Response saw Exuviae cement the guitar+drone+synthesis formula developed over a trio of albums. A set of soundscapes of dense drone-drift and harmonic heft, its atmospheres shifted sinuously from dark (“Liquid Soil Shapes”) to light (“Synthetic Alignment”), often within a track ("Dustfilm Cocoon"), as Brooks Rongstad channeled some of the fluidity of Jeff Pearce’s guitar-scaping with a thicker, earthier edge, redolent of the likes of fellow Great Axescapists such as Jason Sloan and Matt Borghi. Its reissue is timely, signalling Rongstad's Second Coming, his dabblings in doom and post-metal noise projects having served for refresh. Rehydrating the shed skin of his old Exuviae, he now climbs back in to reanimate it through Response's latest incarnation. It dwells at the threshold of altered-state high spacemusic, rather than in the homespun lowlight drone-fields of the likes of Aidan Baker and Peter Wright. For all its situation in neo-ambient and atmospheric space realms, though, the outcome is still fresh and strangely not that far removed from the fuzzy digi-logic of Christian Fennesz without the laptoperative’s glitchy’n’scratchy tropes, allegiance to the drift inside fully pledged, all drone-tone swells and billows oozing forth from the speakers as if glassine or molten. The sprawling "Reaction.Response" is recognisably Roachean, visibly Vir Unis-ian, and maybe a little too close to these artists' spacemusic synthetics for the ungroomed nouveau guitar drone-ophiles. Whatever its alignment, pleasure a-plenty accrues from its swathes of infinite reverb-soaked ebowed-out airy/gaseous/subaquatic texturology. Engrossing.

The goodness of Response makes it all the more painful to report that more recent Exuviae work, The White Underneath, is far less immediately listener-gratifying. In fact, there’s little or no attempt at gratification in evidence, other than the self-oriented variety, and much here seems almost to go out of its way to grate. 'Uncompromising' perhaps would be the epithet the artist might choose to use to excuse this confused farrago. In fact, it's described by Rongstad as “experimental”, a signifier by now shorn of any concrete signification, leaving the door open to a multitude of sins. After opening track "Her Familiar", which is recognisably the work of the same artist responsible for Response, only with a more abraded brush daubing from a similar palette, The White Underneath enters into a serious identity crisis from which it never recovers. Remixes by fellow Minnesota artists Datura 1.0, Bunk Data, Signal To Ground, and The Essential compound the prevailing impression of thrown-together incoherence. Unkempt.

Pete Kelly, the man behind Igneous Flame's effects, may hail from Leeds but that’s the nearest his guitar is likely to get to playing leads. No slave to rhythm either, Kelly has unwound his sound into long, evocative drone-based washes and crepuscular tonefloat unmoored from the strictures of its stringy source. HALO is a departure from his previous six albums in being a collaborative affair with Michael Stringer, known to his Mum and Dad as Achromus. Stringer passed on raw compositions and source sounds from a pool of material, with Kelly adding guitar parts, transforming sonorities and re-working overall. Two immersive timbrally exploratory long-form works emerge, vibrant in form and colour, occasionally flirting with industrial gruzz before retreating to a kind of alien pastoral with a mysterious skein. The combination of Achromus’s synth textures and Igneous Flame’s e-bow guitar lines works to conjur up abstracted harmonic shapes, with melodic phrases woven around shape-shifting contours. It’s the kind of sound that gets labelled 'experimental', but at heart it's simply possessed of an appealingly questing spirit for which the phrase ‘dark luminosity’ has been aptly coopted by the artists. Referential mention might be made of Matthew Florianz, the pairing with Achromus’ synth perhaps influencing the overall pull towards that artist’s slow-mo shadow-swirl soundworld. Incantatory.

Mark Tamea’s Buried Traktora is something different again. An unknown quantity to this listener, the studious net-naut can easily turn up salient Tameana, such as that “his recent output exploits atmosphere and juxtaposition to investigate what he imagines are the hidden parallels between the discernible and the esoteric...”. Liner notes reveal that Buried Traktora is “a composition inspired by the notion that matter is a conduit enabling consciousness to travel through time”. The (homepage) trailing of refs to Beuys, Duchamp and Rothko, all artists who challenged boundaries in their time, sends out further pre-listening signals that Tamea is likely to be a tricky conceptual customer. In fact, from the off “Switched” is upon you with a bristling panorama of sounding objects creating a sonic tableau that would fall under the banner of ‘sound design’, containing few of the elements (melody, harmony, pitched material, rhythm) your folks know as the sound of ‘music’. On “Behold Orderly Digits”, however, things do tend to cohere into a more recogisably musical entity, albeit a queasy mood music of eerie ambiance populated by fleeting digi-effluvia and rattling ghost percussion. On “Odium” buffer override pile-ups and found sounds are slapped together into sound collage. Elsewhere there are incursions of instrument samples, while in other pieces electro-acoustics hold sway. Overall, Tamea creates some atmospherically charged compositions, which crawl with queasy dream depictions. You might think of something like John Wall and his assembages of fragments and juxtaposed importations. Then think again. A challenging listen, and your meaning-making mileage may vary across its audio-drama scenes. Buried Traktora is, though, likely to mystify the bulk of the AW demographic for all that it signals their new spirit of adventure. Unsettling.

Razzlog's Dark Side of the Mood ep is another to go off the beaten AW track. A new artist bringing a small slab of beat-driven electronica to the table, Serbian Dejan Pejčić was evidently raised on a diet of 80s electro, 90s ambient-house and techno, and a smattering of millenial electronic hiphop, judging by the shapes and forms of machine-funk IDM that emerge here. The likes of “Into the Waves” and “Trippin’” suggest an early schooling in Skam, while “Anger Management” points toward previous membership of a chemical brotherhood. 'Razlog' (sic) is apparently Serbian for 'reason', and some might justifiably ask if there’s a compelling one for this 17-minute release. But those after a hefty dose of crunch and splat in the beat department combined with all the analogue wibble and squelch a post-techno B-boy could ask for in five bite-size breakbeat bits will find a very good one here. For the rest, well, there's always other more atmo-charged AtmoWorks. Techy.

Next up is Steve Brand, something of a veteran by now, his first experiments with sound forged in the early 80s, all gnarly tape loops, cassettes, and 4-track portastudio play. Early work was under nom du cassette Augur, part of a shadowy ‘tape network’ and follower of the :zoviet*france: school of DIY industrial ambient. Now reclaiming real name for artistic endeavour after more than 20 Augur releases, his SoulSpiral contains two expansive half-hour+ texture maps inspired by Hubble/NASA space footage of worlds taking shape, and by writings addressing “the expansiveness of consciousness in and around us, and our true creative nature as Human Beings, as opposed to the more limited and limiting one sold to us by organizations, popular culture and advertising”. Leaving aside commentary on the true counter-cultural significance of Brand’s work to dwell on its musical value, the deep billowing hypnotics of the opening (title) track and its a dense mass of shifting layers of keyboard, voice and didge are reason enough to stay on the scene. Second track, "Worldmaker," begins with a clarion call of deep Tibetan horns before entering into a twilight more like earth and fire after the title track’s air and water. Kora, bells, voice, drums and an array of whistle and flute, thrum and rumble are orchestrated into a more dynamic and organic soundscape before ceding once more to the lava flow spiral dynamic. Totally immersive.

Finally, Disturbed Earth and Vir Unis join forces for a tri-partite trip, melding electro-acoustic noodling with ethereal atmospherics. The two seemingly cyber-traded tracks, issuing ultimately in Drawn from the Well, which is far more organic and populated by Real Instruments making Real Instrument sounds than much of VU’s previous work. “Flicker” is a 50-minute piece that draws out (for longer than its texturally limited contours merit, truth be told) a softly droning carpet of gentle guitar-pluck and soft keyboard-tinkle, taking on an eponymous dynamic of slow-burning fire. “Relinquish” is an experiment with DE picking reflectively in semi-improv mode on a deliberately unadorned detuned gutstring guitar with minimal treatments (mainly reverb and some filter and EQ tweaking) while VU provides the backdrop of a distant synth-drone texture like a muted midnight mass, all subdued portent, tension without resolution. DE’s right hand investigates timbral variation with a variety of touch and scrape techniques to bring out more interesting sonorities from the corporeality of his instrument. The final, and shortest track, “Velvet World”, is, frustratingly, the most interesting, forsaking guitar twiddle for some of VU’s old liquid synth-swathe inside-drifting, with DE essaying a mini-ritual of tub-thump, rattle and clank, before departing the stage and leaving Vir on his Unis. DftW contains some good moments, but this feels like the primer for a collaboration that, pursued further with the proper coat of paint, might result in a better future finish. (Atmo)Work(s) in progress. ALAN

GREG DAVIS & SEBASTIEN ROUX Merveilles (Ahornfelder)
JOHN HUDAK On and On (Presto!?)
OMIT Interceptor (Helen Scarsdale)

After the gloopy atmospherics and sickening melodies of Paquet Surprise, the detailing of Merveilles comes across as surprisingly complex: digitally sharpened fragments cut through churning ambience; a broken volley of electronics flicker through a carapace of high octane distortion, which in turn push through phase-shifting loops of metallic clank. The duo still like to throw natural objects around, to extract the choicer timbres that result, and process them into a watery ambience stirred by adventurous swoops and squiggles that alternately purr and roar. But now they're positively onanistic in their urge to diddle with their source sounds, to deface these evocative drones with performative gestures, and chase the quickening echoes around their private mixing board and tweak, distort and multiply as needed. The presence of Greg Davis and Sebastien Roux is dispersed and drifts over these grainy fragments of the everyday. Their spectral recontextualizations imbue these banal morsels with a stealthy unease. For "London", found sounds and traditional instruments are gradually integrated into dense collages of layered drone, encrusted with unstable events and varispeed squiggle. Later on the works begin unfurling as a complex polyphony of long-string resonance, engulfed in motorized vibrations and cantankerous field recordings. In fact, even in the less full-bodied moments, such as the sombre aeration of "Eugene", hints of aggression linger amidst the half-formed melodic phrases. At the same time, the music has a weight and depth that pulls the momentum of the pieces back and ensures that the tone is not overly episodic. If anything, the album would have benefitted from more of this. Still, Merveilles is slyly intelligent and, ultimately, a fine advancement for this pairing. MAX

On and On is born of an alchemy which turns midi information into music. Enraptured one morning by the black-capped chickadee as it sang four notes, from A to G and then G to F, sound artist John Hudak took up his guitar. The sieve-like memory of his computer subsequently converted and reduced the strumming audio to a cluster of numbers that themselves held the basic pitch information, as well as duration and volume. This number information then finally was used to excite the pitches of an instrument to produce a halo of harmonics. For a period just over an hour, Hudak thus uses a minimal, repetitive approach to bring out in his shifting chords a welter of nuances. His guitar recalls an organ, a glass harmonica and a wind-driven aeolian harp at various places over the course of the album. Indeed, these moment, in which sounds flicker like digital dragonflies, often bear out a certain sculptural quality. This seems a testament to the disc as an exercise in minimalism, given that its manner of conception was one that, in a simple and effective way, entailed Hudak's having to give away a good deal of control over the proceedings. The results reveal that he was still very much in command of the selecting and editing of the finished product. As a result, the effort has a gentle, anticipatory blush all its own. MAX

Animating Interceptor, this two-disc set by Omit is a delicate organic motion one might not expect to find in a noise merchant so often likened to Birchville Cat Motel, The Dead C and their ilk. Regardless, Omit, aka Clinton Williams, has an ear for subtleties of musical structure and instrumental timbre. He puts together skillfully mixed harmonic shifts in “LockNut Shadow” and an immaculately paced sweep in yet others such “DropSite”. An initial fascination thus develops out of hearing a slowly evolving continuum made up from a multitude of individual voices. Particularly pieces like the title track have a floaty, space-age quality—the nematode bass-thrum, clattering percussion, and solar wind whistling through strings are curiously distant, squirming together in an air-locked chamber, softened only slightly by the processed harmonies of helium-like sighs. Up until this point, Williams' system, though idiosyncratic, affords him a steady enough hand to reveal something recognizable, if still ineffable. His penchant for scatological surrealism, which permeated past efforts such as Quad, soon seeps into the proceedings like oil into water. The environment grows inclemental, sandstorm-like winds and the gnashing and gnawing of what sounds like close-miked termites whittle the surrounding area into deformed shapes; a propulsive mesh of analogue synth and mangled drum machines that flit through groves of upper treble tinglings and a dense lattice of high, whinnying arpeggios that rise and fall like day and night. Gradually, the music does begin to accumulate like landfill. For a good while Williams manages to provide matter off of which to work, to reshape, liquefy and electrify, and thus enable the pieces to remain tantalizingly ambiguous, yet as the bpm count climbs toward the end of the second disc, pieces like the warped bridal march of "WaveForm Finder" come across as a trifle too rudimentary and loaded down. Williams himself was apparently consternated by the fact that he kept on returning to these sound documents while he was supposed to be searching out a proper line of employment. And its not difficult to see why—in its best places, Interceptor is a bottomless pit, and as with Williams, the longer one peers into it, the greater the chance one stands of completely falling in. MAX

Friday, October 10, 2008

Installment 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Installment 18

CITY RAIN Light Turned On (Boltfish)
OBFUSC Cities of Cedar (Boltfish)
Z-ARC Accumulative Effect (Boltfish)

Better to burn out than to fade away…maybe IDM, as a strict, now probably passé, genre rubric, adopted said platitude years ago, but the enterprising label Boltfish ain’t having none of it. As far as they’re concerned, the propagation of “organic electronica” (Boltfish’s own descriptor) is a categorical imperative. At least from a British standpoint, there’s few labels left out of a once mighty Anglo collective (e.g., Neo Ouija and Expanding’s dormancy, though both poised for resurrection; others such as Focus/Defocus and New Electronica long dead and buried), which seems to smack of marketplace logistics rather than consumer indifference. Certainly on evidence here, these three recent Boltfish outings are testament to a continuing evolution of rhythmic laptop-generated electronica doing its best to bypass genre shoehorning or succumbing to any of its software manipulator’s compositional mouse-traps.

It might be too early to deem Philadelphian Ben Runyan one of our “expert knob twiddlers” (though the photo gracing his artist page on the Boltfish site shows him enthusiastically doing just that), but his full-length entrance onto the world stage as City Rain is a step in the right direction. Apparently a personal memento/reconciliation writ sonically, I’m dubious that young Runyan’s amassed the requisite life experience(s) that should imbue Light Turned On with the gravitas he feels it deserves—such speculation aside, however, this is a superb debut of charmed electronica. Sharply-honed and texturally inventive, Light Turned On does beckon numerous ghosts from rusting machines; were the tracks not so imagistically forged, the dreaded “indietronica” virus infecting a number of them (mostly by a few opportunistic guitar/piano cells) might well have tragically metastasized. Thankfully, Runyan treats such pseudo-Boards of Canada-isms as earnest dogma rather than smug affectation. Hence, the poignant digital Americana (replete with distant thunderswells and Budd-ing keys) of “Back on Track” remains on solid footing courtesy of humid, twilight atmospherics and a snappy laptop rhythm that buttresses the Fahey-esque fingerpicking throughout. More importantly, Runyan’s wise to let his leftfield tendencies rule the day: foregone 90s blip-techno arms the cleverly-titled “Face for Books”; “Well You Said” and “Click Clack” are exercises in adolescent nostalgia subsumed by glitch profundity; the fetching “Chasing Leaves” reads like a digital etch-a-sketch, balancing its rhythmic tempo between dribbling high-frequencies, cricket chatter, and sounds that quiver like charged jello. As warm urban precipitation, Light Turned On deftly illuminates the IDioM, shaped to make your life easier.

Metropolises of a similar sort emerge on Obfusc’s sophomore effort Cities of Cedar, and judging from Brooklyner Joseph Burke, the view outside his window must be nothing short of postcard paradise. He makes no bones about the clarity of his vision; unlike his chosen moniker, the music doesn’t so much bewilder as bewitch. Obfusc bridge gaps between vaseline-smeared beat poetics and countryside ambient, a rural, elegiac, backwoods synthtopia made that much more incongruous by Burke’s studio locale. He does utilize various samples and observations a la Bill Nelson’s orchestras arcana, making due with similar methods de appliqué: “Delayed Sunshine Reaction” waxes like some leftover 60s bit of radiophonic psychedelia, guitarsurge going headfirst against tictac snares and whisper-pitch electronics. “Close Your Eyes and Daydream” is techno lite for the hacker generation, dewy, gauzy, indistinct but patently gorgeous for it, Burke smartly incorporating “real” sampled drums and cymbals to anchor the oozing, effervescent electronic bubblebath. Of course, those of more discerning opinions will be quick to recognize such noises across the Board (as in Canada), but such narrowmindedness would negate the wonderful miasma of a track like “Mood Gradient,” whose little fluffy clouds, buffeted by windy drum machine dada, channel Cluster into the finest pop-art soul balm. The aforementioned City Rain, plus Milieu, Phasen, Electric West, and Ova Looven, remake some of the works here in their own image, proffering a handy addendum to the proceedings; if anything, their inability to wholly transform, neé obfuscate, the central melodic characters whipped up by their colleague says much about Burke’s gift of electronic gab.

Z-Arc remembers the heyday of nascent 90s “electronic listening music” (and 80s EBM industrialisms, too), letting it rip to pretty devastating Accumulative Effect. However lest you figure this mental machine music is all bump and grindhouse, think again: Z-Arc’s far too savvy a programmer to simply leave his sequencers on overpilot and head for the hills. The level of intelligence at work here—deciding on the appropriate direction of the soundstream, carefully considering where to edit and/or delete—enjoins Z-Arc’s creative common ground, in effect, shoring up the ‘I’ in IDM. The cover’s primary colors and exactitude of shape mirror the music well—ditto the pointed sci-fi/futurist track titles. One imagines electrons catapulting off the right angles of “Dihedral,” beats sparkling in prismatic glare. Or the fractal bleep of “40 Microns,” shapeshifting atmospherics barking like a mad Black Dog. Or the LED backlight charisma of “Refracted”, Z-Arc sporting an impish Cheshire grin as he somehow merges the percolating gain of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark with Kirk DeGiorgio’s slo-mo 303 brushstrokes and silvery envelopes. If Klaus Schulze were reincarnated as a malcontent armed to the teeth with latté, laptop, and Cubase, he’d be bending the light fantastic like Z-Arc. Fast fashion Accumulative Effect isn’t, but the sentiment’s all the same: just can’t get enough. DARREN

CELER Discourses of the Withered (Infraction)
CELER The Everything and the Nothing (Infraction)

Barber, Chopin, Wagner, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Schoenberg, Varese, Cage, Stockhausen, Reich, Hermann, Delerue, Pärt, Feldman, Dockstader, Baumann/Froese, Vangelis, Bryars, Eno, Budd, Spybey, Köner, Potter, Coleclough, Voigt. This recital of influences with its broad sweep of classical through modernist, soundtrack and post-industrial, early experimentalist pioneers to sons of pioneers, serves both to signal Celer’s musical sensibilities and to situate them in relation to a certain lineage. Will Long and Dani Baquet-Long, Celer curators and compilers of this list (selectively imported here), are string-driven texturalists whose extensive recent back catalogue of self-released works testifies to extensive audio-inquiries at the intersection between organic instrumentation and digital manipulation, between consonance/dissonance and pitched/unpitched sound clines, between the outer of the environment and the inner of the studio.

Celer music consciously operates within a narrow dynamic, preferring to sprawl languorously within its chosen ambit of textural transport to poring over structure’s strictures. Their privileging of sound colour comes with a rigorous working methodology: instruments—mainly cello, viola, violin—are first recorded to create source sounds to be further blended with field recordings and other variant timbres. These are spliced and re-assembled to make loops which are in turn sampled, layered and processed. Something of an artisan approach in the age of Any Sound You Want In A Plug-in, this seemingly laborious process has the great merit of endowing their sonorities with depth and richness; they swim with particulate detail, like a mini-orchestra dissolved in a light digital solution. So what you get is variations on a kind of slow-core micro-symphonics, gauzy motifs emerging—oceanic, aetherial, chthonic—swelling then relenting to liminal levels. The whole comes wrapped in enigmatic titlings, micro-stories laden with recondite images for unravelling by the reader-listener, text-supplements to audio-documents, cryptic signs to possible worlds, glimpsed darkly through the passages of these driftworks.

Thematically, keynote Celer release, Discourses of the Withered, seems to treat of transcendence, through the evocation of a semi-sacral space. One hesitates to call it “spiritual” for fear of scaring off those without a mission, but the programme is driven by a distillation of Dani’s recent experience of an Indian sojourn. The music, anyway, is independently suggestive enough to float free of author-driven signifieds. Getting down to specifics, “This Thinking Globe Exploding” opens in a characteristic ebb-flow dynamic of surges, based around a consonant 4-chord progression with an undertow that tugs toward dissonance without ending in descent. A similar motion underlies “The Carved God Is Gone, Waking above the Pileus Clouds”, though with field recording infusions and a darker wooze of billowing spirals around it. Within the recursive build-up and fall-back movements of these pieces come subtle microvariations in tidal timbre. On “Stargazing Lily Lacks the Flower” vari-pitched string tones well up, edged with echo-haloes, into slow-motion near-crescendos. Undercurrents in dark water occasionally suggest themselves beneath the serene surface, inky smears lining silver clouds. So let the customary referential roll-call of post-classical ambienteers be read – the litany of Gas and Basinski, Stars of the Lid and Eluvium, Deaf Center and Marsen Jules, et al., but only so co-ordinates may be drawn for a likely audience ambit, with the rider that these not be read too literally as an index of sound. A piece such as “The Separation Of the Two-Phased Apple Blossoms” has become unmoored from such referents, reaching into a different harmonic drone canon, aligned more, albeit obliquely, with the slow shutter speed imagism of fellow-Infraction-ite Adam Pacione’s Stills to Motion, the heliotropics of Andrew Deutsch’s The Sun, and far-off refractions of some of Tim Hecker’s Mirages. And the closing “Delaying the Entropy, in Emptiness, Forms are Born” erects a welter of sonorous sustain into an edifice that stands somewhere facing away from the last vestiges of the late Western spacemusic of the U.S. toward the reworked drone-mines of the Northern European underground, and newer tesselations by Paul Bradley and Keith Berry.

Companion release, The Everything and The Nothing, is composed of outtakes from DotW, and it is to Infraction’s credit that these have not been allowed to wither, forgotten on the editing room floor, or squeezed onto a bonus mini-disc, but given full and equal release status. Featuring one long track in suite form, parts of “The Everything and the Nothing (in 13 parts)” are discretely identifiable, though its long meditative motifs, placed in suspension and infinitely revolved, tend to bleed into each other. Celer dwell on a certain progression, repeating it insistently, scrutinising it, altering its surrounding air to let it breathe differently. Otiose, in a sense, to wonder about whereabouts, instead wander within the undulant contours of its trance-inducing arcs, moving with its contractions and expansions, following with ears peeled those diaphanous plumes as they outfold, time-lapsed, in echo-flecked cloud-splendour, by turns luminous, then darkening at the edges. Superficially, the same deep-breathing turgescent sequences are spooled out in obsessive recursion, but the devil is in the micro-variative detail, dressing up the dirge into a mesmerizing immersion zone in which to darkly luxuriate. Celer’s is a music that induces a strange, but strangely pleasing, tension - so apart, at times hermetic, at times so tremulously precious, yet undeniably endowed with a sense of arcane seductivity.

A quite different beast is Mesoscaphe, on which Celer commune with audio-visualist Mathieu Ruhlmann, Mystery Sea-man turned Spekk-ulator. Taking as their programme the voyage of a submarine vessel which explored the currents of the Gulf Stream back in the moon-landing mists of 1969, Celer’s instruments and electronic treatments consort with Ruhlmann’s field recordings of the Ben Franklin and attendant environments for a distance documentation of the event. The methodologies of these sound artists are differing but symbiotic, the Canadian trafficking largely in captured audio/sound photography. Celer’s instinctively more musical approach sees them mediating to reform and synch materials in mimesis of oceanic and underwater movement. Despite this, the three lengthy pieces are characterised by atonal isolationist inclinations and low depth pressure, denying the stringy mellifluities of their Infraction soundings. Mesoscaphe is more disquieting, their pans and swells, crests and subsides working with associated titlings to draw sound-story linkages. These are dictated more by Ruhlmann’s murky materials, contaminated with submarine ambience, sonorities gruzzy and anharmonic, teeming with corroded resonances below the spume, the whole evoking a sense of enclosure within expanse. For all Celer’s inclination to uplift and eschewal of dark ambient cliché, the subnavigations here disentombed seem to tell of buried dreams and troubled resting places. ALAN /

MATT BORGHI Huronic Minor (Hypnos Secret Sounds)
ELUDER The Most Beautiful Blue (Infraction)
MILIEU A Warm Wooden Hollow (Infraction)
PARKS Umber (Infraction)
MOVE D / B. BRUNN Songs from the Beehive (Smallville)
NICOLA RATTI From the Desert Came Saltwater (Anticipate)
2562 Aerial (Tectonic)

In Between Words continues Christopher Bissonnette’s digital pokery into orchestral nooks and spatial crannies, instituted on his 2005 Kranky coming-out, Periphery. That recording’s glassine pool of diaphanous drift and seriously altered neo-classical states constituted an update of Kranky’s space-drone tradition, fusing it with some of the spirit of electronica, most closely aligned with the organic-simulating pop-microsound of 12k. The follow-up finds Bissonnette continuing and extending, finding an elegant way of linking top and tail of Kranky’s considerable body of work, from the organic spatialisms of its Labradford and SotL beginnings in the 90s to the late-period digitised drone-fests of Keith Fullerton Whitman and Tim Hecker. In Between Words comes out a few shades darker and deeper-grained than Periphery, homing in seemingly, with an eye to allusive title, on interstices between pitched sounds. “Provenance” opens with smooth drones coming undone into a polished glitch-fuzz, a crepitus of strings-in-remotion leaking out of a vast orchestral hum. All timbre, melody sublimated, then snaking forth distended into electric spirals of neo-Orientalist intervals, it thrums with something strange this way coming. “A Touch of Heartbreak”, on the other hand, stretches out a remote choir beyond recognition till it sits like a heat haze over the sound plains, at first quietly teeming with particulate brownian motion, before shifting gradually across a series of subtle timbral movements before its density settles into pointillist ethereal white-out. Quite stunning. Similarly, “Orffyreus Wheel” plays with what seems like a trapped melodic fragment, obscuring its loopy articulations through a semi-obliterative digi-raincloud, passing it through various filters which abrade its textures with soft noise and festoon it with static streamers. Already compelling enough, the set gets stellar with “The Colonnade”, all buzzing Dronus Maximus, before collapsing into strange effacements; fragments of pianistics seep up through the residues lingering in folds and rhizomes. Ending comes in the gushing geyser of microsonic orchestrality that is “Jour et Nuit”, the most beautiful swathes of stringy crepuscularity never smeared by Wolfgang Voigt. But this is no Teutonic King’s Forest or Magic Mountain, rather a complex liquid distillate of Canadian concrete, an enthralling soundtrack to a hypnagogue cityscape. ALAN

Matt Borghi’s low profile atmospherics have been under most radars for some time. Despite this, a small loyal following and a limiting of editions that errs on the side of safety means that many releases have gone out of print. Fortunately for those not versed in Borghese, Hypnos have now provided an induction session, re-issuing a selection of them on their Secret Sounds sublabel, Huronic Minor being the first. Inspired by a great storm in 1913 in the Great Lakes region (Borghi is a Michigan man), in which The Huronic ran aground, the resulting piece of sonic impressionism is no affair of harsh noise representing the violence of elemental forces, but rather a collection of downcast ambient-space poetics evoking emotional suspension. This is a journey into the tense uncertainties of before and the chilled numbness of afterward with a prediminant motion of slow drift, stretching out slowly, expanding without moving forward, breathing, swelling, relenting. It recalls other Borghi works such as The Phantom Light in its blend of ambient’s textural minimalism and space music’s thematic motifs. Like Slo.bor Media sidekick Jason Sloan and one-time collaborator Aidan Baker, Borghi is endowed with an ability to meld shadow-dwelling guitar and delicate synth effusions into suggestive drone-shapes, sometimes with a discreet neo-industrial edge (delicately droning, not Troum-atic). “Gray Dawn Illumination” travels furthest away from Hypnos’s customary ambit of ambient into shipwrecked Mystery Sea zones pursued by Vidna Obmana’s ghost. Equally spectral is “Point aux Barques”, which maps out a forlorn vista in which movements are contaminated by the residue of previous surges leaving a caché of dissonance. It’s steeped in the remote devastation and soul-void of disaster aftermath, pervaded by a hollow sense of something lost. Though Huronic Minor stays on the still and lulling side, subtle shifts in tone and mood are revealed, from poignant-placid (“Leaving the Gates of the Open Harbor”) to wistful-sombre (“November's Peculiar Calm”) and on to the uneasy haunting (“Point Aux Barques”) and renewal dawning of “Red Sky Morning”. ALAN

Look it up and etymology will give you a clue [elude - avoid or escape by dexterity (vb.)], proposing Eluder [-lud-/-lus-] as a dextrous escapist. Persuasive, since, transposed to musicianly context, the careful choreography of retreat and remotion is what Patrick Benolkin is about. So you won’t be surprised when walls within and without come down, dissolved by the drift inside The Most Beautiful Blue. The spectral soundfields of grey dimly charted by (free netlabel) debut Warm Warning’s doleful drones and wan washes are opened up into miles-deep inner-zones, as under Infraction’s curation true textural colours come through. Of the label’s fellow-drifters, Eluder’s discreet field work and timbral questing place him closest to the “grex” methodologies of Adam Pacione, or perhaps a more abstract carpenter in an annexe to the sawdust and smoke-rooms frequented by Milieu. But Eluder music is characterised not by the sound of the bucolic or sylvan, or even the underground, but rather the submarine. From the very start, with opener “Autumn Hips”, it’s all indigo pads in plumes of static spray, from the murky harmony in ultramarine of “Dusk Invites the Dark” to the particulate shimmer of “Brand New Eyes”, all sluiced in a sprinkler of DATmospheres. Other exhibits include “Milemarker”, which manoeuvres a stratum of translucent tones over a patina of gruzz, fizz and nocturnal nature-hum, making like Modell/Mantra mixing up the ‘binaural processing’ medicine. And “Via Starlight” too, which sees the artist drawing euphonic vapour trails out over the horizon into a piece of celestial geometry, playing both astral draughtsman and Gas-man. A final rhapsody in eponymous hue comes in a two-move gambit: “Sea Swallows”, stretching grainy tone trails richly bristling with decay-drops over a smouldering core, seguing to the closing lowlight paean voiced in reverberant tonal exhalations from the deep, the Big, The Most Beautiful Blue. In sum, the will-to-escape finds an effective scenographer in Eluder, who offers here a sonic solution in which thoughts, mirroring the music’s mood movements, may dissolve, float free, and finally submerge, without fear of being taken down. ALAN

Infraction has over the last few years quietly come to occupy a position as one of our most accomplished ambient labels. An early predilection for the outer limits of experimental and eclectic (Zammuto, Colin Potter, Beequeen, Andrew Liles) has gradually shifted towards differently replenished forms of harmonically-inflected ambient soundscapery (Beautumn, Kiln, Milieu). Parks may be seen as an addition to the canon. Originally conceived in Ambient’s Golden Years of the mid-90s, Umber’s release was blighted by minimal distribution and a label collapse. It’s now been re-arranged and re-issued by Infraction, which seems a natural home in that, like fellow-Russian Beautumn’s pair of Infraction releases (White Coffee and Northing), Igor Bystrov draws on influences ranging from Vangelis, aspects of the Kosmische and space music traditions, the FAX label circa mid-90s, and ambient labels like Hypnos circa y2k time. Umber is in fact something of a mixed bag, straying from Infraction’s more purist ambient ambit; like the shuffling locomotive beat lope at the heart of the miles-wide open-skied headnod of “The Breath Of Autumn”. Much warmth and nostalgic indulgence to be had among celestial swathes of analogue synth-string of “The Blanket”) and the lush analogue, digital, and organic communings of “The Twilight”. Infraction central wisely choose to trim the excess off the original, two of the more over-ripe old fruits excised in favour of ‘new’ track, “Spheres”, a lovely elegiac piece of minimalist tonefloat, wherein emotion lies long and longing lingers. All in all, a good spot by the Ohio crew; gristly in parts but with enough meat to merit re-heat. ALAN

On to A Warm Wooden Hollow, following up Brian Grainger’s first Milieu release on Infraction, 2005’s Beyond the Sea Lies the Stars. There he deployed loops harvested from orchestral vinyl to build a wonderfully weathered wind-tunnel suite. On AWWH, loops remain pronounced, as does the sonic bleaching, but this time self-generated melodies are threaded through, and the sound palette is populated more by pianos and organs, and the odd captured harp. Packaging is all pretty in pastoral, and slightly warped psychedelia, not mere functional decoration, but imagistic linkage with audio-contents. In the interim between BtSLtS and AWWH, a plethora of Milieu releases have issued forth, many of them familiar downtempo IDM-fodder. AWWH, however, is fished from the same gene pool as earlier ambient Milieu like Brother and Gunkajima, with synths, basses and field recordings predominating, along with traces of the lineage of guitar-scapes like Sun White Sun. A kind of Ambient Milieu compendium, then - a decent enough concept, though ultimately falling short in realisation. Aside from “Written on Driftwood” - a truly beauteous and transportive 11 minutes of genuine ‘pop ambient’ - the material tends to the episodic, lacking the resonance of either BtSLtS or the best of self-released Milieu (cf. Of The Apple). Flawed by a half-baked sketchy feel - the likes of “Pollen Cabin Poetry”, with its flaunting of that demo-tape front-room piano sound (cf. Goldmund, Library Tapes) and “The Decomposition Of Memory”, with its rustle-and-tap field-sourced motif that evokes only enervation. Relieved by “A Night Walk Clearing”, all downhome Reichian DIY-gamelan tinklings, and “Burnt Rust” and “Winter Decay”, artful textural drone pieces into which the ear feels genuinely drawn. Episodicity is not the problem with the closing “Inside the Sun”, but rather distension; at 18:15, it’s roughly 15 minutes longer than its unalluring textures merit. Compounded with a bonus 3” cd-r (ltd. to first 50 copies), Smokebuilder's Woodshop, already departed to the ranks of the obtainable-only-on-eBay-for-an-arm-and-a-leg. No loss, though, for this woody matter is eminently pruneable; three slivers of sonic depletions comprising (i) sub-Budd plonking attended by ambient room noise, (ii) a few wisps of synth counterpoint, ending in descent with (iii) a yawning longueur of no-fi background hum and tone doodle. A familiar maxim is reversed to reveal that more is, in this case, less. ALAN

Over the last decade and a half David Moufang (Move D) has been involved with so many projects in an overlapping array of sub-genres it’s been gratifyingly hard to pigeon-hole him. And his polymorphous inclination serves him increasingly well. Songs from the Beehive sees him draw on his past to spool out various permutations of techno, house, and ambient, not to mention a sneaky looping take on drone and sideways-on allusions to jazz. Sidekick Benjamin Brunn has already shown himself (on the two’s first collab on Bine, Let’s Call it a Day) to be a perfect foil for D’s moves, facilitating him in expressing himself, bringing out more, say, than is evidenced on numerous, better-known, and still ongoing Fax file exchanges with Pete Namlook. Most of these tracks sprawl beyond the 10-minute mark, starting off with static and slack clicks before accruing momentum and winding out into fully-fledged expression. Take the opening “Love the One You're With”, which gradually unfolds from a hazy suspension of samples and audio-babble to take on a discreetly jacking deep techno habit, cycling engrossingly from one axis-shifting breakdown to the next, each new section taking on new sonic passengers, as the whole opens up micro-layers full of thrumming vibrations. Then “Velvet Paws” is all over you, soft keys washed in ice-cool liquids taking on multifunctional rhythmic, textural and melodic roles. After this deep-diving dual opening gambit, the recent 12” single choice, “Honey”, strikes as almost throwaway—a pop at the same target as the Isolée of Lost, and a more obvious groove-centric track that is just a little too in love with the admittedly winsome play of its overweaning squelch ’n’ burp acid-inflected synth riff. There is much more to follow, though, and the appealing ebb and flow of Moufang and Brunn’s choreographing ensures constant refresh, never afraid to withhold those obvious "whump whump" kick ’n’ click pleasures, to allow the surrounding air to sing with remote drones and float-tones. This is in fact a recording which succeeds more than just about anything tagged "ambient techno" (how quaint now) in melding the Earth of repetitive beats with the Air of ambient drift and drone. ALAN

Nicola Ratti seems lodged in a bit of a half-world on From the Desert Came Saltwater. His blurb-scribe’s Big Idea is to tag it “Subtractive Rock”, and hope this cryptic clue will pique rather than puzzle. Once you hear it, though, you’ll get the subtractive drift in context, though the rock part seems largely otiose (unless the "rock" itself is understood as being subtracted). Like a sentence with nouns and verbs intact but adjectives and adverbs removed, the grammar of this music is deliberately impoverished, leaving here a skeletal strum, there a spidery scratch of guitar to keep the homefire minimally poked, if not stoked; far from burning, anyway. Peripheral hiss, close-miked micro-patter and sub-vocals play around the edges, suggestive of a sort of substance which is ultimately errant. Yep, that’s ‘subtractive’. Compared with the majority of contemporary electro-acoustic works, From the Desert... is of a more naturalistic organic bent in terms of its treatments, eschewing any undue fragmentation and processing in favour of accentuating inherent characteristics of the instruments’ sounding spectrum. The prevailing feeling of this collection, though, is one of erasure, or perhaps deferral, with tensions created and expectations denied or placed on hold, Ratti toying around the edges of form. Guitar figures prominently, the lightly amplified instrument manhandled gently into rapid passes and soft attacks. Underneath a plain somewhat scrappy surface lies a microworld of furtive rummagings and ruminations, mumbled vocalizing, almost-glitches, bass dunks, vague suspensions of gestural atmospherics, occasionally enlivened by tonal bursts before rapid return to zero. Hard, though, to drink quenchingly of the saltwater from this desert of sound, possessed though it is of a certain spartan audio-vision. Its dryness of articulation may yet appeal to the more ascetic of electro-acoustic enthusiasts, but ultimately it is all gesture and tease, a bloodless strip show of shadow puppets. ALAN

The leap from 12" to full-length is large for the club-sprung producer-DJ. Dutch Dub-stepper, Dave Huisman, throws his hat into the ring following recent extended outings from the likes of Burial, Benga, Scuba, Geiom, and Pinch. Aerial, his debut album as 2562 (his postcode in The Hague), comes after a trail of 12”s touted in all the right bass-places. 2562 has been aligned with the likes of Peverelist and Shackleton, practitioners who sneak around at the peripheries of dubstep, making looting forays into the environs of minimal techno and the edges of experimental. The 4/4-referencing jack-thump of “Morvern” and the wibbly-wobbly bass grandstander, “Techno Dread”, suggest that Huismans is looking to mix it with the mnml-ists as much as shuffling with the 2-steppers. Opening statement, “Redux”, also alludes just as much to a post-Pole sound~scape as to a notional Bristol-London axis. Like another rising star of this inherently hybridising genre, Martyn, Huismans is from the Netherlands, and as such operates far enough beyond the UK purview to allow him to exercise a less prescribed remodelling of a range of outfits spun from threads previously exhibited on club catwalks from Bristol to Berlin. Though parts of Aerial feel like 2562 is stepping back to the roots of dub—“Moog Dub”, for example, sees a Nu-dub variant ushered in—it’s only this track and the digi-dubby “Basin Dub” that dress in these emperor’s new clothes. Four tracks from his 12” releases reappear here, and from these templates Aerial proceeds without forging much in the way of new forms, largely preferring to withhold the kickdrum-thunk of techno in favour of growling and/or wobbling floor-quake bass propulsion. More brittle and percussive and surface-skimming than the depth-plumbings of the likes of dub-techno practitioners like Deepchord and Quantec, 2562 can seem a little too much like a brittle pizza, one with a great crispy thin base but not much topping to moisten it. However, when Huismans gets it right, as on “Greyscale” and “Enforcers”, with their delay-drizzled and reverb-doused pads, scatter-shot percussives, and dub-sprays of echo-static misting the peripheries, the kinetic force is fully felt. All in all, it offers a fresh, rather than new, spin on drum ’n’ space in which bass is definitely the place. ALAN