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