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

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