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