Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Installment 29 • Experimedia label profile

ASYMMETRICAL HEAD Feeling Sorry For Inanimate Objects



KOEN PARK Everything in Shadow

'Experimental' is an appellation that's been bandied about increasingly to the point where its currency has been somewhat devalued. It's presumably whatever residual caché there might be in this term that Ohio-based label and arts organization, Experimedia, seeks to draw on in choosing to hang this sign above their web-window. Whether or not it has effectively served such a purpose is debatable, it's a term that's always been liable to repel more than it attracts. But the crucial thing here is the capacity 'experimental' has to signal to a particular type of music user something challenging, something that will make demands of this intrepid audio-explorer, but that will ultimately reward, and transform the listener from simple passive consumer of commodified product to something higher. Yes, there is work to be done with the 'Experimental' (we understand), but implied is that the fruits are that much sweeter for those who do the work.

So, to the wares on offer. Experimedia deals in digital and physical publication and promotion of music and visual arts it deems interesting. Its catalogue covers a broad stylistic range taking in ambient, electronica, electro-acoustic, experimental, sound-art, microsound, glitch, avant-garde, and minimalist. It has lately raised its profile, with label curator, Jeremy Bible, putting himself about through various forums and modes, not least of which his own musical project with sidekick, Jason Henry. Ramping up Experimedia's physical release output (most have been digital download), Bible & Henry propose two offerings along with three others: from veteran avant-ophile, Illusion Of Safety, and newer acts, Asymmetrical Head and Koen Park.

Experimedia CDs come with strong visual linkages, those of Bible and Henry tucked into tall, three-panel fold-out packaging with artwork featuring nature forms photographically translated to abstract. This pair of releases evidences these sound artists’ rudeness of musical health. Vector is an affair of gritty atmospheric driftzones, all discreet swathes of granular oceanism washed in mercury. Residing in an interzone between sound art and music, paradigms of indeterminacy and structure contend for dominance at various points. Parallelling the visuals of the artwork, forces of abstraction and dissonance pull conventional musical instrumentation away from melody and consonance. The production style has a corroded and abraded feel, with piano and cello consorting with processed voices and percussive crackle, seeking to register themselves over the dust-blown contours of its frayed canvas. Tracks like “Alska” checks in to Jeck land, scuffed vinyl and loop-base swept by a chill wind from nowhere and steely industrial-strength noise. Metallic mesh fused with static rumble swarms over “Fndt” in a sticky forest ambience. The nightmare quotient of Vector tends to grow as it proceeds, with the queasy “Vctr” ramping up to the discomfiting “Lmp”, the set reaching closure in unquiet quietude.
is broader in its stylistic range, and more approachable overall (less 'experimental'?! You decide...) with a more open sound field, less prone to settling density and noise-mongering incursions. The eponymous tracks bookending the set are relatively serene driftscapes, largely composed of horn-like smears of tonal figure stretched across ambiguous evacuated ground edged with rustling and fibrillating field matter. For reference points, look no further than the lately quiescent Paul Schütze, notably on the apocalyptic nightscape that is “Dstromsh”, all time-stretched sound-spectres, an ill trumpet wind (more Kondo than Hassell) blowing through it. Elsewhere are the crepuscular expanses of “Yetisltk” and “Yetiatk”, “Sphotnblp” toying with tintinnabulations, “Luupn” playing with processed pianistics, and “Cldstrct” creeping with string striations. Overall Shpwrck finds fascinating fusions of crepitating atmospherics, environmental effluvia and unforeseen against-the-grain elements, infused with the spirit of early Schaefferian musique concrète, to articulate an engrossing shadowy imagism.

Next up is a new set from Illusion of Safety, a name long established in the vanguard of experimental post-industrial soundscaping. Dan Burke has been active across three decades - albeit far less lately, with a score of CDs on fierce labels like Die Stadt and Staalplaat under his belt. The Need to Now, a punning paranoid title alluding to the machinations of the military and intelligence services, provides for a new generation to encounter IOS's dystopian collaging, corrosive archaeologies, and nervous atmospherics. Burke’s late-period work, wrought from electronics, laptop and contact-miked hand-held objects along with samplings of radio, TV and vinyl, has a less spattered audio-canvas. It's more liable to interleave its tight-wound viscous ambiences with suspenseful lacunae. There are still the same up-close field recordings and obscure objects of acousmatic desire, and IOS continues to indulge his proclivity for sudden transitions, from fearful din to brooding near-beauty. Bricolages of distended voices, samples, rhythms and altered instrumentation predominate. The quietude of “Lost” is wracked by low-level swirls of whistling tones, crepuscular ambiance, and faux-naif melodic delicacies in surreal juxtaposition with the prevailing toxicity. “A Purpose” crawls through a gloopy femme-vox morass, infested with all manner of clicks, cuts, whirrs, whorls, and wooze, and synth irruptions. And “About When” takes a wrong turn into a lounge jazz cocktail nightmare, as writhing concoctions slip-slide into passages of distorted music-band and plinkety piano playing. Overall Burke summons an unholy gathering of discreet charm, malignant metal and fizzing field tones in unheimlich manoeuvres, fermenting immersive tracts of perturbance and unease. Recommended for lovers of immersion in perturbance.

Asymmetrical Head is Orlando FL-based William Rosario, who flies under multivariate colours, covering bases from post-industrial machine-funk, EBM and electro influences on the one hand to 90s Ambient and IDM stylings, with a smattering of broken beats, hip-hop method, even a dub(step) nod. Though traces of the founding fathers of these musical states, the likes of Kraftwerk and Public Enemy indirectly, Aphex Twin, Autechre, The Orb, and FSOL more directly, are detectable, Feeling Sorry For Inanimate Objects is very much sui generis. It's an intriguing collection that, no sooner you may think you have it pinned down, veers off down new avenues, seeking other folds and fusions. The familiar refuses to be tagged lest it risk breeding contempt, seeking a shack-up with something alien for exotic trans-fusions. So while “White Elephant” lets loose guitar funk and synth-squelch on a spidery rhythm base to make neo-tribal retro-futurist electro- (it has to be heard!), “Pig Lizard” entertains a close encounter of the queasy kind with an unsettled ambient descended from some of SAW II’s more ambiguous elevator-scapes. “Abandoned Bike”, on the other hand, channels distant techno signals through the old industrial blender. The long-form finale, “Beartrap in the Ocean?”, goes back through just about every styling in the electronicists’ style guide, letting itself be eaten for a moment by a glitch-fuelled noise-demon, before surprising with song-lines, keyboard warmth, squirrely acidisms, even string and woodwind interpolations. Quite a trip in this particular Experimedia ship.

Finally in this round-up there's Koen Park, known to his Mum (whose garage in South London apparently provides a base for part of his split-site operations) as Ian Hawgood. Dividing his time between here and a small flat in Tokyo, he peddles a lo-fi electro-hip-hop-pop-folk-shoegaze hybrid goes... vintage keyboards, circuit bent casios, drums, piano, field recordings, melodica, harmonium, glockenspiels, samplers, drum machines, live drums, field recordings, effects pedals, tape recorders, and computers. Sixteen tracks, many of them sub-minute cameos, come clustered in an hour of Everything in Shadow. From the outset “An Urban Rose” sets a pleasant downtempo tone that speaks of BoC couched in the language of lo-fi bedroom chill. Mention of BoC is not idle here, for Koen Park deals in that same vocabulary of hazy wistfulness, of children’s chatter and off-stage patter, warbly-spangly analogue keys, also with the groovy beats, ja. On “Your Broadcast” a certain remote melancholia plays about the edges, offset by Ninja Tune-type funky drummer loops, an oft-present element providing a sometime needed bounce or ballast. Two more lengthy pieces conclude the set. “I Fall Into You” and “Wake Me, It's Time To Sleep” are more consciously reflective, especially the latter. The former retains the serene synth motifs, letting them disport themselves among babble and broken-beat, bird calls and insects, and mellifluous guitar motifs. The latter is more experimental soundscaping than the backwoods neo-chill of the early part of the album, yielding to guitar atmospherics somewhere between étude and simple exploratory plucking, rustles and whooshing fragments sweeping and panning across the soundfield in a sea of viscous flotsam. The bedroom poetry of Everything in Shadow comes from an attractively nostalgic stable, carefully crafted with a deliberate insouciance, and imbued with a lively fertile spirit which wins Hawgood some latitude for some less substantial material along the way. • ALAN LOCKETT