4 June 2000
These compositions, recorded in 1972 and 1973, are works in a "potential" state. The first, "String Quartet..." was composed for an opera that was never completed, due to the "complicated" nature of the performances required. Ashley's technique is fascinating, and he explains his method in two brief essays in the CD's leaflet. If the "String Quartet" was to be performed in its completely realised state, it would be an electronic orchestra of 42 sound producing modules. A string quartet would play on their instruments "in a stream of intentional but unpremeditated (that is, random) very short sounds". These sounds are then fed directly into these 42 modules that manipulate the sounds and output them to a set of four loudspeakers. What we have in this recording is one violin player and only seven manipulating modules. The effect is a strangely hypnotic collection of pluckings and clicks, performed on a moog synth by "Blue" Gene Tyranny together with Robert and Sam Ashley. Not excactly what Ashley had first envisioned for this project, but this recording provides a fascinating glimpse of what could be, if not what is. "Potential music", like "potential literature" (greetings, oulipians!), is not less of an accomplishment than a completely realised work. In fact, it's more. The "String Quartet", in the form we are given, is a completed work in its own right, subject to our interpretations and reactions just like any other composition. That this work has the potential for massive expansion and multiplication of its elements is an overwhelming possibility that inspires my utmost admiration. The second piece on the disc is "How Can I Tell the Difference? Version 1". It also uses the same elements as the "String Quartet", but mixes it with other "collaged ingredients" - echoes, reverberations and motorcycle sounds recorded in the tunnels separating San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. These tunnels have huge steel doors at their entranceways, and when these doors are slammed shut, the reverberation through the labyrinth of tunnels, according to Ashley's notes, "seems to last forever". He recorded these echoes, and in the process was met by the serendipitous event of a motorcyclist passing by. The result is a strange reverse-reverberation effect that works nicely mixed with the clicks and pluckings from the "String Quartet". The third and final piece, "Version 2", puts the manipulated violin sounds more in the foreground of the mix, but otherwise doesn't offer much variety from what we are presented with in the first two pieces. All of the pieces here are thematically tied to ideas of "coincidence" and "illusion", and were constructed with a fascinating technique with intriguing results. Undoubtedly this is an important and noteworthy document in the history of electronic music. [Richard di Santo]
Geir Jenssen presents 11 pieces of smooth soundscapes and muted, gentle rhythms in his latest release on Touch. Right from the opening sequences of this record I am drawn in. The quiet textures and mellow tones of the opener lead into the excellent track "Le Grand Dôme", in which a walking-pace rhythm kicks in with alluring effect. "When I Leave" offers a deeply submerged bass rhythm, "Iberia Eterea" enjoys some crisp jazz-house drumming and sampled woodwinds, leading into the glacial "Moistened & Dried". "Too Fragile to Walk On" closes the album with quiet wonder. Some deep, cool atmospheres and loops are sometimes reminiscent of 1997's Substrata on All Saints Records, but overall Cirque presents a thoroughly developed and distinct sound from his earlier work. Sounds and voices of the world weave in and out of the mix, giving the sense that the listener is both connected to that world and set apart from it at the same time; the listener is placed in that quiet town pictured on the back cover of the record, with Geir himself as guide, so close to the arctic circle and so far away from these voices that come to us through mysterious channels and frequencies, over radio waves and through the very space itself... Jenssen's music has an incredibly alluring quality that I find difficult to rationalise; I let this music wash over me completely and take over the space of my house. A superb achievement. [Richard di Santo]
At long last, the second instalment to Coil's "Moon Musick" set of releases is here! Packaged in a mutely coloured Digipak, the fractalized bare tree branches glistening in the light of the moon are the perfect complement to the music on the disc (and so with Vol. 1). From the poetic to the angelic to the demonic, this disc touches on all that is magickal about our delicious moon. Things start off more mysteriously than they did on Vol. 1 - Balance's repetition of "Something" beckons us to the unknown. Once again, what is so terrific about this disc is the pace of everything. Things are laid back, allowed to slowly develop, and allowed to breathe. In these days of clicks, cuts and abruptions, listening to these Coil releases is like a breath of fresh air. Balance's vocals are poised and confident - an elegant gentleman with a mysterious and powerful voice that calls you to come closer. Rose McDowall also makes a welcome (if brief) guest appearance on "An Emergency". The sound on this disc is phenomenal, it is spacious, delicate and intricate. From the superlative upper frequency work on "Tiny Golden Books" to the mild percussion dancing around in "Paranoid Inlay" and then to the spatial vocal overdubs of "Batwings", your stereo will shine with this disc. A couple of weaker moments, unfortunately, do exist, and they include "Ether", which while musically most interesting, it seems to be weighed down by the vocal style and lyrics; also, "Where Are You?", which is musically stagnant, though it is somewhat salvaged with Balance wrapping his "last kiss in a bandage". As Vol. 1 closed off in top form, so does Vol. 2. "Batwings (A Limnal Hymn)" starts off minimally - a four-note chord is repeated underneath the howling wind and processed bat evocations. The track's last five minutes are its (and the disc's) strongest, with the "limnal hymn" section playing out ever so eloquently. It lingers long after your disc stops playing. Gorgeous, beautiful music to listen to in light of the wax & wane of the moon. [Vils M DiSanto]
Ensemble is Olivier Alary and Chanelle Kimber. They contributed a track to the Substancia 2 sampler on Quartermass/Sub Rosa earlier this year, and have a CD forthcoming on that label as well (or maybe Sub Rosa will just licence this one from Rephlex?). Sketch Proposals fits in nicely with the Rephlex catalogue. Ensemble presents a collection of untitled tracks with minimal instrumentation and sketchy vocals. The music is largely composed of clicks, sine waves, beats and the occasional naive synth melody. Chanelle sings (off-key) throughout the album in a soft and casual whisper, in songs that all have the impression of being improvised and spontaneous, mere "sketches" as the title suggests. Charming little arrangements. I would have liked to have heard more instrumental tracks, however (of which there are only a few); at some points throughout the album the vocals become tired in my ears and I start looking for something a bit more refreshing. But on a positive note, highlights here are the upbeat and super-catchy tracks 6 and 11, the contemplative track 5, and the catharsis in the conclusion to track 10 (the noise builds and builds and feels just right in its super-loud chaos). Pop music of the future? Probably not, but this album is definitely a fascinating exploration of pop melodies and minimal electronica. Nicely done. [Richard di Santo]
Here's a surprising release from Scotland's mysterious electronica outfit Frog Pocket, previously heard on Mothballs vol 2 reviewed in the last issue. As far as I am aware, this is their debut release, previously issued in 1999 by Autumn records. Beats, interferences, and a host treated sounds under a thin layer of analog fog are what constitute the intriguing music on this disc. The music has a very "homemade" feel to it, complemented by the nice homemade packaging and handwritten track listing on the CD's leaflet. My first instinct here was to draw a comparison with Autechre's music (there are some definite affinities), but the overall feel on this disc is much different. Frog Pocket is more quirky and spontaneous, incorporating a sense of humour and a variety of shifting moods in their music that I find generally lacking in Autechre's oevre. Highlights for me on this album include the sweet and innocent number "rub it to the ducks", with some great string samples and the rolling rhythm of a typewriter. Also the mellow "buffalo skateboard" and "bovis" (or could it be "boris"?), where the interferences, shifting atmospheres and little sounds are nicely coordinated. This record is a great achievement deserving of much praise for its refreshing take on electronic groove music, and so it comes highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Explorations in silence and electrostatic sounds from this Argentinian trio consisting of Miguel Tomasin, Roberto Conlazo and Anla Courtis. Six tracks "made only with analog and digital processings over selected blank tapes dating from 1978 to 1999". The first piece consists of barely audible hiss, with only slight variations. This is the most "blank" of all the tapes presented here. The second piece builds on the same foundation as the first, but quickly becomes much more audible with high pitched hiss and whistling. The third piece flutters comfortably at a low volume (very nice!), while the fourth begins in silence and slides in and out with variations in tape hiss. The fifth piece startled me out of my complacency with its more intrusive sound barrage, and the sixth returns again to subtler shifts and variations. Of course, descriptions of these pieces are a far cry from being an adequate response to this recording. It's the total experience of listening to this disc that really matters, and requires an account that is less descriptive and more impressionistic. The tabula rasa that is the foundation for each of these pieces is a medium we are all familiar with. The way Reynolds builds on this foundation is remarkable - sometimes barely noticeable and at others unmistakable and startling. As an aside, I recently became aware that they are performing some live shows in Argentina. I wonder what a performance by these artists would be like? Blank Tapes is an excellent addition to the Trente Oiseaux catalogue, worthy of much attention, that should be welcomed the world over by fans of this label's activities. [Richard di Santo]
This release is comprised of recordings made between 1997 and 1998 by Bernd Schurer (of Das Erdwerk), and it provides a consistent, if choppy, energy throughout its tracks. A relatively short release, 42 minutes' worth of hack 'n' cut sound pasting with sometimes prominent rhythms evident. Single tracks can jump back and forth between forms - from stark ambience, then to some beats, then to some concentrated vocal samples chopped up into tiny bits of sound - all can be covered in a very short amount of time, which is why I prefer the shorter tracks (under three minutes) to the longer ones (nine to ten minutes). The shorter tracks show what Schurer is best capable of - assembling the minutae into shifting forms of material. The final track proves to be the standout, with its plucking strings assembled into a peaceful goodbye. Taken on their own, a number of these tracks do shine, but as a full-length release the choppiness can get to be a bit heavy at times. [Vils M DiSanto]
A double-CD release documenting the Nature Is Perverse festival that took place in November of 1998, organised by the Modern Museum in Stockholm and the label Fylingen. Participants included Kapotte Muziek, Goem (same members, different motivation), Framers Manual [sic], Voice Crack, Zbigniew Karkowski, Mats Lindtröm, Tetsuo Furudate and Small Cruel Party. As the lineup would suggest, this is a festival of noise art. The first disc opens with a hideous high-frequency maelstrom by Dror Feiler, of which I can find no method to its madness. Kapotte Muziek's excellent track begins quietly (but don't be too tempted to turn up the volume!), and gradually becomes louder and noisier as new frequencies and abstract tones are introduced. Framer's Manual offer a nice cut-up collage of noises and computer gurglings. Freundschaft uses some distorted shrieking vocals in the foreground and an incongruous bass rhythm in the background (this one's a bit too much for me), and Kent Tankred slows things down with a quiet piece of ambience and street noise. Goem opens up the second disc with one of the finest tracks in this collection: an hypnotic bass rhythm which is then subjected to various filterings and additions of high frequency whistles, ending with a nice bass tone. Karkowski's track is a pure noise-fest that just gets louder and louder. Elggren/Liljenberg contribute an eerie narrative piece that uses voice accompanied by dark metallic sounds; a strange, surreal story is told but I'm not sure what kind of story it is: part dream-story, part ranting and repetition ("let me in!"), part aimless rambling ("I can only offer you..."), but by far one of the most intriguing pieces in this collection. Tetsuo Furudate's composition is a nightmarish mix of thunderous klanging, e-guitar, noise loops and sampled voices in a panic, but ends with some melodic choral singing to humorous effect. I would have liked to have been given more information about the festival in the leaflet, and about the motivations behind some of these pieces. As it stands, we only have a list of artists and track titles, and an occasional documentation of instruments used. This doesn't entirely satisfy my curiosity as to the ideas behind these performances. Overall an overwhelming release with some fascinating moments, and which is essential listening for those into more daring forms of electroacoustic noise music. [Richard di Santo]
Released in 1999, a tour de force of percussions, strings and dark atmospheres. Badawi represents a political alternative to Muslimgauze, whose pro-Palestinian stance probably makes many listeners uneasy, but also makes us question whether any of it really matters when dealing with the exploration and reception of his music. And is Badawi's position any more acceptable? Badawi's response to Muslimgauze (and I call it a response because of similarities in their musical repertoires, whether intentional or not) is in its mood full of anxiety and frustration, anger, sadness, spite and unease. A timebomb waiting to happen. Badawi is an accomplished percussionist - the rhythms here are incredibly powerful and complex - and there is some great production work incorporating the diverse instrumentation (keys, samples and bass, with Erich Schoen René on cello and Ralph Farris on violin). The music is divided into 3 "chapters" and within each there is a variety of shifts and styles within returning motifs. This heavy emotional score is the lens for all the pieces here, from the dub-heavy "Heretic" theme to the unaccompanied hyper-percussions of the "Fatal Confrontation" series, or from the dark soundscapes of "Entrance" to the more contemplative "Arrival". The recording climaxes with another bass-heavy track "Return of the Heretic", which is a dark piece full of anger and emotional weight. Which brings me to summarise my listening experience: sometimes this record has just too much emotion for me. Sometimes it's too much of a personal catharsis that it seems I can't participate in its struggle or its emotions. What I think Badawi has done is created a very personal record, but one that works solely for himself; I think his desire was to communicate this self expression not in order to have his listeners participate in the experience, but rather have them as mere spectators of this aural portrait and not contribute anything of their own into the equation. Makes for a finely crafted, finely articulated, but overall unapproachable album. [Richard di Santo]
The well-known duo now known as Pan sonic released this EP in 1996, one year after releasing their debut CD Vakio. It's been a couple of years since I last listened to it, so it was interesting to hear it again (for the first time, so to speak, in light of the history their early records have made). Osasto is much more rhythmical and not as minimal as I remember it being. Pan sonic have really stripped things down since they released Osasto. The layers of sound here are almost ornate, all contributing to the groove, and the rhythms are hypnotic and entrancing. Crisp beats and abstract frequencies are all used to great effect but really this is still quite recognisable as abstract techno music. House music for sound engineers. First class, and if this music had seemed then to be indicative of fine things to come, Pan sonic have definitely delivered. [Cristobal Q]
Ethno-ambient performer Jorge Reyes presents 10 tracks of music released in 1991. "Under the Jaguar Sun" is accompanied by a short essay (in Spanish!) on the figure of the jaguar in the indigenous cultural history of Central America. The jaguar as psychopomp is a guide of the underworld; it has also been regarded as a lord of the mountains, the sky, the sun and the moon. From the classical mesoamerican age (from circa 1000 BCE), jaguar faces symbolised the sky. The jaguar also shares a symbolic affinity with the eagle as being part of a terrestrial army, whose duty is to feed the sun and the morning sky with the blood and hearts of human sacrifices. The figure of the jaguar is rich in history and diverse cultural significance, which offers Reyes ample space for constructing his musical interpretations and explorations. Reyes plays a vast number of percussion and wind instruments, the most remarkable of which is the body itself - the ritmo del cuerpo provides some of the most intriguing structures on this album. He is joined by guitarist Suso Saiz, percussionist Juan Carlos Lopez and Mick Franke who provides a loop for electric guitar. A seemingly obligatory sample of William Burroughs is also present here, though it seems grossly out of place with this music. There are a number of successful pieces: "El Ensoñamiento" is a quiet and peaceful introduction, sounding like the dawn itself. More traditional percussion pieces like "Los Cuatro Jaguares" and "Cancion del Jaguar-Luna" are more stunning because of their simplicity and lack of synthetic accompaniment. Chanting and body-rhythms constitute the peculiar and alluring "Invocacion". Less successful are tracks like "Las Flores Divinas del Aguila", which is too new-agey and sounds too much like Peter Gabriel's work on the Passion soundtrack released two years earlier. With the exception of The Flayed God on Staalplaat and El Costumbre on Extreme (both of which present more simple and natural arrangements with fewer overdubs and synth accompaniments), Reyes has never really been able to shake this new-age aspect from his music, and his repertoire suffers for it. And last I heard from him he was playing with the fluffy ethno-pop group Deep Forest (!). Bajo El Sol Jaguar presents a nice middle ground between his more synth-based recordings (pre-1991) and the more ethomusicological explorations in El Costumbre. [Cristobal Q]
The Incursion Music Review was published and edited by Richard di Santo from 2000 to 2004. All 75 issues can be accessed in the archive. Please note that we are no longer accepting submissions or promotional material for review.
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