16 July 2000
Toronto-based artist Aidan Baker presents an impressive collection of atmospheres and experiments for electric guitar, recorded and developed through various sessions between 1997-2000. The guitar is the sole sound source for these recordings (though you'd hardly believe it upon listening), and each piece represents a different playing technique. "Element 1", a short piece for guitar played with drumsticks, is a dark and dense atmosphere, rising from the silence like an approaching wind. As is the second, longer piece of guitar harmonics called "Elemental", by far my favourite track on this record. It develops slowly, and, unlike the first piece, the atmosphere is less menacing but more peaceful and serene; the sounds of deep space gently fluctuating in nearly imperceptible rhythms. For the third piece Aidan uses a violin bow to play his instrument. The result is a peculiar blend of light and dark sound elements, which leaves a strange and alienating impression. In track four, a piece for guitar played with scissors (!), the sound source is surprisingly much more recognisable. The sounds here are also the most abrasive on the album, which make it my least favourite of the tracks, oddly out of place in an otherwise dense and drifting landscape. The fifth and final track returns to more peaceful realms, with guiding tempos like a dripping water faucet, and the returning contrast between light and dark sounds as witnessed in the third track. In all, Element is an intriguing and well-crafted record, and is recommended listening for anyone interested in the possibilities of guitar-based ambient recordings. [Richard di Santo]
Oh, I should have bought the vinyl. This disc is just so vinyl-oriented, it makes me regret this cold, indifferent and sterile compact disc medium! There's even a distinct pause after track 5, which would be nearly akin to the time you would need to run up and flip your record over.
But alas, onto the music. I could avoid this band no longer, I suppose. Their name creeps up almost everywhere I look these days. So with some courage I decided to dive in, starting with this, their most recent release. And what beauty did I find within!
Absolutely acoustic, lovingly lyrical, and mellifluously melodic, this release took me totally by surprise with its severely catchy hooks and gorgeous instrumentation. At times it reminded me of The Smiths, The Zombies and Johnny Cash. Indeed, there's a definite country twang evident on tracks like "Beyond The Sunrise" and "The Wrong Girl", though it's not too heavy.
B&S are at their best when they're writing the sprightlier numbers like "The Model", "Women's Realm", and "Too Much Love". Harpsichords, hand claps and soft, reverberating voices all lend to a deeply satisfying recording from the Scottish octet. This record works because the hooks that get you are both musical AND lyrical, which seems to be a rare commodity these days. There aren't many catchy choruses per se, just well-executed, crafty little tunes. I look forward to delving deeper into their illustrious catalogue. [Vils M DiSanto]
If you have a 'thing' for digital clicks, you'll love this disc. If not, you still might like this disc. While many artists seem to be "worshipping the glitch" these days, and Radboud has kind of pigeon-holed himself on this release by title alone, there are a few differences here that set it apart from others working with similar source material. For one, the clicks are treated more as rhythmic accompaniments, as a cymbal would be used to accentuate a pounding drum, or as tinkering bells would lift Brendan Perry's mundane voice out of its murky hole (sorry Richard!). Many tracks here have a low, rumbling backbone, and the clicks lend a breathability to the steady and punctuating backgrounds. Very few clicks are random in nature, so we've moved from click as glitch to click as instrument. From the vinyl pops on "fylclick" to the staccato clicks on "re: 05.1" and then to the mouse-like squeaks on "loopsong", we have a wonderful array of click-sounds paired with ideally suited counterparts. The tracks rarely stray from their outset, and for that reason, headaches may result from extended loud listening! Luckily, there are some more muted numbers on the disc, like "pantonal" and "track 1", which although is the clickiest of the tracks, is without the pulsating bass present on much of the disc. All in all, a very nice release from this Staalplaat mainstay, with great dynamics but more importantly, a great theme, which sums up an entire movement in its single-word title. [Vils M DiSanto]
PETE NAMLOOK / MOVE D : Audiolounge
Pete Namlook, eternally committed to a style of ambient music that hasn't seen much in the realm of innovation for some years, has recently been pairing himself up with unlikely collaborators, maybe with the hope that his musical styles (often quite static from one record to the next) will be revitalised by this new input. Last year, the most daring attempt was on Sultan - Osman, a collaboration with Turkish percussion master Burhan Öçal. The results were far from stunning, though: the record sounds more like both artists indulging in their own unique sounds, neither of them really building or working with what the other was offering.
Possible Gardens is Namlook's collaboration with Peter Prochir, best known for his more industrial-style work as Sielwolf. Let me dispel the feeling that this is going to be a completely negative review by saying right off that this is one great album. Not groundbreaking stuff, mind you, but still a great album, full of smooth atmospheres (typical of Namlook) and gentle rhythms that move in expected but enjoyable ways. Here there is no separation of musical visions as I had perceived on Sultan: the music seems to have a singular voice and so its integrity as a true collaboration is intact. The first piece is one of the best here, which starts off quietly with some submerged gurglings (providing the backdrop for most of this record) then builds into a soft rhythm for hand drums (sampled, no doubt) and a killer bass that moves subtly through the mix. Superb aural construction. The other tracks work with this foundation, adding or taking away from these elements to a perfectly balanced effect. Some tracks are more rhythmical and others more like the deep swoops we expect from Namlook. Again, no surprises here, but still an enjoyable album of ambient drift with some superb production work and sound design.
Audiolounge has Namlook teaming up with David Moufang aka Move D. Here the theme is, as you could imagine, ambient lounge music, complete with a photo of a chic sofa on the cover. This record definitely achieves a laid-back feel in its continuous flow. Mostly long tracks (except for the enigmatical "Koolman" which rings in at a mere 44 seconds!) develop at a pace that is quite relaxing and non-demanding. "Autocomposer" and "Don't Call" are the two forgettable tracks here, which just move in one ear and out the other with their conformance to the usual formula for ambient drift-music. The standout track here is "May there be May", which begins in classic Namlookean fashion with drifting sine waves, and then a mellow, relaxed rhythm develops with microscopic sounds accompanying the track's gentle driving tempo. Also notable is "Senior Knob Twiddlers", which achieves an admirable dimension in its diverse sound: a deep bassy beat, crisp sounds and waves, and the gentle howling of an electric guitar pulse through this divan-ready sojourn. Just sit back and relax: you'll enjoy the ride more if you're not paying close attention, but instead just let the music flow over you and settle your nerves after a hard day at work. [Richard di Santo]
Hard to believe, though nice to see, this Belle & Sebastian labelmate is quite the opposite of those lovely and acoustic Scottish boys and girls. Subtlety is what this disc is all about - there's nothing here that will jump out at you and demand your undivided attention. The tracks pop along at a leisurely pace, with a minimalistic dub approach and enough quiet distortion and buzz that would do a simplified version of Muslimgauze proud. There are few variations here between tracks, truth be told. One track does sound pretty much like the next, but then again, so do many of Plastikman's releases. They sort of plod along in their own world, oblivious to what is going on around them. All of the tracks here have the same basic structure: throbbing bass line; refined, juxtaposed and layered pops; background voice ambiences; and that buzzing hiss that moves and alters its frequency with each of the pops and clicks. It will be interesting to see how Pole can further develop this curriculum he has formed for himself. Will he continue on this stable path, or will he perhaps reinvent himself for his next release? Time will tell! [Vils M DiSanto]
Three improvisations of electroacoustic music by Olivier Toulemonde (electric guitar) and Nicolas Desmarchelier (computers and sound processing). These two members of the Ishtar Collective are accomplished artists in the field of electroacoustic music, each with a pile of performance credits accrued over recent years. The music on this disc is a surprising and diverse soundworld where more minute sounds are amplified and brought into focus. The pops and whirrs dodge and weave carefully around the aural spaces, with ample room for silence and also for frequent outbursts of screeching from Toulemonde's guitar. This music, according to the little sheet accompanying it, "reflects the radical changes that occur in what we use to hear in our soundscapes". Even if I found these improvisations to be a little overbearing, maybe too abstract, too dynamic and shifting, I must admit that these two artists have succeeded in reflecting these "radical changes" of which they speak. An intriguing and challenging release of improvised music, masterfully produced with excellent results. [Richard di Santo]
Now here's an entertaining little compilation which I stumbled across while driving through Montréal a couple of weeks back. A few tracks had caught my ear on a local station (and I'll be damned if I can remember the name of the station OR the program that was on!). But I remembered the disc for its unique lounge stylings, which seem positively retro, toe-tapping and entertaining. The first track in particular, by The Karminsky Experience is what this disc is all about -- a low trombone hums in the mix with twangy guitars echoing along and a superstrong percussion section that never stops. Its seven plus minutes are the highlight on the disc for me. Other artists that present some further excellence include Ursula 1000, Thievery Corporation, Cinematic Orchestra and Nicola Conte, apparent proprietor of this Schema label. Also included is atom's Lisa Carbon Trio project with a slightly dated (1994) track, which is all Moog and a bit out of place here. Sure, there's some cheese on the disc, which can be a bit grating (HA!) at times, but there's enough true groove and diversity here to sustain an entertaining amount of multiple listenings. [Vils M DiSanto]
Hespèrion XXI (formerly Hespèrion XX, but renamed to honour the new century) is one of the most accomplished ensembles specialising in the early music of the Iberian peninsula. It is one of the ongoing collectives led by the formidable Jordi Savall, renowned for his interpretations on the viol da gamba. The members are always changing, which makes the ensemble simply a name for a grouping of artists and interpreters of this immensely rich musical heritage, yet always under Savall's masterful direction. Diáspora Sefardí is a double-CD of music of the Sephardic Jews, a diverse culture originating in Spain and later settling in countries around the Mediterranean after their expulsion from most of Spain in 1492. Never losing sight of their basic identity as Jews or their awareness of their Spanish origins, the Sephardic culture gradually incorporated numerous influences from the peoples among whom it evolved: from the Arab culture of north Africa, from the Turks, Greeks, Bulgarians, Rumanians, Serbocroats, etc. In short, Sephardic music is an amazing blend of all these influences, immediately recognisable for its unique manifestation of this diversity.
Led by the impeccable soprano Montserrat Figueras, a generous collection of sephardic romances resides on disc one, and ten instrumental pieces are found on disc two. Savall (performing on lira, viola and rebab) is joined by some virtuoso players here: Pedro Estevan on percussions, Yair Dalal on oud, Andrew Lawrence-King on arpa doppia, Pedro Memelsdorff on flutes, and a handful of others on psaltry, qanun, laúd, sarod and medieval harp. This recording differs in kind from other interpretations (by Savall or by countless other interpreters of this music) in that it employs a more diverse instrumentation that lies beyond the standard western European grouping of percussion, viol, flutes and harps. Rather, it incorporates more of the instrumentations of the eastern influences of this music (oud, qanun, sarod, etc.).
Disc one, subtitled "Por que llorax blanca niña" (Why do you weep fair child?) is a selection of beautiful songs, mostly from 16th and 17th century documents, though all of them look back much earlier to a very old tradition of songs. Montserrat Figueras is full of vitality, her breathtaking voice and accomplished techniques show her complete mastery of this challenging material.
Disc two, "Las estrellas de los cielos" (The stars in the sky), is a diverse collection of instrumental pieces, interpreted and performed to perfection by this ensemble. The rhythms are extremely complex, fostered by Pedro Estevan's immaculate percussion-work. But even in their complexity the rhythms are extremely accessible, allowing the listener to move around within the multifaceted and subtle instrumentations. Some are traditional dance pieces, while others more meditative reflections and variations on the music of the popular romances.
Listening to this music is always a rewarding enterprise. Full of surprises, it never provokes the same response twice. This release comes highly recommended for the curious listener. It comes beautifully packaged with lyrics and an informative essay by Paloma Díaz-Mas. [Richard di Santo]
Turn your television on, tune it to receive static, turn the volume up FULL. Now do likewise with your radio, ghetto blaster, alarm clock, hairdryer, door buzzer, vacuum cleaner, etc.. Stick a Pansonic tape in the hi-fi and crank the eq up to bursting point. Once you've generated a nice explosive din, stick a microphone in the middle of the room and record. This may approximate the methodology employed by on the Mille Plateaux CD: Restgeraeusch Volume II: 2x30 min. 30 sec, but it probably won't match the standards set by its carefully orchestrated and well executed blasts. It's almost as if the fragment of time as a bomb goes off had been caught and suspended, stretched out so as to reveal every nuance of its occurrence. Towards the end of track 1 we can hear the last bits of rubble as they impact on the ground a few feet away. This is no Merzboian catastrophe wrought from the joys of simple screeching desk feed-back though. Rather it's more a collision of things and a controlled explosion at the same time.
Track two (although still maintaining its single-minded approach to noise) is more varied in the intensity of its assaults. Commencing somewhat more subdued than track 1, about three minutes in the blasts begin. Someone flicks to another channel and the "music" changes from overdriven industrial tech-noise fighting to be heard above the distortion blanketing it, to something which sounds like it could once have once been ambient if listened to at point of origin (heard through Restgeraeusch's tenuously exercised moderation in distortion control however, it's hard to tell). At about thirteen minutes in the whole thing blows a fuse and we are left sitting in the room as above listening to the hum of the fried machinery, wondering what happened, the odd noise outside (a bus, a plane) reaching in towards our same microphone almost feeding back on itself.
Good for when you want an utter blast of noise but with interesting things hiding in the snow. [Kevin Doherty]
The first instalment of the Mothballs series was released in 1999. Four excellent and exclusive tracks from four electronica outfits. The first track is from Frog Pocket (whose full-length My Favourite was released earlier this year). It's a quirky little piece, filled with a naive melody and what sounds like the rhythmic crunching of someone eating a crisp apple... If there's one thing Frog Pocket knows how to do, it's how to have some fun with their samplers and analog synths. Ayr Unit has the second track, a more hard-edged drum'n'bass rhythm with a rough backdrop of distortion and electric guitars. Quite unlike the more post-rock leanings of their latest EP released on Mouthmoth last month. Side B brings us a nice mellow piece in the mould of Aphex Twin or Mike Paradinas in their most laid-back of moments. The fourth and final piece is by far the most bizarre, with a strange, dark and uneven rhythm underlying the vocal murmurings of a monotone Scot spinning a strange yarn to an unknown listener. This little record comes complete with nifty homemade-style packaging with pencil sketches and illustrations by Carol Meldrum on the sleeve and label. Always surprising, the Mouthmoth label delivers another laudable hodgepodge of excellence in the field of quirky electronica. [Richard di Santo]
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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