10 September 2000
Wow. Four new discs from ethno-ambient crusader Amir Baghiri, packaged neatly in a double jewel case together with a booklet containing artwork and some notes by the artist. Helped along the way by instrumentalists like Malek Halime (percussions and voice), Hamid Mercury (steel cello) and Gabriele von Hardenberg (voice), Baghiri presents his ambient explorations on four central themes: City, Live, Night and Sleep.
The first disc is the least successful of the four. "City" is inspired by, of course, all things urban and industrial. Baghiri seems a bit out of his element here, trying to blend his more ethnic and tribal sounds (hello didjeridoos and rainsticks) with electronic sequencers in the mould of some apocalyptic industrial outfit from about ten years back. Could he be founding a new sub-genre of ambient? Ethno-industrial? Hardly. There's even a jazz-like motif introduced in one of the tracks; the rhythm accelerates and takes off nicely but ultimately goes nowhere. Not that this disc doesn't have its effective and interesting moments, which take place only when he holds back the "industrial" sounds and lets himself go in what comes naturally to him.
The second disc, "Live", is taken from a live recording (naturally) without any post-production work. Now here we see Baghiri returning to his element. These live performances run like a "best of", many (if not all) of these tracks have appeared in one form or another in Baghiri's back catalogue. Drifting ambience, ethnic percussion, textures and flutes are complimented (not overshadowed) by electronic rhythms and melodies. "Killing Time" sounds like the opening sequence of an important race, or maybe even a chase scene. "Last Heat" creates a rich texture with layered didjeridoos and rainsticks... In all "Live" is a nice collection of tracks showcasing some of Baghiri's existing work from past releases.
The third disc is inspired by the night, which, explains Baghiri, "gives me a feeling of loneliness and isolation, a feeling of being lost". Some very rich textures, dense layerings of night sounds, percussion, flutterings of the flute and some drifting ambient swoops. "Nightfall" is a dramatic rendering of approaching darkness, teaming with life, sound and activity. Things quiet down in the next few tracks, suggesting more the silence and fear of the night. "Frozen Stars" picks up with a driving rhythm (yet still muted, it never quite erupts into full force), and darker themes are explored in "Fear Never Sleeps" and "The Small Hours". The music comes full circle, ending with "Sunrise", which is a fitting conclusion to what is probably the most interesting and varied disc in this collection.
If the third disc presented music for the incurable insomniac, the fourth and final disc puts all your anxieties to rest. "Sleep" is by far the most quiet and soothing music from Baghiri's catalogue. There is more than an hour's worth of some beautiful ambience and sounds that never intrude on your space, but rather compliment it and fill the void of night with their soothing tones.
If ethno-ambient music is your thing, this box set will definitely be for you. If you've long been curious about Amir Baghiri, this generous helping of his music should be all you'll ever need. Unfortunately, this collection only indicates that Baghiri isn't all that versatile an + he really only seems to be good at producing a certain kind of ambient music, and any challenges that come his way are met with only an awkward attempt to adapt this established style. Still, when he's good, he really shines. It's just unfortunate that he has only the one language with which to communicate with those of us on the other side of the city, on the other side of the night. [Richard di Santo]
Efzeg is a grouping of four improvisational talents from Austria: Martin Siewert on guitar, lapsteel and electronics; Burkhard Stangl on guitars and devices, Boris Hauf on saxophones; and dieb13 on turntables. For these three improvisational pieces, Efzeg employed an interesting recording technique. Martin Siewert takes the right channel and Burkhard Stangl takes the left. Both of them bill and coo their way through these long pieces (the total run time is just under 74 minutes), the presence of one never supersedes the other, nor are they ever rivalled by the sax and turntables. Except for a few outbursts of noise and clutter, the majority of this record is relatively quiet. Some scraping on the left, a twang or two on the right, some snap-crackle-pop from the turntables, and the wheezing and whistling of saxophone are what characterise these pieces as a whole. And yet I find the whole thing to be somewhat lacking. Maybe it's the sterile nature of these pieces, the fact that there just isn't any mood in this music. Or perhaps I'm sensing that there's a lack of dynamic between the performers; they don't seem to be interacting with each other, or working within each other's contributions. You could probably give each performer his own channel and release the records separately. If this were actually done, and I had to choose between the performers, the minimal crackling of the turntable is what captured my attention most in these pieces, as well as some interference from the right channel (Siewert) which occasionally piqued my interest. Interesting, surely, but I hesitate to call it much more. [Richard di Santo]
Packaged in a gorgeous, blue suede Digipak, this latest offering from The Hafler Trio dates back to recordings made in 1994 for an art exposition by Erla Pórarinsdóttir in Iceland. At least that's what I gather as being the case, seeing as the liner notes have been produced in a language that is definitely not one I speak. The disc is limited to 1000 copies and is hand-numbered inside. Also inside are some photographs lushly reproduced from the exposition, favouring a most beautifully deep shade of blue. Hallways, walkways, stars, crystals. These are the featured elemental components of the exhibit, which are vividly presented to accompany the recording. A beautiful job by Die Stadt here indeed.
Now, on to the recording. The overall mood of this piece (presented as one long track running over sixty minutes long) is quite constant in its composition. There is a common thread that ties the piece together, a shrill, wavering sine wave that dips in and out of the mix, appearing every few minutes or so. Between that recurring element appears a multitude of differing sections, ranging from harsher scare tactics (infrequent but arresting) to many quieter moments, including a hauntingly subtle (synthesised?) string arrangement. Even with these extremes of tonality, there is a fluid pace to the recording, which I would imagine would have been looped during the exposition, enabling incoming visitors a common starting point no matter when they made their entrance.
Apparently not at all reflective of The Hafler Trio's current interests, Hljódmynd still presents us with an intriguing blend of luscious beauty and stark ambience. Not immediately as intensive as Mastery Of Money or Play The Hafler Trio, it still provides an intriguing backdrop to one hour of your day. (And I do hope an English translation of the booklet's text becomes available at some point soon!) [Vils M DiSanto]
JASON KAHN: Analogues
Two new records from percussionist/drummer Jason Kahn, released on his own Cut label. Kahn has been active among improvisational circles for the past 10 years, and has worked with the likes of David Moss, Sainkho Namtchylak, Evan Parker and as "Repeat" with Toshimaru Nakamura.
Drums and Metals is a relatively short disc (clocking in at just over 37 minutes) of six compositions for drumset and metal objects. A very minimal rhythm opens up the disc: the slow, deliberate clanging of a bell is accompanied by vibrations and shuffles of sound from a snare drum that bear an uncanny resemblance to waves crashing on the shore, getting louder and louder as you approach them. Track two introduces a pounding and driving rhythm on bass drum, snare drum and floor tom, accompanied by the simple rhythm of a bell which then takes over when the pounding rhythm disappears. It's only a matter of minutes, though, before this rhythm builds upon itself introducing a much more ornate rhythmical pattern. This is a characteristic of the disc as a whole. What at first seems primitive and simple finds a way to open up, to expand and metamorphose into something more resembling a butterfly than a caterpillar, its wings filled with fine details yet still maintaining its simple compositional structure. Frequencies and finely tuned vibrations become a part of these compositions in such a way that I've never heard before. This is music which begs for the listener's participation; listening, I'll be tapping a more ornate pattern in time to its often minimal rhythms. A very powerful recording.
Analogue is much different from the first disc, and at first it doesn't seem to be the work of a drummer/percussionist. These five pieces were constructed around samples of acoustic drums, metal objects, shortwave radio and field recordings, with no harddisk editing or sequencing. The first track is for me the most remarkable here. Abstract bass tones and frequencies pulsate, ebb and flow through the piece with a phenomenal impact. This is the kind of sound I love to turn up so loud that it replaces the space around me, the very air in my lungs. Just brilliant. Other highlights for me include "piano2", which is an exercise in higher frequency harmonics, again using waves of sound and abstract tones. A dark, dense atmosphere in the third track called "skipping" accompanies some metal clanging and an evolving rhythm, which then merges into strange and unsettling sounds from a shortwave radio. The rest of the disc shifts from dense layers and waves of sound to bizarre collages of abstract audio textures.
With these two discs Jason Kahn has succeeded in producing music with immeasurable depth and detail that captures the listener's attention, provoking both physical and intellectual responses. These are two surprising and beautiful records that come highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Under New Manna is the second full length from California resident Kent Sparling. Sparling is an active visual and recording artist, and here presents a generous helping of his own brand of "ethno-ambient" music, though, as usual for me, I hesitate to use the term. All the elements are here, though: smooth, rich sound textures, warm and cool atmospheres, hand percussion and gentle rhythms awash in thick electronic ambience. Even if this strikes you as sounding reminiscent of, say, pretty much anything in the Amplexus catalogue (see the Amir Baghiri review above), Sparling's vision stands out as being unique among the throng, though by no means represents a radical departure from such established traditions. The disc opens with an excellent percussion piece, featuring the drumming of Alain Despatie. Other highlights include the warm and inviting pulses of "White Cloud Radio", and the darker sounds of an impending storm in the track "In a Mumbling Sky", a piece which suffers only for its brevity. A dark, minimal ambience guides the listener through the disc's longest track, "Spiral", which evolves in rich textures and slow movements. Sparling also used some innovative recording techniques for these recordings. The source recordings for "In a Mumbling Sky", for instance, feature what Sparling calls "picophonics", which he describes as being "the sounds of vibrations so small that they don't move enough air to be perceived by the ear". Sparling then amplified these sounds to create the loud and concrete rumblings that appear in the track. Sometimes bizarre and unsettling, but at others quite comforting and relaxing, Under New Manna is an intriguing record that rewards as well as it pleases. [Richard di Santo]
Although this is not an official release from this label, it showcases some of the talent that can be heard in their existing catalogue. Kohvi Records is a label from Estonia specialising in more rhythm-based electronica, often reminiscent of Autechre and other artists of that ilk. The music on this disc, from the likes of Uni, Pastacas, Fraktal, ST-8 and others, could also fit in well with the more downtempo Freezone series on SSR (DJ Morpheus, take note) or maybe even a compilation on Rephlex. It's all rather laid back: smooth atmospheres serve as the backdrop for groovy drumkit rhythms, complimented nicely by the occasional naive melody and some excellent production work. As the name of the label would suggest, these tracks are perfect to fill in the space at a relaxing café ("kohvi" is the Estonian word for coffee), and all in all make for a very pleasant listening experience. Not very demanding, but perfect ear-candy to play at a club's opening hours or just to while away the time. Take a look at their beautiful webspace at kohvirecords.ee, which has info on all the artists they represent, plus sound samples and mail order. [Richard di Santo]
Free Field is Vitor Joaquim, a sound artist living in Portugal. Released in 1997 by the innovative Portuguese label and distributor AnAnAnA, Tales From Chaos represents two of Joaquim's thematic compositions. The first, "Nothing Is Pure (In Electric Sound)" is a seven-part collage work which nonetheless coheres as an amorphous whole. He is joined by a host of instrumentalists, but most notably Dimas Pereira on accordion, Mariana F on loop drum and effects, Nuno Rebelo on "Portuguese mutant guitar" and Marta Navarro on acoustic cello. Joaquim himself takes up the programming, piano, samples, synths and loops. Some rough patches here (thanks to the mutant guitar, some e-bow and heavy looping effects) make these pieces less attractive than they might first appear. The opening sounds of Mariana's laughter, stunningly cut-up and bounced around the canvas, though brief, are unforgettable. But soon enough things become rather uneven, and I get the feeling that "Nothing Is Pure" is more like a huge pasteboard for Joaquim to plaster all that he can into it. There seems to be little progression in this work, little consistency in its overall structure.
The second piece is more to my liking, and it's here where I return to time and again. "Everlasting Echo - Eco Perene" was composed as a sound installation for an exhibition by Andreas Stocklein at St. James Church - Pamela Castle. In addition to his usual programming toys (as listed above), Joaquim also picks up some ceramics, stones, woods, winds, and "electronic body extensions" to make these next nine tracks a most varied and interesting journey. A notable sound that reappears like a leitmotif is the wind; or, at least, it's something that sounds like wind, though I imagine it's a wind-instrument, one that has to be cranked in order to sound. Quiet, finely tuned and meditative sounds drive these pieces, with sudden bursts and bubbles coming out at you in three dimensions. The sound quality here is excellent, and though the liner notes suggest listening with headphones, I prefer listening to it on the loudspeakers, with the volume turned up so I can feel these sounds more like concrete objects.
Even if it's not an entirely successful record, Tales From Chaos is still an intriguing work full of nuance and detail that is enjoyable for its rich and dynamic sound. [Richard di Santo]
Juryman is Ian Simmonds, formerly the bassist for the acid-jazz-pop group The Sandals. He has carved a nice little niche for himself as a solo artist, both as Juryman (with a handful of EPs, plus a follow-up album for SSR called The Hill) and under his given name (States of Nature, released in 1999, was a disappointing foray into more dance-oriented techno-jazz). Spacer is Luke Gordon, a phenomenal sound engineer with Howie B's Pussyfoot Records having two excellent solo records to his credit (please do check out Sensory Man from 1998 and the much-celebrated single "Contrazoom"). Spacer is best known for his orchestral sensibilities when it comes to laying down his tracks, each of which is a masterpiece of precision sampling and mood creation.
Mail Order Justice, released in 1997 on SSR, is an excellent specimen of jazz-flavoured downtempo, characterised by the kind of programmatical precision we've come to expect from Spacer together with the unique, densely layered jazz drumming that is Juryman's trademark. About half of the tracks are vocal pieces, most of which are performed by Juryman himself. His lyrics are not exactly the most stimulating, his vocal style is mellow and moves along rhythmically in a style combining rap and spoken word. Dagmar Krause appears on one track, "6 Down", reading one of Simmonds' poems. The problem with this track is not so much the reading itself as it is the poem being read. Krause sounds like she has absolutely no idea what she's saying, the lyrics are aimless and absurd ramblings which read like something out of the diary of a misguided adolescent. But this is to find fault with something that is really only secondary here. The music far supersedes any lyric content on this record, and the production work is the real star of the show. An incredibly deep bass, dense and dark, together with some intriguing instrumental arrangements and smooth drumming make this something of a classic in its genre. Based on Juryman's activities which do not include Luke Gordon on the payroll, I can only assume that this record sounds as good as it does because of Gordon's influence, through a kind of Midas touch he seems to possess. Though I'd sooner direct you to Spacer's excellent solo work, or even Juryman's solo EPs 3 and 4, check out this record if you're looking for some jazz-flavoured big-bass downtempo from this side of hip to pass the time on these cool summer evenings. [Cristobal Q]
Released in 1996, this was the third release by L.A.-based Loren Nerell, after a seven year hiatus in his discography. His reason for this lapse in releases is documented in the liner notes, which let us know this disc is a "documentation of a musical journey" he started some fifteen years previous. The journey relates to his introduction to the gamelan musical tradition of Indonesia. Nerell has travelled and spent time with many of the musicians who play this meditative music, and has taken their spirit and instrumentation and melded it with his studio recordings.
The music on this disc alternates between simple rhythmic repetitions and synthesised drones and groans. For me, the first track, "Irama", feels a lot like the film Baraka - I have these grand visions of slow-moving panoramic shots of gorgeous vistas and strange, staring people gazing into the lens. It is perhaps the most structured piece on the disc. Other tracks are more sparse in nature. The quietude of "Hiasan (Ornament)" is meditative and delicate. This contrasts quite strongly with the previous track, "Bamboo, Iron, Resin, Bronze", with its synthetic base sounding out of place here. It recovers about halfway through, with some quick bell-play and bamboo winds taking over. The final track, "Borobudur 4 AM" is the most natural and ambient of the tracks here. At its base, it is a recording made in close proximity to the largest Buddhist monument in the world, complete with buzzing insects, bellowing creatures, and chanting humans. Over top sits some quiet percussive striking and various synthesised drones. I don't like that you can hear the loop of the ambient recording - there's the recurring lapse in the insects' buzzing that give evidence the loop wasn't closed off properly. Purposeful, perhaps, but it doesn't sit right with me.
Overall, this is quite a mesmerising disc, with plenty of moodiness and honesty evident in the recordings. Nerell likes to share his experiences with his listening audience, and that translates as an unpretentious recording, with a very unique voice at its core. [Vils M DiSanto]
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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