29 April 2001
E Pluribus Unum. The great phrase that links everything to one thing. David Tibet and Steven Stapleton have shared a rich and varied past of musical excursions, and seventeen years of these excursions have been brought together on this new release. It wouldn't have been enough to do a "best of" collection for when these two artists collaborated. Instead, they have decided to create a massive melting pot of every recording they have done together and recorded under the banner of "CurrentNinetyThree". Everything has been thrust into the mix here, from alternate takes to classic moments of musical history. And the result is positively relentless. 61 minutes of some of the most dense audio you could possibly imagine. There are layers upon layers of recordings, each competing over one another - none are given any particular spotlight. It's up to you to pick and choose the familiar over the pandemonium. It's an interesting concept, and it certainly fills the room with clamorous voices and whirling sounds all around. I don't know if I'd put this disc on over, say, Thunder Perfect Mind, but it still does make for an intriguing listen now and again. [Vils M DiSanto]
ADRIAN MOORE: Traces
DENIS SMALLEY: Souces/scènes
In what is referred to collectively as the British Connection, empreintes DIGITALes recently released these three discs featuring the works of three prominent electroacoustic composers from the UK.
Jonty Harrison's Évidence matérielle is dominated by movement and concrete sounds. Never is there a standstill moment in these compositions, realised between 1982 and 1999. From the "klanging" of two earthenware casserole dishes to the sounds of wood splinters and turbulent streams of water, Harrison's acousmatic works emphasise sounds in their pure states, assessing both sound "for what it is" as well as sound "for what it tells". His compositions are intense and offer an exhaustive (and exhausting!) look at his particular sound sources (water, wood, earthenware pots, etc.). The only exception is on "Sorties" (1995), in which which he takes a step back in order to capture crowds, street scenes, urban movement. And yet still I get the sense that these are a series of aural snapshots; Harrison seems to quickly move his gear from one location to another, as if in a frantic state of mind, or as if he were chasing faeries or trying to capture something as obscure as phlogiston. His sound palette is indeed stunning (the sound engineering really shines on this release), but this particular restlessness in the compositions, the business and incessant activity of sounds, makes me a little uneasy and keeps me from embracing this record more fully.
Adrian Moore's Traces, documenting five electroacoustic compositions realised between 1994 and 1997, offers "a search for the hidden, both within the piece and within the sound". In his liner notes, Moore rightly points out that "it is this hidden property in certain sounds that still excites the ear". And so in each of these five pieces Moore dives right into his sound sources and opens them up for our perception and participation. In "Study in Ink", for example, Moore takes his single sound source of a marker on whiteboard and creates a remarkable soundworld, filling me with wonder at his electroacoustic magic. In another example of Moore's sonic ingenuity, "Sieve" is a "radiogenic" work dealing with natural sounds and the electronic manipulation of these sounds; all manner of found sounds (bird calls, rainfall, etc.), become a part of this hyper-collage, which is teeming with activity and minute noises. Excellent work, and an over all intriguing record.
Lastly, electroacoustic pioneer Denis Smalley's Sources/scènes documents five acousmatic compositions realised between 1974 and 2000, thus covering over 25 years of electroacoustic research and composition. The first three pieces ("Base Metals", "Empty Vessels" and "Tides") are exercises in utilising single sound sources (metal, garden pots and water respectively). The final piece, "Pentes" (meaning slopes, inclines, ascents), is an early composition from 1974. It begins as a bustling synthetic landscape of bizarre sounds, cut-ups and explosive clusters; and yet it suddenly shifts into a quiet movement, where a drone gives way to a haunting melody on the Northumbrian pipes, and leaves everything quiet and still. Smalley's disc probably represents the most dynamic of the three reviewed here; the sounds open up before your senses, become tangible, and carry with them not only an incredible momentum but very strong moods as well. Missing from many acousmatic compositions is the presence of mood, making suggestions and appealing to the listener-spectator's emotions as well as his senses or his academic interests in sonic structures. Smalley writes in his liner notes that "quite noticeable in all these works is the almost complete absence of a human presence in the sonic fabric: the listener-spectator is left to observe and experience the scenes and spaces, alone." However, this statement by no means excludes the importance of the listener's response, rather it emphasises and elevates its importance. He further writes: "between and beyond the loudspeakers, virtual, metaphorical worlds approach and encroach in sonic flow, and are revealed for imaginative contemplation." Sources/scènes comes recommended for the adventurous.
The folks at empreintes DIGITALes are still committed to their impossibly awkward package design, which is probably my only significant complaint (albeit an aesthetic/functional one) about these three otherwise intriguing and extremely challenging releases. [Richard di Santo]
Figure 2 is a recording of a live performance which took place on a winter evening in Cambridge, MA. It is presented here without any editing, overdubs or manipulations. Lescalleet (currently working with Ron Lessard as Due Process) is known for using reel-to-reel tape decks in his performances, and for exploring the textures of lo-fi analogue sounds and tape loops. Jon Hudak's sound (previously heard on a number of solo releases on Alluvial and Meme) is characteristically minimal, heavily processed and emphasises the reciprocal process of recording, deconstructing and reconstituting sound elements. Using some incredible sub-bass tones that just wash over the listener, Hudak and Lescalleet begin their performance with a breathtaking drone piece. Accompanying this evolving drone, they also added sounds from the performance space, sampled and manipulated in real time. This piece is dominated by subtle shifts in the rumbling, a shuffle here, a bang there, but overall the sound remains in a lower frequency range. The pieces that follow change directions somewhat, introducing more manipulations, kaleidoscopic (almost nightmarish) drones, tape hiss, grating sounds, and improvised sampling into the mix. Things never return to the comforting bass drones of the first track, and yet what remains consistent throughout this performance is its ability to captivate my attention through ever-shifting swirls, sudden bursts of intensity, clamours, movements and abstract tones. A vastly intriguing work that rewards the more it is listened to, and one that makes me very curious to see this duo perform live, to witness the process through which this strange sound-world is born. [Richard di Santo]
Knut un nom de serpent was born out of sound artist Lionel Marchetti's interest in shamanism:
In order to achieve this extraordinary goal of wanting to make the listener "live" with his mythology, Marchetti proceeded to collect and arrange a flurry of spoken texts, ritual music, songs, samples, dissonances and sonic textures into an equally extraordinary sound collage. The results are simply stunning; the music on Knut un nom de serpent is an an unending stream of sounds and textures. Voices from across the globe, sounds of the natural world and sounds from beyond its reach, and each utterance (the pounding of drums, the crow's call, chants, echoes, a solitary voice, found sounds) is the expression of something unmistakably universal and essential. I am reminded of Sussan Deyhim's soundtracks to Shirin Neshat's video installations (documented on the CD Turbulent, released last year on Eyestorm), but only insofar as both artists seem to be interested in not only integrating sound sources from across the world in order to create an abstract and organic whole, but also in communicating this feeling of universal inspiration, as if the artist is nothing but a receptacle of universal elements. In these compositions, Marchetti quickly cuts from one element to another; his collagework is restless, ruthless in its energy. The seven sound compositions documented here are broken by a series of six silences, the titles of which read much like a ritual process in themselves (silence fauve, silence blanc, silence simple, silence du chaman blanc, silence crâne and silence final). At the end of it all (after a surprisingly soundless final track), I am exhausted, knowing that I have just survived a difficult and utterly confounding journey of macro- and microcosmic expression. Overwhelming and inspired, Knut un nom de serpent comes highly recommended for the adventurous and curious listener. [Richard di Santo]
Having passed through a number of periods in his development as a musician and composer of electronic music (nicely outlined in a bio I have before me), Laurent Pernice has finally come home. Recorded in 1999 but not released until now, Yppah documents a melting pot of sound elements (Pernice calls it "electronica furiosa"), from electro rhythms and jazz elements to crackles, tones, blips and beeps. And somewhere in this "avalanche" of twenty-first century electronica stands the spectre of Walt Whitman -- admittedly not the first poet figure I think of when I think of techno, but alas -- to whom this record is dedicated. Pernice must be having some fun with this record; the quirky bells, whistles and cartoonish laughter in "boulevard panique", for example, create an atmosphere of playfulness and ingenuity. Actually, it's the term ingenuity that I'd like to stress here; Pernice has an admirable ability to blend a number of seemingly incongruous elements together into compelling rhythms and coherent tracks. Another highlight for me is the mellow "ode a rodrigo", where the top-knotch production work and sound engineering really shine. From ambient to hyper-rhythmic, from electronic experimentalism to downtempo strings and piano, Yppah covers a lot of ground, and there are a number of gems here to make for a solid recommendation. [Richard di Santo]
Released without much fanfare from Ritornell, this very impressive work from Sebastian Meissner is an accomplished recording of great scope and unforgettable sound manipulation. Meissner sets out to tell the story of Jerusalem through the use of archive recordings and modern cut-up techniques.
The story of Jerusalem (historically and current-day) can be told through a single symbol: a wall. The wall serves as Meissner's starting point to tell his story:
This passage is quoted in the supplied booklet, along with other short excerpts from Amichai and others on the subject of Jerusalem. This division between Jews and Arabs forms the basis of this recording: the music is clearly divided between Arabic sources and Jewish. Even a peek at the underside of the compact disc itself showcases a visible wall due to some extended passages of silence halfway through the disc.
The archive material chosen varies from haunting, simple melodies to more complex and occasionally percussive sections. These core elements are then taken and manipulated, sometimes through looping, sometimes through frantic start-stop techniques. Further sounds (crackles, pops, and other digital paraphernalia) are laid over top or buried underneath the source material. The music here has been expertly twisted and turned so that the core is evident and strong, but the rearrangement has given it all a new life.
Things are pieced together in such a way that everything seems very natural together. It's hard to explain how this effect is achieved. At its core, the disc presents us with two sides of a religious struggle, essentially pitted against one another through each other's music. It's as if there is a war on the disc before you even listen to it. The proceedings are not expected to be light or entertaining, and so you set yourself up for this confrontation. The beautiful melodies of the Arabic world; the singing strings of the Jewish world - both are disassembled and taken out of their original context, and both are given similar treatments, yet each is still recognizable in its roots. Yet in the end, division still must lie between the two.
Jerusalem is a thought-provoking release that comes highly recommended. It's one that stands as a unique production amongst a glut of click artists who seem to prefer cloning one another than producing something as inspiring as this. [Vils M DiSanto]
Ipsomat Légrand is the title for this new three-way collaboration between Guenther Reznicek (aka Nova Huta), Felix Knoth (aka Felix Kubin aka Klangkrieg) and Arnoud Jacobs (aka Mark Mancha, TMRX et al). Once again it is proven how powerful and effective a short release can be; because of its limitations, an EP carries the same potential as a short story or novella. Just as the author is compelled to compress the story's language and plot, so is the sound artist compelled to similarly "compress" the elements of his or her work. The title track on side A features the pairing of Kubin with Reznicek (we last saw this duo in action on the excellent I Love Fantasy compilation CD on Lucky Kitchen). Recorded in 1999, the track is described as a "variation over a drum computer theme". Using an eclectic mix of found sounds and electronics, the track begins with a strange insect-like chirping, building its momentum slowly and morphing into a variety of strong rhythms both abstract and irresistible. Throughout, an eerie and manipulated voice (courtesy of Mariola Brillowska) speaks to us from some digital no-man's land. The flip side features two remixes by Arnoud Jacobs of the title track. These two pieces move more like free improvisations, they are charged with an uncanny energy and versatility, moving freely from rhythm-based sections to more abstract dissonances, clicks, crackles and found sounds (witness how the tolling church bells mix with the insect chirping and warped rhythm-box in the "ensemble" mix). A very fine record that comes highly recommended. This is the first in what promises to be a series of three 10 inch records from the Disaster Area. The other two in the series are Imaginary Time 99 by Nocturnal Emissions and Self vs. Self by Delphium. Pressed on super-heavy black vinyl, and nicely packaged in a simple green sleeve. [Richard di Santo]
Andy Guhl and Norbert Möslang, aka Voice Crack, return with an LP of sonic experiments created using their eclectic collection of "cracked everyday electronics". The material on this record was recorded in 1998, and it's more than possible that this is a re-issue (no press notes!), but in either case we're backtracking a few years. I have thoroughly enjoyed any project of late involving this inventive improvisational duo, from their recent collaborations with Otomo Yoshihide (see bitsbotsandsigns, released on Erstwhile records earlier this year), or their numerous guest spots on compilation discs. What attracts me most about their work is their acute sonic sensibility. Their soundscapes, always improvised and created using these cracked (i.e., tampered-with) everyday electronics, are filled with subtle shifts, a host of sounds sometimes quiet and sometimes more intrusive, and always dramatic and engaging. This is music for active listening; nothing you want to sit back and relax to, but rather something which invites and provokes an original response from both your body and your mind. Fantastic stuff. [Richard di Santo]
Released as a combined entity in 1992, these two titles from Cranioclast were originally released in 1988 and 1987 respectively. In some spots reminiscent of the music of Hybryds, it differs in that it doesn't concentrate on the ritual. Magic and numerology is definitely of interest to Cranioclast - they seem to follow the path of many by including the numbers 11 and 23 wherever they can (I'm sure they would rather I spelled 'magic' with a 'k' at the end, but that's a whole other kettle of fish). The music varies from psychedelic-tinted space music to ambient excursions and treated bird calls. Highlights are the tracks "A Link At Orsk" and "Lost In Karak". "Orsk" features a slowly tumbling rhythm over top of deep, synthetic choruses and the aforementioned bird calls. Muted voices are added in for intrigue. "Karak" gives the feeling of trains passing by in the still of the night. Very haunting. Overall, the sound quality is not much to speak of. The sounds don't seem to breathe as much as they should, perhaps due to some form of overprocessing. Listen to this one through your speakers at a reduced volume, and definitely don't use your headphones. It seems to sound best at lower levels. Very nice packaging on this one, it comes in an oversized cardboard box with many inserts of the unique art aesthetic of Cranioclast exhibited on quality paper stock. Overall, the sounds are a bit dated, but still a few golden moments to keep it in the collection. [Vils M DiSanto]
Formed in 1998 in Rome, Off Ensemble is a musical project created by Marco Testoni and Marco De Angelis, both of whom have composed for theatre and film, and also run the respective labels Tre Lune Records and Sfera Music. Off Ensemble is an exercise in fusion; within six tracks these two musicians (Testoni on percussion and keyboards, De Angelis on guitar, keys and mixing board) manage to fuse jazz with elements from Mediterranean and world music traditions, and still have room to lay down some traditional vocal tracks and even drum 'n' bass percussion loops into the mix. That being said, this short disc (with a total run time of just over 30 minutes) covers a lot of ground, though it may not be an entirely successful exercise. The first piece, "Belleville", is inspired by the Parisian quartière of the same name, with its rich mix of ethnicities and cultures. Hand percussions and sampled chants join with mandolin, oboe and smooth electronic atmospheres. Less successful is "To Keep The Dark Away", a traditional pop-vocal piece sung by Guido Benigni, its lyrics based on motifs in Emily Dickinson's poetry. Voices, percussive flutters and electronic rhythms (a watered down drum 'n' bass) dominate "Neon No Zen", complimented by piano, flugelhorn and trumpet, and yet hindered by some screeching electric guitar. "Cinque" is also a fine example of Off Ensemble's talents, mixing jungle rhythms with piano improvisations and a host of mellow sounds. All in all, Off Ensemble proves to be an interesting project that never becomes overshadowed by its ambitions to create a successful fusion of styles. For me, the pop-vocal tracks ("To Keep the Dark Away", "For the Angels' Fun") are what keep me from embracing this album more than I might. These tracks over-sentimentalise the mood of the music and turn it into some sort of easy listening/adult contemporary which significantly deflates the spirit of the record as a whole. Although the results are nothing extraordinary, the disc is probably best suited as pleasant music for polite gatherings. [Richard di Santo]
Persona is the solo project of Eric Cook, a Michigan-based musician who also runs Allsound.org, a burgeoning news and resource site for experimental music. Omnithrope, his third release under the Persona moniker, was released in 2000. Under this name (he also records with the noise-rock band Gravitar), Eric Cook explores dark electronic textures and harsh industrial-flavoured techno rhythms. Side A opens up with what is for me the track with the most impact of the four collected here. Dark electronic waves create the suggestion of a hard rhythm, the sort of rolling bass tone which anticipates a big dancefloor beat which in this case never comes. Rather than have the track unfold in what would have been a predictable fashion, Cook holds back and never delivers the beat, which is what makes this track such a success. I have always been of the opinion that a suggestion tells more than a fully-articulated statement, since it engages the mind of the listener more than the body, and here is an excellent example of the way this might work. The three tracks that follow all present hard-edged electronic textures and rhythms, all of an industrial-techno flavour. Side B opens up with a remix of 12 Tech Mob's HoodRat 12". This is matched by the harsh industrial-style rhythms of the fourth and final track, a maelstrom of dark and intense beats and textures. It's all a bit too hard-edged for my usual taste (having moved on from my earlier enthusiasm for industrial techno), but clearly a fine accomplishment worthy of a good number of rotations. [Richard di Santo]
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