16 September 2001
It is becoming very difficult to keep up with Grob, a label which has been extremely active this year with a number of outstanding records in the field of experimental improv. Their latest release is a collaboration between two improv artists from Melbourne. Described as an alto saxophonist, flautist and "flute deconstructor", Kim Denley is perhaps better known for his work with Stevie Wishart as Machine for Making Sense. Martin Ng performs on turntables and CD player, and has collaborated with Oren Ambarchie with a record out last year on Staubgold. Vergency collects eleven pieces by these two artists in collaboration, recorded at various venues (studio and in concert) between 1999 and 2000. Denley's wind instruments flutter through in rapid breaths and strange sounds, intuitively moving around the soundfield and exploring numerous textures. Ng's contributions are a little more enigmatic; from the crackles and sharp edits in "Interferon", one of my favourite pieces here, to a cut up jazzy excursion in "Asynch_ology", to some strange vocal sounds in "Fireface", Ng turns his material inside out and exploits his instruments to great effect. This is a wild and free music, very rarely erupting into anything resembling rhythm (most notably, there is a sharp turntable rhythm that appears on the track "Counterclockwise"), and though there might not be much by way of constraint and structure, these two artists have undeniable skills and a complementary dynamic that work extremely well on this album. [Richard di Santo]
Recorded over a three year period between 1997 and 2000, Remote is the latest release from Canadian based artist Jim Dejong, aka The Infant Cycle. The album features three tracks of generous length. The first piece begins with a drum loop that is cut so that it seems to be slightly off kilter, like a skipping record effect. Sounds begin to interfere, the loop disappears to reveal a ten-minute expanse of sonorities, trombone, shortwave radio, stretched out atmospheres and found sounds. The second track begins with a metallic clanging, and continues in a more experimental-industrial vein. More atmospheres, feedback, sharp contrasts, effects and distant voices from a shortwave radio make for an interesting ride in the third and final track on the album. Yet here is where words fail me; The Infant Cycle makes music that doesn't fall within a single category (and this is just the way I like things to be), working within a few so-called traditions of experimental music and breaking from just as many, combining improvisation with composition, free forms with structures, and traditional instrumentation (bass guitar, trombone, drum kit, etc.) with the use of strange and unconventional objects (fireplace, water tank, etc.). In all, an intriguing album, featuring music that seems fluid and carries with it a certain sense of mystery. It seems to change every time I sit down to listen to it, and I'm never quite complacent with my knowledge of the sounds that are unfolding before me time and time again. [Richard di Santo]
Ted Killian is first and foremost a guitarist, performing on both electric and acoustic guitars, but as seen on this new album he also has a firm handle on sampler, loops and sound design. Recorded by Evan Hodge and mixed by Jeff Kaiser, this album explores a number of ideas in and around the post-rock landscape. Killian's programme is not that of the experimental improv performer - to explore new sonorities and textures in his instrument - but rather Killian seems content to exploit more recognizable chords and performance techniques, with perhaps some Frippertronics thrown in for good measure. The howling, plucking, scraping and sliding sounds from his guitar are often surrounded by restrained electronic tones, voices and occasional field recordings, which add a nice touch to the arrangements. Consider the calm atmospheres of "Nocturnal Interstices", or the low frequency drone in "Hubble", matching the fretwork by creating interesting and evocative moods. Occasionally, as in "Cauterant Baptism" the music will erupt in an explosion of swinging rock, with a drum loop beating loudly and energetically. Sometimes his guitar will howl as if to the moon, as in "Flux Aeterna", and sometimes his playing will be more contemplative and melodic, as in "Recurvate Plaint" and "Convocation Solitaire". I'll admit that on occasion my tolerance for electric guitar gives in and I find myself becoming a little restless in the wake of this music (listening to "Reverse Logic" is a prime example), but Killian seems to sense my discomfort and adjusts things just at the points where I begin to feel unsettled. Killian's compositions (for these do not seem like improvisations), whether rocking or more abstract, reflect a maturity and restraint that makes this music all the more enjoyable. Nicely done. [Richard di Santo]
Fakul is the latest release from small Hungarian label Avult, which focuses its efforts on "experimental electroacoustic lo-fi noise works". Three tracks with a total run time of just under 20 minutes, this music takes a brief yet fully charged look at loop structures and various ways of manipulating, interrupting and complementing them. The first track, "Körben Székek", is a loop of bizarre crunching sounds, sounding like it was perhaps made with a skipping record on a turntable. Strange concrete sounds trickle into the framework of the loop, which subsequently disappears leaving only these quiet sounds to finish off the piece. The sound sources seem to be from objects rather than something electronically generated. On track 2, "Apály", a surreal soundscape unfolds amid crackles of static and swirling harmonics, then suddenly shifts to a semi-harsh feedback loop, with various interruptions so that the cadence of the loop isn't always constant. The third and final track, "Archiv", begins with what sounds like the manipulated sounds of heavy breathing amid other obscure sounds, then a melodic bass tone comes in, which then breaks up into abstractions, static and bizarre noise-atmospheres. A tiny gem from an obscure label, limited to a mere 20 copies. [Richard di Santo]
This is the fourth release for Christian Stefaner, aka Maschinenschlosser. In addition to being a sound artist, Stefaner also works with architect and multimedia artist Claudia Schmid as C2S2, an organisation of multimedia and design. His previous records have been released on the Bike and Nitedance/Defender labels, and his latest, Orange Noise, comes to us courtesy of dbelltime, which seems to be a new label. Perhaps this is a strange title for a record of this sort: this music is not, as far as I can tell, an investigation into the sonic lives of oranges. On the contrary, this is crisp, digital electronica, and it seems like first class laptop work. Although the rhythmic bass patterns in the opening track, "polvo naranjo", resonate nicely with a clicks + cuts sensibility, the tracks cover a lot of ground with some interesting ideas behind them. In tracks called "wave" and "onda" alternately, Stefaner used digital phaseshifts to create peculiar loops with random sounds and patterns. Abstract and sounding great in my ears. The tracks on the album alternate between abstract loops to something more complex and rhythmic (like the steady march of "twang" or the crisp electro groove of "stompa"). Or consider the two "funky" tracks on the disc: "funky shark", which employs a more conventional rhythmic structure, and the bizarre "funky ericsson", seemingly devoid of any funk whatsoever, which may or may not have been made using cell phones as a sound source (for a different take on cell phone music, visit flong.com/telesymphony). Here is the crux that very much defines this interesting album; between the abstract, the anomalous and the more conventional sounds of minimal electronica, there are all sorts of possibilities. Stefaner does a great job at exploring a good number of them, 20 in fact, on this bizarre yet very appealing album, which is full of surprises, twists and turns. [Richard di Santo]
Living in the small city of Stavanger on the west coast of Norway, Pål Asle Pettersen has been working as a composer, performer, concert organizer and music distributor. sometimes solo, sometimes with Helge Olav Øksendal as Zang and sometimes with an improvisation trio. This self-released, self-distributed CD documents his solo electroacoustic works which he has been developing for over two years. His music combines elements of improvisation and composition, random and controlled sound. Using field recordings, objects and invented instruments, Pettersen's sound compositions are brimming with activity, interesting contrasts and engaging sound structures. Close-up sounds of various objects (crunching, scraping, tapping, clanging...) mingle with delicate electronic frequencies and subtle textures. Pettersen displays an undeniable talent for arranging a broad spectrum of sounds and aural textures into dramatic arrangements, from thin frequencies to harsh noise, from found sounds to exploring the sounds which can be drawn out of everyday objects. Indicative of a promising future for this emerging artist in the electroacoustic scene. [Richard di Santo]
Son de Mar is the score and companion piece to the new film by Bigas Luna. Formed in 1996 by frontman Glen Johnson, Piano Magic has released five full lengths prior to this one with an always changing lineup (so far more than 30 members have passed through their recording sessions). For this project Johnson is joined by two other core members of Piano Magic, Miguel Marin and Jerome Tcherrneyan, as well as James Topham (viola), Matt Simpson (keys, programming), Charles Wyatt (guitar) John Rivers (keys) and Angele David-Guillou (voice). The music is quiet, meditative and cinematic, progressing in six broad movements. The sound of the sea, the central figure in this music, blends with delicate strings, drifting synthetic atmospheres, sparse percussion, samples and simple melodies. A distinct element of melancholy dominates these beautiful pieces; they present a quiet, sad world as if seen through an opaque lens, like a lonely beach on a cool and cloudy day. Not having seen the film, the score works a certain magic independent of any on-screen imagery, functioning more as a complete work in and of itself. It just might turn out that Bigas Luna's film matches the imaginary film I have pieced together in my mind as I have listened to this music, but all this remains to be seen. Son de Mar is an enchanting album that comes highly recommended, the perfect accompaniment to the coming autumn weather. [Richard di Santo]
Although this is only his second solo record (after World of Strings, released in 1990), Stephan Wittwer has enjoyed a 30 year career making influential improv and experimental music. Last year, Grob released Werther/Wittwer, documenting Wittwer's collaborations with Michael Wertmüller. Wittwer returns to the scene with Streams, an album of complex and challenging music made with guitar and devices. The music ranges from peaceful (as in the opening sections of water sounds and tranquil sonorities) to busy, restless and frantic sections. This music is filled with rough chords of electric guitar, the plucking and scraping of strings, feedback, found sounds and abstract textures. One of the standout moments for me is at the end of the second piece, "Suntic", where the elements recede into a beautiful low frequency. Another piece, "Phlegma", just under 30 minutes in length, is arguably the most challenging and difficult pieces on the record. It undergoes a series of sharp contrasts and is full of harsh, dense textures and abstract howling of electric guitar. This isn't an easy ride, and surely not for everyone; this is music which certainly demands all of your attention, but it comes across as being all the more rewarding for the rough ride it gives. [Richard di Santo]
Based in Rome, Z.e.l.l.e. is the collaborative project of Maurizio Martusciello and Nicola Catalano, and Nth is their debut release. Martusciello has been involved in a number releases in recent years (Meta-Harmonies on Korm Plastics and Unsettled Line on Metamkine, among others), and this seems to be a first for Catalano, a journalist and radio programmer for RAI. Theirs is the sort of micro-minimal music we have come to expect from labels such as Line, consisting of clicks and crackles, and in this case using mostly upper range frequencies. Listening to this music at low volumes on my loudspeakers (an apparent contradiction, I know!), I found that it could be easily ignored, often slipping into the natural ambience of the room, complimenting it with its soft clicks and tones, but on the whole not piquing very much interest. Switching to headphones, the work takes on a completely different nature, becoming (perhaps because of its new proximity) much more prominent, and not so ignorable. There are some nice moments in these pieces, mostly revealing themselves in glimpses of brief loops of crackles, clicks, sine waves and vibrations. And yet I found that these were mere glimpses, and that on the whole this work doesn't seem to have much direction, as if we are presented with a series of fragments without much of a unifying structure. That the CD is divided into nine noticeably distinct tracks adds to this impression of fragmentation. That is not to say that Nth isn't without its rewarding moments; to be sure, Martusciello and Catalano have a sure talent for combining all the conventional elements of microsound, and if it's your fix of minimal clicks and broad sweeps of silence that you're after, you need look no further. [Richard di Santo]
Originally released in 1996, then reissued in 1999, this beautiful 7 inch record from absolute sound artist Francisco López is a short yet rewarding exploration of minimal, low frequency drones. The dominant sound on both sides is a wavering drone; the frequencies are very low but are such that fit comfortably in the listener's ears. On the first side there is the sound of what seems like an isolated (and artificial) wind, the very sound of emptiness itself. On the second side, the "wind" isn't there but the mood of isolation is still strong. With its low frequencies working their minimal magic in steady and subtle fluctuations, the piece transforms the listening space into a quiet and mysterious world. The tricky thing about listening to a project by Francisco López on vinyl is that you're never quite sure if what you're hearing is deliberate; for example, there's a subtle hiss on side two that could equally be a result of the spinning vinyl as it could be a deliberate and delicate addition by López himself. But far from being discouraging, this very quality is a wonderful complement to the listening experience; it encourages you to really move in close on these stunning sounds. This short record by López may only be about 15 minutes in length, but it is every bit as engaging as any of his full length releases. Pressed on pure white vinyl, it's another very fine release from the Drone Records catalogue. [Richard di Santo]
David Lynch, better known for his work in film and visual art (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, etc.), turns once again to music in Lux Vivens, an album of interpretations of the music of Hildegard von Bingen featuring the voice of soprano Jocelyn Montgomery. Lynch has always been active in creating both the scores the sound design for his films, most often working in close collaboration with composer Angelo Badalamenti and sound designer, the late Alan Splet. It therefore comes as no surprise that Lynch here turns his efforts to create these fifteen evocative sound environments, sharing the sound stage with John Neff and Mark Seagraves. Jocelyn Mongomery, in addition to providing her soaring, light and delicate voice, also performs on violin, pipe organ and accordion. The atmospheres are sparse, dark and beautiful, with touches of light breaking through the clouds from time to time; drones, winds, nature sounds, tension strings and cadence drums are matched by synths, strings, guitar textures, bells and dynamic sound effects. Lynch keeps his arrangements on a restrained, yet characteristically abstract level. The sounds and bass drones achieve highly evocative vibrations, allowing the listener to fill in the spaces with his own imagination.
If not for the tiny Quicktime and Macromedia logos on the CD package, one would never have guessed that this is also an enhanced disc, featuring a short documentary-style film by Heidrun Reshoeft on the making of the album and Hildegard von Bingen's compelling world. The film features narration and commentary by Reshoeft, brief interviews and, most telling of all, footage from the recording sessions capturing glimpses of the creative process and the enthusiasm of all the collaborators involved. We see how Lynch employs a number of innovative and unconventional techniques in order to achieve the sounds found on this album. For example, we witness the way a strange tension of the bass strings was achieved by John Neff in the track "Et Ideo" by beating the octave strings against the root strings of a bass guitar, off key and out of tune. For another piece, "Hodie", Lynch created a beautiful harmonic drone using three de-tuned singing bowls, matched by Montgomery's soaring voice, an experience which she rightly describes as "like being in the sky." We also see how Montgomery's voice appears on the waveform monitors like a pure sine wave, Remarkable.
Lynch commands my admiration more and more with every new work; his unrelenting pursuit of lending form to his ideas has had me mesmerized from the very beginning. Released in 1998, Lux Vivens is no exception, and proves that just as Lynch is a master at creating some of the most evocative and mysterious images on screen (and on canvas), so too does he succeed in translating his ideas into sound. For anyone who has felt a chill wind, or has seen a soaring bird in the darkened sky, Lux Vivens comes highly recommended; a dream world where the abstract meets the medieval. [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.
Please credit Incursion.org and the author when quoting from any content on this site.