30 September 2001
The principal instrument in James Coleman's Zuihitsu is the theremin, that peculiar instrument which historically has had more kitsch value than any reputation as an instrument for serious composers and performers. Based in Boston and an active player in the improv scene across the eastern US, James Coleman is out to change all of that. In Zuihitsu (the title means both "miscellany" and, more literally, "running brush" in Japanese) he gives the theremin central stage in a series of highly improvised pieces. Coleman's theremin is accompanied by a host of other players and instruments: Greg Kelley on trumpet, Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion, the voice of Liz Tonne as well as the Undr quartet, among others. Throughout these fifteen pieces, the theremin wavers in delicate strains, it moans and it whines with its intriguing and distinctive voice, mingling with the scrapings and tensions from the accompanying instrumentation. The arrangements are difficult and free, ranging from quieter sections that open up in broad spaces to less frequent outbursts of noise and clutter. Ambitious in scope and challenging in its outcome, Zuihitsu is an engaging work that places the theremin firmly on the map of experimental improvisation. [Richard di Santo]
André Estermann has released a number of projects in recent years on Musik Aus Strom (see his Aemic project with M. Fakesh, for example). Balloon, his first solo full length, can best be described as feel-good electronic music. It combines beats reminiscent of Autechre, warm melodies recalling the Aphex Twin, and some quirky detailing suggestive of earlier works by Mouse on Mars. But I'm afraid that there is otherwise no emergent quality in this music; that is, it doesn't strike me as being any more than the sum of all its parts. Balloon is something weightless, melodic and predominantly upbeat. Perhaps best suited for driving or for background music, this is music that doesn't really lend itself well to a great degree of attention. This is music for toe-tapping, for forgetting about, for filling the space. Far from being groundbreaking, it is just interesting enough to keep me from being bored, just detailed enough to keep me from falling asleep, but on the whole Balloon is barely memorable, with the exception of its neat jewelcase design, an interesting pop-out device made of translucent two-tone plastic. [Richard di Santo]
Eight years in the making, Szam Findlay's Die Hautfabrik is his debut release. It comes to us courtesy of his own label Todtenschlaf, based in Vancouver, Canada. The disc is packaged in a beautifully made booklet with illustrations featuring sculptures by Dandilion Schlase. The images are dark and surreal, and they offer a fitting compliment to the music on the CD. Findlay's music draws much of its inspiration from IDM with its densely layered and unpredictable beats, and also recalls dark orchestral industrial music with its pounding drums and synthetic strings. The arrangements are cinematic, as if every track is a dramatic climax unto itself, and the tracks are detailed and richly layered. Even though these "soundtracks" are predominantly dark (the mental images they conjure while listening are always shrouded by dark clouds in the sky), there is a peculiarly elusive warmth in this music, one that comes with Findlay's use of analog synths, at once nostalgic (for me, at least) and forward looking. In all, some very interesting sounds to be found here, admirable for their dramatic impact and also for a meticulous attention to detail. Die Hautfabrik is limited to 1150 hand numbered booklets, and is clearly a labour of intensive and inspired dedication and love. Nice work, [Richard di Santo]
Crossing the River (Night Music) is the latest release from sound artist Bernhard Günter, following closely on the heels of monochcrome white / polychrome w/neon nails, released on Line just a few short months ago. This new work differs greatly from this last project, presenting rather a more organic and acoustic sound environment, where the latter was more of an installation piece for the home, filled with digital crackles and sensitive tones like the chatter of cicadas.
The first piece, which gives the disc its title, proceeds in slow, deliberate movements; a muted bass thump sounds occasionally; the waves of the river clash gently against the frame of a still boat; vibrating harmonic strings haunt the soundscape. The liner notes quote the title of a painting by Juan Miró , "Ceci est la couleur de mes rèves" (This is the color of my dreams), offering a fitting compliment to this bewitching arrangement, which runs for just over 30 minutes not that time seems to carry any weight when listening to this piece. On the contrary, time seems to slip away in the wake of these calm and tranquil sounds. The second piece, "Haiku for Mu" was made using the sounds of Günter's dog Mu "sleeping, breathing and dreaming". It was originally released on last year's lowercase sound compilation, but here appears remastered and "embedded in silence." The title of this piece makes me wonder if there was a structural principal involved in its creation in order to make it an haiku of sound rather than one of words. What we do hear are the sounds of Mu's short breaths, some shuffling, some movement, all coloured by the opaque and muted hiss of the source recording. This piece seems less like a composition than it does a pure source recording, but knowing Günter's work there was likely a meticulous process involved in its making. Putting aside these details, however, probably the most significant observation I can make about Günter's latest work is that no matter the creative processes or structural principles involved here, the listener hangs on to every single sound and every nuance, becoming sensitive to every movement and shuffle, every variation in harmony, every ripple of water. These two pieces unfold before your ears like some kind of wondrous tapestry and create a tranquil atmosphere, inspiring a similarly calm state of mind. A beautiful new work. [Richard di Santo]
Man is the name for the French duo comprised of François Biyikli and Charles-Eric Charrier. They perform on piano, Rhodes, melodica, guitars, acoustic bass, drums and various "bruitages". In turns meditative, intimate, sad and jovial, Man has created a wonderful album of versatile instrumental music, full of minimal melodies and skillful arrangements. More than what is usually implied by the moniker "post-rock", this music exhibits admirable maturity and deliberation. Consider the ten-minute piece "l", a strong rhythmic number with a cradling bass and a rolling rhythm; during particular sections of this piece a distinctive vibration of the bass strings rumbles beneath the more dominant rhythm, just one of many intriguing details that has inspired me to savour each moment on this disc. Lara Moulny provides a melancholy violoncello in "Kirkjubaejarklaustur", a piano broods with a resonating bass in "Daday"; an informal and warm melody on acoustic guitar blends with the sounds of a conversation in "International Kangaroo"; and a happy carnivalesque melody builds in steady movements in "La petite valse", one of my favourite tracks on the album. This music has grown on me significantly since I first received it; it is rewarding and pleasant, perfect for a quiet afternoon of thoughtfulness. [Richard di Santo]
A new disc of "personal music" by Kristian Peters aka Novisad, Seleya is the follow up to his self titled debut released in 1998 on Tomlab. Focusing primarily on short loop-based structures, all thirteen of the pieces on this album are washed in an analog haze which adds an interesting sheen of mystery to this predominantly ambient and gentle music. Novisad keeps the arrangements and melodies simple and minimal, made with what sound like synths, guitar and various noises. This music reminds me of a piece I once heard by Susumu Yokota called "Morino Gakudan" on the Leaf label's Osmosis sampler, which has an analogous quality of mystery with a distinct leaning towards minimalism. A close listening of this album doesn't reveal too much, but still these are nicely constructed vignettes that are more like snapshots, given that each piece remains more or less static as an arrangement of simple loops. In all, Novisad's latest brings us pleasant music for nostalgia and reflection, a circular disc which ends pretty much in the same place it started, which means you can create a larger, collective loop by setting your disc player to repeat mode. [Richard di Santo]
Ruhig Blut (which translates figuratively as "keep your cool"), is the second solo release by Cologne based artist Timo Reuber, who released his solo debut Anna last year, also on Staubgold. The album begins with a tranquil piece of harmonic drones and playful electronic sound droplets, a peaceful and nicely arranged piece with some interesting effects. The second track is more abrasive, made with what could almost be a heavily processed guitar, with a complex rhythm unfolding unpredictably and undergoing various shifts of pitch and timbre. This second piece is definitely music for a catharsis. The third and final piece returns to calm ground with some beautiful harmonic drones weaving a spell of comfort and warmth which ends the record rather nicely. Ruhig Blut is all the more interesting for the way it shifts between these two elements, the one calm and tranquil (tracks 1 and 3), the other charged with energy, harshness and rhythm (track 2). The sounds are crystal clear and close, you can feel the grating sounds as if they were manifesting themselves physically before you, or breathe in the harmonic drift as if it surrounded the very space around you. Nicely done. [Richard di Santo]
This is the first studio-recorded release for Thilges 3. Previous releases have been live recordings only, so I was interested to find out what effect this might have on their sound. I'm happy to report the results are completely engaging, full of intertwining sounds along with their own brand of complex rhythmic sequences. The sounds are a little heavier in their makeup, especially for the first half of this 30-minute release. The second half brings a smooth array of intertwining drip-sounds, rubbery reverberations and a slap-happy bottom end. Other Thilges 3 recordings I've auditioned such as saumarkt and johanna zyklus exhibited a softer side, reminiscent of early Autechre recordings. Polka now separates them from that classification by introducing new elements and a different pace to the proceedings. Now I'd like to see what they can do with a full-length release... [Vils M DiSanto]
The third instalment in Bip-Hop's series of new electronic music, Volume 3 features new works by Neotropic, Bovine Life, Pimmon, Zonk't, Atau Tanaka and Novel 23. With such a lineup, it becomes more and more clear with every release that Bip-Hop is out to defy any sort of categorization as a microwave or a clicks + cuts label; their compilations to date have been as admirable as they have been diverse in their musical visions and styles. Volume 3 begins with two tracks by Neotropic (Riz Maslen), who primarily records for Ninja Tune's sublabel Ntone. These two pieces are an eclectic mix of sonorities and rhythms, from ambient to rhythmic, but both are distinctively mellow and carry an impressive dynamic range. Next comes four tracks by Bovine Life, Edinburgh's Chris Dooks. His tracks are a little more conventional and lightweight with their rhythms and quirky melodies, and all in all very nicely done. Paul Gough, aka Pimmon gives us three tracks recorded between 1999 and 2000. Strange cutups, clusters of crackles and atmospheres are the constituent elements in Pimmon's always impressive digital cauldron of sound. One long track by Zonk't, France's Laurent Pierrier formerly of Nox and Cape Fear, is teeming with activity, rhythms and little sounds. Next up is Atau Tanaka, probably best known as a member of Sensorband and UBSB. His contributions are among my favourite here, with two arrangements that stretch across a wide spectrum using some very compelling, unconventional sounds. Lastly, novel 23 is Roman Belousov from Moscow, who has had a few releases on Art-Tek, Pitchcadet and Shaped Harmonics labels. Some heavily processed beats and sounds on his first contribution are matched by the happier sounds in the more uplifting finale "Leia's Charm". The third instalment in Bip-Hop Generation series offers another piece to the puzzle of what is currently happening in the fields of electronic music, and comes highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
This compilation on Disco Bruit's subsidiary label eP, aka Erneuerter Prozess, features exclusive tracks from Mouse on Mars, Reznicek, Thomas Beck, Ostinato, Relais and many others. The compilation takes many turns, beginning with a track by Wrag Naroda, a sort of abstract digital dubscape, and ending with an intriguing track by the duo Jetzmann/Liquidski, whom I remember from their impressive rhythmic retooling of sound material by Asmus Tietchens, released about five years ago on The Bog label. Sadly I have since learned that Andreas Hoffmann, aka Liquidski, passed away in 1998, and it is to his memory that this compilation CD is dedicated. Their contribution is a dark post-industrial sort of mood piece, with heavily processed sounds and atmospheres. Speaking of Tietchens, his "pop alias" project called Hematic Sunsets also makes an appearance here, a strange layering of loops with a double sense of light and dark; a light loop-based rhythm undergoes a series of shifts in pitch as it is clouded over by darker sound elements. Stick, Disco-Bruit's co-founder El Stick, moves from abstract loops to a swinging house rhythm in his contribution. Two forays into a more harsh vision of drum 'n' bass, by Cybermouse and Christoph de Babalon respectively, seem a little out of place on the compilation, but the duo Mouse on Mars(Jan St. Werner and Andi Thoma) restore the record's momentum with a short, quirky piece which might one day find its home on a more unconventional dancefloor. From the abstract to the rhythmical, and the many permutations of mixing these two dynamic bedfellows, the music on Discotheque Bruitisme presents a nice variety of styles, visions and voices, and of course it's always nice to hear new electronic music that isn't necessarily of the clicks + cuts school. From one track to the next, with only one or two minor exceptions, this one comes highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
A hit-and-miss compilation released ten years ago on the U.K. label Concrete, featuring contributions from T.A.G.C., Z'ev, Muslimgauze and Sow, among others. At the time, all the tracks had been previously unreleased, but now some have made their way onto other releases. Things get underway with a brief electroacoustic number by Barry Anderson, filled with a high-pitched tenacity and a burgeoning underbelly. Very dramatic, and very effective for an opening track. Right after this great intro piece is a mundane eleven-minute spoken word performance by Kathy Acker. In her monotonous style, she delivers a poor reading of an uninteresting selection from her writing. Acker's piece is followed by some so-so dark ambient pieces by Deux Filles and Pornosect. Adi Newton's project T.A.G.C. delivers a moving number called "Mercurius", and an accompanying text in the booklet details Adi's research into the winged figure of Hermes. Muslimgauze contributes a pounding drum sequence peculiarly low on the ethno-quotient. Z'ev's muted percussive performance here concentrates not on the pounding nature of percussion, but on the resounding nature of its reverberations. The compilation closes with an ambient recording of a stormy day at Ladbroke Grove by Peter Shyjka. A rather bizarre mixture of ideas are presented on the disc, and while some commonality can be found between the tracks, there are too many misses which detract severely from the high points. [Vils M DiSanto]
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