> Archive > Music Review 66

1 April 2003

Oren Ambarchi: Triste
William Basinski: The Disintegration Loops II
William Basinski: Melancholia
Beequeen: Gund
Nik Beeson: Howlings
Michael Byron: Awakening at the Inn of the Birds
The Hafler Trio: "The moment when we blow the flour from our tongues"
The Hafler Trio: Whistling About Chickens
Daniel Menche: Beautiful Blood
Steve Roden: Resonant Cities
Chas Smith: An Hour Out of Desert Center


Idea Records | 2003 | 12" + 7"

Australian guitarist Oren Ambarchi always conjures up the little moments of nature with ease, even through dozens of FX pedals and an electric guitar. Each pluck or harmonic chiming gleams like the momentary light that bends on a pendant raindrop from a tree leaf at twilight. That natural, impenetrable depth of darkness permeates even his live set at Extrapool in Nijmegen, and it's lavishly preserved and gate-folded in splintered bioluminescent fish (courtesy of Mego designer Tina Frank) on this heavy new record. On the first side, the drops are sparse, slowly assembling and diffusing in clusters. The notes are of a sadness so profound and burdensome that it starts to make microscopic tears at the sounds themselves, making them crackle, glitch, and disintegrate into more frightening incongruities of noise. The detritus from the melancholic fallout reveals sharp frequencies and silvery junkyards deep below the ocean's surface. Aquatic squelches lurch up like a drowned symphony, with deep bass canyons observed as well. Pent-up for nearly two sides, all hell is loosed on the repressed sounds, breaking through the surface with a slashing catharsis that melts away the earlier brooding. When the outburst is spent, a quiet of chirps returns to cool the emotional plasma and return the proceedings to a cleansed, more tranquil state.

The bonus 7-inch has co-founding member of the Los Angeles Free Music Society Tom Recchion take Ambarchi's pliant and plaintive guitar tones and turn him into a one-man band doing Miles' In A Silent Way. The sounds are choppy like surface waves, and the dizziness and oceanic drone he brings forth from the recesses of the original are splendid indeed. Beautiful all the way down. [Andy Beta]



WILLIAM BASINSKI: The Disintegration Loops II
2062 Music | CD

While most of the mainstream press was making big airs about the eerie 9/11 messages or commentary in popular music titles, one of the most phenomenal statements was made with a handful of decade-old tape loops from Brooklyn composer William Basinski that began to crumble on the reels, creating odd ghost traces even as the tapes spun. As the World Trade Center smouldered, Basinski let the dissolving tape loops ring from his rooftop, creating the most haunting elegy possible for the once-mighty towers. The first edition of Disintegration Loops was hailed as a masterwork by all open ears, mine included, and yet, I find this second disc in the series to be even more elegant and haunting than the first, even though it is further removed from the time and having to follow in its predecessor's mighty wake. More evenly proportioned in thirty and forty-minute sections, respectively, the same grandeur of the original loops is present, but the emotional gravity is more readily gleaned from the outset of the disc. For those who have yet to check in with this series, or any of the other homemade CDs of Basinski, this is simply a must for exploring the true darkness of space and the infinite sadness that envelops each of us as we drift through it. [Andy Beta]



2062 Music | CD

Used to the more epic sprawl of continuing series such as The River, Watermusic, and The Disintegration Loops, this is a most welcome surprise. Fourteen small vignettes that draw a little less from the physical processes and random layerings of his loops that the above series draw from, and more from his classically trained background, showing a great depth of melody and composition, allowing little piano figures to echo and disperse in the imagined space. Call it his own version of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works II, it lilts about beatifically in three to four minute segments, brief candles flickering in the background of a particularly miasmic dream, never straying too far into conscious focus before stealing away again. [Andy Beta]



Plinkity Plonk | 011 | CD

The eleventh release on Beequeen's own Plinkity Plonk label represents another dig into their archive of unreleased material (see the recent release A Touch of Brimstone (Issue 063) for another look into the vaults). In the case of Gund, all of these pieces were recorded in 1998 for specific vinyl releases that, for one reason or another, never materialized. So "now the waiting is finally over," they announce, even if you never knew you were waiting for these pieces in particular, if you never knew they existed. But rest assured, it's a fine day that sees the arrival of this CD in your home hi-fi. This is Beequeen's "old style" in its finest form—"old style" of course referring to their emphasis on drones and lower frequency resonance, abandoned in their recent shift in direction heard in their latest material. The first four tracks are quiet and calm, occasionally intense and foreboding, with fine concentrations of vibrations and droning ambience, a melodic phrase, a faint crackle, a cold wave and a warm wash of sound, and moving at a slow, steady pace. The fifth track takes on a distinct character, more intense, threatening and dark, using sound material supplied by MSBR, the ongoing project of noise artist Koji Tano. The sixth and final piece is the inversion of this scenario; a new mix by MSBR using sound material supplied by Beequeen. Recorded in 2001, this piece is one of rising potential—the potential for implosion or explosion, the potential for a release that never happens—instead remaining an exploration and amplification of tension in sound.

For some years now—and perhaps I was a little late in my introduction to Beequeen, beginning with their 1994 release of Time Waits for No One, and from there travelling both forwards and backwards in their chronology, as they themselves seem to enjoy doing with their archival releases—I have marvelled at their ability to create such delicate sounds, as if treading on thin wires, being able to reveal the slightest vibrations, the most subtle of silences, and arrange them in these compelling ways. And in recent weeks, as I have been listening to this new release and returning yet again to their other records, it seems to me that these pieces on Gund are some of their finest, most accomplished works. [Richard di Santo]



NIK BEESON: Howlings
Cirque-Samsara | CD001 | CD

Nik Beeson is a Toronto based multimedia artist who also operates Cirque-Samsara, "a project of apo-cultural navigation" encompassing sound works, writing and performance, but which is also the record label that brings us this CD of his solo work. Featuring three pieces of ambient-electroacoustic music, Howlings is aptly named. The first piece, Lupus Angelus, hearkens back to the early days of ambient, with synth 'howlings' and cosmic winds; its ten minutes of deep ambience and synth washes fading in and out of the mix give me the strong impression that I have travelled on this path before. The second piece likely uses an electric guitar as its exclusive sound source. This time it is the guitar which howls, with some elegant phrasing and a nice interplay of delays and sound loops running right along to the end of the piece. The third and final track, the most experimental here, is also my favourite, approaching the combinations of dissonant elements in a way that is vastly different from the less ambitious leanings of the first two. It evolves slowly, starting with a simple loop and then adding another, and still another, making slight shifts in volume, etc., changing directions, finding a new course, changing again, yet keeping the listener's interest right through to its final moments. In all it's a nice disc of ambient music which, although it won't shake any foundations of what you might have been expecting, will nonetheless provide an intriguing soundtrack for some 35 minutes of your day. [Richard di Santo]



MICHAEL BYRON: Awakening at the Inn of the Birds
Cold Blue Music | CB0012 | CD

Michael Byron's music, we are told, is one of contrasts. It can sway in the direction of shimmering minimalism, or turn to a more rigorous and near-frantic method of composition. Hot and cold, high and low. Awakening at the Inn of the Birds collects four of his most recent compositions, all written within the last three years, plus an older one from 1981, championed here by a new recording. Featuring the interpretive instrumental talents of Sarah Cahill and Joseph Kubera (piano), Kathleen Supové (synth), Greg August (contrabass) and the FLUX Quartet, these recordings seek to represent both sides of the coin that is Byron's artistry. The first two pieces are tranquil, resonant and shining, as unprovoking as the sunshine refracted on a dewy field of grass, or as a gentle wind blowing on a leafy tree. The strings tug quietly at your emotions, forming a wide, still pond of water before your ears, while a pair of pianos act as little droplets, causing broad ripples on the surface. In the second piece, "Tidal" from 1981, the piano seems to be played nearly as a harp, with light, sweeping gestures, in addition to other low, brooding ones, as in the opening sections. The following two pieces are the more rigorous and energetic in the programme, are more restless in spirit, defined by harder edges, sharp turns, and certainly more aggressive performances on piano and strings. They bombard the listener with notes, raining down heavily without freedom, without much room for movement, occasionally hanging there in a state of suspension, for only a half breath, before resuming on their course. These are certainly the more challenging pieces collected here, demanding more on the listener's attention and sense of the compositional voice. The final piece, also the shortest here, is a simple, slow lullaby for solo piano, and restores to the listener a supreme sense of calm perhaps lost from the experience of the two previous pieces. Truly bewitching, and a perfect end to the disc, an intriguing mix of tranquillity and restlessness, hot and cold, highs and lows. [Richard di Santo]



THE HAFLER TRIO: "The moment when we blow the flour from our tongues"
Crouton Music | 016 | 10"

Among the recent influx of releases by The Hafler Trio comes this 10 inch on Crouton, pressed on DMM (that's direct metal mastering) 110 gram clear virgin vinyl and limited to 500 copies. Recorded in the spring of 2002, these two pieces explore various techniques of generating, manipulating and arranging sound, from the past to the present, their relation to each other, and a personal approach to dealing with them. Both pieces unfold in a series of transitions, sudden drops in volume, a break-in of vocal cut-ups, slow silences, shifting drones, all of which reveal that, whatever their sound sources may have been at the start, everything that appears before your ears has undergone significant transformations. Andrew McKenzie's work has often been, in some way or other, an exploration of process (creative, generative, etc.), which not only informs the composition, but also becomes the subject of the texts which often accompany his works. Cryptic, rich in metaphor, the reader is challenged to do some significant decoding of his language and scenes. This release, with its mysterious titles (consider the first side: "'The moment when we blow the flour from our tongues,' being an examination of some aspects of another entity entitled 'Germans are people too' but in no wise limited to this"), is also accompanied by a seemingly discontinuous dialogue printed on the insert, each voice following its own logic (however enigmatic), and yet not seeming to meet on any common ground. With language, we are always ready to decode, to distinguish the signifiers from the signified, interpret meanings in the metaphors, deconstruct each trope, and yet in dealing with sound our movements are never so deliberate. It may be true that we often attempt to discern a narrative, even in atonal music, identify the sounds of those objects and events that exist in our concrete reality, yet we're struck dumb at the sublime, the sound metaphors and substitutions which aren't easily identifiable to us, that somehow defy the laws of their conventional usage. Even if we might be able to do this successfully from time to time, when these methods fail us we often need to discover a different method of approaching sound when we're on its receiving end. And when on the receiving end of a new release by The Hafler Trio, we are sure to be challenged to do just that, our experiences as active listeners being enriched all the more. [Richard di Santo]



THE HAFLER TRIO: Whistling About Chickens
Fire Inc. | f-10 | 2CD

A release that has been shrouded in mystery for some years finally sees the light of day. First announced about seven years ago, Whistling About Chickens was to have been the successor to the How to Reform Mankind trilogy, but it failed to materialize until the very end of 2002. Presented now as a double disc set, the material is said to have undergone several reworkings since its inception, but it is anyone's guess as to how far the end production might differ from what was to be released all those years ago. Regardless of the means, the end is as invigorating as I ever could have imagined.

The sounds presented are patently clean; an inimitable characteristic that becomes further refined with each new H3O release. There is a certain 'matte' quality to the mix, which allows for many twists and turns in the sonic terrain. Case in point: the surprising eruption of a 1960s instrumental classic, "The Stripper", appearing in the form of a short loop, clipped to its barest of bones, and layered with funhouse mirror reflections. It's a splendid moment that appears buried in the track "one other vantage point," sandwiched between fits of granular static and stereophonic reverberations. Many of the other tracks on the first disc (though without such obvious points of reference) follow this path closely. There is a calm, steady-handed approach to the structure of each track, and a sound palette in each that seems controllable, yet dense, as opposed to unwieldy and open.

Disc two, given its own smirk-worthy title of "arguing with pigs about the quality of oranges," is a slightly different story. Rather than presenting a plenitude of tracks, a single 34-minute piece takes us on a more spacious journey than any of the pieces on the first disc. A meditative "bell" calls for your attention about nine minutes in, and it continues on in a haunting, beckoning manner. Low frequencies abound, providing a sense of intimidation, while occasional shrill peaks ensure one does not succumb to the drones.

Is this second disc an end or a beginning? To me, it seems more suitable as an apéritif. Partially, I think this is due to its brevity, compared to "the whole hog including the postage" of disc one, but there is something in its conclusion that does leave the palate with a taste for more. Some may find disc two a more appropriate end to a release that took so long to materialize, while others may find it leaves them a bit flat after the build-up of disc one. The discs do form an odd couple, but so does the pairing of 'whistling' and 'chickens' in the release's title.

This is a recording that benefits the use of headphones, but it takes on a new life when it is played in the open air. One also wonders, with all this talk of chickens, pigs and hogs, if it would best be played in a farmhouse for maximum effect. I shall let you know if the opportunity ever presents itself. With a wit and charm that is forever endearing, The Hafler Trio has crafted another signature release that sonically leans more towards One Dozen Ecomomical Texts than Mastery of Money or the recently released Cleave: 9 Great Openings (Issue 065). The sonic style, the technical ingenuity, and a healthy dose of genuine peculiarity all contribute favourably to this long overdue release. [Vils M DiSanto]



DANIEL MENCHE: Beautiful Blood
Alien8 Recordings | 36 | CD

Based in Portland, Oregon, Daniel Menche has been working with experimental sound—his arrangements characteristically dark, intense and challenging—for some ten years or more. My own encounters with his music have been admittedly infrequent, going back to Legions in the Walls (Trente Oiseaux, 1995), taking a big leap to a Touch compilation from a few years back and then to The Face of Vehemence (Ground Fault, 2002), overlooking a number of releases on Soleilmoon, Alluvial, MSBR and the now defunct Side Effects label, among others. His latest release, this time on Alien8 Recordings out of Montréal, has been in the works for some time, but received its final mix in the spring of 2002. Consisting of two long tracks, Beautiful Blood is a rush of ideas and intense drones, with intoxicating swirls and pulses of harsh harmonics, grating feedback and deep-throated vibrations. The two pieces are vastly different, and yet they both work on the listener in similar ways. They begin slowly, be it with a slow fade-in of a low frequency drone or a scattered handful of feedback cut-ins, introducing their ideas one at a time. A piano seems to have been used as a sound source. You start to pick out sounds, becoming acutely aware of their arrivals and departures, their changes and repetitions, and you feel like you're on top of things; nothing can surprise you, you're following in Menche's footsteps with some confidence. And yet there's a point in each piece where you lose your footing, you become lost in the branches of the trees, in the diverging paths on the ground, or in the red light streaming through your surroundings from all sides, and suddenly you become aware of these intense, swirling streams of sound pouring all over you, you wonder how long you have been there, lost in these dense layers, you lose your footing, you stumble, you change directions, but it's too late, you're totally lost. Lost, that is, until you are released from this strange and transfixing hold at the end of each piece, as if a magnificent weight is suddenly lifted from your environment, and you find yourself in a new place, or perhaps in the same place from where you started. In either scenario, things seem to have changed, you'll fall asleep later that night wondering just where you've been, how you got there, and, once and for all, how you managed to get back home. [Richard di Santo]



STEVE RODEN: Resonant Cities
Trente Oiseaux | TOC 031 | CD

Resonant Cities was created for "Frequencity," a series for Kunst Radio curated by Steve Bates. The series was premised on the notion of radio as "a conduit that transmits the movement of a city, its ebb and flow, its noise and its melody, its church bells, speeches, transmissions, barking dogs, parades." In his liner notes (which are included as a pdf on the CD), Steve Roden discusses his impressions of cities, of travelling from one to the other, of hunting for those "inconsiderable things" Rilke writes of, and remarking that "even quiet sounds, if one listens closely and intimately can direct one's attention away from the existing 'scenery.'" For my own part, I have also considered such things, thinking not only of Rilke but of Pessoa: "In broad daylight, even the sounds shine." You can record the sounds of a city with your eyes closed; the sounds themselves, when you find them, or when they find you, seem to erase the visual city and replace it with their own, intensely personal reality. Using recordings made in various cities around the world, Roden has created a piece in which reveals aspects of the city's sounds, with a particular focus on resonant objects, capturing the sounds of those "inconsiderable things" which reveal themselves when approached with careful attention. The piece unfolds slowly and with great care and subtlety; these sounds are truly shining. I won't describe the sounds we hear on Resonant Cities, how the piece is arranged or how it unfolds in however many movements, nor will I reproduce Roden's list of sound sources for you here, but I will instead encourage you to listen to this piece; simply listen, and explore this personal exploration of the sounds that surround us, in every city, or in no city at all, the sounds that can simply be said to exist. [Richard di Santo]



CHAS SMITH: An Hour Out of Desert Center
Cold Blue Music | CB0013 | CD

This is the third release for Chas Smith on the Cold Blue label. Generated in large part from original metallic instruments which are designed and built by Smith himself, his music has explored a wealth of ideas through inventive performance techniques. The metallic reverberations, gratings and harmonics create rich tapestries of sound, both physical and ephemeral in their combinations of metallic strikes and long, drawn-out resonance. His new release, An Hour Out of Desert Center, marks something of a departure. Replacing his original instruments are pedal steel guitar, Bigsby lap guitar, crotales, zither and a Guitarzilla, among others. Gone are the harsh metallic vibrations and hammerings, those swirling, intense and forbidding sounds. Now all that's left, more or less, is the reverb, comparable in places with the guitar-based projects of Steve Roach, however with a darker mood and lacking the emphasis on mysticism and inner spaces. Only on the second piece does some of the more abrasive sound material found in his earlier works survive. Lacking in large part the rougher edges of his previous efforts, I found less to capture my interest in this release. Before venturing into this one, my advice would be to seek out his previous two releases on Cold Blue, Nikko Wolverine (Issue 029) and Aluminum Overcast (Issue 040), which present a more varied, adventurous music. [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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