1 October 2003
Based in Iran, percussionist Navid Afghah started playing the tonbak in 1983, when he was 13 years old. The tonbak (also called the tombak, or zarb) is a traditional Persian drum. Chalice-shaped, it is usually carved from solid mulberry wood and covered by a goat- or lamb-skin membrane, and when played, it releases a rich variety of tones and textures, allowing the player to create rhythmic patters as well as both punctuate and ornament melodic phrases. Taking his formal training and the already extraordinary range of his instrument, Navid Afghah set out to explore uncharted territories of the tonbak, uncovering new techniques in performance and discovering some intriguing new sounds in the process. All the sounds generated on this album are natural (that is, without the addition of any effects), using anywhere from 5 to 18 tonbaks of different dimensions. This being a solo effort, overdubs must have been necessary in the final mix. Three long pieces retell the story of creation, the struggle between creative and destructive forces, the birth of the world and its natural wonders. Afghah weaves ambiences, strikes, scrapings, shrieks and an entire fleet of different sounds into these dynamic and nuanced compositions, a real feast for the ears. Occasionally, his drums will emulate the sounds of waves crashing on the shore, or a massive flock of birds startled into a sudden burst of flight; that this is all accomplished on the skin of his drums is a marvel. Close your eyes and an immense sound field opens up before you. These pieces are followed by an extended improvisation on tonbak, as if to say that what follows creation is life itself, a new life, a time when the real activity begins. Rhythms play a secondary role to the exploration of textures and unique tones; Afghah's music is about larger rhythms, the rhythms of creation, of the larger forces in life, which he explores and exploits here to great effect. [Richard di Santo]
Laying about somewhere is a bootleg of the horrendously off-key baying-as-backing-vocals of Linda McCartney (God bless her soul) on tour with Wings, her voice isolated from the live mix. That sort of selective channelling of listening, microscopic perhaps, weirdly focuses on a few seconds of a sound, and for some strange reason, I think of that hapless record about halfway through Tetuzi Akiyamas ten minute vortex of Dont Forget to Boogie. Maybe this is what it would be like inside of another sound. More specifically, that sound of Doug Moons backporchy pork-pick on Trout Mask Replicas infamous China Pig. A tape-damaged bluesy snort-stomp on that record, here it gets re-imagined, completely isolated and then turned inwards, devouring its own fuzzy essence in an infinite, snaky loop of a single chord for nigh on ten minutes, constantly in flux and as greasy as drumstick fingers.
This album itself is as corporeal and ferocious. Seekers who know him as co-founder of the highly touted Onkyo improvisational scene might even think they came across hokey outtakes of Hooker and Heat instead, the engineer fading in and out of guitar channels at random. It could very well piss-off and put-off a few folks, wondering why an individualistic and silence-nuanced improviser like Tetuzi would scrape together a fuggin chuggin blues record from seeming scraps of two-inch tape. The same Onkyo attunement to detail and sound as it vibrates in space is here though (it is also mastered by Toshinaru Nakemura, he of the no-input mixing board), but in a raw, new context. The hovering Tommy gun menace and the skull-scratched black leather theme of the cover belies its thuggish exterior, like a gruff biker bellowing Fuck You! in a polite and enrapt crowds face. After a few beers with im though, this individuality, however fucked up, becomes evident, endearing even. There is plenty of one-chord boogie, but also weird shimmering moments, like on Shes a B-Girl. The ending track City of Gold is melodic, gentle. A unique listen to a confounding player, fully focused in a seemingly classic (i.e., dead) context. [Andy Beta]
A series of seemingly empty voicemail files were sent to Frans de Waard via email. "Seemingly empty," because there were background noises present in addition to new distortions caused by a lo-fi sampling rate. Later on, intrigued, he took these files and created new mixes of them, amplifying the seeming silences and manipulating the material into new forms. The result is a peculiar record, more of interest as a concept than anything else. Hisses, monotone beeps, muted, muffled clicks, crackles, and garbled soundshey, it's microsound for phone lines! What this record does achieve, however, is a reminder for us to listen closely, even to what we think is shrouded in silence, to what we consider to be boring events in our everyday lives, and bring out the peculiarities inherent in even the most mundane of sounds. And so inspired, suddenly I have the urge to check my own messages, or send out some new ones, out into the vast network of phone lines, a strange system of wires and signals where sounds and silences alike are carried over immense distances in a moment's breath. [Richard di Santo]
The latest collaboration between Jamie Drouin and Lance Olsen, two of the founding members of the Infrequency artist collective based in Victoria, British Columbia, takes a close look at the sonic properties of snow. Sounds were collected from a site on Vancouver Island, which were then edited into audio tracks, and different combinations were then chosen for this release, beautifully packaged and limited to a press run of 200 copies. Listening closely, carefully, with the calm of winter seeming right around the corner, I discern quiet, distant and deep drones interacting with the closer surface sounds of scratching, rustling, cracklinga contact mic rubbing up against a cluster of snow, or the processed recordings of the snow being crushed underfoot during a walk along the shore. Often, the interplay of elements is subtle and compelling; other pieces feel improvised, as if searching for the right connections and combinations, searching for something hidden beneath the snow, perhaps, or concealed deep within each flake. So I left these pieces with mixed impressions, wondering whether there was anything beyond the initial concept of using exclusively the sounds of snow to inspire this work. Is this meant to tell me something about the nature of snow, or my perceptions, preconceptions of it? If the recordings weren't based on recordings of snow, would something else have done just as well? Searching for ansers in the snow, my senses still resonate with the delicate sounds and muted gestures of these recordings. [Richard di Santo]
It's unclear why it has taken four years for these recordings to see the light of day, but no matter; here are 16 tracks of minimal beats and chill-out atmospheres from the ever-active Tomas Jirku. The tracks alternate between beatsstark, minimal, and often with little variation, sometimes sounding like variations of one anotherand ambient takes, deep atmospheres, processed radio transmissions, mood music for dark, starless nights. Looking at Jirku's previous releases and his live shows, which usually present material that you'll never hear on disc, Jirku has quickly demonstrated that he can intrigue his listeners as much as he can get them off their seats, he can make you laugh or give your thoughts something much more subtle to chew on. But here, the arrangements are something of a disappointment, forsaking a more dynamic sound and attention to detail for predominantly flat variations on a limited theme. Even for 1999, it sounds a bit old, a remnant from the early days of techno when chill-out rooms were set up to offer a haven for reluctant or recouping ravers, when minimal beats and cool, dark ambient washes were the sounds of the hour. So let's all move on, shall we? [Richard di Santo]
The fourth instalment in an ongoing series of live collaborations by Thomas Köner and Asmus Tietchens was recorded in May of 2002 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Apparently, this marks the end of the first phase of their collaboration, and so Die Stadt is now also preparing a limited edition box with extra material to become available soon. This piece, obliquely titled n (the unknown variable), certainly does continue along the same path as their earlier releases (titled 1, 0 and -1, respectively). This path is one that cuts right through arctic waters, deep under the icy surface; the sounds of the water, with its immense pressure all around you, and the solitude of the voyage; the echoes in the submarine's vast engine rooms and passageways; the journey through an uncharted territory (keeping in mind that unerforschtes Gebeit is also the title of a recent solo work by Köner). Deep bass rumblings dig even deeper, some sections seem more quiet, less submerged in dark, dense drones, only to be drowning in them during others. As all of their works, it's a richly detailed, evocative piece, and one of their most well-executed in the series to date, the structure and pace seeming more deliberate, carefully mapped out. And yet, like them, I'm also ready to move on. After four instalments in a series that has been building admirably on its own foundations, I'm eager to see what turns Tietchens and Köner will take next, and where they will take us, following in their footsteps, as they continue in their collaboration. [Richard di Santo]
Taking recordings from a Kapotte Muziek concert from 1996 in Berlin, Stephan Mathieu reworked the sound material by making friends with his computer. Well, I'm sure he's speaking figuratively when he says this, but let's be nice and simply take him at his word. What he means by this is that he has come to trust his software as something that works for the composer, a composer who relinquishes his control (to a certain extent, of course) and allows the software a certain freedom in the process of composition. Mathieu describes how he spent months processing the sound material for these recordings, and how, after a serious system crash, his computer did nothing but play a medley of the music he had been working on, a medley of its own construction, its own choosing. This takes the underlying concept of Kapotte Muziek (that is, of "broken music") to its full potential. The result, elegantly titled "A Microsound Fairytale," is wild and untamed, a tour de force of glitches and loops, of sharp turns and full reversals, of loud bursts and quiet crackles; a jolting, uneasy ride for a listener eager to be standing on firm ground, a dizzying thrill for the more adventurous. It's probably one of Mathieu's noisiest works to date, and probably the only time he let his computer have the last say on the final mix.
This is the tenth in an ongoing series of records with reworked recordings of Kapotte Muziek, each by a different composer and most (if not all) of which have been released on the Korm Plastics label. [Richard di Santo]
Oöphoi is one Gianluigi Gasparetti, and though he has had a number of releases on labels like Amplexus, Electroshock, Nextera and Hypnos, this is my first encounter with his work. His sound world moves at a desperately slow pace, rich in detail but simple in structure, evocative as good drone music should be, deep as the sea which it attempts to capture, dive into, sail upon. Few things happen on the surface of these long, drifting sonic plates, a touch of light here and there, a small detail... but mostly, it's a long, seemingly static sound environment in which to get lost for a while. By the time you're through, it seems that things have indeed changed from the way they were when you set off. On the vast, open sea, it's a cold wind that blows in your face as you look toward the horizon. It's a lonely place, to be sure, but who's to say you that won't discover something of yourself while there? [Richard di Santo]
David Jackman returns as Organum on this short, limited edition 7" release for Die Stadt, featuring two tracks recorded earlier this year. The 7" record has always been one of the more rewarding formats for Jackman's work; short and to the point, it demands a certain economy of composition that suits the Organum name well. Here, we see a markedly different sound from what we might be used to hearing from Jackman, but still it's all part of the same recognizable sound world. Side A features a subtle, deep, handmade drone hiding beneath layers of metallic clamouring and a simple yet striking piano motif. Side B is not so kind, with its (hopefully) ironic title, "Happy," Tibetan horns mourn and cry out amid a similar clamour as was heard on the first side, along with a metallic whistling, piercing sound. A strange, almost surreal track, stirring the imagination to unexplored territories, unusual sensations. You won't easily forget these sounds. [Richard di Santo]
Powerbooks For Peace is the trio of Alex Peverett, Jim Brouwer and Joe Gilmore, trying to make sense of the recent war in Iraq, meanwhile finding a place for music in this politically charged and upside-down landscape (visit their website and you'll be greeted by an error message stating "War is stupid." Who could argue with that?). On this self-titled release for Alku they present two pieces of improvised laptop electronics; harsh clicks and cuts (carrying the influence of many a Mego artist) sometimes aggressive, sometimes approaching the melodic, but not for long. One could easily imagine this as a slightly unkempt, tousled reaction to the insanity of world events and US foreign policy.... Politics and music; well, it's a strange road to be travelling on, but then again, these are strange times, and if it's peace we're talking about, then I'm all ears. [Richard di Santo]
Moving away from the perky electro and retro-styled IDM noodling that has been the predominant flavour of recent Piehead releases, the latest edition in their 2003 limited edition series of 3 inch discs comes as a refreshing change. Mark Spybey might best be known for his work as Dead Voices on Air, or Propeller, or better still for his participation in Download, a project he was involved in for a while with cEvin Key, among others from the Subconscious collective. The single piece presented here was composed from improvisations made with cEvin Key back in 1994, a year or two before their collaboration as Download. It's a massive, swirling entity; droning electronics in full whirlpool effect, turning and circling into the depths of cosmic space. It's a strong, immediate piece hearkening back to the early days of industrial-ambient, but without sounding like it is trying to recapture some of the lost glory from that era. Listen closely and you'll notice some nice details in the dense layers of heavily processed sound. [Richard di Santo]
The early months of 2003 saw the release of Songs, a set of improvised music by Howard Stelzer on tapes and Jason Talbot on turntable. That record, issued on Intransitive Recordings, contained a note by Michael Bullock printed on its inner sleeve that seemed to describe things perfectly: "The pieces, while short and concentrated, are not simply outbursts of noise, but organisms, structures, or universes filled with swarms of smaller bodies.... It's not nostalgia; rather, the titles suggest real, present things." From exploring minute details to taking a more broad look at generalities and observances, this is improvisation in the present tense; immediate, pushing its way into your space and not allowing you to look back, or even forward; it grabs you by the arms and holds onto you for the duration of its rough, intense and challenging ride. And so it was with considerable anticipation, and, admittedly, a little trepidation, that I turned to listen to their latest collaboration, Four Sides, a double-7" out now on Crippled Intellect. The tracks were recorded live: the first four at the Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts, and the latter three at Extrapool in Nijmegen. Here Stelzer and Talbot continue in creating their fierce, detailed, abrasive yet careful improvisations. The tape reels spin and stutter while their sounds sputter and choke, the turntable creates a whirlwind of dizzying activity, a scraping, grinding and restless needle working on whittling down its materials piece by piece as it touches them, issuing all sorts of short utterances and screams. Improvisation in the present tense, surely, and, as with the present, it's chock full of interruptions, disturbances, digressions and even, occasionally, peppered by moments of brilliancemoments when you suddenly gain a new perspective, as if by accident, and see things you hadn't seen before, hear things you hadn't heard before, and discover something new hidden between the cracks , somewhere in the combinations of sounds bursting forth, invading your environment, all within the span of these short, turbulent minutes. [Richard di Santo]
With so many posts arriving from around the world, I must
admit I get jaded. Two or three CDs arrive today, and already Im
bored. So when a thicker package, bigger than a CD, arrived from an unknown
address in Japan, that mysterious flush of the unexpected came over me.
What could this be? A white covered book, the title written out in silver.
Who in the world would send me a book, from Japan, of all places? I open
to the first picture, showing five gents standing with their packs, as
if about to depart for the airport. I recognize Spanish composer Francisco
Lopez, noise-artist Zbigniew Karkowski, Australian guitarist Oren Ambarchi,
Mathias Gmachl from Austrian group farmers manual, and a fifth gentlemen
who turns out to be video artist Scott Arford, from the US. A curious
bunch, made all the stranger by their assembly and series of lectures
given through the Center for Contemporary Art Kitakyushu over the
course of a week. The book basically consists of transcriptions of each
gents take on things, the lectures generally focused on how each
individual relates and interacts with his particular art. There is audio
from each as well. Karkowski, in addition to his frank lecture about having
nothing to say, contributes Disappearing Computers,
which flickers across like a fractured game of Pong on a laptop, a crappy
internet dial-up squashed flat by the frequencies of the oncoming, briny
waves of the White Noise Ocean.
Oil, a collaboration between Hans Teuber on alto sax and Paul Rucker on cello, is one of two new releases from Jackson Street Records (the other new release is a solo effort from Rucker, featuring an impressive line-up of performers and a collection of eclectic, jazzy instrumentals). Emerging out of improvisations, these pieces are nonetheless fairly tight, feeling rather like rehearsed improv, a re-approaching of material they had likely unearthed in previous sessions, the freedoms seemingly stripped away in favour of a more polished approach to the recording. The two players uncover melodic lines and playful juxtapositions, the light of the sax and the dark of the cello, occasionally meeting in their multifarious moods. On the whole, however, it's Rucker who steals the stage as being the more innovative and commanding presence here; showing that he can accomplish a great deal with his instrument, coaxing some intriguing sounds from his strings, from the very body of his cello. At times, Teuber's alto seems too light for Rucker's brooding, conflicted playing; its melodic lines and phrasings soften the edges of the trembling, fragile, and sometimes mournful bass. Usually, though, the juxtaposition of light and dark works well (for sometimes sharp edges come to the surface only to be softened by a kind of instrumental caress), the two voices complement each other in their very difference, one lighter than air, the other grounded on solid, stable footing, occasionally meeting someplace in between. Although I wish the entire project would have taken on more experimentation, more of a searching for new passages, new collaborative forms, I enjoyed listening to these carefully executed, accomplished pieces. [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.