Music Reviews

Artist: Gaëtan Gromer (@)
Title: Noise Level
Format: CD
Label: VoxxoV (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
The term "Noise Level", as it appears here, has to do with reclaiming originality. Habit, arising over time out of ritual, dialogue, study, is a point of orientation for thought, and in particular in this case, creativity. The more habituated, the less open-minded and penetrating; the less original. From basic thematic associations to outright prejudices, the cultural linkages of habit interfere with creativity; they streamline it, stifle it, render it less radical and interesting. So, conducive to better creativity and ideas could be processes of association that have nothing to do with troublesome paradigms, in which the novel potential of juxtaposing unrelated concepts is explored.

So much for Noise Level the concept, as it was pondered over by Raymond F. Jones in his eponymous 1952 short story. As for Noise Level the album, Strasbourg sound artist Gaëtan Gromer is here found attempting to apply theory in practice, unleashing creativity by embracing the sheer heterogeny of his work's various contents. As a starting point, all the sound material present originates from field recordings made inside libraries. This is a nod to the short story, but it also serves the wry function of making the institution of the library, typically associated with quietness, Gromer's first object of examination; his goal is perhaps to reduce the 'noise level' that makes the library quiet in the first place.

For, of course, a library is really as rich with sound as anywhere else. Silence, wrote Salome Voegelin, is the start of listening. Gromer interprets the idea of silence in the library in this way, listening, capturing source material and eventually finding ways to manipulate it. He keeps things sparse, most of the time declining to mix more than a handful of channels together at a time. The first piece, 'The Shadow Out Of Time', couples harmonious drones with treated passages of hushed speech - the sotto voce of the library-goer - and ticking clockwork; perhaps a grandfather pendulum, judging from the woody grain. 'Mémoires du Futur' is centred around what sounds like a field recording contorted by an arpeggiator sequence; it has that slightly misshapen, mis-pitched texture to it exhibited by complex frequencies put through heavy processing. 'La Tour d'Aer', with subtle kicks and re-pitched, unidentified source material, is a little like some of the darker moments of Wolfgang Voigt's Gas works. What sounds like the low hum of a vending machine in 'La Bibliotheque De Babel' bellows in the foreground; louder than life and out of context, it gains a sinister presence among other creeping textures.

This premise of this album hints that if its concept has been successfully applied, we are in for something of unusual originality. Exactly where this originality finds itself, whether it applies to this genre, compositional approach, to Gromer's individual creative development as an artist or to some other dimension of the work, isn't specified. But in terms of overall style, Noise Level doesn't substantially overpower the tropes of today's dark ambient/drone and electro-acoustic music. Nor do structures greatly vary throughout. What we generally encounter with all six tracks are several layers of drones, some light and some intense, which roll beneath various textural structures. Sometimes it's very compelling, sometimes a bit mundane.

My view is that Gromer is comfortable in this style of music and not trying to develop it radically. Instead, I think his application of the noise level theory is twofold. First, by restricting available source material, he forces himself to re-examine the way in which he uses creative music technology, as well as the ways in which he is accustomed to hearing and thinking about the sounds captured on the recordings. Second, by telling us where these sounds came from, he has us listeners perform similar re-examinations. These are doctored combinations of sounds with which we're all quite familiar, but to which, in libraries if not in most other spaces, we are accustomed not to paying special attention. So hearing them with their contexts combined and rewritten unrealistically makes the material on these tracks disorientating and disjointed. And that's exactly our chance to think differently about habitually overlooked phenomena. Noise Level may have something to do with the creativity of technological sound manipulation, but most of all it deals with the creativity of listening itself.
Sep 26 2016
Artist: Krakaur
Title: Krakaur
Format: Tape
Label: Youngbloods
This is a smooth and confident work, docked in the safe and familiar harbour of moody post-dubstep IDM. Slow, light chords and reverberance are underpinned by ebbing and flowing rhythms that wander both in and out and from minimalism to glitch.

At 32 minutes for the entire work, with some tracks broken into parts and several tracks clocking in under two minutes, there’s a slight sense that this is a collection of incomplete or under-realised sketches and experiments rather than a fully completed album listening experience. I would’ve welcomed a longer journey.

“Neighbor”, featuring rap from ENxVE, is a highlight. The interplay of rhythms works well, with a relatively conventional rhyme form playing in parallel with carefully and unexpectedly placed beats. “Acre II”, with the pained, faintly Robert Fripp-like guitar work on top, is another stand-out, and “Soul II”’s subbass needs to be appreciated on very large speakers or tight headphones.

As well as limited edition cassette, the album will also be available as a pay-what-you-want digital download.
Artist: Phi Bui (@)
Title: Unnoticed Moments
Format: CD
Label: Eilean Rec.
Rated: *****
Almost simultaneously to the pin added by Daniel K.Böhm, French label Eilean Rec. added another point on its sonic map employing another debut, the one by San Francisco-based beatmaker, composer, and producer Phi Bui. His elegant combination of lo-fi trip-hop and ill-hop movement (in order to give you a vague idea of what you are going to listen, many tracks in "Unnoticed Moments" could stylistically resemble stuff by Naohiro Fujikawa aka Bisk - check in particular "Moonstruck Parade" - or some outputs by German label NON by Martin Eugene Raabenstein), concrete sounds and a set of samples, that sound like musical or sonic clips from more or less defined moments of the past, are the main ingredients of this beautiful record. The last aspect I described is maybe the most relevant, as Phi Bui seems to exhibit a set of watercolors or engravings taken from old pamphlets by an hybridization of tape or vinyl hissing, streaming of samples from a range of old TV movies, chiptunes, looping lullabies, harp, piano or guitar driven mini-melodies and other resounding entities, shuffling ages and "antiquating" each tune. Nuances of a vague melancholia don't sound off-key at all. It deserves an aural check.
Artist: Phurpa
Title: Chöd
Format: 2CD (double CD)
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
The title of this work is a Tibetan term which roughly means “being cut off” and is the practice of sacrificing the body. According to the liner notes, this practice include the completeness of existence which includes the bright part of being and the darker ones. As in their previous releases, the musical form is based on voices and traditional instruments and is based in a relatively non occidental canon as their vision of drone is less related to sound and completely focused on an aid to meditation.
The first part of this release starts with a vocal chant where the most bass frequencies of the voice are explored to obtain something between the religious rite and experimental music; where the voices stop sparse beat appear as a small interlude between sections. The second section of the track is based on traditional wind instruments, with a sound similar to a bagpipe, that create a dialectic between the two registers as if there's was a cold and a cold light. The voice return in the third section with a more tight dialogue with the drum and is resolved by the voice which returns to the point where the track started.
The second part is opened by the wind instruments which develop the tension of the second section of the first part into a sort of juxtaposition of two lines, a fast one and a slow one, and their dynamics is able to evolve in a clear dialectic as one voice is highlighted with respect to the other in real alternation until the fast line close the section. The second section is focused on the chant which slowly evolves from bass pitches to higher ones with small silent section with sparse cymbal's shot between the tone's change, until the resonances of the recording room close this release.
This release is a sonic monolith which could be rated as a masterpiece without any doubt, however their music is so extreme that the casual listener could be overwhelmed and eject the disc after few minutes. The patient ones, and fans on drones, will be taken into a deep reflection on existence and meditate a lot on it. Obviously unrated but it's one of the records of the year.
Artist: Metatron Omega (@)
Title: Sanctum
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber (@)
Rated: *****
The follow up of "Gnosis Dei" is another exploration of esoteric and religious traditions in the framework of dark ambient and from the liner notes it seems influenced by templar like orders where elements of warrior's culture were mixed to monastic ones. So, tones vaguely similar to the gregorian ones are particulary evident but are balanced with menacing ones as if there was a hidden enemy.
The solemn opening of "Transductio" evolves from a background of field recording of birds into a drone in the second part of the part to generate a sense of journey to a place to another. "In Search of Lost Wisdom" exposes an inverted structure: while the first part is based on drones with a rich structure, the second one is based on long and sustained bass tones. While the first part of "Cultus" has a sort of religious atmosphere, the second one has a menacing one as sometimes the track approaches silence. The bells of "Trinitas" introduces another track with more or less the same structure and exposing an acute sense for small evocative noises. "The Eastern Star" slowly evolves as a sort of journey with all the elements of the previous track but a sharper sense of narrative. "Sanctum" closes this release juxtaposing drones until an apparent return to solemnity preludes to silence.
This is a solid release in the path of the previous by this label which continues to publish releases that could not apparently present particular differences between them but are developing a sense of narrative which lacks only a visual element. While "Gnosis Dei" lacked a variety of structures, this one shows a progress from this perspective so their next release could even be something remarkable but this one is recommended only for fans of the genre.
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