Music Reviews



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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Interactions: A Guide to Swiss Underground Experimental Music
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Buh Records
This is a sampler, in the proper sense, a sonic buffet providing 27 short works or snippets, all under five minutes long, the vast majority under four minutes long. It’s a palette wetter, giving you brief, but largely radio-unfriendly, nuggets that will hopefully launch you into wanting to know more.

There are a variety of styles at play- noise, industrial, ambient, drone, and more constructed and melodic offerings as well.

The more accessible tracks include “Nozomi” by Papiro & Yanik Soland, which is a quirky bit of ethno-electro-pop, and Julian Sartorius’ bouncy “Ziggli”. The out-of-breath panting sounds of Martina Lussi’s “Pool” are attention-grabbing in an obvious but still successful way, while Serote’s “Niton” is string-heavy, soundtrack-like melancholia with a gritty twist. Joke Lanz’s “Dutschke” feels like a throwback to the weirder side of early-naughties sample-hop, and the distinctive groove of Tout Bleu’s “Souviens-toi” makes you want it on repeat play.

Electronica and more production-centric works get a showing with pieces like the sci-fi-trailer tones of Therminal C’s “Sputnik Crash”. Manuel Troller’s “Hologram”, acoustic instruments bathed in rapid retriggering and looping, has a fascinating purity about it that’s rather endearing. Souharce’s “Assurance Maladie” is a glitchy lo-fi affair of pulses and melodic deformation, and Gilles Aubry’s “And who Ears the Desert” [sic] applies a similar scratchy digital logic to untraceable but vaguely Eastern-sounding ethnic found sounds and traditional music, for a form of broken reportage, while the excerpt from Purpura’s “Cruel” puts foghorn-like low bass notes on a turbulent sea of white noises.

Darker and more avantgarde offerings are included too, for example of “Tod am Bach” by Rudolf Ed.er, a shifting noise and drone pattern which at such short length becomes a prelude. Christian Müller’s “London Study #2” is a characterful assembly of found percussion that flows well into Flo Stoffner’s plucky stop-start and increasingly chaotic “Carmensac”, while Christian Kobi’s “I” is a curious set of blowing noises that seem to be both pneumatic and asthmatic at times. Denis Rollet’s “sW#1” is a curious and cathartic selection of twisted noise of various colours.

Not everything was to my taste, understandably. Erb/Loriot/Morishige’s “Ice”, with its nails-down-a-blackboard toned violin screeching, was just the wrong side of painful for my ears and made me actively wish for less capable headphones, while Jason Khan’s agonised sing-wailing on “Nearly You” was somehow just the wrong kind of emotional mess for me.

As an 89-minute listening experience in its own right, it’s only moderately satisfying- like trying to structure an entire dinner out of small snack bites- but the track sequencing is reasonably well balanced and keeps you interested. But with such a broad selection on offer, there will definitely be at least something to pique your interest here, and something you can’t be bothered with- the true sign of a good sampler compilation. It’s a sign of a very healthy underground scene in Switzerland, for sure.
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Artist: François Bonnet & Stephen O’Malley
Title: Cylene
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Editions Mego
Stephen O’Malley’s guitar work here is very recognisable from his work in Sunn O)))- long, cavernous, reverb-and-effect laden sustains describing a series of cavernous, hollow, barren yet somehow darkly peaceful environments. Francois J. Bonnet is the studio re-worker, the producer, but despite having his name credited first, it does like Bonnet has adopted a very subtle, less-is-more approach to the studio post-manipulation, allowing the plaintive guitar work acres of respect and calm. Synth pad and environmental elements are subtle, and have a very strong synergy to the guitar work that makes them sometimes border on the unnoticeable.

Bluntly, for most of this work it feels like there is more variation in the track lengths than there is in the tracks themselves. Lengthy and mesmerisingly simple pieces like thirteen-minute “Pahoehoe” have the same sonic quality as the shorter sketches like three-minute “Premiere noire”, but simply for more time, dim though that may sound. And while that may sound like a criticism, if you want to approach this album to enjoy the value of its soporific stillness, it becomes a virtue.

It would be unfair to say there’s no variation, of course. For example “Tephras”’s wind tones add an extra haunting element, while the reverb dips a little deeper into the realm of an alien foghorn, and this flows fluidly into the more atmosphere-led “Dernieres teintes noires” where the guitar itself is less distinct and the after-effects of it explored further. The opening of fifteen-minute final piece “Des pas dans les cendres” is the album’s softest section, the soft pads sounding almost synth-choral, before unfolding into the warmest and most velvety of conclusions.

It’s reliable and deeply atmospheric guitar-drone that will certainly appeal to existing Sunn O))) fans, but which shouldn’t really feel like it has travelled anywhere new.
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Artist: Guzz
Title: 􁩳􀓧􀚊􁌱􀻼􀤹 Walking in a Boundless Dream
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
The second album from Guzz is a fusion album, in the original sense, making new Asian music that combines traditional sounds and musical forms from Myanmar and India with cutting-edge synth-electronica and glitch. Fittingly every song’s title is in two languages, but please forgive me that I have only used the English version here.

It’s quite flowery and times, with tracks like “An Epic Poem Dissipates Over The Coast” and “Amber” sounding positive, breezy and a little indulgent. “Rain Man” is modern day world music for tourist incense shops, but not (honestly) in a bad way, while “Half-awake” can’t seem to make up its mind whether it’s glitch-lite or Asian-sounding chillout music.

By contrast, there’s an edginess to tracks like “Countless Flying Birds” that keeps it sharply contemporary, with more than a shade of a modern grimey undertone. “Star Sea” is also noticeably sharp-hewn, in an enjoyable way.

There are more thoughtful moments on show as well. The title track mixes the melodic quality of dream-pop with a gentle bass swagger; it’s also quite sparse, one of several tracks which is more stripped-back and less chaotic than the cover art may imply. “No-mind” is gently reflective and uses atmospheric sound- possibly the sound of a marketplace- to strong effect, while “Sky Tree” has a touch of the cinematic synthwave about it.

As a proper bit of fusion, this works well. It perhaps dips too close to novelty- or maybe just accessibility- for some tastes, but if you like your traditional Asian music gently powered by electronics, you’ll certainly appreciate chunks of this.
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Artist: Hadas Pe'ery
Title: The Secret Lives Of Electromagnetic Transducers
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Elli
Despite being recorded live in 2017, the theory behind this work from Tel Aviv-based composer and sound artist Pe’ery seems to hark back to the boom days of the electronic avantgarde, around the 1960’s, give or take. The time when every expression seemed new, and every theatrical or obtuse idea seemed valid, and the acoustic was the norm and the electronic was the new.

Five performers of ‘real’ instruments (flute, trumpet, piano, guitar, and double bass) were surrounded by electro-magnetic transducers and speaker components, routed in obscure ways so that one output feeds into another, some transferring between instruments, and even with some speakers being worn around the necks of audience members. The players are then driven by impulse, focussed on varying levels of urgency rather than melody, for a stop-start six-part play of audio textures. It’s a sprightly conceit, that feels quite entertaining.

However the 40-minute sonic result, in six parts, does suffer a little from the sense of “you had to be there”. The recording quality is perfectly decent, but many of the sounds seem distant and any sense of intimacy has been lost. There’s a sense that a greater number of microphones recording the event might have aided this as a sonic product.

The playfulness is still rather endearing though. Part II feels especially melodramatic, as though it yearns to be loaned to the world of interpretative dance. The sporadic string work in Part III is somehow quite nostalgic, while Part V forefronts the electronics to increase the sci-fi factor, melding the electric buzz with the acoustic drone to strong effect, before embarking on a fast-cut series of international vocal sounds that forms the work’s most modern-sounding zone.

The most intriguing part, as well as the best sampler of the whole, is the spoken-word driven Part IV. Unprocessed and processed dialogue, described as “improvised text”, in a language I must apologise for not confidently recognising in full but which has the tonality of French, brings forward the sense of theatre that is then followed up by rapid-fire plucking and tweaking that best showcases the unorthodox staging of the instruments.

It’s avantgarde that’s old-fashioned, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, but there’s more than enough innovation within that context to make it worth checking out if that’s your bag.
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Artist: Inner Vision Laboratory (@)
Title: Continuum
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: *****
It's always nice to hear a release from a project which marks a difference from its previous ones; it's not a matter of evolution but of expectation. Especially in the dark ambient area, it's usual that a formula is repeated without any deviation but "Continuum" is somehow different from the previous efforts by Inner Vision Laboratory. Departing from the calm shores of dark ambient, Karol Skrzypiec explores new territories using a richer sound spectrum not using impressive sound effect but new musical elements from other genres.
The speech by Alan Watts, about how human unhappiness is based on the feeling that life is meaninglessness, introduces the listener towards an ambient release based on suspended slow tones and resonances. Some samples, maybe field recordings, gives the illusion of track being recorded in an open environment without the sense for special effects so common in dark ambient nowadays. The use of guitar and piano among the usual electronic equipment which is the base of the genre is the key to a link to certain minimalism which is the center of the second half of this release which seems an hint of a change of musical direction in the next releases.
In a precarious equilibrium between classic ambient, minimalism and experimental music, this new release by Karol Skrzypiec is a little gem that could be well received by most fans and demands a certain number of listening to catch all the grains hidden in an apparently canonical form. Highly recommended.
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