Music Reviews

Robert Worby: Factitious Airs (Electronic Music)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 21 2019
Artist: Robert Worby
Title: Factitious Airs (Electronic Music)
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Persistence Of Sound
Robert Worby, as well as working as a writer and broadcaster (most notably presenter of BBC Radio 3’s “Hear And Now”), has been composing electronic music for over 50 years, and has a rich track record of work ranging from The Distributors to The Mekons to Michael Nyman to John Cage. Yet, somehow, this is his first solo release.

So perhaps understandably it is a conscious and overt throwback to the electronic music of the 1950s and 1960s. It cites Stockhausen and Henry as influences, though it’s perhaps the work of that period from another BBC institution- the Radiophonic Workshop- to which I would compare these pieces most closely. The techniques are so embedded in that period and attitude- I’m hesitant to use the word ‘retro’- that if the press release had claimed this was an unearthed seminal yet long-forgotten early 60’s album, I would certainly have believed it.

Analogue wobbles, sine waves and harmonics alternate with heavily processed library-style sound effects and found sounds. Patterned pulses, such as those in “TekTone1”, somehow manage to feel like an early precursor to modern techno music, despite this release having a 2019 datestamp.

The echoing crashing pianos of “The Blind Momentum Of Catastrophe” pitch shift drunkenly as though subject to playful adjustment of the speed of a tape motor, while “Drawing The Nerves” adopts a relentless stuttering and glitching. Both adopt that playful fascination with what’s possible, drawn from the days before anyone could edit digital audio near-infinitely at home, and where the technical experimentation itself was the core of the compositional process.

There are several mellower pieces, including the title track, “To Come Speedy Upon Them” or “Night, Without Edges Or Face”, which works with conspicuously lower volumes and more emphasis on space to create something that feels like casual environmental atmospherics, yet constructed from alien-sounding noises. Pieces like “Stumble Bum Junk Heap” also have quiet parts, but juxtaposed against louder more cacophonous distinct sections to add elements of dynamism that at times feel akin to film soundtrack work- for an unidentified film I’d definitely want to watch.

Final piece “Seaworn Gravity” is the most theatrical work here, with some more traditional ensemble wind and brass noises blended into some classic sci-fi warps and wobbles, and as such it also becomes a highlight.

It’s a stupendously detailed and authentic-sounding love letter to the early days of electronic music experimentation, but which manages to step beyond a simple tribute or recreation and provide a good deal of listening value in its own right.

Efrim Manuel Menuck & Kevin Doria: are SING SINCK, SING

 Posted by Alex Cavani (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 18 2019
Artist: Efrim Manuel Menuck & Kevin Doria
Format: LP
Label: Constellation Records (@)
Distributor: Secretly Distribution
Rated: *****
"We started playing together in the dark winter of 2017. 6 oscillators and 3 large amplifiers. Drove thru hella blizzards and/or heatwaves just to land in small rooms, vibrating. A series of short tours, a process of figuring out while exhausted while hurtling while worried. Everything illuminated everything destroyed. We landed in Mexico City last fall, wrote this record quickly while the police drove round and round. First song is self-explanatory. Second song a statement of intent. Third song is an empty space between two highways. Fourth song is about a murdered forest. Fifth song insists that we will win. Hold on. Tho these times are dark times. Hold on".
These are the statements of Efrim Manuel Menuck and Kevin Doria, at the time of the release of their debut album, entitled "are SING SINCK, SING". The duo composed by post-rock guitarist of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the veteran of ambient music, already a member of the seminal band Growing, was born in 2017/18, when the first asks to the second to collaborate in the preparation of the concerts for the tour of his latest album "Pissing Stars". From that moment the two began to compose a series of songs helped only by the presence of a few synthesizers and three large amplifiers.
What was born from these recording sessions that the two artists shared is a set of five pieces of a devastating fragility, capable of sinuously moving in the waves of the oscillators, riding drones buzzing and releasing a brightness full of anger and hope difficult to describe in words.
Surely we can affirm to be close to a sort of meditative and transcendental ambient/drone, formed by very few notes, but which are extremely powerful and resonant.
Dense sounds that linger long in the air, exhausting it of all its roughness and making the listener navigate in the emptiness of his mind. Meditation is the key word and in half an hour the two artists give a timeless moment to bask in the essence of the purest sound.
The result is a sort of psychedelic inspiration but strongly introspective, as if the Flaming Lips met at a party organized by the M83, Spaceman 3 armed with synthesizers, but without percussion. "Joy Is On Her Mount And Death Is At Her Side" is the perfect example of all this, in her being a slow and psychotropic march, capable of hypnotize anyone thanks to the lanky voice of Menuck, a true anti-fascist preacher in these five songs, who does not lose the opportunity to once again express his poetic hatred of capitalism and modern society, as he reaffirms his love for uncontaminated nature.
"Efrim Manuel Menuck & Kevin Doria are SING SINCK, SING" suggests contemplating the world through the eyes of the poet, distraught by the ugly realism of modernity, but consoled by the spiritual vision of life that helps him win his battles every day.

Sontag Shogun: It Billows Up

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 14 2019
Artist: Sontag Shogun
Title: It Billows Up
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Youngbloods
3-piece Sontag Shogun’s 3rd album is an attempt, over 3 days, to record in a studio a representation of what the band’s live performances are like. Physically it’s a 3-format package- a 12” (1+2=3) LP, a CD, and unusually, a zine that features poetry and artwork. For review purposes I can only comment on the MP3’s, and in doing so, I’ve already reached my quota for the number 3.

Musically it’s a combination of Ian Temple’s piano work, Jesse Perlsten contributing vocals and found sounds, and Jeremy Young working with tapes, oscillators, and kitchen utensils. The result is a smorgasbord approach to downtempo atmospheric musical modernity, with the relatively traditional approach piano to piano playing and the plaintive and non-lingual vocal ‘ahhhh’ sounds offering up a familiar and comforting organic core, that’s heavily decorated with environmental noises and sympathetic and synthetic pads and warm drones.

“Song No. 5” is an reasonably strong exemplifier, giving you a fair idea of the overall sound, a slightly M83-ish wash of cinematic mood music that borders on the anaemic- and “Aveyron” is so gentle and unchallenging that it could be regarded as bland.

However in other parts a more diverse approach to the sonic sources gives more interesting flavours. The hard-to-pin-down ethnic singing at the end of the title track, that blends into recordings of a bombastic but far-away American polemicising in “Kienast Dans Un Parc”, is an example of this working well. “Clstrs” is an intriguing three-and-a-half minute collage of human conversations, distant folk music, radio snippets and sound effects that hints at a very different and more esoteric approach to sound collage, but which ultimately is only an interlude between the more traditional and melodic pieces.

Final track “Cages” is notable for an upbeat ending. After five minutes of gentle piano-driven melodic peacefulness, a slightly folky drum rhythm suddenly arrives. “Aveyron” pulls the same trick, but with less of a jolt, but the approach on “Cages” ends things with a more positive vibe that contrasts, perhaps a little oddly, with the forty minutes of tired but optimistic melancholy that preceded it.

It’s mellow and accessible chill-out music that will be liked most by tired indie and rock fans, but which more established listeners to experimental and drone works will still find appreciable details in.

Hirotaka Shirotsubaki: Last Goodbye

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 12 2019
Artist: Hirotaka Shirotsubaki (@)
Title: Last Goodbye
Format: CD
Label: KrysaliSound (@)
Rated: *****
This lush and contemplative set of sonorities by the Japanese ambient producer Hirotaka Shirotsubaki are strictly related to the recent end of Heisei age. Started on 11th January 1989 and came to an end on 30th April 2019, Heisei is nothing but the age of 125th Emperor of Akihito, who recently abdicates the Chrysanthemum Throne in favor of his son Naruhito, so beginning the Reiwa era. In Hirotaka's own words, printed on the in-lay: “In Japan, the era called “Heisei” will end this year. My life was with this "Heisei" era. In order to live a new era with one break at the end of this era while I am alive, I have decided the title of this album to be “last goodbye” with a determination of parting. The 6 tracks that make up this album have my memory fragments scattered around”. For a transition between an age whose name means 'peace everywhere' (even if I won't say Japan has known a so peaceful era, considering sad facts like the attempt in the metro of Tokyo by Aum Shirinkyo or the Fukushima Daichii nuclear disaster, following the devastating tsunami that hit Japan on 11th March 2011) and the following one, whose name means 'beautiful harmony', Hirotaka's music can perfectly fit this ideal passage. The record that worked as a Cupid's arrow for KrysaliSound was "Wet Petals", fired by Naviar Records in 2017, and the six movements that Kobe-based musician forged for this flirt with the label managed by Francis M.Gri (who also mastered the album) has many similarities with that entrancing workout. After some seconds of fade-in, the listener gets wrapped by fluffy soundscapes, based on sampled guitars, masterfully effected and elongated in a way that the listener can feel each amplified sound wave. My favorite tracks are "Rokko", where the reverb at the basis of the just described effected gets enhanced by slight delays, "Sputnik", where Hirotaka adds that glimmering stress to the tone stream that project listener's mind towards astral trips, and "December Snow", whose icy tones get paradoxically warm by means of the way the musician envelops the aural space.

øjeRum : The Forest Is Sleeping Within The Trees

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 12 2019
Artist: øjeRum
Title: The Forest Is Sleeping Within The Trees
Format: CD
Label: KrysaliSound (@)
Rated: *****
The choice by Italian label KrysaliSound of reissuing the third release of the Danish producer Paw Grabowski's project øjeRum in a moment, when this moniker is spreading over the catalogs of many interesting electronic, ambient and neo-folk labels besides a plenty of self-released albums, is wise both for the intent to give the chance to all those who are discovering Paw's sound by more recent outputs and for its intrinsic beauty. Originally released by Tulsa-based label Scissor Tail Recordings on cassette (this is the second re-release of a Scissor Tail output by KrysaliSound), “The Forest Is Sleeping Within The Trees” belongs to that stylistic branch of ambient, known as minimal, as each track is composed by a set of a very limited number of musical voices (a piano and a pump organ only), that got often effected in order to enhance its dynamics, divided in six parts for almost 26 minutes of total length. Each part seems to explore different moods in a sort of emotional metempsychosis of the above mentioned voices: for instance the piano in Part 1 traces a sort of bi tonal lull, a melodic trunk whose bark releases floating echoes and ethereal evanescence, while it turns into an ailing element on the following Part 2 and emerges as a quivering voice as syllables of an interrupted thought in the slow organ-drive wave in Part 3. The diving into a pool of melancholy is complete in Part 4 (where piano — the voice we focused on till now — rarefy more and more) and after the emotional transition in the two lovely minutes of Part 5, the touches on piano sound like the pace of a bliss, where deep echoes of the poignant process to reach it is still listenable. For the likes of William Basinski's style.

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