Music Reviews

Artist: Herman Muntzing (@)
Title: ((Sjalksvalk))
Format: CD
Label: Treffpunkt (@)
Rated: *****
On ((Sjalvskalv)), Swedish electro-improvisor Herman Muntzing delivers a tangle of genre-bending electronics.

'How would a contemporary folk-electronica that was born in the country sound like?'

Herman Muntzing draws tiny tones and textures from the world around him, creating a microscopic electronica that bobs and grooves, as well as sizzles, hisses and fits. Sjalvskalv could be placed in the electroacoustic improv trajectory; it's easy to imagine the artist bowing metal, eliciting small taps on resonant chambers, gathering sounds like a magpie, and then splicing them together as an incongruous whole. Overall, the music exists in a grey zone where Autechre's glitch, Wolf Eyes post-industrial scrape, with Voice Crack's unpredictable crackle crawl beneath rusted barbed wire lines, looking for water. Muntzing seems like a direct descendant of the AMM school; idealistic, communist electronic music, full of radio crackle and grit. ((Sjalksvalk)) (which means Self Quake in English) crosses the boundaries of 3 decades of experimental music.

Most of the information I could find on this disc was in Swedish or in badly broken English, so I had to leave a lot to imagination. Half of the fun of listening to improvised records is imagining where it comes from, what's the context? To let cinematic landscapes unfold in your mind, to let yourself wander and lose yourself in wondering. So it's safe to say that Muntzing draws a lot from the traditional electroacoustic improv (EAI) toolbox of springs, tiny bits of glass, bowed metal to make an industrial clockwork mechanism that is wired up and made to dance like a twitchy marionette. It is unclear how much of this sequenced or how much is created in the moment, but ((Sjalvskalv)) seems composed, put together. The main thing that seperates this album from the legions of Onkyo imitators is that it actually grooves. It seems like Muntzing is using EAI as a source of interesting sounds, like a sound designer, and then spinning the results into unique but still traditional art gallery techno.

It feels like an Autechre/Oval/Warp Records glitch album, but a good one; unexpected rhythms and industrial sparks, a bit of a late '70s vibe. It's got a modern Juke/Footwork plastic sequenced drum machine sound to the rhythms, at the same time, that will appeal to younger music fans. It sounds like the sounds were triggered from a video game controller, a live-sampled techno. Standing at the crossroads between various genres, perhaps explaining the one to the other. ((Sjalksvalk)) sounds like a classic arthouse improv CD, the kind that you would mail-order from Sweden, but starting to cross over into the clubs. Which could really help to introduce some fresh blood into EAI, which it needs for survival.

Brings to mind this Hacker Farm record i reviewed the other day, U/H/F
. They're weird British duo that uses homemade electronics and found sounds to approximate the feeling of watching grimey CCTV surveillance cameras. It's a feeling in the air, people are looking for unpredictable dance music, i think we've burnt out a bit on slick club bangers. People are looking for tactile things, things they can hold on to. That's part of why we're seeing a resurgence in late '70s, Throbbing Gristle-style Industrial music. The post-punk axis continues.
If you also factor in that the mighty Autechre have released a new album, Exai, that's got everybody talking, perhaps this is a good time for Herman Muntzing's music to hit people's ears. It's got a good groove, oftentimes, and covers a wide range of styles, seems like it was recorded in a series of events. It's an interesting patchwork; I've played it around the house quite a bit, it gives a sense of malfunctioning appliances, reality falling into a lockwork rhythm, everybody's head starts to nod. The best glitch makes you listen to your environment differently, slows down time and attention.

Muntzing's music is a worthwhile addition to the canon. He is a talented sound designer, and seemingly a talented rhythmists. I applaud him for expanding the pallet of both techno and improvised music, both of which are so full of possibilities, but are so often limited by form and cliche. The press release says:

'So there is no refinement, just a great sense of style and design. The music also becomes a part of the debate of how improvised music sometimes tends to anxiously cling to their own conventions. With sounds that with closed eyes can develop pictures of chicken incubators and cowmilking units and impertinent flies buzzing around your ears, this is an improvised music that has moved away from the usual style exercises, and sustains an unpretentious approach to improv and who just wants to play on his own terms.'

Herman Muntzing is playing on his own terms, and making something worthwhile. Keep going!

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