Music Reviews



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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Fieldwave Vol. 1
Format: Tape
Label: Nonclassical
“Fieldwave”, curated by Nick Luscombe, is an attempt to highlight the increasing predilection for musicians to include field recordings and natural sounds into their work. The first side of the tape is a collection of nine short works, mostly around the three minute mark, and essentially a sampler, giving us a breadth of approach to that integration, with the field recording aspect sometimes dominant, sometimes bordering on incidental.

So while Hojo + Kraft’s “The Hours Descend” is a composed edit built almost entirely of field recordings that have been ordered to form an open-minded narrative, in contrast to that pieces like Tuulikki Bartosik’s “Crossing Over Forest, Laho Lake, South Estonia” is essentially an accordion piece with a folky vibe for which the field recordings provide general atmosphere and texture rather than being the main focus. Others span the two, with Iain Chambers’ “The Regents’ Canal” layering found bell-tone sounds- that could either be church bells or industrial pipes- and extensively effecting and pitching them in the production process to bring melody into the portrait of a landscape.

For Now’s “Yellow Flowers” is practically an audio drama, a snapshot of family life cut into pieces, and contrasts nicely against purist field recording pieces like Kate Carr’s bizarrely compelling “Highway Bridge Drain Pipes, Saskatoon, Canada”. James Greer’s “Get Yer Kicks!” and D_BAM’s “Mr. Slush” are also notable for being so oddly unrecognisable, both more sci-fi than naturalistic, heavy sonic post-production twisting sounds into shapes very far removed (thankfully) from the everyday.

The second side of the tape is an utterly different experience, given over completely to the 27-minute work “Ng Geen Yun (No Police Here!)” by Gabriel Prokofiev. Whereas most of the first side could be regarded as ambient, this is sonic reportage from a recording artist who found himself caught up in the Hong Kong protests of 2019. Obviously they were a time of great civil unrest, but in terms of tension and stress levels, I would describe this work as a ‘medium’. Whether because the artist was on the periphery of the action- much of the large crowd shouting feels a bit distant- or whether because the recording is from one of the steady marches rather than the flashpoints, there’s an odd sense of security here. At times it’s almost as though we’re in a football crowd, surrounded by fellow supporters who are passionate without truly thinking that these events are important- which feels quite at odds to the scenario as we were shown it in the media. Certainly it’s a crowd who are not happy with their team, particularly in the final few minutes, but overall it’s far more peaceful than I expected. Being unable to speak the language (apart from a couple of very short English language snippets that catch you unawares), perhaps I would have appreciated the underlying tension more if I had understood the wording of the crowds’ chants.

This is a really nicely compiled selection of new works that show the versatility with which field recordings can be adopted to form their own artworks, or to supplement and bring almost infinite distinctiveness to existing musical forms. If anyone you know thinks that ‘field recording music’ is just a bunch of birdsong and ocean wave recordings, play them this.
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Artist: Test Card
Title: Music For The Towers
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence
The reliable Sound In Silence label is a perfect spot for Vancouver-based Lee Nicholson’s third album as Test Card. The soft melodic pads, the gentle wind noises, and the soft and sparing, long and melancholic guitar and piano notes are the conventional ambient music format that the label has offered up in the past- but once again it’s relaxing ambient music of the highest order. It’s music so smooth and so relaxing that it ought to be prescribable by doctors. If ambient music is honey, this is top grade manuka.

“Data Taken Over Under Rating” is a highlight and exemplifies this perfectly. Starting just with the wind, elements are introduced with assured slowness, from the extremely warm chord envelope through eventually to the gentle arpeggiated synth pattern. It’s beautifully executed and if I had to fault it, as a track I’d say it fades too early. Different tracks are imbued with different levels of melancholy, but it’s never overtly sad- “We Oscillated Like Sheep Grazing On Grassy Waveforms” perhaps coming closest to that mood.

Both the artwork and the track titles are far stranger than the music, with tracks like “It Calmed The Hedges And Blurred The Buildings” a reassuring blend of folky guitar and chords you can hum, and “Let Single Sideband Loneliness Receivers Be Happy” a combination of melodic and literal wave sounds. Occasional extra textures are added to just about keep things interesting for those wanting to actually pay attention to it, rather than let it wash over them, for example the indistinguishable spoken-word radio broadcast element audible at the start of “Monochrome Dreaming Softened The Broadcast”, or the faint and oddly rapid heartbeat-like sounds that bubble under “Horizontal Sweep Correction Lullaby”.

This is old-fashioned ambient, if you like, that can be traced directly back to Brian Eno and beyond. But it’s done in such a lovely way, so velvety and calm, with enough attention to detail like a home-made fabric, that it absolutely has to be applauded- but not too loudly in case you wake the other listeners up.
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Artist: Claudio F. Baroni
Title: The Body Imitates The Landscape
Format: CD + Download
Label: Unsounds
This work, compared by Baroni and performed by Ensemble Maze, was originally designed as the sonic aspect of an installation rather than a recorded work, with the idea that each of the 11 pieces named (with one exception) after body parts would, when performed live, be felt in those parts by the audience as they engaged in the space. This was part of Adi Hollander’s installation of the same name, where she designed a collection of ergonomic objects that were meant to facilitate this transformation of the music into vibrations felt through the entire body.

Neutered from this interactive experience and now presented as a standalone CD or download, what we get is a 48-minute collection of sparse, impulsive plucks, bows and bells fused with fairly relentless low-level whispering that seems intent on targeting subliminal suggestion to tell you what your body should be thinking.

Without the body reaction, it feels quite barren, almost empty at times- there are no attempts to shake your body by the old-fashioned high volume approach, and resonance seems to be the preferred technique.

In me, this release triggered an awkwardness. It’s clearly intended to be sensual and intimate at times (although the topics seem to expand and contract in scale with more gusto than the music), with the breathy talking and seductive slow musical movement, coupled with the track titles that slowly work their way down the body. But for me, I’m afraid that didn’t really work. The whispering feels more sinister, leading to embarrassment rather than excitement. It’s also at such a low level that it triggers that super-awkward situation where your lover says something very quiet and sexy to you, and you fail to hear it so you’re forced to just say “PARDON?” and spoil the moment completely. But that last point is possibly a diversion from the point.

The journey down the body does not result in the level of musical diversity that you might expect. Notable tracks, to a point, include the oddly jazzy vibes that crop up in “Heso (The Navel)”. “Uesoto (The Waist)” foregrounds the narrative slightly more and this feels more poetic and engaging- or distracting, if your engagement to the playback has been thin enough that you’ve found yourself doing other things whilst listening.

As translations of musical work for installations go, unfortunately this falls into the category of “you should’ve been there”. Without the interactive experience, this doesn’t really glimmer as an audio work.
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Artist: Fernando Olaya
Title: Iguazú EP
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Univack
Colombian Fernando Olaya’s first release on the Univack label is a three-pack of rolling progressive house instrumentals with a familiar structure and a very silky quality. Stepping, confident, journeying light house grooves give a sense of steady motion over which are layered gentle, super-soft and mellow chord sequences. It’s an assured formula that doesn’t get stretched very far, but which is executed well.

The title track feels like old-school trance music for long train journeys, spaced out and thoughtful. “Tulum” rolls slightly harder with a slightly robotic arp loop that keeps things under control until the luscious chords start coming in after three minutes, while “Technicolor”, despite its name, is neither cinematic nor dramatic and keeps things pulsing along gently with an approach to melody that strongly recalls the better output of late 90’s trance.

The press release says this is pitched at the dancefloor but I would rather listen to it while staring out the window of a long drive or train ride. Quality material from the dreamier side of dance music.
Jan 13 2020
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Artist: Sleepy & Boo
Title: Emerge
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: 3Bridge
New York-based Sleepy & Boo offer up a 3-pack package of deep-rolling progressive house with a dark, echoey, dubby flavour, epitomised by the title track which expertly builds, yet meanders. Atmospheric chords dominate, but fairly thick tribal percussion sounds keep your feet moving as well.

“Materalize” is a touch simpler in structure, keeping the drum programming steady, adding a syncopated and slightly retro synth bass, and letting dubby percussion flirt with the casual sci-fi chord stabs on top. “Rise” again follows the same format, but bringing a sweet light arpeggio synth to the fore and taking its’ foot off the gas just a little bit.

It’s a reliable three-pack of spaced-out and progressive electronic tunes with a great deal of charm.
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