Music Reviews

Artist: James A.McDermid
Title: Tonal Glints
Format: CD
Label: KrysaliSound (@)
Rated: *****
The second heart moving chapter of the trilogy - being the first one "Ghost Folk" released by polar Seas Recordings last year - that Bristol-based sound artist James Alexander McDermid dedicated to her sister Harriet, who died in August 2016 after two years of illness, comes out on KrysaliSound. The emotional framework of the plenty of tracks that this producer poured out during this painful experience before and after Harriett's death was exhaustively explained by the author's own words: "once the original shock dissipated, a wall of grief fell on me and, as a result, I found it an almost impossible task seeing my world in quite the same way as I once had. The wear and tear of life became suffocating, so I continued with the idea of channeling what I was feeling, into music; however, coming to terms with Harriett's death, rather than her illness, started to cloud and confuse what I was doing. In the end, it was Sophie Calle's book Exquisite Pain - a book arguably about grief in its various forms - that provided me with the clarity I needed. Calle's writing - in particular, the people in it trying to come to terms with their own similar tragedies - helped shape and direct my own thoughts; Exquisite Pain acted as a conduit for what I was both feeling and trying to convey. Tonal Glints is the end result". The stream of sound that James forged for this stage of enlightenment is riddled with many pearls. The main resounding element on the opening "The Vagabond", - a sort of squeaking music box - seems to open the gate of the memories, which get unrolled on the almost scenic elements filling the crescendo of the following "All the shutters are closed", whose waves crash against a wall of a distant choir of female voices. The thin overlapping of amplified tones of "I put the letter in my pocket" sound like the ruffled surface of a pond where some sweet images of the past could get vivid and precedes one of the best moment of the whole album "I'll take one who loves me", when James picks his acoustic guitar up to weave a delicately intimate folk. Other fragments of memories (or maybe ghost sighting) could have inspired the weird cameo of "Bunny" and the ambient expansions of the following "Within reach", where a sort of regular breath, that becomes more and more audible, makes me argue that this track is somehow related to some dreams or nightmares (rendered by the dark tones of "Worse than the last look") experienced during the sleep. The whispered litany of "If you concede" (another peak of this album), the tinkling standstill of "Eastern Bloc" and the gloomy minute of "Last Year" prepare the ground for the triggering aphony of "I saw red, and through the red, nothing" and the cathartic release in the incomprehensible murmur, the evanescent sonic cloak and the rift in the darkness opened by a thin piano-driven melody in the tail of the final track "Faraway too close".
Artist: The International Nothing (@)
Title: In Doubt We Trust
Format: CD
Label: Ftarri (@)
Rated: *****
I already talked about this Berlin-based project founded by psycho-acoustic clarinet players Michael Thieke and Kai Fagaschinski almost twenty years ago on the occasion of the release of the nicely titled (and performed) "The Power Of Negative Thinking" on Monotype. Besides showing an appreciable wit in the choice of titles, "In Doubt We Trust" features a format that someone would label as 'epic': no more snippets or short tracks, but just one long-lasting (37 minutes and 37 seconds) track, that follow the same publishing periodicity (they highlighted the fact that The International Nothing drop an album out on the Japanese label Ftarri every four years). Even if it's one single track, "In Doubt We Trust" can be ideally detached into different moments: one of the watersheds of their tonal experimental streams - the whole record got based on almost three years of psychoacoustic research - occurs for instance around the 15th minute, where they play with muted tones and salivation after a crescendo of experiments where they almost reach cacophonous dissonances. They mostly focus on so-called Tartini effect, an aural illusion caused by the combination of two different tones of a similar source: the two players "placed" themselves on the two pans (Kai on the right, Michael on the left) and the combination of the tones they play on the two sides of the listeners renders a sort of ghost tone, a third one that comes from their juxtaposition (you can try listening to the same snippet by balancing the pan of your mixer before playing them simultaneously). The effect is so well exploited that the listener can interpret the title of this record, as a reference to a doubt which sounds more reasonable than the one about the existence of some God that these players cast: is this third tone a ghost tone or a real one? Have a listen to try answering to this puzzling question...
Artist: aMute
Title: Some Rest
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Humpty Dumpty Records
Jérôme Deuson’s seventh album as “Amute” or “aMute” is an organic collection of indulgent, seemingly high-budget post-rock, mostly sombre but infused with a slight sense of optimism in parts.

The title track is the opener, and at 17 minutes, almost half the whole album. Beginning with rumbling piano, strained guitar and sombre, abrasive cello work to generate long post-rock drones, which after four minutes turns into a rather flatter and more predictable bit of post-rock when the drums are introduced, before expanding out into broader atmospherics as vocal noises and spoken word loops arrive after the drums have gone.

The remaining 5 tracks are shorter pieces (comprising 23 minutes between them) but no less expansive, sometimes reminding me of M83 or Ulrich Schnauss works but rendered in a post-rock style. “Dead Cold”, despite its title, ends up being one of the more optimistic-sounding pieces, with its softer acoustic guitar patterns and an end section with the brief cameo of an actual song-like male vocal. “The Obsidian” is a highlight, with its powerful opening and cinematic flavour, while with final track “Maria” we go out with a song, sort of, with the return of a (very low in the mix) and a folksy acoustic guitar that by the end borders on busking music- but not in a particularly strong way.

It’s a tightly-produced and self-contained exercise in thick moody low frequency atmospherics rendered with a broad variety of instrumentation, but ultimately it’s in a crowded market and there’s a danger this release will just wash over you rather than snagging at your heartstrings.
Artist: Heidseck (@)
Title: Margins
Format: CD
Label: manyfeetunder (@)
Rated: *****
Huge sediments of vinyl, CDs and paper buried this release for many months, so that some words about that are maybe too late, even if it should be available yet as a digital on the label/artist's Bandcamp... and if you missed like I did, I recommend to grab a copy. The use of the word 'sediments' and its connection to geology is not casual of course. I heard the sound by Fabrizio Matrone in the guise of Matter on the occasion of the release of "Biorhexistasy" on Kvitnu, whose title was a reference to the theory by Henri Erhart, a pedologist who proposed a general theory about the relation between climate changes and soil transformation on the basis of the alternation of biostasy and rhexistasy, a set of climatic conditions causing soil formation and soil erosion. The coexistence of the tangibility of stones, rocks, mud and weather events as well as their seemingly chaotic interaction in the seemingly ordered box of an abstract theory mirrors the feature of the sounds explored by Fabrizio on "Margins" as Heidseck, as well. The seven tracks are mainly based on glacial drones, that could vaguely resemble those field recordings that some adventurous forgers of the genre grabbed in extremely cold regions, whose gradual but continuous progressions over a gravel bed of muffled thundering of very low frequencies and white noise. These streams of abstract sounds sometimes extinguish like a candle in a room without oxygen (on tracks like "Medial" or "Blockfield"), sometimes evolve into something else like dim brighter whispers ("Lateral") or crumbling implosions ("End"), but any transformation keeps on rendering an idea of a subtly deceptive impermanence under an obscure mantle which doesn't succeed in covering the jagged edges of Heidseck's sound.
Artist: Mick Sussman
Title: The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator: Selected Works, Vol. 1
Format: CD + Download
Label: The Sublunar Society
As a music-loving programmer I love scientific artwork concepts like this- the idea that music can be auto-generated out of rules and patterns ad infinitum and without intervention. Thankfully devoid of the “who needs composers now?” hyperbole that might sometimes be attached, here we get 19 curated outputs from Sussman’s new music generator. Every track seems to have been named by pulling two random words from the dictionary and sticking them together.

All of them are strictly between 3:36 and 3:57, and all of them sound like frantic 1980’s 8-bit arpeggiators set on random settings with short drum machine percussive sounds underneath. Were it not for the polyphony of more than 3 tracks, I’d wonder whether a BBC Micro could have created this.

Does it work? At times yes. Patterns, rather than genuine randomness, is clearly an important part of this generator, and when the patterns align into something that feels comfortable- as it does in “Spherical Sameness”- it’s strangely enticing. “Italicize Mellow” has a curious baroqueness to it.

At other times, not so much. Some of it, like the ironically named “Finitely Kindhearted”, is too frantic and too relentless. Perhaps factoring in more of a sense of peak and dip, of adding and subtracting layers throughout the course of each piece rather than just embarking on nearly-four-minutes of relentless bleeping, might have yielded something more palatable than the barely listenable “Abstention Prance”. “Burble Exponent” has the component parts you might find in some Venetian Snares or Aphex Twin tracks, but help to explain in sonic terms how you really can tell the difference between their work and something truly randomised.

And for a 2018 work, the decidedly lo-fi nature of the musical output (and the accompanying artwork) seems an unnecessary move. A processor as cheap as a Raspberry Pi is capable of generating CD-quality sound through things like VST synthesis, so there’s no technical reason why this couldn’t have all been constructed with the same concept but a more modern sound.

For 365 days up to the release of this album, the label were releasing a single track from the project every day, and one disposable three-minute-work each day is arguably a more fitting use of this output than a ‘proper’ album. Ultimately, it’s one of those releases you might cherry-pick for a couple of the more successful tracks, and while it’s a concept you might enjoy, it’s not a release you’re going to frequently sit down and listen to as a complete 63-minute work.
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