Music Reviews

Artist: Yannis Kyriakides
Title: Subvoice
Format: CD + Download
Label: Unsounds
This is an ambitious and expansive work, consisting of nine distinct pieces, each for a differently-sized ensemble and imbued with their own character, with an average length of just under twenty minutes per piece so that every piece stands on its own merits and has its own internal structure. The pieces were composed over a period of several years, have been performed separately, so there’s a case for suggesting that this is more of an anthology than an album.

Though thematically and politically this music connects to Cyprus, Venice and Byzantium, to me the general tone of the music is much colder. Barren atmospheres, hollow spaces, and long sustained strings with a slightly harsh metallic timbre, combine into something that I could’ve envisaged evolving in a Scandinavian warehouse. Generally it certainly doesn’t sound sun-blushed, nor does the use of politically charged themes related to the divisions in Cyprus seep through to the tone of the music itself.

Opener “Words And Songs Without Words” is a relatively straightforward (but award-winning) instrumental string piece, but second track “Paramyth” is a larger arrangement for piano, strings, woodwind and the voice of a Cypriot storyteller whose voice has been timestretched so extensively that every syllable becomes a lilting extended melodic phrase, treading awkwardly the line between sounding beautiful and sounding drunk.

“Toponymy” samples the contentious Greek and Turkish village names of Northern Cyprus and uses them percussively in a way that strongly reminded me of Asa-Chang & Junray’s “Hana”, one of my favourite introductory pieces so certainly a welcome comparison in my book. “Music For Viola” does what it says on the tin.

“Circadian Surveillance” is a mellow arrangement of improvisation-like glockenspiel noodling laid over time-compressed found sound of traffic and general activity from the Cypriot ‘Green Line’- challenging in principle, slightly mundane in practice.

“Der Komponist” is a very strong work, a large brass-heavy ensemble performing gradually evolving and suspenseful patterns that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. It never languishes in mood like its companions, always navigating peaks and troughs, making it somewhat out of character. In the second half, short looped vocal samples and digital effects wade in, taking the tension up another level. It’s absolutely a stand-out and worth the price of admission for this track alone.

“Testudo” is a more insular arrangement of bass strings, playing with the mechanics of string instruments as equipment, coupled with squeaks and a Sophocles text fragment reinterpreted as ‘synthesized tortoise sounds’, no I am not making this stuff up.

“Politicus” is a fourteen-minute extract from a 12-hour original, subtitled “Dawn In The Giardini” it’s very akin to the old attempts to reinterpret birdsong and dawn chorus as musical score. Stabbed staccato piano riffs wander through acres of empty space. The final track, the twenty-five-minute-long “Oneiricon”, is even more spacious; occasional breaths of at least partially synthetic hollow chords flow gently in and out of the consciousness.

Collectively “Subvoice” is a coherent anthology of nine very strong standalone compositions, all exuding quality and deserving of attention, with “Der Komponist” a standout that deserves a very wide furthered audience.
Artist: Antoine Chessex - Apartment House, Jérôme Noetinger (@)
Title: Plastic Concrete / Accumulation
Format: CD
Label: Bocian Records
Rated: *****
This enjoyable release includes two adventurous live sessions that the Swiss sound artist and composer Antoine Chessex (this guy, who is known to be one of the founding member of the followed doom-noise band Monno is a real wizard in finding a dark and sometimes poetical dimension to dirty sounds or other sonic 'scraps') held at Cafè Oto in two different moments with talented French electronic musician Jerome Noetinger (co-founder together cinematographers and performers Christophe Auger and Xavier Querel of Cellule D'Intervention Metamkine in 1987, which later became a record label and an appreciated distributor ) and Apartment House, the appreciated avant-garde/experimental ensemble created by the cellist Anton Lokoszevieze in 1995. This pot of musical voices succeeds in forging something vaguely musical, where the boundaries between music for soundtracks, improvisation and classical notation got relevantly blurred by reel to reel tape machines. The hissing chances of deforming sonic inputs and whooshing sounds of Noetinger's approach emphasizes or sometimes mitigates the swirling inferno of string-driven stridors - masterfully played by Gordon Mackay (violin), Hilary Sturt (violin), Bridget Carey (viola) and Anton Lukoszevieze (cello) -, where the listenable clues on both the opening and the end vehiculate the imagination towards an unlucky ship facing a ferocious storm in "Accumulation" (recorded live by James Dunn on 29th of April 2015). Noetinger's sonic freaks and dense electronic textures amalgamate the parade of figures that could be related to many different tricks used by soundtrack composers to highlight drama and act like combustible materials of the same data in the second part of "Plastic Concrete" (recorded on the 28th of February 2014), a session which could be somehow matched to the roaring fire for the imaginary funeral pyre of the evoked fictional elements.
Artist: Chris Cobilis ft. Spektral Quartet w/ Kenneth Goldsmith
Title: This Is You
Format: LP
Label: Room40 (@)
Rated: *****
The idea behind this interesting conceptual project was supposedly fed by some screenings of America's Funniest Home Videos, the TV program produced by Vin Di Bona - mostly inspired by similar TV products, broadcasted by Japanese TV -, featuring the gangly anchoring and the snarky and vaguely derisive comment by Bob Saget as well as an extensive set of sound effects that got matched to a likewise broad set of homemade videos, documenting dubbed domestic animals, bizarre facial expressions of babies, slip-ups over any kind of surfaces (the most typical ones were plastic inflatable garden pools or gym stands) or during family's parties or wedding parties. Such a starting point is not related to some nostalgia at all, but it's rather a unpitiful and somehow innovative representation. This sort of specular mirroring of this subtly ridiculous way of satisfying the built desire of being on screen by a relevant part of Western society was somehow adapted to music and became a sort of animated graphical score and accompanying script for the Australian self-taught musician and composer Chris Cobilis, whose musical transcription was performed live in studio by Chicago's Spektral Quartet and conceptually espoused by well-known American poet Kenneth Goldsmith - founder of UbuWeb and author of ten books of poetry (his most recent one is "Wasting Time on the Internet"), mostly based on the so-called 'uncreative writing', aimed to focus on ignored fragments of mass culture, nothwithstanding its intent -. His rich baritone voice sounds a wise provocation (I particularly enjoyed the lesson about electricity introducing "Dust In The Gate" as well as many subtly mocking sentences) perfectly matches the set of sounds, which seems to emulate the sound effects I mentioned before or add an alternative soundtrack to that kind of TV programs (many clones of American's Funniest Home Videos invaded and keep on surviving on a plenty of TV channels in the world), which sounds filtered and adapted by a critical eye on this phenomenon. Masterfully mastered and recorded by Steve Albini.
Artist: Simon Fisher Turner
Title: Giraffe
Format: LP + Download
Label: Editions Mego
“Giraffe” is an brief collection (14 tracks, 42 minutes) but with a very ambitious scope. Combining well-travelled personal field recordings (from the UK, Germany, Japan, Portugal and Spain), both atmospheres and up-close actuality described as “life sounds”, with electronic ambiences and heavy processing, makes every piece distinct and unpredictable.

There’s a willful twistiness to it, never letting the listener be complacent. “Clean Page” sounds like a violently drunk man has wandered into a Georgy Lygeti and taken centre stage. It’s followed by “Hope Swims”, a super-soft arrangement of lullaby-esque pure high synth notes that eventually degrades with a sound akin to somebody throwing a broken electric toothbrush down a well. “Burnt In” ends sounding as though it’s about to break into some epic stadium drum’n’bass, but doesn’t. “Move More” is little more than an unpleasant sci-fi security alarm sound, while “Save As” is a mellow arrangement of piano and ambience.

Unfortunately the results do sometimes feel a little stunted. These are short, sharp works with an experimental angst and nothing is truly allowed to breathe for more than a minute or so. The false starts and abrupt turns are engaging but they prevent “Giraffe” from really gelling together as a coherent listen- deliberately it seems, with every mellow moment followed by a jarring one and vice versa. The discipline of “Slight Smile”, with its cut-up spoken-word poem, has a focus that “Giraffe” might have benefitted from sustaining.

While Simon Fisher Turner has a CV that many sound designers could only dream of (working with names ranging from Derek Jarman to The The to David Lynch to Jonathan King), looking specifically and solely at “Giraffe” what you get is an usual and broad bit of atmospheric experimental sound design, but too unfocused to really shine as a full work.
Artist: Martial Canterel
Title: Navigations Volume I-III
Format: LP + Download
Label: Medical Records
“Navigations” gathers together the contents of three 4-track ‘dusted off rarities’ EPs into one twelve-track collection. The material is from the 2002 to 2004 period, but when you hear it, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was 1980’s vintage. This is thin, slightly punk synthpop with a lo-fi bedroom aesthetic. Principally cold wave, with crisp, straight drum machine patterns, regular 4/4 bass notes and thick analogue-flavoured synths washing the chords over the top, it’s a familar pattern.

There are some strong melodic lines and sounds in there and a very sound pop sensibility. Everything’s a little on the muddy side, but there are the some decent ingredients for sure.

The weakest part of the package sadly, and crucially, is the vocal. Solo projects can often have a hard time judging vocals correctly and the results here are not spectacular. There’s a halfheartedness, possibly a nervousness to the vocal performance which sounds like it might be attempting to emulate the underspoken cool of the Ian Curtis style, but what comes out is frankly on the limp side, and only loosely in tune. Perhaps knowing this, the vocals are mixed and echoed in a way that half-buries them, making them uncomfortably indiscernible. I think some of the lyrics might be quite well-written, but it’s difficult to tell.

“Horror Without You” are “Catalog” are among the strongest pieces, but unfortunately there are no real standout tracks that can lift this bundle above being a collection of “early demos, before we got good” that will only appeal to diehard Martial Canterel fans and friends. To anyone else it sadly has the inaccessibility of a vanity project.
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