Music Reviews

Artist: Jana Irmert
Title: Flood
Format: CD + Download
Label: Fabrique Records
As the artwork and the title associatively suggest, this work evokes thoughts of the build-up of tension in sci-fi clouds before a thunderstorm. There’s windy drones, distant atmospheric hums, and electrical crackling and bubbling interspersed with gentler more melodic pads and beds that arrive with some fanfare to provide lush interludes. On some rare occasions, more pulsing electronics step very modestly towards a sort of incidental techno, but this is always short-lived. Built from synthesis and from abstracted field recordings, it’s a gently unsettling bit of soundscaping that feels calm on the surface, but harbours more chaotic elements for which you have to listen more closely.

The 51-minute work is divided into three parts that are both numbered and named, but the differences between them are subtle and evolutionary rather than distinct. Third part “The Sound Of The Universe Spinning” is perhaps the warmest and most relaxing section, working as a fitting conclusion when listening to this for its soporific superficial level.

It’s a rich and detailed texture of sonic work, handled with a deftness and confidence that makes it certainly worthy of attention.
Artist: Barnacles (@)
Title: Air Skin Digger
Format: CD + Download
Label: ADN Records (@)
Rated: *****
Hot on the heels of the review of Barnacles collaboration with Maurizio Bianchi we have Barnacles (Matteo Uggeri) latest work - 'Air Skin Digger,' an album of 4 long compositions made using only 4 sound sources per each, all cannibalized from other works done in his more than 20 year musical career by Uggeri or with his band Sparkle in Grey, or with other collaborators. No digital sounds have been used in the recording, but only instruments such as viola, bagpipes, trumpet, guitars, gamelan, and unknown devices. The four tracks all have lengthy, but ultimately highly descriptive titles. 1. How a slave who perpetually defamed me and desired to have me killed, was himself eaten and killed in my presence. 2. Of the manner in which the savages ate a prisoner and carried me to the feast. 3. How the savages ate the second roasted Christian called Hieronymus. 4. My prayer to the lord God when I was in the hands of the savages who threatened to eat me. The artwork by Uggeri himself is an interpretation of the woodcuts taken from “True Story and Description of a Country of Wild, Naked, Grim, Man-eating People in the New World, America)”by Hans Staden (c. 1525 – c. 1576), which compliments those track titles.

Although there is a certain ritualistic ambience in the music (mainly due to the rhythm/percussion), it certainly seems to be an abstract interpretation in total. Track 1 has a rather somber mood, at least until the drumming enters the picture a little over 3 minutes into the piece. It's jazz inspired and polyrhythmic in stark contrast to to the droning ambience. Track 2 begins with repetitive looped guitar riffs later giving way to some indistinguishable samples (field recordings?) while a steady beat emerges, The looped guitar samples are manipulated over time in such a way as to be in sync with the rhythm where before they were just disjunct elements. Barnacles gets a real groove going, then stops all dead but the beat, and morphs it into something almost completely different. Remember from earlier - there are only 4 sound sources employed here. While you may be getting the impression that this music is improvised, it is actually highly structured. Track 3 sounds like the most ritualistic of the lot, perhaps in part due to the exotic flute sounds and bellish tones. There is a calm before the storm here with various sonics in play, but the tension is palpable as the rhythm begins to build in its tribal fury. It's more of a seething sort of tribalism than war-like manifestations, and you could imagine it as the background for some sort of sacred ceremony, perhaps where ayahuasca or some other natural hallucinogenic was involved. Track 4 begins with somber strings but it isn't long before they are supplanted by a driving rhythm and indistinct lengthy agitated conversation samples. When the drums die down we''re left with an interlude of lengthy dialogue sample and the return of sad strings. The drum rhythm creeps back in but its different this time; less driving and more ominous. Eventually, fade to black.

This is an enigmatic work to say the least, and that these compositions were made using only 4 sound sources is remarkable. Although this album may never end up being number one on your hit parade, it is something to turn to when you're looking for something completely different. Limited Edition of 300 CDs, but as of this writing, there were only 17 copies left.
Artist: M.B. + Barnacles (@)
Title: Sidereal Decomposition Activity
Format: CD + Download
Label: Artoffact Records (@)
Rated: *****
M. B. is Maurizio Bianchi, and Barnacles is Matteo Uggeri, two leaders in the modern Italian electronic industrial avant-garde. Bianchi (in case you didn't already know) is a pioneer of industrial music going way, way back to the earliest 1980s. To list his credits and collaborations would take more space and time than I have available. Matteo you may know from Sparkle in Grey, some of whose works I've reviewed here in the not too distant past. The first collaboration between these two came about in 2007 with the release of the album 'One Single Sound' . On this recording MB provides analogue noises, drones and melodies, while Matteo utilizes beats, keyboards, field recordings and Tibetan bells. Drum work is done by Simone Riva and Cristiano Lupo. As MB describes the music of this work: "Astral melodies are excavating in the eruption constriction, while a neurotic fall scratches extemporaneous sidereal manumissions. The salubrious dynamism is compatible with the invisible decomposition but a paranoic infinity recalls an overcast activity for a cosmic relativity. Unearthly diagnosis cheers the outward for a screaming Armageddon, grinding through our nocturnal energy in the consolidate universe."

The album is comprised of four long tracks between 8 and 13 minutes length. Opening track "Infinity Cosmic Eruption" begins with sustained cymbal(s) or gong(s) ringing out and some thumping around as well as some other unidentifiable bits of sound. Out of this comes a heavy rhythm on drumkit with a sustained harsh, cutting drone. Most of the harsh portions of the drone eventually subside over time replaced by some noisy electronics. Various electro-acoustic sounds can be heard, often echoed off, as the piece deconstructs in a piercing, whistling drone after the drums drop out. Title track "Sidereal Decomposition Activity" has loopy abstract semi-melodic electronics over a beat that sounds Native American. Over time the rhythm gets jumbled through sonic manipulation and loses its straight path morphing into something more freeform. All the while these improvised electronic sustained tones keep right on playing. There is somewhat of a psychedelic ambience to it all, and when the drums return in a different pattern, I'm reminded of some of the Krautrock experiments of the 1970s.

The end of this track with its spacey, echoey electro-drones moves seamlessly into "Astral Fall Dynamism" and I suspect that the ebow guitar is largely responsible for some of those sounds. Here everything is mixed into some type of strange brew with elements of electronics, plunked and rapidly fingered stringed instrument(s), amongst other sonic effluvia. It's a dense, abstract porridge of psychedelia obviously intended to be mind-blowing. As with the previous, the looped electronics/noise drone blends seamlessly into the next (and last) track "Unearthly Armagheddon Energy". Heavy orchestral strings, fizzy noise and a rudimentary rhythm that seems to turn into a chugging steam train. The string pads on this one remind me a lot of Tangerine Dream's use of them, but on which album I can't remember. Nostalgic, at any rate. The whole thing had me thinking of Kraut rock experimentation of the 1970s as a pastiche of the genre. I don't know if that was intentional or subliminal, but the ethos seems to be there. This is certainly not an album for everybody. There is no concession to commercialism in any regard, and although I wasn't hearing anything that I haven't heard before in one way or another, it still makes for an interesting listen.
Artist: Aperus (@)
Title: Lie Symmetry
Format: CD + Download
Label: Geophonic Records (@)
Rated: *****
Aperus is the ambient project of Brian McWilliams of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and 'Lie Symmetry' is his fourth album under this name. He also works in another ambient project called Remanence with John Phipps. He is a photographer as well, and took the abstract photos used for the cover and inserts of this CD. I'm unfamiliar with any of his previous work so I can't compare this album to anything Aperus has done before. The album's title, 'Lie Symmetry was inspired by a radio interview with physicist Alan Tennant that McWilliams heard where Tennant was explaining his study of transitions in the quantum states of deeply cooled ions, with the exact quantum transitional point being known as lie symmetry. (The math and physics of the equation(s) are beyond me so I can offer no further insight.) Later, McWilliams took some accidental pictures with his phone/camera in his pocket which turned out to be abstract landscapes. This was his own "lie symmetry" which solidified the concept for the album. The music here leans toward dark ambient, but like the photos is not devoid of light. This is an electro-acoustic work employing both electronics and field recordings gathered from different locations in New Mexico, Arizona and Michigan. Those sounds include bells, chimes, telescope, kiln, water, waves, insects, cranes, utility pipes, and spring drum loop. Besides an array of synthesizers, McWilliams also employs shortwave radio, ebow guitar, drum loops, wind chimes, thunder drums, rattles and sample manipulation. The opening track, "VLA 1" consists of an intriguing march-like little rhythm, drones, birds, and shortwave radio, sounding less dark ambient but more mysterious. "Frozen, Broken" is predominantly comprises of bellish tones with an undercurrent of dark ambient drones and some lapping water. Nice but 7+ minutes of that was a bit much and I didn't sense it going anywhere. "When the Mountains Wear Black Hats" sort of sounds like the title of a David Lynch Twin Peaks episode, but the music is much less jarring or malevolent than Lynch's take on dark ambient, and has a near shoegaze quality to it. Really liked that one. "Himalaya" puts some rhythm back into the mix and is gamelanesque. Another rhythm track on "VLA 2," this one slow and caterpillar-like accompanied by a multi-timbral drone, sounding once again processional. I am noticing now how little the pieces evolve over time, staying mostly in a groove through the majority of the composition and changes coming at the beginning or end being usually additive or subtractive. "Marsh Lake, October" can't be characterized by those parameters even though it has a certain aquatic theme, there are many sonic aspects employed in its composition in a number of ways. So far, this is the richest piece on the album. "Ephemeral River" has a gently pulsing sort of looped rhythm that is quite hypnotic. This rhythm continues throughout the track, occasionally accompanied by a sub-rhythm and with other dark ambient elements is quite engaging. Last track, "Unfozen, Unbroken" brings back the bells underpinned with tranquil synth drones. What I like about "Lie Symmetry" is that the tone leans toward the dark side without actually getting heavy or oppressive. One could almost call it Dark Ambient Light, or even Grey Ambient. Some tracks could have evolved more, and perhaps a few less bells, but overall, a nice work.
Artist: H2S
Title: Kosmos 96
Format: MCD (Mini CD)
Label: Biotasi Records
Rated: *****
Eleven years after the latest album titled „Proteus Soundtracks“, H2S, solo project of Fabio Degiorgi, is back with a new mini album and a new sound. In 2007 we left Fabio dealing with „tracks always in balance between experimental intuitions, industrial sounds and also a bit of post punk/new wave“, quoting my own review I wrote back then. What we have now? For „Kosmos 96“, Fabio composed five new instrumental tracks which are sounding more cinematic and melodic. Somehow is like on this new release he gathered all his past musical experiences (he plays bass guitar with the wave band Vidi Aquam and played for the hardcore band Crash Box, for the garage psychedelic band Four By Art, etc.), packed them and decided to take a trip to Venus (the title track is inspired by the Soviet space probe part of the Venera project which was shoot into space in November 1965, just to fall back to earth in pieces two weeks after). Fabio in the presentation sheet named as main references the 70’s cosmic travellers coming from Germany (Cluster, Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, early Kraftwerk, etc.) and also the most experimental wave bands of the 80’s of the likes of Tuxedomoon or Eyeless In Gaza. Well, with „Il terrazzo di Glottertal“, „Fontange De Donis“, „Organia“, „Kosmos 96“ and „Kopli“ he succeeded into creating his personal soundtrack which is not only able to lead you to an imaginary travel through melancholic landscapes but it’s also able to allow yourself to let you loose into synth suites enriched by clean guitar arpeggios and treated bass guitar lines... no drums allowed! Really nice release which can be yours for 5€, if you want to own one of the fifty CDrs or only 2€ for the Bandcamp download!
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