Music Reviews



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Artist: Håvard Volden
Title: Space Happy
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofa
‘Electricity’ is the broad theme here, with the layering up of different electric and electronic sound sources into eleven rather miscellaneous but generally dark works of noise and experimentation which seems to take on a variety of influences ranging from 60’s radiophonics to 80’s industrial proto-techno to 90’s-era more ‘mainstream’ ambient approaches.

Many of the pieces are little more than sonic vignettes, like the endearingly quirky “V”, but there are some slightly longer works to get your teeth into. “II” has an acid-techno-ish pulse that runs around it and grounds it. “IV” is particularly unusual, initially throwback-minded piece that evokes strong memories of black-and-white sci-fi but which then throws in some freeform electric guitar strumming and then some odd spoken-word poetry to muddle things up somewhat. “VI” is a broader journey into where feedback and distortion meet ambience, and is the track most fitting of the album’s title.

Generally it’s got quite a raw sound that’s quite playful and somehow feels quite authentic, as though faithfully retreating the steps of pioneers half a century ago exploring electric weird sounds for the very first time. Not just a nostalgia piece, it does work in its own right, albeit in a slightly incoherent fashion, and fans of early electric oddness will appreciate this as more than a homage and a worthwhile listen in its own right.
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Artist: Mike Cooper
Title: Tropical Gothic
Format: LP
Label: Discrepant
Mike Cooper uses his collection of guitars as a primary sound source, but wraps and envelops them in thick processing and ambience to create ‘ambient exotica soundscapes’. This release takes those soundscapes and fuses them back with more conventional instrumental song structures, sometimes bordering on pop, resulting in a rather idiosyncratic whole with a quite distinct flavour. While ‘exotica’ might sometimes bring with it connotations like ‘kitsch’ and ‘cheese’, more often than not this is a brooding collection of sonics from the underbelly of the same soundworld.

The first side of the LP is made up of eight short tracks, some just vignettes, ranging from the quirky Hawaiian-tinged lounge vibe of “Running Naked” to the slightly sinister ambiences of “Shindo’s Blues”.

The second side of the LP is entirely given over to the 18-minute piece “Legong / Gods Of Bali”, a more immersive wallowing in bells and reverb and gentle exotic rhythms that’s quite mesmerising if just sometimes shading a little too close to the ‘Glastonbury wigged-out hippy tent’ vibe.

Distinctive and full of character, it’s an unusual dark twist on tropical tones that tells its own story and tells it well.
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Artist: Jean C. Roche
Title: Birds Of Venezuela
Format: LP
Label: Sub Rosa
Here are five untampered-with and authentic field recordings of exotic birdsong recorded in Venezuela by ornithologist Jean-Claude Roché, originally issued as an LP in 1973 but mastered in a manner that makes them sound freshly recorded, bright, detailed and brand new.

The five tracks are named by geographical location. “Ocumare” gets over twelve minutes of sound to its name, whereas “Rancho Grande”- now known as the Henri Pittier National Park- gets less than three minutes, with a total run time of thirty-five minutes in all.

It’s a fascinating and mesmeric listen, generally quite chaotic with all sorts of different species creating calls that are sometimes semi-familiar vocalizations, but often stranger- sometimes bubbly and even frog-like. Dozens of birds can be heard at once, layering up their noises in a way that reminds us that nature itself can produce bizarre and seemingly alien soundscapes all of its own without the need for any avantgarde or electronic assistance. “Palmar” is perhaps the weirdest of all, with a frankly eerie collection of building drone calls that sounds like it can’t possibly be natural, but I’m assured it is.

Birdsong may feel a bit cliché perhaps but nevertheless this is a must for the found sound connoisseur and for appreciators of unusual soundscapes in general.
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Artist: Simon Šerc
Title: Bora Scura
Format: CD
Label: Pharmafabrik (@)
Rated: *****
Simon Šerc is an artist active in the field of experimental music and video since 1990 and this can immediately be heard as the quality of his field recordings is truly remarkable. Bora Scura is developed upon field recordings made in Slovenia in an area, Ajdovšina, which is exposed to the high speed wind named Bora.
As "Action I" starts the listener is immersed in an environment where all recognizable elements of the landscape seems at the mercy of the wind so only when its speed diminishes other sounds of everyday life can rise. In "Action II" can be heard the high pitch of the wind in an almost absolute silence. In "Action IV" can be heard high pitch and lower frequencies of the wind while in "Action V" the water flowing is used as a relative anchor for the listener to orientate himself in the sound masses. In "Action VIII" can be heard wooden masses bended by the wind and in "Action IX" rolling metallic pieces. "Action X" closes this release with a slow calm down of the wind.
Obviously it's a release for fans of the genre which are exposed to a release centered upon the impact on everyday lives of natural forces that cannot be controlled and from which it's necessary to be protected. So, it's not a mere exercise of recording techniques but a conceptual release. It's really worth a listen.
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Artist: Lars Graugaard, Grup Instrumental De Valencia, Joan Cervero
Title: Engage And Share
Format: CD + Download
Label: Kairos
Though recorded in 2017 and released in 2018, and although driven by some intriguing computer-based technology for spontaneous real-time composition, “Engage And Share” reminds me of 1960’s avantgarde classical music. A relatively conventional orchestral set-up, showcasing but but overly deferential to Graugaard’s work as a flautist, is instructed to break their melodic mould and work with contrasts between dischord and ambience, chaos and emptiness, with a blend of musical proficiency and energetic theatrics that makes it sound fresh.

After the title track feels like it wouldn’t sound out of place soundtracking different sections of Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey”, second piece “Slonk” has a faintly more militaristic and urgent tone driven by low piano rolls and curt repetitive brass that gradually fades away into melancholy. Final piece “Blind Lemon” returns to the expressive ebb and flow approach, driven more by string this time and with a subsequently more silent-movie flavour in parts.

What once would have seemed musically cutting-edge and challenging now seems almost nostalgic but there’s certainly no harm in that here. Modern classical music is, on this evidence, alive and well.
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