Music Reviews

Artist: Robert Worby
Title: Factitious Airs (Electronic Music)
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Persistence Of Sound
Robert Worby, as well as working as a writer and broadcaster (most notably presenter of BBC Radio 3’s “Hear And Now”), has been composing electronic music for over 50 years, and has a rich track record of work ranging from The Distributors to The Mekons to Michael Nyman to John Cage. Yet, somehow, this is his first solo release.

So perhaps understandably it is a conscious and overt throwback to the electronic music of the 1950s and 1960s. It cites Stockhausen and Henry as influences, though it’s perhaps the work of that period from another BBC institution- the Radiophonic Workshop- to which I would compare these pieces most closely. The techniques are so embedded in that period and attitude- I’m hesitant to use the word ‘retro’- that if the press release had claimed this was an unearthed seminal yet long-forgotten early 60’s album, I would certainly have believed it.

Analogue wobbles, sine waves and harmonics alternate with heavily processed library-style sound effects and found sounds. Patterned pulses, such as those in “TekTone1”, somehow manage to feel like an early precursor to modern techno music, despite this release having a 2019 datestamp.

The echoing crashing pianos of “The Blind Momentum Of Catastrophe” pitch shift drunkenly as though subject to playful adjustment of the speed of a tape motor, while “Drawing The Nerves” adopts a relentless stuttering and glitching. Both adopt that playful fascination with what’s possible, drawn from the days before anyone could edit digital audio near-infinitely at home, and where the technical experimentation itself was the core of the compositional process.

There are several mellower pieces, including the title track, “To Come Speedy Upon Them” or “Night, Without Edges Or Face”, which works with conspicuously lower volumes and more emphasis on space to create something that feels like casual environmental atmospherics, yet constructed from alien-sounding noises. Pieces like “Stumble Bum Junk Heap” also have quiet parts, but juxtaposed against louder more cacophonous distinct sections to add elements of dynamism that at times feel akin to film soundtrack work- for an unidentified film I’d definitely want to watch.

Final piece “Seaworn Gravity” is the most theatrical work here, with some more traditional ensemble wind and brass noises blended into some classic sci-fi warps and wobbles, and as such it also becomes a highlight.

It’s a stupendously detailed and authentic-sounding love letter to the early days of electronic music experimentation, but which manages to step beyond a simple tribute or recreation and provide a good deal of listening value in its own right.
Artist: The London Sound Survey
Title: Thames
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Persistence Of Sound
After being live for just over a decade, Ian Rawes’ London Sound Survey, an online collection of over 2000 field recordings of environments in and around the capital city, has purportedly documented a substantial change in London’s soundscape since the project began. “Thames” is a collection of eight unprocessed and original field recordings, from different times during the last decade, presented with explanation but without comment.

As such they stand alone as eight mini soundscapes- between three and seven minutes long each- that fall generally into two categories (in my opinion). The first of these is the “Tower Bridge” category. From one angle, this is the epitome of music concrete. The harmonious, almost-melodic drone of final track “Tower Bridge: Machine Room” is accidentally more musical than some intention compositions, mirroring first track “Tower Bridge: North Bascule Chamber” which with its distant tannoy announcements and more percussive sounds of everyday life, feels like a staple work of ambient music as practised years ago by dance acts like The JAMs or The Art Of Noise. The sightseeing boat horn audible on “Tower Bridge: South Bascule Chamber” almost feels like cheating, since it is a deliberately composed three-note warning siren where the melody has not arisen purely by accident.

The second category is calmer, wildlife environments- as though setting out to show the ecological health of the city by the volume of its natural sounds, or wandering into twitcher territory. There’s a neat juxtaposition between “Allhallows Marshes: Day”- a very purist bit of wildlife sound recording, full of busy birdsong- and “Coryton Refinery Siren”, the note of a siren at a now-closed oil refinery which is so tuneful and strangely emotive that you might initially believe it’s a rare birdsong. Following it with “Maplin Sands”, a quieter and possibly more dusky bit of birdsong soundscape, is a smart bit of intentional compilation.

The exception to the above categories is “The Albert Basin”, a short recording of weighted halyards clanking against metal flagpoles which have been removed since the recording- it’s a sort of off-key wind chime effect, fairly relaxing, and also potentially quite nostalgic for anyone who used to live close enough to hear it.

It’s a neat and accessible found sound collection which, while it could never claim to make any broader claims about the city as a whole or what it sonically represents, provides us with some thoughtful set pieces and which should provide strong encouragement to wear headphones less often when wandering around the greater London area.
Artist: Efrim Manuel Menuck & Kevin Doria
Format: LP
Label: Constellation Records (@)
Distributor: Secretly Distribution
Rated: *****
"We started playing together in the dark winter of 2017. 6 oscillators and 3 large amplifiers. Drove thru hella blizzards and/or heatwaves just to land in small rooms, vibrating. A series of short tours, a process of figuring out while exhausted while hurtling while worried. Everything illuminated everything destroyed. We landed in Mexico City last fall, wrote this record quickly while the police drove round and round. First song is self-explanatory. Second song a statement of intent. Third song is an empty space between two highways. Fourth song is about a murdered forest. Fifth song insists that we will win. Hold on. Tho these times are dark times. Hold on".
These are the statements of Efrim Manuel Menuck and Kevin Doria, at the time of the release of their debut album, entitled "are SING SINCK, SING". The duo composed by post-rock guitarist of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the veteran of ambient music, already a member of the seminal band Growing, was born in 2017/18, when the first asks to the second to collaborate in the preparation of the concerts for the tour of his latest album "Pissing Stars". From that moment the two began to compose a series of songs helped only by the presence of a few synthesizers and three large amplifiers.
What was born from these recording sessions that the two artists shared is a set of five pieces of a devastating fragility, capable of sinuously moving in the waves of the oscillators, riding drones buzzing and releasing a brightness full of anger and hope difficult to describe in words.
Surely we can affirm to be close to a sort of meditative and transcendental ambient/drone, formed by very few notes, but which are extremely powerful and resonant.
Dense sounds that linger long in the air, exhausting it of all its roughness and making the listener navigate in the emptiness of his mind. Meditation is the key word and in half an hour the two artists give a timeless moment to bask in the essence of the purest sound.
The result is a sort of psychedelic inspiration but strongly introspective, as if the Flaming Lips met at a party organized by the M83, Spaceman 3 armed with synthesizers, but without percussion. "Joy Is On Her Mount And Death Is At Her Side" is the perfect example of all this, in her being a slow and psychotropic march, capable of hypnotize anyone thanks to the lanky voice of Menuck, a true anti-fascist preacher in these five songs, who does not lose the opportunity to once again express his poetic hatred of capitalism and modern society, as he reaffirms his love for uncontaminated nature.
"Efrim Manuel Menuck & Kevin Doria are SING SINCK, SING" suggests contemplating the world through the eyes of the poet, distraught by the ugly realism of modernity, but consoled by the spiritual vision of life that helps him win his battles every day.
Artist: Locust
Title: Green
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Medical Records
This second release in a series of EP’s from Mark Van Hoen as Locust is a four-pack of 130bpm-ish techno with a relentless, semi-aggressive and purposeful bent. It makes heavy use of chiptune-style and lo-bit synth sounds but rounds it off with thick rich kicks and percussion sounds to fill the sonic space and sound current.

Both “Promise” and “Current” make strong use of the trick of having some of the synth arpeggiators and patterns running at different pattern lengths to the 4/4 beat, meaning the root of the melody is constantly shifting and making relatively simple repetitive patterns suddenly more complex in just one move. “Staircase” is more melody heavy, taking a six-note melody and transposing it at unusual and tension-inducing intervals to keep you on your toes.

“Arch Enemy” is the black sheep of the pack, switching to a lighter rhythm that’s in the direction (slightly) of downtempo, upping the emphasis on melody and with good use of vocal ahhh noises for character and texture.

Medical Records continues to grow a strong track record of techno releases with a twist and this is another solid example.
Artist: Anders Vestergaard & Finn Loxbo
Title: Saint Erme
Format: CD + Download
Label: Gikt Records
After collaborating as a duo for a few years with larger arsenals of instruments, guitarist Finn Loxbo and drummer Anders Vestergaard have stripped their approach back to a much simpler arrangement- an acoustic guitar, two drums, an analogue feedback system and a sine wave generator. “Saint Erme” is a single 46-minute piece, premiered in October 2017, with its second-ever performance at the Stockholm Jazz Festival, telling you roughly where this sits.

The press release says Vestergaard & Loxbo “have mainly worked with improvised music”, but it’s ambiguous as to whether this has an improvisational element. Certainly it feels improvised- centred as it does around short impulsive bursts, single unexpected drum hits, long silences followed by a handful of acoustic guitar notes, it has that consciously arhythmic, anti-call-and-response tone to it. Tiny melodic motifs repeat and then dissipate in ways where it’s hard to spot the underlying motivation. Leaving the longest silences before the hardest drum hits feels like contrarianism at times.

The drums and the guitar are dominant throughout, with the feedback and sine wave generator providing some additional texturing at very subtle levels- often so high-pitched and so faint that they become almost tinnitus-like, fading into nothing if you’re listening in a non-silent environment. Towards the end of the work, a long bass sine wave note arrives in force- a crescendo of sorts, a speaker-showcasing hum of marvellous purity and a real neighbour-shaker.

It’s experimental and improvised (I think) jazz at some of its most stripped back and minimal, this is a release that draws you in and which is certainly appreciable- but if seeking fresh musical turf or a ‘wow’ factor, then you may want to look elsewhere.
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