Music Reviews



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Artist: Philip Blackburn (@)
Title: Music of Shadows
Format: CD
Label: innova Recordings (@)
Rated: *****
Chances are pretty good that you've never heard of Philip Blackburn unless you have a familiarity with certain New Music classical avant garde academic circles. His credentials are impressive there and he also runs the innova Recordings label. Blackburn is a composer/environmental sound-artist with numerous previous compositions to his credit, and on 'Music of Shadows' you will get quite an earful of what he's capable of. The album is comprised of three lengthy pieces - "Dry Spell" (27:00), "Still Points" (17:39), and "The Long Day Closes" (26:00). On "Dry Spell" Blackburn employs Studio Z Chorus, homemade instruments (door harp, snake charmer, bowed psaltery, percussion), and field recordings (from St. Paul, Havana). It may help you understand the source of the sounds you're hearing in this piece, but won't even give a clue as to what it sounds like. It was composed for playback inside the St. Paul sewer system near the Mississippi River. Imagine a hot day, very hot; searing sustained waves of heat waft over you. There are the environmental sounds of a neighborhood- children at play, barking dog,and other ambient sounds, but this heat is overwhelming. Scrapes crunches of activity which could be interpreted as industrial effects and noise, but still these ringing heat drones resound in your ears. The pitch and intensity of the drones change as the piece moves forward. About 2/3 of the way through the intensity lessens, the pitch lowers and a somewhat calmer atmosphere prevails. That's the simple description (and a lot is left out) but what Blackburn is doing here is creating an environment unlike which any other you've heard. It's only an exercise in fortitude though if you don't have a cool beverage in hand, perhaps leaving you "partched".

"Stillpoint" is radically different. For this Blackburn employs Virtual Rhythmicon, an instrument you're probably unfamiliar with. Conceived and built in 1931 by Leon Theremin and Henry Cowell, the Rhythmicon was a musical keyboard instrument. Each key played a repeated tone, proportional in pitch and rhythm to the overtone series (the second key played twice as high and twice as fast as the first key. The third key played three times higher, etc.). The virtual one (made by Nick Didkovsky, of Dr. Nerve fame, in 2003) does all that and more, just without the whirring optical disc mechanism inside the wooden cabinet. The piece begins with a pitched, rapid tapping sound to which more pitched tapping sounds are added forming chordal layers, then a steady beat beneath. It's multi-percussive and polyrhythmic nearly developing into a groove with melodic aspects that occasionally turn dissonant. At times reminiscent of an old style alarm clock when certain higher notes play very fast and close together. At a point just past the four minute mark, accordionesque tones are introduced with the beat and rhythmic tapping still in tow, then eventually just the beat with the swirling of accordionesque tones which morph over and over with a longer envelope. For some reason this reminds me a little of something on Kraftwerk's 'Ralf and Florian' album without the krautrock aspect. There is a fascinating cornucopia of rhythmic impulse here, nearly hypnotic and constantly changing although the basis remains the same. At about 12:40 a light harmonic drone is introduced becoming more abrasive toward the end. Although the piece was interesting, I found it a bit overly long.

Finally, "The Long Day Closes" incorporates processed choral and orchestral segments of Handel's classic Largo "Ombra mai fu", from the University of Colorado VAPA/The Sun Palace chorus and instrumentalists, featuring Bob Paredes on clarinet. Imagine Robert Rich doing a drone piece sourced from classical music, and this might be what it sounds like. Every instrument and instrumental section, including the choral produces elongated, sustained drones that change over time throughout the piece, with some elements featured over others throughout its course. There is a false ending just before the 20 minute mark where it fade to silence briefly then returns again for its finale. The piece's source may be Largo, but this is beyond even Larghissimo, a place where no tempo exists. Musically, there is no resemblance to Handel's "Ombra mai fu" whatsoever, but that's what makes it interesting.

Philip Blackburn's 'Music of Shadows' won't please everyone, not even hard core ambient enthusiasts, but for those who appreciate ambient and experimental music with depth and dimension, it is an engaging and challenging listen.
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Artist: Post Industrial Noise
Title: The Official Anthology
Format: 12"
Label: Medical Records (@)
The music sharing blog, as a format for unauthorised redistribution of digital music, has fallen out of fashion - we may suspect for practical, rather than aesthetic, reasons. It is largely succeeded by more concealed and somewhat less efficient adaptations, within an ongoing and disorganised struggle, with which we are all familiar, between the protection of 'intellectual property' and the unobstructed and free distribution of information.
It is probably because of this particular issue that a blog such as Crispy Nuggets persists to this day. Its eager specialisation in forgotten and altogether obscure 1980s synthwave music leaves it well outside the cruising range of most of the net's digital rights trawlers. A lot of the music exposed by the blog takes the form of solitary 7"s and EPs that alone constitute their creators' entire discographies. Among other blogs, I tracked Crispy Nuggets with enthusiasm as a university student but somewhere between 2010 and 2011, forgot about it. Now I learn that it not only still operates, but has lately worked in collaboration with Medical Records to reissue this anthology LP by Columbus, Ohio ensemble Post Industrial Noise (henceforth 'PIN'), a trio that consisted of Robert Cruise Jr., Gerald F. Nelson and Dana Riashi Ritchley. It's quite an upgrade too, from the original cassette to a 180g gold vinyl beauty.

Martin Bowes at the Cage Studios seems to have been careful not to overdo the remaster, which definitely retains an authenticity to the production. Though the album falls beneath the familiar minimal/synthwave category, the dynamics of the songs are populated by pretty artful and experimental bits and pieces. Primary contents are often accompanied by numerous textural productions and sound design that hint at devotion to detail. The opener, 'Sketch', is introduced by a discordant modular patch a little reminiscent of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The track proper comprises a rustling hat-based rhythm, with a flylike buzzing lead and what sound like tinny guitar plucks. The vocals assume that pretty dated, theatrical style characterising the genre in the eighties.
Much of the album enlists similar combinations of tinny rhythms and sibilant lead synth. 'Survivalists' also employs a dramatic and seductive artificial string backing for the beguilingly nasal voice of the band's male singer (I'm unsure whether it's Cruise Jr. or Nelson). The combination is effective. Things get funkier at 'COTA City Sala', but it isn't until the following number 'Think' that the delicious, italo-esque nonchalance really comes out. Around that excellent beat is an ominous minor-key space populated by wonderful drones, sophisticated effects play and an angular, rubber-band bassline. Meanwhile, on main vocals, Richley contemplates the listener's existential disenchantment.

Perhaps Post Industrial Boys, a dry-witted electronic project helmed by George Dzodzuashvili (also known as a member of the Goslab collective) was a reference to PIN, who formed in 1982 and first released this anthology the following year. Besides the pseudonymous similarity, the two artists share a song title, 'Think', although there appears to be no resemblance content-wise. Coincidence? In any case, this reissue was worth the effort. PIN were doing clever and creative things with this album.
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Artist: Udo Schindler & Manon-Liu Winter (@)
Title: form & material
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
This is the second recording I introduce on this zine that the appreciated maximalist Portuguese label Creative Sources took from the vibrant house of Udo Schindler, after the one where his hospitable and brilliant owner met Austrian pianist Elisabeth Harnik, who performed on Udo's Pleyetl piano - already successfully tested by renowned musicians such as Hans Poppel, Masako Ohta, Katharina Weber, Izumi Ise and Alexa Montani - and it seems that it won't be the last release that came from his SALON fur Klang + Kunst for the aural pleasure of sonci diggers. Besides being a sort of intimate dandy place for experimental performers and musicians, Udo's salon is becoming a proper forge of fine soundscapes and the one he made together with another inventive Austrian pianist Manon-Liu Winter, who improvised a performance on 30th November 2012 after she accepted the invitation by Udo to join his salon after he got positively impressed by her performance with Franz Hautzinger at Kaleidophon Festival in 2009, is really amazing for the impressive versatility as well as for the bizarre techniques she tests in order to widen the performative and sonic possibilities of piano, which is evident since the opening track where the faintly feverish cadence of the first seconds suddenly turns into almost menacing smothered rumbles before sliding into a tricky delicate phrasing on the following track, which gradually twist along itself by getting a proper tonal tangle where Udo seems to do a series of ribbond by means of his soprano saxophone. The whole release is a carousel of musical suggestions, ranging from abstract meditations such as the narcotic fifth track to strange declensions of chamber music ("liudo 7", "liudo 4") and deviously eruptive moments such as the above mentioned second track till the wonderful final "liudo" where the seemingly exhausted performers manage to set a really breathtaking piece up.
Artist: Lost Tribes
Title: Solace
Format: 12"
Label: Avant! Records
There are, I think, three logically possible ways of combining electronics and punk. First, you can do punk and then use some synths to reach a certain sounds that you wouldn't be able to reach only with guitars. Many hardcore bands can have this approach sooner or later, and basically it depends on the fact that, while they're recording an album or an ep, in the studio there are some synths and they use it ('Ok well, to enrich our gloomy atmosphere, let's put some basic lines of organs!'). The result is usually nice IF THE BAND PLAYS GOOD PUNK. Conversely, there are bands who are completely into electronics music and they use some guitars to enrich their sounds. Consider for instance Alien Vampires: they do (horror) trance/ebm, but since Nysrok is also a talented guitarist here and there they make use of guitars. Nice result too. Finally, there are bands that combine hardcore guitars and electronics and they form a real hybrid: they play neither 'punk with some synths' nor 'ebm with guitars' but they play something else. Digital hardcore is a good case in point. I'm terribly sorry for this long introduction, but it was necessary to introduce this band called 'Lost Tribes' produced by the very good label Avant! Records. Lost tribes' 'Solace' is an album combining hardcore punk, with crust vocals, with some little tiny synths (some moog bass-like and pipe organs). And that's it. I don't see exactly why one should buy such an album if he is into electronics. I mean, this is a crust album (not particularly original) with some synths. I have the impression - probably I'm wrong - that this band is supposed to play the mix of electronics and punk of the third kind. But this is not the case. Therefore, I cannot rate this album since for Chaindlk is out of topic.
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Artist: The P-Project
Title: Gravities
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
One of the most interesting diversion from the already wide stylistical range that the maximalist Portuguese label Creative Sources has recently provided comes from The P-Project, a German quartet by Peter "Worringer" Alexius (guitar, loops), Joe Hertenstein (drums), Sebastian Gramss (double bass...but he prefers to call its instrument spacebass, that is to say double bass with sympathetic strings -!- on this occasion) and sound designer Joker Nies (raw electronics) as even if they recorded nine real time improvisations with no overdubs, each track sounds somewhat more groovy than most of the stuff that come from Ernesto Rodrigues' imprint and their grooves are somehow parabolic of course: the funniest voices on "Gravities", needless to say, are the ones that Joker Nies, hose personal sonic equipment includes modified Texas Instruments games or enhanced toy keyboards, wisely inoculates as its electronic entities squeak like mad lemmings on the elegant "Never Ending", sound like weirdly gurgling over the bluesy guitar by Alexius on "Sweet Like Trouble", catalyse caddywhompus progressions like "See It Coming" or ""Shock Proof", lights up the slyly bizarre "You Know I Was Alone With Her" and other gonky moments of the record, hack up electronic phlegm on the two parts of "Forgotten Hollow" just like an intelligent prank or the non-sense wit in a Kumbaya meeting!
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