Music Reviews

Artist: Jean-Michel Jarre
Title: Electronica 1: The Time Machine & Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
Format: CD
Label: Columbia
Rated: *****

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I've been listening to electronic music for 25 years and have been running this very electronic music magazine for 22 years, so when a pioneer of electronic music like Jean-Michel Jarre makes a series of albums called "Electronica" featuring dozens of guests from the early stages of electronic music to the new comers of the genre, it sure does certainly not go unnoticed in my book! Quiet the contrary!

"Electronica 1: The Time Machine" and "Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise" came out in late 2015 and early 2016 respectively and truly celebrate the entire span of growth and evolution of the elctronic music genre throughout the last 4 decades by bringing together the leading voices of the genre as well as some interesting artists that have differing degrees of connection to it.

Volume 1 features some true early visionaries of the genre like the amazing Laurie Anderson and Tangerine Dream, as well as mainstream names such as Moby, Massive Attack, Armin Van Buuren and possibly unexpected names such as John Carpenter, Lang Lang, Pete Townshend and various other really interesting artists (Boys Noize, M83, Air, Vince Clarke, Littel Boots, Fuck Buttons, Gesaffelstein).

Volume 2 re-invites some of the names from Volume 1 and then takes it to the next level with an equally stunning array of names, including Pet Shop Boys, Gary Numan, Yello, Jeff Mills, The Orb as well as potentially unexpected ones such as Primal Scream, Cyndi Lauper, Hans Zimmer and then so many others worthy of attention (Rone, Julia Holter, Peaches, Sébastien Tellier, Siriusmo, Chrisphe) as well as some truly unexpected ones like Edward Snowden himself (more on that later!).

The album pretty much is a who's who of electronic music history and stylistically ranges from dance-tracks to more EDM/EBM inspired tracks with a good balance of instrumental tracks and tracks that feature vocalists. Some of the vocal cuts flirt with pop in a way that is even chart-suitable. If you know the artists JMJ is collaborating with the listening experience will be some much more fun because you can truly recognize the character and style, or sometimes simply the unique voice, of the collaborator.

I recently went to a talk event that Jean-Michel held in NYC and found out some very interesting details about these albums. One thing that truly impressed me is that JMJ insisted on making it a truly collaborative effort, so this is not one of those albums made by sending files around the globe, but rather JMJ travelled to meet with all the artists involved to be in the same room with them and actually co-write/compose/arrange everything together. Needless to say it took years and many miles of travel to finish this record, all the more reason you should check out the fruits of his labour!!!

I spent about two weeks listening to these two albums at least 4-5 times each and I've come to the realization (something JMJ also touched upon in his talk event) that electronic music is truly timeless. Some of the guests on these album are in their 20es others are in their 60es and it's hard to "age" these collaborations if you don't know who's on the track you are listening to. You go ahead and try!

One of the guests that intrigued me the most was Edward Snowden, partially because he is the only non-musical guest of the album, but also because I am a huge supporter, fan and sympathiser of Snowden, of what he's done and what he stands for (being somebody who truly believes in freedom, transparency and justice and who put his life on the line for it). Snowden met JMJ in Moscow (a meeting that JMJ explained was facilitated by the Guardian and Snowden's lawyers) and JMJ interviewed him and used bits of that recording in a track, Jarre also mentioned (in the talk) that one of his close relatives was a political activist in France and that he closely identifies with Snowden's cause. He also commented on how this collaboration was very newsworthy in Europe but seems to have been largely ignored in the US... Such a pity!

I've asked JMJ what he thinks of the future of music creation and distribution and he theorized that one of the things we might see in the future is a collaboration with machines, a sort of music-ex-machina scenario, and he even mentioned that it might be the subject of an "Electronica 3" or "Electronica 4" album, so while I hope he will get to another "Electronica" volume before machines are fully capable of making music without human intervention, at least there is hope for more volumes to come...

Stay tuned!
Artist: Psycho Kinder
Title: The Psycho Kinder Tapes
Format: CD
Label: Alienated Records / Fonetica Meccanica (@)
Rated: *****
This release from Alessandro Camilletti, the mastermind behind this project, is the statement that synth pop is not a closed book even if there's some hint these days. The key characteristic of this release, from the codified code of the genre, is the focus on lyrics concerning the state of western civilization in times where people prefers to chat using social network rather to talk and try to change our society. For this project he collects a bunch of producers whose peculiarities doesn't break the stylistic unity of the record whose music is a support to the message.
The structure of "Stato Di Violenza" looks to the tradition of italian new wave without nostalgia. The melodic aperture of "Oltre Il Tempo" is the mirror to the experimentation of "Psycho Kinder" followed by the remix of "Vivo E Invisibile" made by Miro Snejdr who filters Camilletti's voice and so, for a moment, puts the message in the background in favor of the music. "Inviolabili E Sacri" blurs the border between art and life citing Leo (Giovanni Leonardi) in the text which is the author of the music. "With Usura" features a recording of Ezra Pound whose voice is present also at the beginning of the first track. "Viaggio Allucinato" is almost a break from the darkness of this musical journey with his upbeat. The Carnera's remix of "Il Tramonto Dell'Evidente", while being the finest at aural track, sounds sometimes too different from the rest of the release. "Essere" closes this release with an hypothesis of minimalism for the next record.
The constant level of songwriting is almost impressive and results in a release that could be enjoyed even by the casual listener if djs were more courageous than they are now. A coal turned into diamond.
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Artist: Atrium Carceri
Title: Archives I-II
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber (@)
Rated: *****
This new release from Atrium Carceri is based on the reworking of tapes and tracks from the past of this artist. Instead of doing the typical collection of outtakes or obscure track Simon Heath decided to create long tracks from this recordings, a sort of megamix borrowing a term from another genre and the result could be a sort of introduction to his work.
"Archives I" is focused on the cinematic side of this project as it shows all the small noises that evoke imaginary scene spaced out by fragment based on drones creating a menacing atmosphere. The first part of "Archives II" is based on melodic lines of great emotive impact flowing into a second part based on drones whose subtle nuances are better enjoyed using headphones.
Instead of being a mere recycling of outtakes, this album sounds almost like the development of the hints that this project is moving towards a complex musical structure based on melody from a complex audial spectrum based on drones. From this perspective the realistic foley sounds are not a trick to conquer the listener's attention but a mean to build a musical meaning creating a narrative with sounds. Practically, cinema for the ear.
Artist: Roman Leykam
Title: Ethereal
Format: CD
Label: Frank Mark Arts (@)
Rated: *****
According to the introductory words of this new output by Roman Leykam, "Ethereal" is an attempt 'to convey peace, serenity and the deceleration from the daily routine. The music offers the listener the opportunity to enter into silent communication with himself.'. Such an aim could implement the description of many second-hand new-age oriented release that you could even find in a supermarket till some years ago, but what listener are going to meet in Roman's music is something a little bit less commercial and easy listening. I won't say he walks on entirely unexplored musical pathways, as the most immediate stylistic link is to all those composers, who crossed that liminal zone in-between classical ambient music and the so-called kosmische musik. Besides any spiritual enhancement you can reach by its listening, the patterns that Roman explores on "Ethereal" are mainly driven by impressive outputs from guitars and synth-guitars, gliding over sonic waters that have often been too shallow for experienced musicians. I could mention the less convincing productions by solo-projects of former Tangerine Dream guitar player Edgar Froese, but Leykam tries to diversify it by occasional contamination with a more bluesy nuance. The primary defect of similar explorations is paradoxically related to the sometimes single-minded pursuit of a sonic clarity without any element of impurity, which could result in a dull listening experience for all those listeners who don't understand the technical tricks by which he managed to reach that sharpness. A gap which could induce some listeners to look for other strategies to escape from the above-mentioned daily routine.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: 1961-2014: An Anthology Of Turkish Experimental Music
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Sub Rosa (@)
Rated: *****
The series of anthologies, which followed the seven volumes of "An Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music" (released between 2000 and 2012) and the subsequent "Early Electronic" collection (focusing on tracks composed between the 50ies and the 80ies), keeps on expanding over the geographical ones. Following the surprising Anthology of Chinese Experimental Music, the title of this new one about Turkish electronic and experimental scene could be a little bit confusing as the only aged track is the opening one of the first cd, but the importance of its author go beyond Turkish boundaries. Such a temporal gap could be mainly explained by the fact that the interest in electronic music arrived relatively late in Turkey, thanks to the academic teachings by composers, who got in touch with electronic devices out of their native country and Bülent Arel, the composer of the above-mentioned "Postlude From Music For A Sacred Service" (1961), was one of those eminent expats. In reality, he just received many mouthwatering proposals from foreign countries, including the one by the Rockefeller Foundation, which invited him to join the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, and Yale University, where he projected and installed its electronic music laboratory and taught from 1961 to 1970, before being recognized as one of the most brilliant innovators of looping techniques. Another key figure of this almost unknown 'exotic' scene, lhan Mimarolu, the son of the notorious architect Mimar Kemaleddin Bey (a famous face on 20 Turkish lira banknote), moved to the USA after a Rockefeller Scholarship and studied at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center as well, under Vladimir Ussachevsky; his contribution to music, in general, is also related to his record label, Finnadar Records, his precious contribution to the OST of Fellini's "Satyricon" and his role in the release of "Changes One" and "Changes Two" by Charles Mingus and its experience in the field of soundtrack and contemporary classical music is evident on the evocative track that got included in this compilation "Prelude No.17 [Istanbul Fog]". The boom of electronic music occurred later both within academies and universities (Cenk Ergün, Koray Tahiroglu, Mehmet Can Özer) and the noise-oriented avantgarde (Mete Sezgin, Nilüfer Ormanl, Utku Tavil), but the Turkish experimental scene is more complex and opulent than many could imagine. This anthology, compiled by Batur Sönmez and Erdem Helvacioglu and split into two CDs, tries to embrace such a complexity and multifaceted scene. CD1 includes more 'academic' stuff that often get close to serialism and concrete musique, while the second covers a wide range of ambient music, samplers, and even stuff with references to political issues such as the impressive "Democracy Lessons" by Asaf Zeki Yuksel, the gorgeous abstract glitch ambient of "The Monopoly Of Victim Status" and the traditional folk-spotted "I Want To Be A Suicide Bomber" by Sifir, but I'm pretty sure that many listeners will get impressed by the broad stylistic range of this selection and the quality of these mostly unknown (to the masses) Turkish forward-looking musicians.
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