Music Reviews



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Artist: NHK (@)
Title: Program
Format: CD
Label: LINE (@)
Rated: *****
If you have ever asked yourself what could be beyond the so-called post-techno, you could find one of possible answers in the sonic rocky ridges that NHK, the brainchild by the experienced noise engraver Kouhei Matsunaga - the man behind the curtains of many similarly named different projects (NHK'Koyxen, Koyxen, Internet Magic, NHKyx) and former collaborator of Merzbow, Autechre's Sean Booth, Mika Vainio, Conrad Schnitzler, Asmus Tietschens, Jungle Brothers' Sensational and many other important sound artists - and the young producer Toshio Munheiro, explores on this interesting release on Chartier's LINE. Both the names of the release - "Program" - and the titles of the ten tracks - all of them have been titled by means of the shortening of channel ("Ch"), followed by their ranking on the tracklist expect of the ninth "channel" which got named "Ch10" - mirrors the fact that NHK is also the name of the notorious publicly owned Japanese national broadcasting organization. Most of tracks seem to crack simple house structures up by short-circuit currents which bring its building blocks to their embryonic stage, but there are some moments when a sort of anticlimax of these primordial electric entities surprisingly spring out such as the agonizing engine that resounds from the deep emptiness of "Ch4", the noisy wart that rises from the ticking time bomb of "Ch5", the entrancing vent-like floating noise on the mechanical pulsations of "Ch6", the vacuum-packed low-frequencies and the clipped infiltrations on "Ch8" or the cryogenic abstract-dub of the final "Ch10". NHK's entity could maybe occupy some recess of post-post-techno zone, but I think you could encounter life-forms even beyond this seemingly inaccessible place.
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Artist: Mark Vernon (@)
Title: Things That Were Missed In The Clamour For Calm
Format: CD
Label: 3LEAVES (@)
Rated: *****
Glasgow-based radio producer and sound artist Mark Vernon could forget sun tan lotion, underwear, socks, kleenex, the battery charger of his mobile phone or even his wallet in the luggage every time he goes somewhere, but listeners should hope he won't forget microphones and recorders. The title of this new release, "Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm", could let you think you are going to listen a sort of soundscape, but it's what most of listeners could match to the concept of travelogue or aural documentary or it could be rather described as an immersive jigsaw puzzle where he assembled many field recordings he grabbed during his journey in Sri Lanka. The portraits and the images he can project in listener's mind are very different so that your ear-drum could be suddenly immersed in amidst busy car traffic of Colombo streets and get conveyed in the middle of some crawling woodland. The place where he managed toi record what sounds like a distant club playing Bronski Beat around 23rd minute or how Mark's mics encountered some bizarre versions of Beethoven's "For Elise" in Sri Lanka will maybe remain a mystery, but this 54 minutes lasting sonic exploration of that remote place, which digged into the sound of Sri Lanka so deeply that his mics seem to have reached temples, markets, beaches and even automatic replies of telephone companies or Tv/radio broadcasting, is rich of really immersive moments that he masterfully reassembled in his studio.
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Artist: Braiden
Title: Apex of the Sun's Way / Solar Poise
Format: 12"
Label: Off Out (@)
Rated: *****
Berlin-based dj Steve Braiden finally decided to light (or rather blow out, it depends from listener's viewpoint) the first match of his personal label, Off Out, by means of a couple of very good tracks, where he wisely derailed two tech-house grooves and I can't say he didn't start the label off right! The somewhat mystical halo which got evoked by the title of first track "Apex Of The Sun's Way" got mirrored by an exciting race on an amazing rhytmical pattern which has been wisely lubricated by an eeriely overshadowed distorted melody, short metallic breathes, abraded vocals, bouncy clacks and dull vocals, while the flipside slips on the polarized dim lights, the electric bottlenecks, the lukewarm pulsations and the dynamic viscosity of "Solar Poise". He already announced he will set other upcoming fires on Out Off soon and this incandescent sparkle arouse positive expectations.
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Artist: PJUSK/Sleep Orchestra (@)
Title: Drowning in the Sky
Format: CD
Label: Dronarivm (@)
Rated: *****
Pjusk is Rune Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik from the west coast of Norway and Sleep Orchestra is Christopher Pegg from Derby, England. Both projects work in ambient/dark ambient minimalist soundscapes. The collaboration came about after a friend of Pegg's turned him on to PJUSK, and they met at Storung Festival in Barcelona where PJUSK was performing. From the small amount of works I've heard from these projects individually, this seems like a well-suited match for a collaboration. The impression you get from the CD cover - footprints over a cold, barren terrain of snow and ice, to a great degree describes the music on the CD. "Donitsk" is long crystalline tones over a hollow, pervasive ambient drone, snow in the wind, an isolationist soundscape to be sure. "Daithn" uses ringing tones akin to Tibetan bowls, a brush loop, little clicks and pops of noise, slowly echoed hammering, and an underlying drone. Towards the end the drones coalesce into something vaguely orchestral until it fades away. "Skdiv" is the most complex piece so far, with arrhythmic glitch, cold and melancholy pads, gentle noise washes, and a mournful trumpet (processed, of course) played by KÃ¥re Nymark Jr., like the cry of some primordial bird. It's a disconcerting atmosphere, to be sure! If "Skdiv" seemed disconcerting, "Aoleeignal" is even stranger, like visiting an ice cave inhabited by some of the weirdest creatures on earth, but maybe this isn't even earth! "Rionzemef" is awash in snowy shades of noise drones with an interesting array of ambient incidentals. A sort of glitch rhythm develops towards the end, almosty like some type of low key mechanical device. "Vansunbarth" is liquidy with the sound of rushing water. Light drones, incidental rhythmic, echoed glitch that ebbs and flows, a snippet of obscured dialogue, and later, an elongated, melancholy melody on an instrument I can't identify makes this a curiously enigmatic piece. The "Rionzemef" remix by Pleq (Dronarivm curator - Bartosz Dziadosz) is perhaps more fulfilling than the original. The differences are a less harsh ambience overall, more emphasis on the melodic sense of the ambience, the introduction of the glitch rhythm earlier, the addition of violin by Tomasz Mrenca, and a generally more placid feel. It is a little shorter than the original track as well. 'Drowning in the Sky' may be a soundscape best suited for the furthest reaches of Norwegian terrain, but lately here in upstate New York in the harsh cold of this seemingly endless winter, it seems appropriate as well. This isn't the kind of ambient music you just want to put on in the background and let your mind drift away; it might be appropriate for reading Jack London's wintery tales, or the like. Still, an incredible work, faithful to its concept, and brilliant in its chilling execution.
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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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