Music Reviews



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Artist: Barry Schrader (@)
Title: The Barnum Museum
Format: CD
Label: Innova (@)
Rated: *****
Although I've never heard of American electro-acoustic composer Barry Schrader before, he's been around for quite some time (since the 1970's) garnering much critical acclaim for his work. Schrader began composing electronic music in 1969 while a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was also organist for Sunday high mass at Heinz Chapel, thereafter going on to California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, where he received an MFA in composition in 1971. He was appointed to the School of Music faculty of CalArts in 1971, and has been on the composition faculty ever since. Schrader is the founder and the first president of SEAMUS (Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States) and has been involved with the inauguration and operation of several performance series such as SCREAM (Southern California Resource for Electro-Acoustic Music), among other things.

Obviously since I haven't heard of Barry Schrader before, I haven't heard any of his previous work either, but I was certainly intrigued by the title of the album. 'The Barnum Museum' to me conjures the world of the showman, huckster, and all manner of oddities. Barnum's American Museum was quite a place in its time (1841 ' 1865) where for a quarter you could experience a wide variety of strange and unusual people, things, and events, but this work by Schrader is not about the actual museum but rather the short story titled 'The Barnum Museum' by Steven Millhauser taken from his book by the same title. The short story 'Eisenheim the Illusionist' on which the movie 'The Illusionist' was based appears in the same book, for some frame of reference if like me, you haven't read Millhauser. From what I understand about Millhauser's Barnum Museum story is rather an extended fantasy, described as 'a fantasia of a vast and magical institution that adapts to the desires of its visitors.' In that description Schrader seems to be on target with his tone poems that delve into Millhauser's ideas.

Nine pieces comprise Schrader's 'Barnum Museum,' ranging from Grand Guignol to the sublime. The beginning, 'The Romanesque and Gothic Entranceways' features demonic then placid pipe organ, a medieval march, and culminates in a reprisal of the demonic pipe organ theme in a tumultuous ending. 'The Hall of Mermaids' is liquidy mystery, sometimes light and celestial, sometimes dense and heavy. 'The Caged Griffin' radiates a strong and regal presence, then shifts into rhythmic tension causing trepidation, finally calming at the end. 'The Subterranean Levels' begins with descending arpeggios followed by a steadily persistent muted clacking or chaking, possibly the sound of machinery in the chambered depths. Of course, the subterranean levels sound very'¦subterranean! Not that there is necessarily anything very evil down there, but all manner of oddities and unusual things seem to lurk within, including some absolutely haywire machinery. 'The Flying Carpet' certainly gives a sense of airy motion without the use of any percussive rhythm, simply by swirling oblique arpeggios mixed with drones. It's a rather interesting form that the composer employs here, using slight underlying minor themes to add an air of mystery. There is much more depths to these layers than you are likely to catch on the first listening. Where 'The Flying Carpet' had no definitive rhythmic element, 'The Homunculus in a Jar' begins with a rhythmic wooden xylophone-like synth sequence, but is quickly abandoned for a swirling, dense atmosphere that morphs into a machine-like drone, then back to a different, more intense wooden xylophone-like synth sequence. I'm reminded somewhat of Harry Partch here. 'Chinese Kaleidoscopes' has a clattering of glass-like sounds and similar sequenced synth timbres utilizing pentatonic scale which increases in swirling intensity, and eventually density until it is absorbed by pipe organ grandeur. A metamorphosis occurs and the spinning kaleidoscopes reflect a thousand butterflies, or, so I envisioned.

Schrader's piece de résistance in this strange menagerie is the phantasmagorical 16+ minute piece de résistance 'Chamber of False Things,' which is comprised of 'Porphyry Figurines from Atlantis,' 'Golden Cups from El Dorado,' and 'Water from the Fountain of Youth.' Whatever there was previously, there is even more of it in here. The minor three chord theme from the beginning is reprised; there is more descent and opening into vast space; toots of a calliope; dark and ominous drones; a march-like percussive section on hollow wood; glittering fairy dust falling from above; more swirling arpeggios, culminating in a crescendo of the great pipe organ again. Awesome!

Words fail in these descriptions as this is something that you just have to hear. I don't know whether Schrader succeeded in capturing the flavor of Millhauser's short story, but he did succeed in making a most enigmatic and intriguing soundscape. 'The Barnum Museum' should appeal to steampunk aficionados too. I'm giving this album five stars not only because I because I think that it's an amazing work, but also because it's intriguing to enough to warrant multiple plays, and I don't see how it could be any better.
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anymore
Artist: Veil Of Light
Title: Veil Of Light
Format: Tape
Label: Belaten (@)
Rated: *****
Most of the people who has releases out on Belaten are quite mysterious and usually give very few informations about themselves and Veil Of Light is one of them: the only thing I know is that it is a one man project from Zurich, Switzerland. Taking its name by the Sufist concept that the idea that someone can be so convinced of their own inherent goodness they believe they're entitled to do and get away with anything simply because of their good intentions (as wrote on www.dailygrail.com), Veil Of Light on their debut tape are releasing six tracks that mix new wave, shoegaze noisy guitarism (check the guitar feedback which reaches almost the pink noise form) and goth. Sometimes it recalls me the Soft Moon (but a bit less catchy to my ears) for the use of unintelligible vocals and for the overall atmospheres. Guitar arpeggios, synth pads used here and there, obsessive bass lines are the main elements that will make feel like home to the lovers of nowadays cold wave sound. Check it here http://belaten.bandcamp.com/album/veil-of-light
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Artist: Snog
Title: Babes In Consumerland
Format: CD
Label: Metropolis (@)
Rated: *****
If you really think that Rammstein embody the highest expressive peak of musical criticism against consumerism, pop culture or whatever let you think they could be agit-prop just because they discommode firefighters, electricians, model agencies, porn producers and German interpreters, you could revise your personal rank with better-informed agitators like talented and evergreen Australian music agitator David Thrussel aka Snog, who manages to stuff his songs with high-quality electro samples and wisely provocative lyrics. We already introduced an appetizer from this great album, the potential forthcoming and definitively more suitable (more suitable than The Star-Spangled Banner...) American nathional anthem in the light of recent establishied spy stories or a potential hymn of forthcoming NWO empire "Everything Is Under Control". All its (many) literary and cultural references are exhaustively explained in linear notes by Alvin Lucia, who wisely introduces Snog's mastermind as the harbinger or, to use his own words, one of the torchbear of 'conspiracy-pop', whose critique cannot but "emerge from the margins, the 'outsider' as shepherd or protector of the bewildered flock, in an overtly stygian and wolverine landscape" and refers to his fictional gender evolution - you could listen to songs like the one he tributes to Otto Rahn to understand what he means... - by linking it to the evolution oh fis sly poeticism and polemicism: "Though (arguably) never more strident as a lyricist, this recording presents an uncharted minefield of pun, punditry and literary allusion. A gaudy, glib and sexually undelineated Oscar Wilde posing mischievously as a street sweeper, while nocturnally inscribing the great novel. A novel that, through no accident, describes exactlyt where we are. Here. Now. Lost. (Almost) alone.". From the musical viewpoint, "Babes In Consumerland" sunds closer to albums like "The Last Days Of Rome" (2007), but Snog's stylistical globules, focusing on a rocking and highly danceable electro structure with emoblism of techno clots and amazing and ironic hints to pop music bubbles which could cause hysterical giggles, enhanced by the usual unsparing sarcasm as well as by a plenty of contributors such as Atom TM (PS3100), Felix Kubin (MS-20), Ash Wednesday (former collaborator of Einsturzende Neubauten playing on his AKS), Australian guitar player John Justin Stewart aka Ad Astra and The City Of Prague Philharmonic Choir. I could mention the French-pop quotes while he repeats "have you sucked some cock today" on "The new cocksucker blues", which is less pornish and more meaningful than you can guess, the proper mocking of dark-oriented oc/cultists which mainly feed their beliefs on Internet by the bittersweet funny song "Soul Invictus" where he vaguely quotes darkwave and witch-house sonorities on epiphanic lyrics, which for instance say "Oh the Internet/Will not save your life/There's no respite/Despite/The hype...Automatic masturbation through a wire/Why do you not tire?/Of perpetual stimulation/The knee-jerk infomercial orgams"), the iconic and ironic ode to pessism in fashion dynamics on "Bleak Is My Favourite Chic" and so on. Snog's sarcam spits more fire than above-mentioned Rammstein and I could say "Babes In Consumerland" is maybe its ripest fruit.
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Artist: Jean-Luc Fafchamps (@)
Title: YZ3Z2Z1S2, a Five-Letter Sufi Word
Format: CD
Label: Sub Rosa (@)
Rated: *****
Even if Belgian pianist and composer Jean-Luc Fafchamps is neither a Sufi, nor a Muslim and there's any properly esotheric purpose behind this sonic research, he drew inspiration for his Sufi Letters from the Jawahiru'l Khamsah, an old table by Sheikh Abul-Muwwayid, which linked the 28 letters (even if according to some essaysts they're more than 28) to a plenty of symbolic meanings, which he tried to translate into music by a potentially monumental collection of suites for each letter of this mysterious alphabet. Such a bizarre methodology and compositional pattern Monsieur Fafchamps is working on by developing an impressive network of cycles, a proper stylistic rhetoric and correspondences between instruments and letters (T for ensemble and electronics, K for orchestra, A for ensemble and orchestra, Z3 for trombone and electronics, and so on) could sound partially unrealistic, a sort of capriccio inspired by a passing fancy where this composer channeled his past and present interests for alchemy, arithmetic and arcane knowledge, but the fact this composer takes this sonic research seriously is clear from the circumstance he's working on it for more than 13 years. I'm not sure about the underlying relations between compositional aspects and all the intricate matters (the names of Allah, the attributes of divinity, the so-called jinn, zodiac, planetary movements and so on...) embraced by the above-mentioned mystic treatise, but the melodramatic plot of these five suites which got performed by Jean-Marc Sullon and Ensemble Ictus seems to go beyond a pure combinatorial game as it is clear not only from an "ear response", but also from the explanation of the composer: "The pieces are written for different instrumentations, according to the needs of the selected letter and the vagaries of life, and the global project is not a priori unified. On the contrary, the unit proceeds from the work method itself, from the inclusion in the moment, the lack of resistance to accidents and digressions, the return - years apart - to the same obsessions, etc., instead of a general preconceived design. [...] These letters are channels of transformation. anything is likely to appear in it, to naturally emerge from the playing and the transformation taking place. The thing taking shape seems to have a life of its own, to evolve adrift.". The five "letters" of this second chapter of this research smells of life by means of labyrinthine itineraries, sudden accelerations, dust devils, bolting harmonies and perfect intertwining of instruments and electronics, winning rolls of heavy accents - I found remarkably engaging the ones on "Z1" -, emboli on the musical score where sometimes recurring tonal sequences got entangled by sudden sonic spurts and gripping dynamics, which often resembles mixtures of film-music or "contemporary classic" stuff by Berio, Lygeti or Cage (particularly the suites "Y" and "S2"). It could be equally considered a brain-teaser for students and academics of composition and an engaging listening experience for listeners who don't really deal with more technical matters.
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anymore
Artist: German Army
Title: Burushaski
Format: Tape
Label: Belaten (@)
Rated: *****
Coming from Los Angeles, German Army is a very active musical outfit of a mysterious entity which on the last couple of years have produced twelve releases of which "Burushaski", released on tape by Belaten, is one of the latest. "Burushaski" is a language isolate spoken in northern Gilgit'Baltistan, Pakistan and, chosen as title, seems to indicate a sense of isolation and difficulty or a will to avoid the communications with the globalized world. The music of the nine tracks of the album oscillate from synth post punk catchy tunes ("Stone Walls") to minimal synth industrial experimental collages of melodic sounds and treated vocals/samples ("Mirror Analyst", "Breaking The Head", "Express Rate" or "Clan Bride") where obsessive drum machine beats mark the rhythm of a obscure ritual. Check and buy it here http://belaten.bandcamp.com/album/burushaski
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