Music Reviews

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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