Music Reviews

Artist: Ekra (@)
Title: Pills For An Ill Silly Heart
Format: CD
Label: Disques de Lapin (@)
Rated: *****
Ekra is the denomination chosen by Albireon's Davide Borghi for a project, which has been focused on personal memories by his own admission, a musical attempt to protect some moments of his childish and teeny moments from the dusts of oblivion. Guided by the titles acting as captions, plunging in the author's nostalgic reverie isn't so difficult for the listener so that this release soundscatchy in spite of lo-fi sound equipment, based on the combination of tubular sounds and voices recorded through a broken microphone, airy sonic entities coming from empty seashells (even if sometimes it reminded me that regurgitation coming from the bottom of a sink after when the last residue of washing liquids get swallowed), which amplify the feeling of melancholy, surrounding the whole release, by adding that light distorsion which renders the role played by time while bringing some images back, a sort of warping lens or filter in every mnemonical process or retrieval, the feeble lights illuminating those mental scene as well as that lukeworm melancholy staring after romanticized reminiscences and that vague feeling of withering, which could strike while in a spleen like it. Rhizomatic melodies which sound somewhat throttled become sharper when soul's eye focuses on well-defined images or mental pictures retrieved from memory such as in the affected reveries of "The Walnuts Still Dream Of Me" or "Catching Dragonflies On The Gravel Road", in the subtle teeny anxiety of "Chrysalis Crisis", in the disturbing chimes of "Your Face In The Coffee Grounds" or "A Pill For An Ill Silly Heart" till the final overflowing melancholy when that reminiscence dramatically gets mixed with a certain awareness of present time, whose nebulas look like pierced by some rays of light from an age of brightful insouciance as evoked by tracks like "Calling All Long Lost Friends" or "My Soul As An Inner Cloud". The general atmosphere of this record sometimes sounds close to some soundtracks of horror 70ies movies, imbued with the emotional strains of some cerebral ambient acts such as Todd Gautreau's Tear Ceremony, Tor Lundvall or Nightmare Lodge.
Artist: Erdem Helvacioglu (@)
Title: Timeless Waves
Format: CD
Label: Sub Rosa (@)
Rated: *****
At first blush, this release, commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary for The Morning Line - an interdisciplinary art project by Matthew Ritchie, Aranda/Lasch and Arup AGU - and premiered two years ago on the occasion of an exhibition at Emononu Square in Istanbul, could look like some academic offhandedness against some poetic vision about emotional world, a little bit like Roland Barthes' milling of lover's discourses, due to reference marks to a notorious text book by Professor W.Gerrod Parrott, "Emotions In Social Psychology", based on a similarity-sorting study of emotions, so that many ways for referring to different emotions merge into six aggregate (love, joy, surprise, anger, fear, sadness) after some tests, which have been reprised in the titles of the tracks by this Turkish composer. What Erdem Helvacioglu made in "Timelass Waves" is not a pretentious mapping of emotional world or an act of bumptious omniscence, as it's more correct to think about any track as sonic ganglions where many sketches are joined together in order to shape six emotional spheres, which are connected each other by trusses of neural connections and reticular bridges. In keeping with empirical methods which are normally followed for this kind of academic studies and in order to appreciate Erdem's musical skills, you can play a game: without looking at the tracklist, list the above-mentioned categories of emotions and try matching each track with one of them. I'm pretty sure you'll easily guess all matches and I'm certain most of you are going to appreciate sonic processing by Erdam of Togaman GuitarViol and Gibson Les Paul electric guitar as well as sonic acrocatics he imposes to sound frequencies by tapping into electroacoustic, concrete music, noise, drone and minimalism music territories.
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Artist: The Men Who Knew Too Much
Title: The Oppenheim E​.​P. (Vol 1)
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Diamondback Recordings (@)
Distributor: Diamondback Recordings Bandcamp
Rated: *****
"The Oppenheim E.P. (Vol.1)" is the debut release by Norwegian duo The Men Who Knew Too Much. It kicks off with "The Crossing", an ethereal electro instrumental, charming and menacing at the same time (and this controversy is what makes it special and very enjoyable!). Title track ("Oppenheim"), on the other hand, slows down the tempo and delivers some tough beats combined with dark, mysterious pads and an almost eccentric (but really fit) rap towards the end of the track. Ace! Release is concluded by the instrumental version of this funk "monster", an obvious (and welcomed) addition.
Strongly recommended EP, by a cooler than cool label: Diamondback Recordings. Available now at every fine digital store (but, as always, you should grab your copy via DBR's Bandcamp, to fully support my friend DBK who works sooo hard to bring us THA FUNK!)
Artist: Maggi Payne (@)
Title: Arctic Winds
Format: CD
Label: innova Recordings (@)
Distributor: Naxos of America, Inc
Rated: *****
Maggi Payne is a name that has popped up a few times on the Chain D.L.K. website but many readers/listeners may not be familiar with her and/or her music. I admit to being in the dark myself until I received this release. Ms. Payne has an extensive academic and professional technical music background - music degrees from Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, and Mills College. For ten years she was a recording engineer in the multi-track facilities at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills, where she is currently Co-Director and teaches recording engineering, composition and electronic music. She was a production engineer at a major Bay Area Radio Station for ten years and now freelances as a digital recording engineer and editor. She has had performances of her works throughout the Americas, Europe, Japan, and Australasia. She received two Composer's Grants and an Interdisciplinary Arts Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and video grants from the Western States Regional Media Arts Fellowships Program and the Mellon Foundation. She received four honorary mentions from Bourges, and one from Prix Ars Electronica, and was an Artist in Residence at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA. Perhaps one of the things that I found most curious about her was that she studied under Robert Ashley.

I am not familiar with Maggi's previous work or recordings, so this one stands on its own merit with nothing to bias me either way. Falling into the general category of ambient, perhaps minimal ambient, or isolationist soundscapes, 'Arctic Winds' is not a trip to the North Pole, but a set of discrete environments meant to evoke certain regions, landscapes or conditions. What is highly interesting on 'Arctic Winds' are the sound sources and how they were processed to evolve into what the artist envisioned, and the listener now hears. For those who have always been fascinated in the infinite possibilities and varieties of sound manipulation, 'Arctic Winds' should prove a revelatory experience.

The opening piece, 'Fluid Dynamics' sounds like a distant avalanche; washes and waves of rumbling low noise, along with wind. It later morphs into what I could only describe as an accelerated collapse. You would never guess the sound sources though- gas traveling through pipes, a water faucet, steel and brass ball bearing rolled across a wooden floor, a spare metal part rolling on a linotype machine, and the swaying of very thin brass sheeting, also a large steel ball rolling down tow strings of a small koto-like instrument. Of course you don't hear any of that because it was processed using phase vocoding, convolution, granular synthesis, equalization and extensive layering. As for me, I could grok the ball bearing rolling and maybe the gas pipes, but I find this astonishing, almost like magic.

And so it goes with other pieces as well. 'Distant Thunder' sounds similar to just that (well, maybe with some wet additives), but its sound sources are boiling tear water, resonant floor furnace and a little bit of adhesive tape unrolling. 'Apparent Horizon' initially sounds like a cruise across the stratosphere, but altitudes change from earthly to deep space to an environment that is just impossible to describe. It was incredible to discover that the sound sources in this piece were derived from Space Shuttle and Apollo transmissions, satellite transmissions and shortwave radio! (Oh, okay there was a brief span at the end of the piece where it sort of sounded like that, but not much.)

'Arctic Winds' utilizes dry ice and ball bearings rolling across drum heads to achieve its frigid environment. 'System Test (fire and ice)' is comprised of recordings of Jacob's ladders, ice melting and papers sliding against each other. (Tell me, what does melting ice sound like?) The result is a mélange of various waves of low frequency noise, sizzling and hissing sounds, deep rumblings, and ripping electronic zaps. There is a cyclical motion to this remarkably ominous piece. On 'Glassy Metals' Maggi explores the sounds of tungsten filaments in burned out incandescent bulbs, magnetic tape rushing across a head stack, small ball bearings, various sizes of ball chains, sheet metal tiny motor gears, bikes, the San Francisco subway, freight trains, and other metal objects. The sonic variety on this piece is amazing- it begins sounding like an insect typing pool, then a stuck alarm clock going off, a distant ringing, last gasps, a rotating lawn sprinkler on a summer night (that gets very loud and intense), and a wet and ringing wet wind with a rumbling rocket overhead. You just have to hear it. Final piece, 'FIZZ' makes use of the sound of a dysfunctional toilet and a recording of 'fizzing' provided by Ms. Payne's student, Alison Johnson. I suppose there is a certain element of fizzing to this soundscape, but there is certainly much more than that. It sounds quite vast and at times terrifying- like standing on the precipice of some ungodly high mountain while a hurricane swells on the horizon. The other half of the piece presents a calmer low frequency drone juxtaposed with the resonant zizzing of the fizzing. Wow!

I should mention that these pieces were conceived and created between 1996 and 2009, and I think there are, or have been, videos that accompany these pieces, but I haven't seen them. For fans of minimal ambient and isolationist soundscapes, this is almost as good as it gets, and that's quite good.
Artist: Lull & Beta Cloud/Andrew Liles (@)
Title: Circadian Rhythm Reconfigured
Format: CD
Label: Cold Spring (@)
Rated: *****
Have you ever been compelled to deal with keeping a vigil over baggage by some strike by airport's personnel, extreme atmospheric disturbances or Icelandic volcanoes? Have you ever experienced zombie-like condition during daytime for a bad jet-lag or strong occupational stress? If so, you could have experienced the malaise mentioned in the title of this release, the mildest one as the most serious case circadian or nycthemeral rhythm disturbances are related to worrisome sleeping sickness. Originally released on a 3" CD-R by Laughing Bride Media four years ago, this sonic pearl by Lull, the forerunning beatless dark project by that hyperkinetic musical genius of Mick Harris, who has been considered one of pioneer of the so-called Isolationist ambient music, and Beta Cloud, project of NY-based musician Carl Pace, who gained some respect in the scene since its catchy release "An Open Letter To Franz Kafka" with Aidan Baker ad for some interesting soundscapes in his album Lunar Monograph for its ability in setting field recordings in muffled drones and dark-ambiuent gelatins, "Circadian Rhythm Disturbance" is a 20-minutes lasting piece, re-issued by Cold Spring which assigned visuals to talented designer Chase Middaugh. It looks like a sonic description of what many insomniacs experience while they're caught by that disturbing hypothalamic sensation after a long period of sleep deprivation or chronobiological disfunctions, sonically represented by an oppressive drone where other sonic stimulations such as alerts, chatters, chirps, pulses, clicks, trafic noises and so on have been turned by a fatigued consciousness into something extremely upsetting, a sonic translation of yuppie flu or eyestrain, body temperature alterations, peevishness and other symptoms related to sleep disorders. The second track is a reconfiguration (or better...another toothpick...) by one of the most eclectic veteran of sound arts, Andrew Liles (Nurse With Wound), who tips over the sonic pelting so that it seems he departs from "inner" spaces (for instance the chattering which are in the beginning of the original version have been placed at the end of the track) by putting the emphasis on field recordings and gradually disturbing sonic hype, noisy streams (it's nice the transmutation of a notebook fan blow into an air-jet turbine engine!) and boulder-strewn sonic paths within narrow sequences of pulses, disquieting harpsichord arpeggios and chimes, matsuri-like hits, interrupted by random disturbing sonic sketches such as squeaks, clinks, newborn screams and...shhhh...babies are sleeping!
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