Music Reviews

Artist: Erdem Helvacioglu & Ulrich Mertin (@)
Title: Planet X
Format: CD
Label: Innova (@)
Rated: *****
'Planet X' is a collaboration between two highly renowned Turkish musician/composers ' guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu and violinist Ulrich Mertin. Helvacioglu's new-classical music has been called 'revolutionary', 'groundbreaking', 'luscious and unique' and completely arresting and disarmingly beautiful'. He's won numerous awards for his compositions. Mertin has worked with composers including Pierre Boulez, Gyorgy Kurtag, Helmut Lachenmann, and others. He's played with Ensemble Modern, musikFabrik, and the award-wining Hezafaren Ensemble, the leading contemporary music ensemble of Turkey. There is no lack of credentials between these two.

'Planet X' is a science fiction concept album. (Oh no, here we go'¦) From the back of the album cover: 'Without warning, a new object ' Planet X appeared in the heavens: a mysterious entity intruding upon a vast ancient system. Hailed as a paradise by some, an expeditionary force discovers instead that it represents a menace to human existence. Hunted by a superior alien intelligence an explorer is trapped and used as a test for the ultimate assimilation and extermination of humanity. This is the tale of his doomed fight, grasping for the last snatches of his soul.' Okay, I admit I like sci-fi as well as the next geek, but this smacks of shades of 'the Borg' from Star Trek, the Next Gen. 'Resistance is Futile; You will be assimilated!'

Be that as it may, this album isn't exactly what you might expect. It certainly wasn't what I expected. The music is Avant-garde, with a capital 'A'. On the first listen I couldn't make it all the way through. I opened my mind though thereafter, determined to not to be daunted by 'Planet X'. The opening piece is the title track, 'Planet X'. Besides some sonic rumblings, you get various kinds of string scraping, mournful viola and violin, snippets of guitar and other more spacey sounds. It's all rather abstract but for over nine minutes sets the tone for what's to come. 'The Hunted' sounds more like space music with sequenced electronics, tension guitar arpeggio, echoed drums in a martial rhythm, dramatic tremolo strings and other electronics.

'Gradual Annihilation of the Mind' is where things get really abstract ' squeaks, squeals, squalls from Mertin's playing, mad sawing, etc., and some banging. After some time Helvacioglu plays a simple minor key guitar ostinato. Nothing remains constant though as that morphs into something a lot more chaotic with strings gone wild and frenetic. It gets very, very noisy until just before the end when all that's left are a few fading guitar notes and some space ambience. 'Point of No Return' utilizes predominately reverse attack sounds (accordion?) with some guitar, and a little sonic seasoning with treated noise, and likely Mertin's violin (electronically processed) is in there somewhere. 'Elevation' is the shorted track at only 1:28 with a base of two heavily distorted bass notes and processed string, not much to this. 'A Particle in the Vastness of Space' sounds like it may have processed voice in it along with heavy slabs of treated and echoed noise. Mertin's viola returns playing an abstract doleful melody over these sonic rumblings as it increases in intensity then gradually subsides. Another transitional piece, 'Final Transformation,' nearly as short as Elevation' at 1:29 seemed to be just that; transitional as it builds with bellish sounds and rising mad-bowing string tension, then stops dead in space. 'Planet X' closes with 'Anima Aeterna' with a plucked viola phrase, slowly bubbling low bass, sequenced noise sweeps, processed distorted strings, more noise a really weird processed feedback riff and noisy percussion. The plucked viola phrase returns and is stretched through the vastness of space until it fades in the distance.

This is no easy listen. I can appreciate the work from a technical standpoint but the truth of the matter is, I just couldn't get into it. After the third time around I threw in the towel. You will probably like this if you're into Penderecki, Stockhausen, or Ligeti, all composers that I appreciated in years gone by, but seem to have lost my taste for of late. I doubt you will hear anything quite like this anytime soon. Challenging doesn't even begin to describe 'Planet X'. Maybe it's destined to become an avant-garde classic, but I'll leave that up to you to decide.
Artist: Rob Sparx (@)
Title: Babylonian EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Migration/NexGen (@)
Rated: *****
Another big little treat for your red-hot summertime comes from versatile UK producer Rob Sparx, who made the 8-bit spotted dubstep his Migration imprint (actually absorbed by US-based label NexGen) got famous for lay up for dub and reaggae roots by means of four impressive tracks. The strategies for this coalescence between dubstep and dancehall sonorities have been diversified: the most dub rooted one is the initial remake of a track by Symbiz Sound with Singin Gold on the microphone, which got wicked by bulldog shots and griming basslines, while the above-mentioned 8-bit sizzles spurt from "Look", second track of the EP, whose Rastafarian sparking rolls along a rising dubstep progression. Eastern melodic scents and ethereal female vocals blend in with Jamaican clouds on the following "Prayer For Life", which precedes another awesome lasso tightening around heart ofdub roots, that got pulled by Rob Sparx and MC Task aka Dubstitutes.
Artist: Jason Kahn (@)
Title: Open Space
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Editions
Rated: *****
I already spoke about the distinctive concept of composition by American Zurich-based musician Jason Kahn on the occasion of his release "Sin Asunto" for the appreciated Portuguese label Creative Sources, which involved four musicians in the musical translation of Kahn's graphical scores that "hover in the gray region between composition and improvisation" in Kahn's words. Some aspects could draw a possible analogy with Cage's aleatory music principles, but Kahn prefers to move on the threshold between free improvisation - as players can decide the way of translating graphic forms - and a set of rules for choral dynamics: his graphical scores are based on two parameters, time and intensity, which have been drwn on horizontal and vertical axes respectively. This sort of scaly time-line is the only permanent feature, whereas the composer put the interpretation of hyphens, clouds, swirls, crosses, circles, triangles, vectors and other symbols in the hands of each performers, who just know when to play and the intensity level on respective task time without knowing anything about the juxtaposition by other performers. Compared to the above-mentioned "Sin Asunto", Kahn conducts more elements (nine players including himself, the appreciated Australian pianist Chris Abrahams, Laura Altman's clarinet, Monika Brooks' accordion, Aemon Webb's guitar, Rishin Singh's trombone, John Wilton's percussions and electronics by Adam Sussmann and Matt Earle) on "Open Space", which got commissioned and performed on January 19th, 2012 at the now NOW festival in Sidney, so that the way the score inclunces dynamics is even more engaging, even if a large number of players came under request of Jason himself due to the fact he had to perform in a larger place. The final result and its charming dynamics will keep listeners stuck on headphones for more than an hour.
Artist: Foma (@)
Title: Open in Dark Room Only
Format: CD EP
Label: Ressonus Records (@)
Rated: *****
Foma is an electronic music project out of Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic whose basic members are Jiri Tilgner and David Rambousek. Rambousek also happens to be the founder of the Czech label, Ressonus Records. This little EP was sitting under a pile of weightier stuff I was sifting through to review and I thought, 'what the hell, give it a shot' and popped it into the CD player. From the title I thought 'Open in Dark Room Only' was probably going to be dark ambient. Not necessarily so. The first track, 'Do It Again' with vocals by Czech-Finnish vocalist Sonja Neverstop is industrial trip-hop dark and moody synthpop that was absolutely brilliant! Whoa! Did this ever catch me by surprise. Great voice for this kind of stuff and wonderfully creepy arrangement. An absolute winner. The following track, 'Muoviset Sankarit,' is a little more uptempo electro still with Neverstop's vocals, this time spoken/rapped in a language I have no clue what it is. Kind of enigmatic. 'Morass' is spooky atmospherics set to a minimal beat, but where is Neverstop? I miss her already! This must be the experimental side of Foma. It develops a reggae-like rhythm towards the end. Eh, don't know about this one. 'Dark Room' is the most experimental piece on the EP and I didn't care a whole lot for it. Although there are interesting sonic elements (electronics, field recordings, samples) the drum machine and organish synth chord progression I found to be rather boring in its plodding pace.

On the positive side, I get the impression that 'Open in Dark Room Only' is just a taste of what Foma is capable of. More songs like 'Do It Again' and I'll be hooked. (Please guys, never stop using Neverstop!) I'd be interested in hearing what Foma has up their sleeve for a full album. The release is available as a free download and also as a handmade, limited edition CD from Ressonus.
Artist: Tonikom (@)
Title: Found and Lost
Format: CD
Label: Hymen Records (@)
Rated: *****
As some may know, Tonikom is the project moniker of New York City based electronic music artist Rachel Maloney, and 'Found and Lost' is her most recent release since 2009's 'The Sniper's Veil' also on Hymen Records. Apparently the 2009 European tour for that album knocked the wind out of her creative sails for a while, but there's no question she got it back for 'Found and Lost' released in September of 2012. Yeah, I know, this review comes very late, nearly a year after the album came out but we're mega-backlogged here and we get to 'em as soon as we can; to put it in the faux-Latin ' 'beta laten evah'.

On first listen I didn't much care for this album at all, so I put it away for and worked on other reviews. Coming back to it though after a while with fresh ears and a new perspective, I found myself hearing the album in a whole new light. Another thing I noticed is that the CD contains a Haujobb remix (how on earth did I miss that??) I think the reason I didn't care for it much the first time was that it seemed scattershot and too diverse. 'Found and Lost' is really hard to pin down. There are all sorts of things going on here, with the music staying in no one (or two, or three, or even four) particular electronic music genre.

For the opener, 'Across its glass surface,' you've got percolating electronics, syncopated tap-dancing percussion, and a cute little melody with icy background ambience. Break-beating drum programming with gated and effected snare and wild synth electronics is the modus operandi of 'Along the rail,' but even that's not a complete description. 'Stumble' is a slower number that changes tempo and time signature within the framework of the rhythm track while spacey streaking synth pads hold down the ambience. 'Detector' opens with old-school modulated electronic oscillations, ethereal synth piano (and other supporting synth-work) before it hits its percussive stride with some snazzy breakbeat programming and heavily processed drum track. This track in particular is reminiscent of artists from the Tympanik Audio label. 'Eternal Internal' sounds like what you might get if you threw Kraftwerk, Knife Party, Delerium and Massive Attack into a blender ' simple melody, wobbling dub-steppy bass, ethereal chorus and a lot of moodiness. 'Hope' harkens back to early (but not too) early Kraftwerk for the simple melody line and electronics but the percussion is straight-ahead drumkit. Rhythm-wise it has a clockwork feel. 'Interlude' is a mish-mosh of all sorts of electronic weirdness and sonic effluvia in the beginning, but becomes dark, dense and lower frequency dwelling by the middle. An echoed brief spoken word sample shakes you out of your complacency toward the end.

'Orbit' is one of two pieces that employs a (broken, beat-up) piano Rachel found in the greenroom of a club in Rostock, Germany on the 2009 European tour. It sets the mood with its wistful melody. 'Lost to the Flames' reminded me somewhat of Haujobb once it got going, in form, progression and style. 'Insense' (redux) once again reminds me of instrumental Delerium, more for its feel and pacing than anything else. 'This is what she felt' is the other track that uses that Rostock club broken piano but not until the middle where it changes the entire mood of the piece from a pleasantly melodic mid-tempo piece with full rhythm to something more melancholy sans rhythm.

I have no basis of comparison for Angina P's remix of '29 degrees' (32 degree remix) not having heard the original, but it's rather rapid percussion programming (approximately 172 BPM) with wailing, moaning, slow pitch-shifting synth in the background, some brief sampled (female) dialogue phrases and a subtle bass and chord progression. It was okay, but nothing thrilling. Haujobb's remix of 'Detector' is a radical departure from the original turning it trance-techno with a pulsing fast sequenced synth pattern, a slower repetitive sequenced synth pattern and other electronic sounds out of the Haujobb tool box. The melodic theme is altered in both melody and instrument, from piano (in the original) to string synth. Also, the rhythm is accented with TR-808 cowbell, a sound I don't particularly care for. Although I liked some sonic elements of the remix, I liked the original better. (Sorry Mr. Myer.) Overall though, 'Found and Lost' is an interesting addition to Tonikom's oeuvre despite its unevenness, and IDM enthusiasts are sure to find worthy material here.
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