Music Reviews

Artist: Daniel Menche (@)
Title: Marriage Of Metals
Format: 12"
Label: Editions Mego (@)
Rated: *****
Almost simultaneously with the release of his album Vilke', Portland-based prolific (nearly fifty releases on his bandcamp and an almost uncontrolled growth of his discography are good evidences) sound artist Daniel Menche diluted his abrasive style with a deluge of sounds he grabbed from the studio of the Venerable Showers of Beauty, a Gamelan ensemble hosted at Lewis and Clark College in his hometown that fosters artistic and musical exchanges between Javanese and Balinese culture and Portland artistic community. The compatibility or I'd better call it the marriage between Gamelan sonorities and electronics that Menche succeeds in tempering and shaping is so full-blooded that you could think such an association cannot be but elective. The wide palette of gongs, including the gigantic 'Gong Ageng" with his remarkably deep sound, and metallophones, got processed and immersed into scorching and somehow restless sonic Styx over a couple of almost 20-minutes lasting tracks. The first act of this sonci concubinage started off with a padded peal and an abrasive sneaking flux, which gradually shroud the sonic space. Its mesmerizing charge got amplified by the supplement of slenthem which soon reaches the saturation level. On the second part of "Marriage of Metals", the order of appearance of sonic inputs has been inverted and the sound of slenthem is more recognisable, but the mesmerizing effect on listeners, which are going to lapse into the slightly corrosive and somehow lulling float, is likewise absorbing and cataleptically purging.
Artist: Stefan Gubatz (@)
Title: Distanz
Format: CD
Label: Telrae (@)
Distributor: Beatport
Rated: *****
A self-described 'lazy producer' from Cologne, Germany, Stefan Gubatz has done a few other things (a couple 10's, remixes, etc.) in the dub techno genre, but 'Distanz' is really his first album. The one-sheet (actually a three-sheet) that accompanied this CD was almost like a review in itself, describing each piece with commentary, but I'm not regurgitating that. I will mention that the album was the result of 'waiting room situations' (time spent stuck in airports and the like) but in spite of some ambient qualities has absolutely nothing to do with Eno's 'Music For Airports'. For one thing, there is a very active rhythmic component in the pieces of 'Distanz'. The first, 'Byte And Scratch' is mostly electronic, non-drumkit sounds, or at least electronically processed. You get hollowish flanged sounds in an engaging pattern with muffled bass pulse underneath. Rather minimal but also rather cool! The rhythm fades but the track blends right into the next, 'Cologne,' that does offer conventional drumkit sounds with a completely different rhythm. There is a dubby trip hop feel to this track (especially in the bass department), and although the basic idea remains constant, supporting elements add depth and space giving the illusion of motion and travel. Lots of use of echo too. If the last track seemed kind of dubby, 'Villa Nicht' is dub-central with a repetitive bass pattern playing the key element and other rhythmic elements and atmosphere added later. It sort of pulses like a funky heartbeat in the middle of a howling snowstorm. 'Vitamin' has a more active, snappier, upbeat rhythm, primarily electronic, or electronically processed percussion. 'Metal Worms' is on the dark, subdued, low-end side, except for the metal worms which snake in and out of the aural field. 'Offshore' is moody trip hopish nocturnal dub accented with noise pops. 'Slow On Ice' is a piece that resonated least of all the tracks on the album with me. It wasn't that slow, and I didn't get any impression of cracking ice. Maybe it's just the beat I didn't care for. 'Nord' begins with a thrumming rhythmic loop that sounds like alien machinery. Other percolating percussive elements are introduced seeming random at first but becoming more cohesive and eventually becoming the main rhythm. Synth string chords float in and out becoming all that's left by the end.

'Distanz' is a pleasant enough album. Though not exceedingly adventurous it does cover some interesting territory, and its charm might be more in not paying attention to it (absorbing it as ambient atmosphere) than intentional listening. Those who like minimal ambient dub with a smattering of techno inclinations are the most likely audience for Gubatz's excursions. Available primarily as a digital download with a limited (initially 100) amount of CD digipaks.
Artist: Geir Jenssen
Title: Stromboli
Format: 12"
Label: Touch (@)
Rated: *****
Mostly known for having been the harbinger of the so-called ambient-techno or arctic ambient and sonic herald of natural and cosmic energies under the guise of his stage name Biosphere, Norwegian musician Geir Jenssen has a strong passion for climbing. During these endeavours, he often collects sounds and field recording he pour into his records, which are sometimes strictly connected to this hobby: the most known release of this genre has been "Cho Oyu 8201m ' Field Recordings from Tibet", which provided sonic documentary evidence of the climbing without oxygen of Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world, he did in September-October 2001. This time he managed to reach the crater edge of Stromboli, an active volcano off the north coast of Sicily, also known as the "Lighthouse of the Mediterranean" as its frequent eruptions (one per hour on average) are easily visible from many points of the self-named island and the surrounding sea and famous in literature as Jules Verne set the final stage and the finish line of "Journey to the Center of the Earth". Geir climbed it three years after his last major eruption which occurred on April 13th, 2009 with full accouterments (a Canon 5D mkII SLR, a Fostex FR-2LE field memory record and an Audio-Technica AT835ST shotgun microphone) to grab the noises from this red-hot papule of our planet, which sound really striking not only for volcanologists. On the flipside, you'll also find a version, "Stromboli Dub", which remarkably differs from the ordinary idea of "dub", as Geir didn't add any drum, instrumental or "artificial" sound; he preferred to keep within the lines of original lava murmuring and sudden explosions by extracting a sort of natural rhythmical slow syncopation and emphasizing the "spatial" perspective of the recording by means of slight echo, reverbs and delay.
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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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, 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
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