Music Reviews



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Artist: Alex Nowitz (@)
Title: Homo Ludens
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
A STEIM resident Alex Nowitz is an exciting European composer who is sure to become a major figure in new music. For the first release on his new imprint, Nowitz Records, he presents three major electroacoustic works on "Homo Ludens". Composed between 2003 and 2009 the music heard here focuses mainly on the composer's vocal acrobats and how he uses them to interface with live electronics. The result is an exciting blend of electroacustic madness that brings to mind Iancu Dumitrescu and some of Mike Patton's mid 90s vocal explorations (most notably "Adult Themes for Voice").

The first piece, "Sirenjentranen und Seelentone", is a tense and intense journey where overdubbed clarinets, bass clarinets, pianos, vocals and synthesizers takes turns in long sustained sections of brutal uneasiness. Shifting between pulsing & bubbling sounds and layered vocals "Sirenjentranen und Seelentone" moves perfectly to the next piece, "Musik fur einen Sanger mit Live-Elektronik und Zuspiel fur zehn Lautsprescher" which begins with truly psychotic and inspiring manipulated vocals that are utterly captivating. This piece also features extreme dramatic shifts in dynamics, a feat which Nowitz pulls off masterfully. By the time the strings and percussion begin to interact wit the live electronics Nowitz has created a sound world that is as exciting and terrifying as anything ever done by Iannis Xenakis.

The final piece on "Homo Ludens" is entitled Angelus Novus, Nr.2, which brings the attention back to the composer's voice. An explosion of color Nowitz once again utilizes overdubbing and live electronics to exploit and showcase his entire vocal range. From percussive pops to throat singing, screeches to low drones Nowitz creates a rich sound environment that will leave the listener scratching their head and smiling at the same time.

Like his fellow STEIM resident, DJ SNiff, Nowitz is at his best when creating fully immersive music that makes the listener's head swirl. With "Homo Ludens" he's done just that.
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Artist: Nadja/Aidan Baker (@)
Title: White Nights/Drone Fields
Format: 2DVD
Label: Beta-lactam Ring Records (@)
This one took me a while to review partly because what we have here is almost 6 hours of music recorded at two live performances. Unlike other sets, this one had visuals, so I couldn't engage in my typical review process listening to them on my commute into work or doing other work. After all, who has three hour blocks of uninterrupted time these days? Anyway, on to the music. First off, I'll let you know how the press release describes this set: 'this in-home installation is the ultimate video aquarium for the acid-minded. Baker's thrum-scapes lay back and patiently coo mantras something akin to mid-period Nocturnal Emissions or Vidna Obmana, while spectacular visions wend and squirm from the absolutely abstract to hi-def nature photography, all to blissful affect. Some footage oozes out and away, like Cocteau Twins albums come to life, while other footage juxtaposes layers of treated imagery ala Derek Jarman experimental films, or early Cabaret Voltaire Doublevision videos. The pieces are so beautifully mixed, often taking field footage and slowly tweaking colours, definitions, focii into indefinable splashes and spectrums. Smoke, fire, clouds, oil, water, glass, humanity and its relation to light and movement are manipulated in a million wondrous ways, matching Baker's epic garden music drone for drone; loop for loop; god for god.'

For the Aidan Baker disc, the imagery does mesh well with the music. The drones are soft and slowly evolving. This is one of the benefits to having something like a DVD of the music rather than a standard 80 minute CD. One of the chapters on this disc (yes, it is mercifully broken up into chapters) would consume an entire disc on its own. What many seem to like about drone music (myself included) is the ability to really immerse oneself into a track. The music is wonderful, but with Baker at the controls, did we really think that it would be otherwise? Visually, however, it becomes a bit less engaging. Perhaps part of it is in the way we are wired, but slowly evolving music is considerably more engaging than slowly evolving visuals. Watching what seems like rain falling onto a window makes it hard to maintain one's interest. There were some interesting elements, such as a segment where everything began to be filtered into a kaleidoscope, with increasing levels of abstraction. Some chapters seem to tell a story, while others simply focus on textures and light. For example, the view from a plane over frozen forests was nice, but eventually it began to feel like I was just looking out of a plane window on a flight. Perhaps this could be used for a much cooler Baby Einstein kind of thing ' Baby Drone, perhaps ' because the music is soothing and the visuals are likewise peaceful. My 3 month old liked it.

Musically, the Nadja disc takes a slightly different track from the Aidan Baker disc, with a bit more dissonance and a bit noisier. The imagery is also a bit different, with a bit more realism to it rather than completely abstract. Once again, the images work well with the music. For example, you get the sense that you're in the subway as the train rumbles by. Still, everything is processed into a hazy, dreamlike vision. Then again, so is the music, so it all works out. This one is a bit different in that we actually do occasionally see the artists mixed in with the visuals, making this more akin to the traditional concert footage. There are interesting video segments, such as the person beating a pig to serve at a wedding (according to the liner notes), but some fall pretty flat. For example, the last 25 minutes is simply a clock counting down the time to the end. Good thing that the music was pure Nadja awesomeness.

In short, if you are getting it for the music, you will be quite happy. After all, you are getting the equivalent of 4-6 albums worth of music for an excellent price. If you were hoping for an actual live performance where you see the artist, you will not get that here. The visuals were nice, but it is difficult to make 6 hours of abstract imagery engaging. I often found my mind wandering or looking elsewhere, but then again, maybe that's the point. I have to mention that the method of depicting chapters was pretty cool, with a slice of the imagery used to depict the tracks. This set weighs in at almost 6 hours. Did I mention the 6 hours of music?
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Artist: ANNI HOGAN
Title: Mountain
Format: CD + DVD
Label: Cold Spring (@)
Rated: *****
MOUNTAIN is the newest Anni Hogan album and it gives us the chance to check some of her new music after the 2009 double CD reissue 'Kickabye'. MOUNTAIN is a particular project that sees Anni collaborating musically with Robert Strachan and Itchy Ear. What is its peculiarity? Well, musically Anni performed on her piano some tunes which Itchy Ear manipulated on pre-production and then Robert Strachan re-imagined and remixed. The final result is that the thirteen piano pieces now sound expanded and reinvented. Let me try to explain: you can hear that the main instrument is a piano, but under the main chords and melodies you hear many other sounds that create a spacey ambient and a sidereal effect. These sounds have been created manipulating the piano tracks created by Anni and they are able to bring you on a trip to the top of the Everest. Tracks like 'Sunburst' will make you feel the skin ice burned while the following 'Altitude' will make you tremble because of the wind like noises. Now that musically you have an idea of how it sounds, let me explain what there is behind this project, because this isn't only a musical disc, it is an hybrid CD/DVD disc that on the DVD side has a documentary by film maker Bob Wass and filmed by mountaineer Cathy O'Dowd during her Everest expedition. She also performed a spoken word comment on the track 'Deathzone', describing what she felt during that experience: fear, struggle and despair are there in front of you, bare naked. That track is the only one to have also a sort of rhythmic pattern and it ends into a dramatic crescendo. Five out of thirteen tracks have been used as soundtrack to the thirty minutes documentary and I have to tell you that the musicians (whom have composed the music taking inspiration from the O'Dowd visual material and from Rene Daumal's 'Mount Analogue') did a great job and now you won't imagine a better way to support those shootings. You'll see the majesty of Himalayan Mountains as well as the nature's power during the footage of the snow covering the tents while the wind blows'¦ it was always blowing, helping the sun to burn the noses even more. Fascinating'¦
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Artist: FLAMINGO DRIVE FEAT. KRISTINE
Title: Strange World
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Mullet Records (@)
Rated: *****
Mullet Records is digging in the vaults of 80s synthpop music and found "Strange World", song used on the "The Breakfast Club" soundtrack. Flamingo Drive with Kristine on vocals, are giving their version and the lovers of the Sembello/ Moroder sound will die for this song which here is presented in two versions ("Radio version" and the "Full Length Maxi Mix") and two remixes. Someway the rhythms recalls me the mose famous track of the "Flashdance" soundtrack, but melodically "Strange World" is quite different. It has funky guitars a tight synth bass arpeggio, dreamy pads and nice leads with the charismatic Kristine vocals. This is a hit of the past that will please many fans of that sound which, like me, didn't know the track. The first of the two remixes is by FM Attack. They opted for a new wave approach and now the track sounds like a The Cure tune coming from "The Head On The Door" period. The second remix is by Estate and they gave to the track a retro electro flavor with nice drums, in levare bass lines and dreamy leads. Nice single!
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Artist: Solvent (@)
Title: RDJCS5 EP
Format: 12"
Label: Suction (@)
Rated: *****
In my life, I've met many spendthrift fetishists who rival with other compulsive bidders to pursue the knocking-down for many bizarre objects, often with no real value in use and consequently overpaid, just because they belonged to some famous figure. I've nothing to complain about it to be honest, but I wonder how many people waste money just to stock them in a dusty showcase or inside a trunk whenever they change furniture. You should know that there's a considerably huge market for used musical instruments, where you can even buy off-key guitars, cracked organs or nibbled plectrums for a huge amount of money, which can be just redeemed with some certificate of authenticity, bearing witness to its previous famous owner (it's sometimes reccomendable to check fingerprints if the auctioner didn't wipe them out indeed!) ...well, many people are persuaded that a portion of the creative wit can be ideally engraved in the object he used, a sort of hallmark of the genius! Maybe Solvent's friend who spent $1200 for an old Yamaha CS5, owned by Richard David James aka Aphex Twin, being seemingly part of the audio equipment for Selected Ambient Works Vol.II (as it's explicitly mentioned in the linear notes of that great record) could have justified his purchase at VEMIA auction - acronym for Vintage Electric Musical Instrument Auctions, a private auction held twice a year where you can buy a lot of instruments, previously played by notorious musicians - after such a deduction, as it's quite difficult to admit it was a good bargain, as some friend of mine bought the same instrument for half a price (or even less) from some obscure repairer's workshop, even if on the occasion of another famous VEMIA auction, some anonymous bidder bought an EMS Synthi from Brian Eno for just £16.000! By the way, this guy had at least the good idea to entrust this glorious machine to a skilled friend, Solvent, who managed to create an EP, he entitled RDJCS5 - RDJ are the initials of Richard D.James -, where he gives a demonstration of his compositional skills in assembling 4 nice electro tracks in spite of the limits of this little synth. Most of them, particularly Radiator and Tassels, remind some pieces of sound artillery on AFX's Analords, while the first one, Curtains, could remove the dust from some musical memories related to the very first tunes by Bochum Welt or even some "lighter" tracks by Lowfish for the "dadaist" insert of an atmospheric programming of the oscillators. If you decide to buy the 12" vynil limited edition, you will also find a bonus track, entitled Sandpaper, which is a sort of drone a lot of djs are going to enjoy. A nice release which could persuade you to lend your dusty music machines to Suction's studios!
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