Music Reviews



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Artist: Zoë McPherson
Title: String Figures
Format: LP
Label: SVS Records
Zoë McPherson offers up a 7-track (sorry, 7 “chapter”) mini-album that blends together moody digital electronica with organic found-sound elements, emotive vocalisations and multilingual whispered spoken word layers, rumbles and atmospherics. A variety of natural-sounding and geographically broad percussive rhythms (mostly contributed by Falk Schrauwen), occasionally underpinned by soft techno patterns, quietly keep things ticking along without ever wandering to the forefront.

Throat singing has arguably become one of the clichés of experimental music in the same way birdsong has become synonymous with ambient, so when the press release opened with a description of the field recordings of Inuit throat singing, I feared it would be entering that cliché space- but it doesn’t at all. The throat singing is just one element, often used as a substitute for dark electronic bass almost, and certainly not the general highlighted feature.

Longer pieces like opening track “Sabotage Story” have their own internal unfolding progressions, as layers come and go, sometimes purely atmospherics, sometimes harder and more percussive. In the latter half of the album shorter tracks are more single-idea affairs like the gentle pseudo-harmonica (or possibly actual harmonica) of “Hardingfele.”

It’s richly-toned, introspective, sombre electronica with a few quirky twists that don’t break the sincerity. It maybe falls between several stools in terms of purpose and effect to the listener but it’s undoubtedly an interesting listen.
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Artist: SDH (Semiotics Department of Heteronyms)
Title: Tell Them
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Avant! Records
“Tell Them” is a strong, hard-edged set of three synthwave pop tracks hailing from Barcelona. Slightly industrial-tinged synth basses and pads and crisp, simple drum machine sounds roll with a decidedly dark streak while Andrea P. Latorre’s reverb-laden, quite Chrissie Hynde-esque vocal rides on top at what feels like half-speed compared to the quite high-energy instrumentation.

There’s good songwriting here, the title track and the slightly dreamy “Abandon” being the highlights, making extensive use of the device of repeating lyrics into mantras rather than writing too many words. “Blind Guide” is the obligatory ballad, which is a decent bit of synthpop but doesn’t feel particularly accomplished, with a more demo-like feel than the first two tracks.

A solid statement from Semiotics Department Of Heteronyms that’s more accessible and poppy than their artist name and artwork may suggest, and if an SDH album appears I will definitely check it out.
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Artist: Park Jiha
Title: Communion
Format: LP
Label: Glitterbeat / tak:til
For her first solo album after some success as part of the duo [su:m], Park Jiha brings her classical training in traditional Korean instruments like the oboe-esque piri and the mouth organ-like saenghwang into strictly modern and avant garde compositions and arrangements. Some of the instrumentation is so unusual-sounding that it’s natural to assume it’s synthetic, but apparently it’s all authentic, albeit very far removed from what may traditionally have been intended.

Initially these arrangements are generally bold, featuring relatively few layers of instrumentation and with a predilection towards loud, strong tones that give everything a purity and clarity that’s generally very strong. Opening track “Throughout The Night” is underpinned by some urban atmospheric noises, but pieces like “Accumulation Of Time” live in their own independent and reverberant space that gradually builds from solo performance through to near-cacophony.

The second half is more plaintive generally. “Sounds Heard From The Moon” is a more conventional piece that may (pardon my ignorance) be performed on the yanggeum (hammered dulcimer), and pairs well with the introspective “The Longing Of The Yawning Divide”. “All Souls’ Day” is a little quirkier in tone, while the saxophone (?) on last track “The First Time I Sat Across From You” has more than a shade of lost-love jazz about it.

The first half of this album is vigorous and energetic, attention-seeking performance that brings something genuinely fresh to modern classical, and while the second half isn’t quite as notable, it’s still a very strong package that ought to bring Park some new attention.
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Artist: Christian Zanési
Title: Grand Bruit / Stop! l’horizon
Format: LP
Label: Editions Mego
The Edition Mego mission to re-issue old experimental electronic works from Groupe de Recherches Musicales continues with the release of two slightly disparate 20-minute-ish works from Christian Zanési.

1991’s “Grand Bruit” is a luscious and bubbly work of electronic pulses, synthetic bell sounds, tweaks and enhancements that reminds me of parts of Jimmy Cauty’s “Space” work. It exhibits tones that reflect the growth of ambient at the time and seem to parallel the proper trance music of the early 90’s but taken into a more abstract and alien space. Fans of downtempo 90’s electronica should certainly check out this little piece of history.

The second piece “Stop ! l’horizon” is from 1983, and manages to sound both further ahead of its time, yet less distinctive, at the same time. The slowly rising and falling clicks and rubs and the crunchy single-hit percussive sounds seem to emulate glitchy electronica despite predating it by a decade or more. There’s less going on, and more use of low level reverberence and decay, giving a sparse and melancholic feel. It also feels quite sci-fi, perhaps through the modern associations now established with some of the doppler rotor sounds being used.

These are amazing works for their time, bold and amazingly polished. If they had had more accessible structures perhaps Zanési’s reputation in the timeline of electronic music would be more well known, as on the evidence of this, it deserves to be.
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Artist: Iannis Xenakis
Title: Persepolis
Format: LP
Label: Karl
Previous, now out-of-print issues of Xenakis’ 1971 work “Persepolis” are something of a rarity, going for quite substantial figures on sites like Discogs even though they suffer, apparently, from errors or abridgements that mean they don’t represent the complete work. Now, Karl Records have arrived with a newly remastered and apparently complete 55-minute LP & download issuing it in all its glory.

In nine numbered but continuous parts, it’s an electroacoustic assault of metallic drones and scratches, heavily processed noises and somewhat tortured organic noises. It’s a wilful wall of noise that’s staggering for 1971, taking the still-fresh experimental avantgarde principles and pushing them to what must at that time of been their logical extreme- a completely space-free, densely packed overlapping of layers into something so relentless and impenetrable that when you listen to it, after a while you stop hearing the full extent of the noise and start zoning in on some of the details as though you’re watching one particular piece of shrapnel in a huge explosion.

It’s only in the details that individual parts could be identified with care. The third part, for example, with strained and stretched bowing of string instruments, is notably disorientating. The fifth part, with occasional echoing noises like seatbelt signs creating a sonic aeroplane nightmare, while the sixth part sounds like some of the Lygeti music in 2001: A Space Odyssey would have sounded if the composer had decided it wasn’t yet extreme enough. The final part is a touch more percussive, with a steady sense of upward sliding that creates an escalating tension that never truly resolves, just bluntly stops.

Even without exploring the political context of the original work that could have been seen as shockingly secular when first performed, it’s unquestionably ahead of its time and still challenging almost 50 years later, clearly a milestone in electroacoustic music, and with a very nice new presentation too.
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