Music Reviews

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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!
Artist: Foust! (@)
Title: Space Sickness
Format: CD
Label: The Anti-Naturals (@)
Distributor: Eh? Audio Repository
Rated: *****
Space Sickness, the second transmission from Scott Foust's Foust! solo project, sounds like outer space, but its more like space station music than the void itself; there's lots of buzzing and whirring, crackles and static. Its like listening to machines do their thing. Mostly comprised of static drones drifting in and out of phase, creating a dense and invigorating atmosphere, lots to listen to, but each element is given enough space to be appreciated. Space Sickness was recorded during the same session that produced the first half of 2006's Jungle Fever, but while that record was dense and organic, Space Sickness is all clinical minimalism - 10 sound sculptures of claustrophobia and encroaching madness.

Most music that attempts to emulate the vast emptiness of space falls upon hackneyed dark ambient cliches of chorused synth pads, and the ubiquitous reverbed vocal sample, probably swiped from In The Mouth of Madness, but Foust knows better; he hates New Age music. Instead, he harkens back to the period of late '70s industrial noise, like Boyd Rice's NON project, tone poems and metal machine music. The chirping telegraph sounds, hissing airlock steam and binaural beats, make for interesting mental movies, and the relatively unchanging nature of each piece make for a meditative listening experience. Foust's years as a dedicated listener, as well as playing in a whole slew of different bands, means that he has learned how to avoid the perilous pitfalls many novices succumb to, such as recording straight to hard disk. He appreciates tone quality, room sound, and recording fidelity. Space Sickness is easy on the ears, which makest it ieasy to get lost in its lulling languorous spell.

Some people may find Space Sickness to be dull and lifeless, monotonous and irritating. Either you are going to love this record, or hate it. But if you like to close yr eyes and go for a drift, if you find yrself listening to the radiator hiss and hum when no one is looking, if you legitimately like the works of Pierre Schaefer or Bernard Parmegiani, if you dig Tarkovsky's Solaris or play sounds from a radio telescope during dinner parties, then you are in for a real treat.
Artist: Fear Falls Burning (@)
Title: Disorder Of Roots
Format: CD
Label: Tonefloat (@)
Rated: *****
Dirk Serries, better known with his moniker Vidna Obmana, started Fear Falls Burning project more as a sort of minimalistic diversion, but in spite of its interesting evolution towards a somewhat original concoction of experimental noise-rock and shamanic music elements, he announced that project came to a close. Thankfully he changed his mind, even if it seems this album wisely named "Disorder Of Roots" should be its very final act, but while we look forward to a not so desirable confirmation, we can appreciate this new issue. Four long-lasting tracks where Dirk's mastery in molding entrancing drones through microscopic variations embosses guitar tones which sound twirling with heady fumes since the initial track "The Roots Rebellion", where it seems the author lets the listener inhale till the moment when, after some hiccups of guitar slides, Phil Petrocelli's drums begin to pop with regular cues while over-stretched tunes gradually overtops in the sonic space. The following track "Virtue Of the Vicious" follows an analogous movement but drumming cues come at the outset of the anthem: in spite of droning rarefaction, there are more points of tangency with progressive-rock and so-called post-rock, but I can't rule out some old crossover stuff like Starfish Enterprises or Drift Pioneer could come to mind, which normally lingers on the same chord or echo for the whole playing length. On "Chorus of Dissolution" Dirk's accomplices, bass-player Frank Kimenai and Cult Of Luna's member Magnus Lindberg on drums, manage to sustain the hypnotical and gently abrasive drone which sounds like a filling of a mesmeric pool. On the occasion of Fear Falls Burning's last bequest before its supposed death, the track "I Provoke Disorder", a voice strikingly breaks in, the one by Michiel Eikenaar, who disguises it in the semblance of some distraught agonizing fiendish creature which manages to peek in heaven after a long paralysis for having been put on chains by kind permission of its torturer, while drone get more and more corrosive and drums beating time gets heavier and heavier.
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