Music Reviews



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Artist: Andy Backhouse
Title: A Sonic Map Of Dornoch
Format: CD + Download
Label: Focused Silence
Andy Backhouse offers up a very personal half-hour soundscape sampling natural sounds from the Scottish seaside town of Dornoch, where his grandmother lives. Indeed, you can hear his granny and a variety of other passing conversations alongside the crashing waves, the birdsong, car sounds, and other slightly less obvious sounds seemingly of cafés or very light industry.

The result is essentially a sonic seaside postcard, and to be honest a rather prosaic one, not really imbued with a distinctive character that would allow the listener to place Dornoch in particular unless you’re an absolute master at recognising accents. Only the anachronistic and thankfully short-lived sampled bagpipe sound that appears out of nowhere 15 minutes in (a recording of some piece of tourist tat, maybe?) places this even in Scotland.

But, thanks to the inclusion of calm lapping waves that come and go, it is very naturally a relaxing and calming thing to listen to- a fleeting bit of audio tourism that allows you to imagine that you are meandering carefree along the beachside, without having to worry about the bitter cold you might really get in the Northerly Scottish town.

Andy Backhouse has generated this work as a cathartic experience, which he describes as being related to his perception disorder, which I’m sure is true although the end result could simply be seen as indulgent nostalgia. That being said, as a sound postcard it is picturesque and endearing.
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Artist: Ripperton
Title: Sight Seeing
Format: LP
Label: ESP Institute
Swiss Raphaël Ripperton, known for his deep house and techno work (producing DJ’ing and mixing), has switched to the ESP Institute for this much more ambient and introvert double LP.

Cold atmospheres, sparse melodic tones and slow wafting hollow or bell-like synth patterns are the order of the day here. Some tracks, like “Eloigné”, add more textured soundscaping, sometimes reminiscent of distant iceberg cracks or heavily processed industrial noise, but always with a soft edge.

It’s firmly not for the dancefloor, but some tracks have distant echoes of an IDM production aesthetic. “Puente De Los Enamorados” has a pulsing yet calm low bass that feels like a natural product of what might happen if you took deep house to its logical conclusion, then stripped any remaining percussion out, whereas track C1 (named after a Chinese symbol I can’t reproduce here) has a steady clap rhythm that’s been smuggled in from clubbier genres. “Atomatic” is reminiscent of some of Sasha’s recent scene pieces.

Other tracks, like the sparse synth-string melancholy of “Uroboros” and the spaced-out “Miroir d’eau”, are much further detached from what appreciators of Ripperton’s previous work will have been used to. “Hlios” is an oddity, blending the cold atmospheres with a sort of off-step glitchy trip-hop guitar in a way that’s more intriguing than it is successful, though it redeems itself in the way it devolves at the end.

There’s a slight sense that this isn’t a particularly curated collection. Tracks like “Ignition” feel like unfinished or experimental ideas, and several tracks have curt beginnings and endings that seem unnecessarily abrupt for the genre. While it would be slightly too much of a stretch to say that a bit of a judicious attitude might have brought this down to one CD’s-worth of material, it is perhaps just a little bit flabby and lacking in the variety that really ought to be present to warrant the 107 minutes that this release runs for.

Nevertheless despite a couple of arguable imperfections it still makes an excellent post-club chill out album, if you’ve taken so many stimulants that you’re going to be awake for another two hours once you get home...
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Artist: Sandunes
Title: Does Bombay Dream Of Nola
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Artist Originals
Mumbai-based Sandunes offers up a short 4-track EP of quirky downtempo electronica that blends some Indian flavours into bright, lightly-stepping, glitchy, faintly hip-hoppy electronica.

“Does Bombay Dream Of NOLA” is a strong opener, centring around very short Bollywood-like vocal samples, completely reshaped into new patterns, with warm pad envelopes, Rhodes-like keys and tightly aligned, slightly jazzy percussive elements. “Gold Streets” also has a warm swagger to it, perfect strolling music. The quirky fade-then-return before the end is a particularly interesting touch.

“Nutterfly” is heavily reminiscent of Luke Vibert’s Wagon Christ monicker, with a lovely strutting groove that underpins some bleeps and spoken word snippets that exude a greater sense of fun than perhaps Sandunes actually intended, while final track “The Trust” does manage a more sombre atmosphere with long synth pads and a sombre melody playing well against another steady and toe-tapping lower section.

Clocking in around 13 minutes overall it’s a brief calling card, dipping into a very pleasant and poppy set of arrangements that sets high expectations for future releases. It also comes as an audio-visual package, with every track accompanied by animation.
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Artist: this difficult tree
Title: double sun
Format: LP
Label: Wide Ear (@)
Rated: *****
The almost imperceptible tapping on hi-hats by Vincent Glanzmann, the rising harmonium-like (but many people match it to the sound of portable Nintendo!) drone of a shruti box played by Silvan Jeger himself, the slyly looping theme by Silvan Schmidt's trumpet and imitated by Frantz Loriot on his viola (and reprised in the second half of the track) is the nice way by which Zurich-based double-bass player and singer Silvan introduces his quartet This Difficult Tree through the nine-minutes lasting opening composition "Magnetplanet", sounding like a lazy (and maybe slightly unwanted) awakening. The significant stylistical variations and contaminations of every single track in this release, whose relaxed atmosphere and insightful mood could be described as a possible balancing between free improvisations and chamber music, seem to mirror the wide spectrum of interests and collaborations - as part of Day&Taxi and the Reto Suhner quartet - as well as his attempts to build bridges between the song form, world music, jazz and improvisations of this Swiss guy, who churn out the best moments whenever this integration is more discernable (particularly when he uses his own voice): in spite of their compositional pop-like semplicity, "Momoko", "Winter", "City Lights", "Angststueck" or the final "Neu isd nicht immer besser" are maybe the more immersive aural outputs by this quartet, but the thin psychedelia inspired by the title track "Double Sun" or some other crackling vibes they grasped into tracks like "Skulldull" or "Flutternoia" are important complements to the definition of their sound. Have a check.
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Artist: Mathias Delplanque
Title: Témoins
Format: Tape
Label: Crónica
“Témoins” comprises three pieces of sound art composed and compiled between 2011 and 2014- or just the first two pieces if you opt for the cassette rather than the download. Conceptually they are post-production-light layerings of organic recordings from three different locations that were given to Delplanque as though they were instructions, on top of which Delplanque played some ‘real’ instruments in situ to sit within or atop those environments.

Initially, “Roz” has a pure-sounding bit of improvised glockenspiel for its musical core, spouting occasional formless and pleasant notes that surf the mixed rural exterior sounds- birdsong, sheep, distant wind and traffic etc. A surprise cacophony of spontaneous percussion heralds an unexpected shift into the second half, which is brasher, littered with odd backwards-sounds, mumbling voices and nearby rapid watercourses- perhaps exposing the ‘workshops for schools’ element of the original commission. This settles almost as abruptly as it begins as we loop back to the calmer and more ambient world we first came in on.

“Bruz” is a sharper and more indoors piece, sampling percussive door slams, loud air conditioning units, passing conversational snippets, catering noises, drilling and distant vacuum cleaners all from a college campus. It’s described as a ‘sound postcard’ and as that, it’s a postcard from a situation from where nobody would ever send a real postcard- frankly it would be fundamentally dull if it were not for the glockenspiel-like sound which, again, wanders gently over the top to provide the impression of structure into an otherwise fairly shapeless arrangement of found sounds more fitting of a sound effects library than a curated piece of sound art. This melody morphs into a softer, more accordion-like arrangement towards the end.

Shorter digital-only track “TU” rolls with the same environmental tones as “Bruz” but with more instrumentation, unfolding out of piano, acoustic guitar and other ensemble instruments as though they are warming up to perform traditionally, but instead they begin to sustain indefinitely. When paying attention rather than treating this release as background noise, this track- despite being tacked on- is absolutely the strongest and most detailed of the three, thanks in part but not entirely to its closer relationship with a more traditional performance. At times when the piano plucks away idly it feels structurally similar to Jean-Michael Jarre’s “Waiting For Cousteau” but with college sounds instead of water.

Elements of this sound art feel like walking a path very well trodden before. Some of the environmental sounds are certainly cliché and conceptually there’s nothing that could be described as challenging in particular. It’s the soft, chilled out melodies at the top end that make this collection worthwhile.
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