Music Reviews

Jul 16 2018
Artist: Wolfgang Mitterer
Title: Nine In One
Format: CD
Label: Col Legno
Taking all of Beethoven’s nine symphonies (performed by the Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento) and compressing it into one 55-minute ‘greatest hits’ that’s twisted with loops, cuts, backwards elements, electronic bends, sparse and sometimes raw-edged extra electronic noises and bold rearrangements- it’s a supremely bold move, some would say very arrogant, especially when you spot the booklet tagline “you really can listen to Beethoven!”. It feels like it ought not to be endorsed, or maybe not even listenable- yet for better or worse it works.

The most melodic themes- both the overplayed best-known ones and the less popular-culture-exhausted ones- are treated with a certain degree of reverence, but it’s their dynamism, and the bridges between the peaks, that are driven further thanks to speed changes and more complex drops and builds. At times it feels truly complimentary- though Beethoven-academics are likely to disagree.

Large chunks are left intact, without electronic decoration- “Satz 2” being a strong example of where the editing is so subtle that only people who’ve memorised the original work will be conscious of the changes, while other pieces like “Intermezzo” are more explicit deconstructions, heavy speed-shifting and sharp glitching transforming some of the less dynamic source material into avantgarde electronica that at times borders on difficult digital jazz.

Despite it being rather deftly handled for the most part, traditionalists will still find this reworking of the so-called ‘new testament of music’ undoubtedly sacrilegious, but if you’re looking for a piece of surprisingly fresh-sounding classical music that brings a little bit of electronic wizardry into play around established strong themes, and if you’re not going to be too precious about it, this is surprisingly enjoyable.

Carl Stone: Electronic Music From The Eighties And Nineties

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 13 2018
Artist: Carl Stone
Title: Electronic Music From The Eighties And Nineties
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Unseen Worlds
A triple-LP collection of Stone’s “Electronic Music from the Seventies” has here been followed up by a equally imaginatively-titled sequel, but it seems there was less to work with this time as it spans two decades but only stretches to two pieces of vinyl.

After the relatively familiar-sounding slow and mesmeric soft chords, vocal ahhhs and faintly ambient-lounge-jazz of the only ‘90s piece “Banteay Sray” (1993), it’s the 1980’s works that are the more interesting.

The slightly more plinky-plonk keyboard structures of “Sonali” which has a decidedly early-80’s-Tangerine-Dream flavour to it, but which grows its own distinctive character by a very nicely handled processed and looped vocal chant and a fairly unique progression into more chaotic juxtaposed melodic patterns. Things take a particularly appealing twist and turn towards the end of this track when glitched operatic samples arrive and gradually dominate the finale. For a piece composed in 1988, this glitchy approach to gating and sampling was massively ahead of its time.

1983’s “Woo Lee Oak” takes the long sustained sound of panpipes- which at the time hadn’t yet become the New Age cliché they were to become- and draws them out with suspense-laden string tones into a building melée of overlapping complex harmony.

Previously unreleased 1984 track “Mae Yao” is also eye-opening, using similar cut-up and micro-sampling techniques (that 15 years later BT would claim to invent and call granular synthesis), opening with a deeply raw and sparse cacophony of sound ordering before returning, fairly abruptly, in the second half to longer more drawn-out atmospheres and synthetic melodic pad layering where the sampling becomes a decoration rather than the core.

I have to confess to being unaware of Carl Stone’s work prior to this promo, but what’s on display here is a real eye-opener- long experimental electronic pieces which, while still clearly capable of being placed in the timeline of 70’s and 80’s experimental music history, also sounds fantastically ahead of its time. I must check out more Stone works, not solely for any pretentious reason of cultural importance but because, as well as being very surprising, they’re also a very pleasant listening experience.

New Tendencies: L5

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 09 2018
Artist: New Tendencies
Title: L5
Format: Tape
Label: Forking Paths Records
Named after a fictional orbital position from a William Gibson novel, “L5” is a strictly sci-fi electronica collection of bleeps, drones, digital sound effects, percussive glitches and atmospheres that sound like imagined internal workings of a variety of futuristic spaceships- some of them elegant, some a little more dystopian.

“Practice”, for example, has a sort of sci-fi-post-steampunk harshness to it, and “Point” has hints of an AI piloting system having a mental breakdown, while the pulsing of “Ultralight” and the confident melodic arpeggios of final track “Stop” are much leisurely and confidence-inducing.

Sometimes sitting on the border between glitchy electronica and sound design, there are occasional moments where it will inch forward into the old-fashioned concept of steady rhythm patterns, in pieces like vaguely proto-techno “Barycenter”- but other sections, like the slightly screechy “Wise”, steer well clear of such structures in favour of something purely environmental.

It’s a quirky and quite single-minded album, but its weirdness is enjoyable and if you’re looking for something just a touch wallpapery on the surface but with textures that reward more intense listening, this is certainly notable.

Toshimaru Nakamura: Re-Verbed (No-Input Mixing Board 9)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 08 2018
Artist: Toshimaru Nakamura
Title: Re-Verbed (No-Input Mixing Board 9)
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Room40
If like me you’re unfamiliar with Nakamura’s long-standing series of audio works derived purely from the sound of a mixing board containing no inputs, you might have expected emptiness, ambience and space- gentle feedback, electrical hum, and so on. What you actually get, as a clickbait writer could say, might surprise you.

This is raw, deep analogue electronica, built from patterns, tuned noise, distortion, feedback, decay and delay. Of the pieces, with no names only numbers from 51 to 58 inclusive, some are quite in-your-face, raw distorted oscillations firmly at the front- 55 being decidedly proto-techno in its structure, for example, and 57 being a particular harsh noise wall at times. Others are washier, more spacious affairs, like 53 and the oddly content-sounding final track 58.

There’s not a single drum sound to be heard, but some of the works feel like they’re itching to be remixed into heavy EBM or drum and bass- 51 has a strong rhythm and ingredients that could be baked into a serious dark dancefloor tune. Others, like 52, are more freeform and feel more akin to old Radiophonic Workshop experiments.

To a novice like me it’s unclear how the breadth of these sounds could all have been sourced from a single mixing board (“where does the sound come from?” sounds almost philosophical) and it certainly feels like there’s a lot of post-production and/or planning that’s gone into making some very interesting, unique-sounding and diverse electronica.

RP Boo: I'll Tell You What!

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 05 2018
Artist: RP Boo
Title: I'll Tell You What!
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Planet Mu
In a way this is a fairly typical Planet Mu release, if there is such a thing. Complex glitchy footwork rhythms, low sub-bass rumbles and decontextualized vocal and rap samples abound in a textbook collection of dark digital electronica. It’s familiar ground, but handled with energy and originality so you definitely know you’re listening to something new.

There’s a good variety of emotions and tones here. The swaggery, battle-ready opener “No Body” has the sweary soundclash attitude of grime, while other tracks are a little more introspective and soulful, such as “U Don’t No” or “Deep Blue”. The ‘we are at war in the street’ mantra of “At War” is a complex beast, managing somehow to be simultaneously a war cry and a melancholic response to loss, while “U Belong 2 Me” feels like a deeply veiled post-rave parody, yet it works.

But while there’s an emotional variety, of the course of 48 minutes you do begin to wish for a bit more sonic variety. By “Work The Flow” and “Bounty” the drum sounds and sub-bass noises begin to feel a little bit tired, and as the energy level doesn’t really drop, you do start hoping that the next track is going to have a few more surprises, which unfortunately don’t come. “Flight 1235”’s adjustment of airplane-related pings and announcements into rhythm elements is a nice touch but it could have been pushed much further. An honorable exceptions is “Wicked’Bu”’.

High quality, for sure, but perhaps overly safe ground for the Planet Mu label.

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