Music Reviews



Monty Adkins: Still Juniper Snow

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 26 2018
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Artist: Monty Adkins
Title: Still Juniper Snow
Format: CD + Download
Label: Huddersfield Contemporary Records
In this short concept piece, Monty Adkins “paints over” acoustic pieces performed by Sarah-Jane Summers and the Bozzini Quartet. The original performance was inspired by Norwegian landscapes, and Scottish and Norwegian folk traditions. Adkins has stripped away the performance elements, smothering them in processing and reverb, stretching and washing them until only the atmospheres and broad tones remain.

After “Hollow” and “Distant Waters”, two pieces of slightly more generic cold-yet-positive drone from which the origins would be very hard to guess, it’s in third piece “Spiral Paths” that more of the original source material is exposed and the unique reworking approach really clicks. The plaintive violin work rolling across the melodic slow bass drone in a much more cinematic fashion.

It’s a curious concept piece that feels like it’s not given enough time to really breathe as a drone work, and in “Spiral Paths”, just hints at what award-winning soundtrack album could be conceived if this area was delved into more deeply.

Kim Myhr / Quatuor Bozzini / Caroline Bergvall / Ingar Zach: Pressing Clouds Passing Crowds

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 22 2018
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Artist: Kim Myhr / Quatuor Bozzini / Caroline Bergvall / Ingar Zach
Title: Pressing Clouds Passing Crowds
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Hubro
Four artist names are credited on this release, although while “Quatuor Bozzini” may sound like an individual’s name, it’s actually a Montreal-based string quartet. As the composer Kim Myhr’s name is given prominence at the top of the artwork. However, despite this, this release seems more like a Caroline Bergvall release, with Bergvall reading her own dreamy slow thoughtful poetry while the other artists contribute soft soundscaping and cinematic atmospherics that compliment and paint pictures around the words.

Myhr’s own guitar work is prominent, often responsible for the more frequent and repetitive strumming that provides a rhythmic backbone beside which the string quartet’s lines and Zach’s percussion are allowed to meander and drift in a more leisurely fashion. There are more upbeat moments, such as “Future Present” which borders on jazz, lyrically seems to evoke the sketchiness of Karl Hyde works, and which sounds like it’s building to an almost poppy crescendo that never arrives, while more downbeat moments include the plaintive discordant sorrow of “Days” and the more spacious and reflective “Burning”.

In “Thngs Dspr” Bergvall’s voice adopts a melodic quality that sits it between poetry and singing and it has a captivatingly pleasant quality to it that warrants its limelighting.

The poetry commands your attention and will determine your response to this release as a whole, sure to be huskily comforting for some listeners and disengaging for others, making this a ‘your mileage may vary’ release, but for me this is quality fodder for late evenings at home.
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Artist: Oren Ambarchi & Jim O'Rourke with special guest U-Zhaan
Title: Hence
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Editions Mego
“Both comforting and subtly strange” is a given description of this album and it’s very apt. Across two twenty-minute parts, simply labelled ‘Hence One’ and ‘Hence Two’, we get a concoction which has atmospheric drone at its base, but which is layered with a fairly generous variety of obtuse and self-contained layers, ranging from processed guitar to bleepier analogue electronic noises, laid up into long patterns that slowly undulate, build and fade as though taking keyframe points from topography of a rather gentle hill walk.

The tabla rhythms from special guest U-zhaan are a prominent part of the jigsaw here. Those contributions are less heavily treated and processed than some of the other elements. With a tonality that gives the work a decidedly pan-geographic flavour for which you would be hard pushed to stick a pin on a map- shades of Japan, shades of Africa, shades of more Western sensibilities, it’s a blend that works but is hard to categorise. The second part of the work is a shade lighter and more melodic, with bubbly electronics complimenting the gentle plucking work.

The result is a gentle and mellow, yet complex, ambient and soft electronica arrangement with a distinctive and very approachable flavour.

The Vegetable Orchestra: Green Album

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 18 2018
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Artist: The Vegetable Orchestra
Title: Green Album
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Transacoustic Research
The novelty value on this release is clearly strong on this one, and despite being established for almost twenty years and this being their fourth album, the ensemble will still command plenty of online column inches for the sheer quirkiness of ‘vegetable sound’ and the ten-piece’s ability to perform complex instrumental works solely out of instruments made out of vegetables.

But beyond that, is this a release that you’d willingly listen to for more than just novelty value? Yes, it is. Compositionally it’s not ground-breaking but across 14 tracks and 48 minutes there’s plenty to enjoy even if you ignore the music’s vegetable roots (that’s the only intentional pun I’m doing).

While some pieces, like “Perfect Match” and the decidedly Clangers-esque “Carrot Pano Drama”, are slightly cheesy and squelchy, with recorder-style squeaky veggie woodwind and more processed-sounding sounds playing up the novelty value, the majority of the pieces here are genuine and worthwhile experimental composition works that stand out because if you didn’t know how the sounds were being produced, you might think it was some strange hybridisation of organic instrument and synthesis. “In V” riffs off the concept of Terry Riley’s “In C” but instead of a comedy version or pastiche, what you get is a rich composition in its own right, with its own distinctive texture.

“Hyperroots” is a highlight and also a strong potential crossover track, being quite poppy in structure and bizarrely almost club-friendly. The rhythmic progress and relentlessness of “Beet-L” spans to span both 60’s electronic experimentation and proto-techno while the curt percussive layering of “Internal Crisis” initially suggests what Art Of Noise’s “Daft” may have sounded like if they’d limited themselves solely to the local farmers’ market for inspiration before devolving into more panicking and theatrical territory.

Playful at times, and not shying away from the sheer silliness of what they’re doing, nevertheless underneath the novelty the Vegetable Orchestra is a musically valid and interesting listen.

Jessica Sligter & Wilbert Bulsink: volume 01, 2018: Untitled #2 (The Mute)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 30 2018
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Artist: Jessica Sligter & Wilbert Bulsink
Title: volume 01, 2018: Untitled #2 (The Mute)
Format: LP
Label: Unsounds
Commissioned by Gaudeamus and premiered in November 2016, this is Sligter and Bulsink’s second collaboration, and it’s an unusual blend for sure. Across a forty-minute work, divided into five very uneven parts simply lettered ‘A’ to ‘E’, there’s a fusion or at times a counterpoint between abstract drones and sustained acoustic textures, and crooner-like bluesy vocal work that stands often in isolation, with clear English-language lyrics, like freeform beat poetry without the beat.

On paper it ought not to work, yet in practice it does, drawing such starkness from the subtly uncomfortable soundscaping and the sorrowful and reflective voice work. In longest track “D” you are pinned to your seat for sixteen minutes, never being able to take the next moment for granted, as though your concentration itself is being toyed with. Background music, this is not.

The instrumentation at times feels like avant garde classical, heavily string-driven, but will transmute into purely electronic tones with subtle graduations that are hard to follow. It’s technically very proficient and there are certainly a few “how did they do that?” moments.

Perhaps as an indicator of my limited tolerance for jazz lectures, relatively mellow track “A” and the overtly theatrical stop-starting of final piece “E”, both of which with their vocals reduced to long sustained notes rather than language, are perhaps the tracks I’d be most happy to revisit.

It’s a bold jazzy performance statement that commands your attention.
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