Music Reviews



The Touchables: The Noise Is Rest

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 26 2019
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Artist: The Touchables
Title: The Noise Is Rest
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Conradsound
Conceptually this is an endearingly simple set-up- Norwegian duo Ole-Henrik Moe on a piccoletto violin and Guro Skumsnes Moe on an octobass, setting out to explore and play with sounds on both of the edges of standard human frequency perception, the former high, the latter low. It’s a string duet like none you’ve heard before, a deep dive into acoustic textures and hearing exercises.

After the sparse drone sustains of “Nothing In Between” afford a sort of overture, you are jolted by the instant mania of “Barking Beetle Boogie”, which starts at a pace it can’t sustain before settling into more sedate territory. This frantic approach is returned to later in “Unicorn Stocking”, which also jumps out of the gate at full pelt, exploring more percussive aspects of the sound and pitchsliding excitedly, before letting its energy level drop to more manageable levels.

The press release introduces another unusual concept- the idea of playing the note “E”, preferably loudly and at great length, as a way of expressing concern for the ‘E’nvironment, and the hope that it’s a concept that could go viral. It’s a sweet idea though I’d have to suspect it’s too cerebral to really take off. I haven’t checked the pitch so the following statement may be completely in error, but it’s an idea that may be at play in pieces like “Birdabyalullaland”, which is grounded in the two instruments repeating a bass note relentlessly and then deviating from it just occasionally in a way that adds both texture and suspense.

“Blackout Lighthouse” loops us back to the beginning somewhat, returning to screechy drones that more sensitive listeners may find as jarring as nails down a blackboard- an acquired taste, but worth persevering with to experience the effect that long immersion has on your aural senses. “Peace Ghost” ascribes a similar, strung-out path but in lower registers, feeling somewhat like distorted found sound at times. This flows nicely into “Byalullalandbird” which puts more ebb and flow into the sustains, and which offers up the rare treat of a violin sounding like an old steam kettle as an aside. Final track “Deserted Desert” strips out mid-range tones, adds a windy rattle, and ends proceedings in a manner that’s somewhat on the bleak side.

As avantgarde experimental classical music goes, this work is slightly more playful than most, in principle at least- but it’s certainly not without its darker underbelly. It’s the forerunner of some releases imminent from a larger chamber orchestra, and on the strength of this, those will certainly be worth checking out. It’s also potentially a strong test piece if you’re concerned that either your ears or your speaker system are no longer registering dog-whistle frequencies...

Leo Svirsky: River Without Banks

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 23 2019
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Artist: Leo Svirsky
Title: River Without Banks
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Unseen Worlds
“River Without Banks” is named after a chapter in musicologist Grenrikh Orlov’s “Tree Of Music” where Orlov draws connections between Western and Eastern traditions of using chant and raga forms to ‘eliminate the division between the physical and the spiritual’. Conceptually it’s a fluid and open-minded idea that eschews more traditional compositional form.

Musically, Leo Svirsky interprets this principle using a piano, first and foremost, and predominantly solo. Long rolling chord work and super-sustained single chords twinkle and play in a manner that gives us work that feels classical in timbre, but more mesmeric and sometimes even drone-like in form. When it lets up slightly, particularly in the title track, it falls back into more familiar and romantic-sounding themes; on “Trembling Instants” sounding somewhat glib at first. Some strong and deliberate stereo separation, pushing a piano across your aural field, adds to the sense of immersion.

Ten minutes in, other elements are introduced. The piano still remains at the centre but we are also given electronics, strings and trumpet- generally long notes, drawing lines of tension or support to compliment the musical core. In “Rain, Rivers, Forest, Corn, Wind, Sand” it forges an unusual hybrid of almost folksy acoustic drone with more contemporary-sound synthetic touches.

“Strange Lands And People” is the most sombre point, a ten minute piano ballad that is also perhaps the album’s most traditional point as well, and coupled with final piece “Fanfare (after Jeromos Kamphuis)”, a sparser collection of tip-toeing single chords, the album wraps up firmly ensconced in a sense of musical tradition.

It’s a piano-driven album that somehow fails to sing. In trying to find the fluidity and commonality among musical ideas old and new, it has landed in a kind of mediocre middle ground, neither truly one thing or another. It is perhaps held back by self-indulgent piano time where some of the more layered and collaborative sections would have been more interesting to hear extended or explored further. It’s pleasant enough though.

Erkki Veltheim: Ganzfeld Experiment

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 14 2019
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Artist: Erkki Veltheim
Title: Ganzfeld Experiment
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Room40
“Ganzfeld Experiment” is a single 44-minute work, pitched as an audiovisual work for electric violin, video and signal processing, but it is being released as an LP and I’ve only been sent the audio, so I am reviewing it on its sonic merits only.

Finnish-born, Australia-based Veltheim is a violinist, in a word, but he describes his practice as spanning “noise, audiovisual installation, improvisation, notated music, electroacoustic
composition and multidisciplinary performance”- and it’s the latter rather than the former we get here. Violin tones are barely recognisable as the source, especially at the beginning of the work, as they have been bathed and deconstructed by processing, pulsing and transformation into something decidedly more electronic in texture.

Instead the result is more akin to a crisp, lo-fi proto techno, with gradual speed and amplitude changes applied to gated and harsh metallic tones for something that’s a little sandpapery and a little dark sci-fi. Tone shifts draw out a form of melody that has the appearance, superficially at least, of randomness. Around fifteen minutes in arpeggios begin to form, followed by more distinct melodic pattern loops, offering a more overt compositional structure without really changing the sonic make-up. The natural progression for the melody is into frantic chaos, which duly follows, but by the final stretch of the listen, steadiness and flatter drones have been reestablished, giving a sense of coming full circle.

A couple of times, the pulsing fades away so thoroughly that it becomes inaudible, leaving behind nothing but crisp flavoured noise with echoes of rhythm in it- and it’s this level of variation that keeps enough listener interest to make it appealing, and the cyclical structure adds to that somewhat. Harsh for certain tastes, and perhaps lacking in variety for others, I’d still regard this as a strong bit of work in the rare field of violin-meets-noise.

Bushman's Revenge: Et Hån Mot Overklassen

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 12 2019
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Artist: Bushman's Revenge
Title: Et Hån Mot Overklassen
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Hubro
In attempting to represent “A Mocking Overclass” or “A Mockery Of The Upper Class” (two alternative translations which in a way mean quite different things), Norwegian multi-instrumentalist trio Bushman’s Revenge offer up a broad palette of instrumental music that spans prog rock, experimental jazz, and to a slightly lesser extent, contemporary experimental and electronics as well. It comprises ten quite distinct pieces, that showcase the trio in more conventional drums-bass-guitar arrangements but also leave room for plenty of the more esoteric noises and found sounds- and even the odd dash of Wurlitzer.

Of the above labels, prog rock is the closest fit. Tracks like “Happy Hour For Mr. Sanders” are energetic prog to the core, it oozes the indulgences of the 1970’s in both its virtuosity and its skittish groove, while “A Bottle A Day keeps The Wolves At Bay” is a prime example of the more tripped-out and meandering swagger of the genre. “Toten” could stand its ground if squeezed onto a Pink Floyd or King Crimson album, “Hei Hei Martin Skei” ticks the obligatory ‘very long track’ boxes at 14 minutes of relaxed melodic and more jazzy noodling, while “Greetings To Gisle” brings the drums to the fore initially before, two minutes in, breaking out into a very coherent funk groove.

A greater breadth is on show though in tracks like “The Curious Case Of The Resting Blue Steel Face”, a rhythmless ambient drone layering that’s more relaxed yet also more than a little bit sinister. Despite its title “Ladies Night At The Jazz Fusion Disco” is similar too, not even remotely disco and only jazz in the most extremely broad sense, but with sitar-like drone noises that give a more Eastern-sounding flavour.

At times the anti-upper class theme is hard to spot, but- perhaps unintentionally- opening track “Sly Love With A Midnight Creeper” does sound like lift music from a very posh hotel, but with seedy undertones.

It’s another strong and fresh-sounding update of arguably old genres from the reliable Hubro label, and while I don’t think the upper class will be trembling in their boots or sobbing into their champagne as a consequence, it can still be considered a musical success.

Ensemble Neon: Niblock/Lamb

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 09 2019
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Artist: Ensemble Neon
Title: Niblock/Lamb
Format: CD + Download
Label: Hubro
“Niblock/Lamb” is the rather prosaic name for Ensemble Neon’s performance of “To Two Tea Roses” by Phill Niblock and “Parallaxis Forms” by Catherine Lamb. The two twenty-something-ish-minute ensemble drone pieces, both composed within the last decade, make excellent companions, displaying patterns of similarities and contrasts that make it a rewarding two-chapter listening experience.

“To Two Tea Roses” is relentlessly steady, a plateau magically generated from a large number of ebbing and flowing parts that manage to almost cancel one another out indefinitely, with no beginning or end yet somehow the feeling of progression that you can’t put your finger on, a progression that manages to prevent something so flat from being tiring.

“Parallaxis Forms” has the same broad timbre, but is far emptier. Individual drawn-out elements, most strikingly vocal sounds but also strings, suddenly find themselves in solo or very thinly layered environments where their separate textures can be more easily discerned. Melodic change is introduced, deliberate beginnings and ends of pitched notes with such length and sustain that the performance requires both athleticism and finesse, which Ensemble Neon clearly have in abundance. Calming, bordering on romantic, it feels like quite an indulgent experience.

A beautiful and intriguing pair of supremely slow works with a velvet touch.
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