Music Reviews

Katariin Raska & Christian Meaas Svendsen: Finding Ourselves In All Things

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Dec 13 2019
Artist: Katariin Raska & Christian Meaas Svendsen
Title: Finding Ourselves In All Things
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Nakama Records
The debut album as a duo from these two performers, each with established CV’s of band work, is underpinned fundamentally by contrasts. There are two works, one frantic and relentless, the other sombre and slow. There’s a sonic pull between the high squeaking of Raska’s Estonian bagpipe and the low growls of Svendsen’s double bass. But this is clearly two performers in sync with one another, which is what makes it work.

“Melting With Butterflies” is fourteen minutes of pushing two instruments to their limits. The folky tones of the bagpipe are bent and abused so that they begin to sound variously like sirens, like animals or (less flatteringly) like balloons, while the intimately-recorded double bass is not just bowed but also scratched and tweaked. At times it feels like the duo are in a race to see who can either perform fastest, or break their instrument first. It’s not a piece of music you could drop casually into, but fourteen minutes of it is long enough for it to establish its own baseline of what’s sonically normal and let you adjust to it- just in time for it to abruptly stop.

Second piece “The Way Mountains Make Love” is consciously opposite. Long, low single bowed notes and drones are the order of the day, layered up in a conspicuously flat or gently undulating way that feels less like dramatic mountain tops and more like the never-ending tectonic pressure deep underground. As it progresses over 19 minutes, there’s a degree to which it gets more melodic, more vocal-like, and gently lighter, as though harmony is gradually being found amongst the grit. It’s romance, but on geological time.

It’s a strong and deeply confident pair of expressions from a pair of talented performers playing around with ideas that are deceptively simple, but executed with precision and purpose that really shines through- and the result is eye-opening.

Speaker Music: of desire, longing

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Dec 06 2019
Artist: Speaker Music
Title: of desire, longing
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Planet Mu
DeForrest Brown Jr.’s first release on Planet Mu is a slightly unusual one for the label. This is electronica, but perhaps only on a technicality. It’s a deliberate exercise in “time-based release”, essentially time-stretching, with two 23-minute parts of the same single work spreading out to fill an LP. Solo jazz sounds- saxophone predominantly, and others, it’s hard to tell- are pulled, padded, stuttered and morphed into unplayably long notes, which are then blended into what sounds like quiet city street found sound- rustling, distant drone, wind, traffic (but not a lot of it), and general hubbub.

This in turn is then delayed echoed and processed to add an extra layer of abstraction. Some of this stereo delay forms patterns, seemingly accidentally, which occasionally border on rhythm but only become actually rhythmic in the second part “without excess”. The second part also dips the outdoors atmospheres down in favour of metallically-treated choral noises and a selection of other oddness.

The result is like listening to a busker on a far-away street corner whilst under some sort of chemical mental influence, then in the second part, wandering into a church during choir practice then youth group. It’s an unorthodox experience, and I’ve got to say, not an experience that will always be welcome- but as a soundscaping exercise, it certainly has the dual virtues of being thought-provokingly emotive, and also distinctive and unique. The artist’s strong association with counter-culture and apparent animosity to modern streaming culture doesn’t shine through sonically as much as it does in the associated press release, but it’s a rich and interesting listen nonetheless.
Artist: Laura Angusdei
Title: Laurisilva
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: The Wormhole
The debut album from saxophonist and electroacoustic composer Laura Agnusdei is a fascinating hybrid beast. With saxophone sitting frequently at the core, accompanied by a small ensemble of the artist’s colleagues who contribute trumpet, reeds and ancient flute sounds, at its heart this is light, almost traditional small ensemble jazz music- sometimes reminiscent of soundtracks to old black and white cartoons. But it’s presented in an experimental frame, with organic bubbling, atmospherics, synthesized sound and post-production work ever present throughout. It’s as though a small, fairly contented jazz ensemble have been plonked onto an alien planet, but have decided to carry on performing regardless.

It’s exemplified by the title track, which sums it up quite well, right down to the odd seagulls, gloopy fluid sounds and sorrowful sax. The production work often brings an extra level of uniqueness to the groove level of the pieces, such as on the dubby, reverb-laden walking patterns of “Jungle Shuffle”.

“Shaky Situation” stands out thanks to its life-affirming spoken word samples talking about how life should be fun, blended with a far more playful series of melodies that bounce around between popcorn synth, flutes and wantonly cheesy stabs. It’s almost pop music, reminiscent of the Art Of Noise in some ways, and though it doesn’t represent the whole album, hopefully it has the capacity to cross over onto some broader Spotify playlists and garner some attention.

In pieces like “Golden Kites” or the decidedly more abstract “Lungs Dance”, it shows off a more relaxed, mature and confident side.

I’m a big fan of this release, thanks to its bold character. It feels like it offers up a fresh recipe with known ingredients. It’s accomplished, sometimes virtuoso, but it absolutely doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also fairly concise, at only 30 minutes, and certainly leaves you wanting to hit ‘play’ on it again.

Gareth Davis & Scanner: Footfalls

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 01 2019
Artist: Gareth Davis & Scanner
Title: Footfalls
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Miasmah Recordings
“Footfalls” represents a fascinating first collaboration between the atmospheric contemporary electronics of Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) and the experimental free clarinet work of Gareth Davis.

It’s split into two twenty-minute pieces, classic LP style. “Towards The Door” languishes in waves of sonic ambience for quite some time before gradually introducing more pulsed and occasionally glitched synth elements, giving a sense of slow waking- but without any peak, a point is reached where these elements begin to wane, bringing us back to the warm luxuriant drone arrangement.

“Smokefall” is a slightly darker and busier piece, but only marginally. Steady, crisp and breathy snippets of high noise create a flitting rhythm, while throbbing effects added to the clarinet make it sound more like a didgeridoo at first. Underneath, a slightly rougher texture with guitar-like and wind-like tones, against which the purity of the clarinet sound is sparingly used for contrast and emphasis.

It’s an extremely natural match for the duo, blurring the lines of each sonic contribution and making it sound as though the duo have been working together for years. But it’s also built in a way that plays safe, relying on the alluring resonances of clarinet and drone to offer up something that comes from a position of comfort rather than challenge. The rich experimental texturing oozes confidence, quality and comfort, like a good sonic blanket, but with just enough detailing to keep the more attentive listener satisfied.

Dans Les Arbres: Volatil

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 14 2019
Artist: Dans Les Arbres
Title: Volatil
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
“Volatil” is an unedited single-piece live performance, the “natural habitat” of the established quartet of Xavier Charles on clarinet, Ivar Grydeland on electric guitar, Christian Wallumrød on piano, and Ingar Zach on percussion. Over the course of 53 minutes they chart a trajectory full of dynamic ebb and flow, with calm and calamity in alternates.

Sonically it’s a relatively conventional set-up, the clarinet and piano in particular keeping within their traditional scope, drawing out long and alluring droned notes at times, with staccato feverishness at points, but generally sounding like themselves- with the possible exception around the 20-minute mark where the clarinet wanders into squeakier territory. The electric guitar and percussion work is somewhat more impulse-driven, forgoing rhythmic patterns in favour of tracing envelope curves of noise.

It’s genuinely rather sanguine and serious, not offering up many surprises but instead easing the listener into a state that’s relaxed, but also intrigued. There’s a sense in the second half that the energy level is gradually decreasing- whether consciously on the part of the performers, or whether as a listener we become more accustomed to the arrangement and learn not to be on the edge of our seats.

Fluid, and recorded to a very high standard, this is an exemplar and a potential template of modern experimental ensemble work- but sometimes it’s the outliers that are more interesting.
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