Music Reviews



Daniel Studer: Extended (For Strings & Piano)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 27 2019
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Artist: Daniel Studer
Title: Extended (For Strings & Piano)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Hat Hut
In his sleeve notes for Daniel Studer’s “Extended”, Brian Morton draws quite an eyebrow-raising comparison between ‘professional’ versus ‘improvisational’ musical methods and the industrial methodologies of old East Germany and Nigeria, praising the virtues and effectiveness of the latter and stating that Studer’s work is effective in the same manner. It’s an ambitious comparison, but in “Extended” you can see what Morton is getting at- that both organisation and beauty lie underneath the apparent chaos.

Playing the double bass himself and working with four other performers with whom he is already very familiar, Studer offers up a series of works that are extremely spacious, sometimes minimalist, impulsive and unpredictable.

“Comprimere” sets the tone, a series of builds and relaxations that traces a fascinating waveform path, almost defying itself when the double bass becomes rhythmic in the final quarter.

“Bagatelle”, in three parts, draws most comparison to the industrial methods described above, beginning with slow sawing motions and seemingly describing a more mechanical outlook to performance as it flows. “Operandi” retains the slow method-driven approach, initially bringing a bit more character and melody to it but gradually dipping further into growling and grumbling tones, then abrupt reverb-laden piano crashes.

Initially “Verba” is a screechy and difficult work, driven by agonised high-pitched string notes that seem to mock the steady, almost ballad-like piano playing that tries to cut through it, but it settles into steadier and almost romantic territory as the strings back off. They then return for a vengeance in frantic final piece “Motus”, an energetic cacophony that must be almost as tiring to listen to as it was to perform, but in a good way, cathartic and engaging as the listener becomes aware of splendid details in among the noise and in the occasional respites.

It’s a bold, accomplished and confident 54-minute CD that’s moderately purist in its approach, the sound of assured high quality improvisation and musical virtuosity that defies traditionalism and manages to forge the template for a new form of traditional in the process.

VV.AA.: Sea-Watch

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 24 2019
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Sea-Watch
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Shameless
This is a charity record, with all proceeds from the downloads going to Sea-Watch. To copy-and-paste what’s in front of me, “Sea-Watch is a non-profit organization that conducts civil search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea. Politically and religiously independent Sea-Watch is financed solely through donations.” There is absolutely no denying that the dangers of cross-water migration causing so many lost lives in the Mediterranean is a worthy cause, and frankly, even if the music being sold here were absolutely terrible, I would still tell you to go and buy it in order to contribute to the cause on a ‘name your price’ basis.

It’s a bonus, then, that the music is not terrible at all. Eight artists have each contributed thoughtful standalone pieces of mostly-instrumental, mostly-electronica. Given the Sea-Watch theme, of course this is sincere downtempo music and not party time, but as a 46-pack of brooding modern music, it’s really rich. It feels like some acts have seen it as a chance to put out tracks that may not fit into their own longer releases, with interesting results.

It starts fairly accessibly. Julian Lars Gosper’s “44,448” has a somewhat underwater feel to it in its atmospherics, which does feel like it borders on the inappropriate, but that’s just quibbling. Boris Hauf’s “On The Pulse Of Morning” sets a long Maya Angelou speech respectfully centred in a thick atmospheric soup. It also ends in gentle fashion, with Superposition’s slightly trip-hoppy piano-driven “Peak Data” giving quite a cinematic and high-quality flavour.

It’s not all electronica though, and “African Flower” from These Things Happen is pure sax-led melancholic jazz, sitting somewhere between lounge and avantgarde for a curious and captivating tone, while Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger’s “Hope” has the slow laborious plod of noise-rock, but coupled with tuned atmospheric pad melodies that make it a much more interesting beast.

Neither is it all accessible easy listening. The wilfully inappropriately named “Classic Rock” from Brent Gutzeit is a five-and-a-half minute workout in complex glitch, taking some jazzy source elements and twisting them in a heavy-handed manner until it almost sounds like raw data. It runs smoothly into Steve Heather’s “Exposed Jerry” which is sonically not dissimilar but which grows around an enjoyably awkward rhythm abstract. Boris Hauf’s second appearance on the compilation is in a collaboration with Max McCormick on the unusually textures “Port”, littering processed found sounds over a relentless engine-like click rhythm in a manner that I’d describe as dub music’s estranged electronic second cousin, who has a mental breakdown towards the end.

You should be giving to this charity, you know you should. The convenience of this Bandcamp method, plus the fact you get eight really interesting Shameless tracks into the bargain, means you should do it by buying this.

XT: Palina\'tufa

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 19 2019
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Artist: XT
Title: Palina\'tufa
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Empty Editions
After XT’s last two albums were primarily documentations of live performances, the duo of saxophonist Seymour Wright and percussionist Paul Abbott have embraced more studio work, overdubbing and re-tweaking their impulsive improvisations into something pointedly chaotic.

Across four sides of an LP are spread four untitled works, each precisely fifteen minutes long. In some respects there’s an experimental jazz timbre, hard to avoid with spontaneous saxophone playing, but there’s a deliberate intent here to fill the sonic space frequently. Despite there only being too performers, both the attitude and the production result in something noisy and at times quite raw. There is dynamic contrast at times, breathing space between assaults, but for most of this exactly-an-hour work, the energy level rarely drops far, or for long.

The electronic experimentation sometimes stretches into equipment-tweaking as well- a strong motor-like drone on side B being an example. Lines are blurred or broken between what counts as playing the instrument, with atonal and squeaky extreme sounds often focussed on the incidental noises of the instrument as a machine, and what is more abrasive and industrial noise-making. At times, particularly in part C, the subversion of ‘normal jazz’ rhythms and sounds is a little more overt.

This is rough and aggressively handled experimental music. It’s a distant cousin to avantgarde jazz with an attitude that’s more noise-punk. It doesn’t necessarily want to be liked, but on those terms it can be appreciated.

Abstract Nympho: Static

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 14 2019
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Artist: Abstract Nympho
Title: Static
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Static Age
“The Static” is a short 5-track EP from the duo of Rahel Preisser (on vocals, trumpet, and “noise interventions”), and Ghazi Barakat aka Pharoah Chromium providing the rest of the psychedelic and drone noises. Thanks are given to “Gordon W.” who contributes steady Eastern-sounding tablas. The result is an 18-minute package of ‘un-pop’ dreamwave, with organic-sounding drone and super-soft hand-drum rhythms, and Preisser’s easy-sounding spoken-barely-sung vocal work front and centre.

After kicking off with a very trippy cover of “Silver Machine”, we flow into the duo’s first ever track, which sets a poem by Scardanelli (who happens to be Preisser’s father) over some plaintive and exotic instrumental calls and a rugged textured synth bass drone.

The B-side starts with another disassembled cover version, stripping Jane Birkin’s 1983 “Baby Alone In Babylone” back to essentially just a half-sung acapella with coincidental high-pitched drone and wind sounds. “Japanese Double Suicide” is a short suffix to this where the same electronic noises suddenly go a little loopy and the half-asleep vocal is replaced by manic reverb-laden trumpet squeals, There’s a fluid segue so that digitally it appears as one track. It’s the only track with a writing credit solely of the duo, and despite being so short, it hints at a different and much more agitated direction that the project could take musically if it felt so inclined. But instead of pursuing that, instead the final track is “Delirium”, another German-language Scardanelli poem set to rough-hewn and dark atmospherics.

There’s a slightly old-school attitude at play here, a confrontational experimental grittiness that recalls a few decades past, though the production quality is more polished. It will appeal to people who like their electronica deeply arty and best suited to edgy poetry recital events.

Niklas Adam: Undulate

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 02 2019
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Artist: Niklas Adam
Title: Undulate
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
Niklas Adam’s first release on SOFA is a sparsely populated sonic space, decorated with soft and unpredictable percussion work that is sometimes complimented, tweaked and toyed with by analogue-sounding electronic processing. Other sound-effects noises make little cameos- occasional woodpecker-like noises, odd animalistic and sometimes vocoder-styled vocalisations, and some fleeting appearances from more traditional melodic instrument sounds.

The result feels somewhat old-fashioned, in a positive way- a throwback to the deliberately weird-sounding attitude of electronic experimentation of the 50’s and 60’s, grounded in bubbly analogue blips and beeps, but given an extra dose of breadth and open space to play in, across two long tracks (16 minutes and 19 minutes respectively).

The two pieces flow like one 35-minute whole, and while there is apparently no vinyl release for this, it certainly feels like an arbitrary split only caused by the need to divide it into two sides on an LP- otherwise the two pieces continue in mood and tone indistinguishably to any listener not deliberately watching the track number on their media player.

The most beautiful part of it is how it concludes. After a solid half hour of conscious abstraction that borders on random, soft gentle organ-style chords arrive, feeling like the gradual arrival of soothing calm and order into an alien space. It’s handled rather simply, in a way, but the effect is surprisingly bold.
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