Music Reviews

The Vegetable Orchestra: Green Album

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 18 2018
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
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.

Book Of Air Vvolk: Se (in) de bos

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 26 2018
Artist: Book Of Air Vvolk
Title: Se (in) de bos
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sub Rosa
The 18 musicians of this orchestra here perform a single 60-minute work compared by Stijn Cools. It’s a long, mesmeric piece of near-ambient performance full of impossibly long sustains, very soft bass pulses and natural atmospherics. It’s somewhat conventional, perhaps, but it’s certainly beautiful and strangely warming.

The waves and washes chart a steady and glacial pace as it progresses and, to an extent, evolves. Ryuichi Sakamato’s ambient works are a good comparison, though the gentle bass work at times also made me think this is what you’d get if you convinced The Cinematic Orchestra to relax on a single note for an hour.

Unchallenging, certainly, but nevertheless an exemplary exercise in slow music, accomplished with a stunning sound quality and justified confidence.

Katharina Ernst: Extrametric

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 18 2018
Artist: Katharina Ernst
Title: Extrametric
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Ventil Records
This is a drummer’s album- a revelry of rhythm and percussive sound, perfect time and attitude. It’s a compact 34-minute collection of dominant drumming, with a tribal and sometimes quite raw vibrancy but rounded off with judicious use of effects.

The seven tracks are numbered rather than named. The rumbling bass drone and gradual introduction of elements on the first track gives it the flavour of an EBM album intro, the time signature change just under three minutes in reminding me of Sub Focus, before the extra complexity blended with beefiness in the second track initially recalls the harder side of 90’s trip hop and late-era 808 State before heading off into much jazzier exercises.

As it progresses, it gets a bit more experimental and at times introspective. Track five is a more drone-based offering opening with long cymbal rolls and a gradually unfolding noise wall that eventually opens up into a sparse and continually arhythmic atmosphere, while track seven is a slow, faintly funky workout that loops back to trip-hop.

Never guilty of showing off, this is a skillful but restrained set of embellished drum works that finds that rare balance between being impressive and being really enjoyable.

Aviva Endean: cinder : ember : ashes

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 15 2018
Artist: Aviva Endean
Title: cinder : ember : ashes
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
This is Melbourne-based clarinet player Aviva Endean’s first solo release but it doesn’t appear short of confidence. Lengthy, indulgent and captivating experimental performances, making the most out of the clarinet’s distinctive deep tonal qualities, culminating in long rolls, and languid melodic elements.

There’s an intimacy to the recording, highlighted in the sharp breathy sounds prominent in “undulations : behind”. Predominantly it’s an album of sparse and ghostly atmospheres, notably in “apparition : above”, and while there are also some more chaotic moments, such as in “vapour between”, the boldly stripped-back instrumentation always provides a strict framework that keeps proceedings small.

Whilst principally solo, at times Endean uses timpani skins or pocket amplifiers to transform the sounds, and “undulations : behind” features a harmonic flute called an umtshingo which is melded with the clarinet notes in a nicely symbiotic way, the umtshingo giving the end product a temporarily more metallic- and even electronic-sounding edge.

Even without my previously disclosed love of the clarinet, I found this a really captivating bit of experimental audio performance, and considering that this is a solo debut, it’s barely anything short of stunning.
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