Music Reviews

Arktau Eos: Erēmos

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 29 2019
Artist: Arktau Eos
Title: Erēmos
Format: CD
Label: Aural Hypnox (@)
Rated: *****
As I recently mentioned Aural Hypnox to introduce the output of another Finnish sound artist, I checked in the pile of releases that reached my desk to something by this knowingly interesting imprint and I found this awesome release, that got released by the end of 2018 in a strictly limited edition of 440 units. I sincerely hope some of them are available yet, as the delight that lovers of ritual dark-tinged ambient sonorities by listening to Eremos, Coptic word for 'desert' and title of this album by Arktau Eos, a bicephalous Oulu-based project whose makers, A.I.H. and A.I.L., besides hiding their real identity, describe as a pact, could be boosted by its evocative sounds. Some followers of the label and the Helixes Collective consider it as the most important project under Aural Hypnox label at the moment, and the quality of this artifact can not be but a confirmation of its good reputation. As you can easily guess, the conceptual framework, to say it so, is solitude, seen as an almost necessary passageway to transcendence, intuition or as a transitional state to a higher level of consciousness and awareness, as the title, the inscription in the in-lay ('Per Solitvdinem Ad Astra'), the title tracks and the whole dynamics of the album, whose moments sound like the aural translation of a spiritual process departing from the catching "The Liminal Pilgrim" - the evoking track by which Arktau Eos let slip their out by delayed bleeps, electronic slithering, a sinister chant and other aural entities - and the eloquently titled interplay of "Facing The Exarchs of Desolation" to the final "Eden", chorally seem to suggest. The description they made about this album and a comparison against their previous outputs got provided by their author and is pretty eloquent: “As has been the testimony of wise men and women of all faiths, solitude bestows its own distinct gifts upon the seeker, a process here treated in less intimate terms than on the voice-led Catacomb Resonator. Ermos is more expansive; the desert that opens before the listener is not a locus of temptations or simple retreat, but a vivid inner mindscape of dramatic confrontations and transformations between flora, fauna, stellar matter, earth, and stone. Gradually they shed away the humanness in its most banal sense, until man identifies with the scorpionic voice of power that carries to the ends of the earth – and cosmos”. One of the most interesting feature is the double bridge they inoculated: a "time" bridge between archaic and modern as they combined (sometimes easily recognizable by trained ears) old synthesizers and ritual acoustics and a "space" bridge as they injected some fields recordings in this release, grabbed in two different moments in the woods of Northern Finland and in the steppes of Mongolia.

Rafael Anton Irisarri: Solastalgia

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 25 2019
Artist: Rafael Anton Irisarri
Title: Solastalgia
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Room40
Solastalgia, named after stress caused from environmental change, is a series of atmospheric washes and rich textured chord pad patterns that is not as rooted in nature as the title or artwork may imply. It offers up a series of alien-sounding vignettes, mostly bleak and at times a little foreboding. Each of these arrives and then decays as a single wave, generally around six minutes long, a fairly simple envelope pattern of fades residing over slow chord changes that represent the work’s only element of rhythm.

In a mostly uniform set of patterns, that could just as well have been numbered rather than named for how much of a common base they share, “Kiss All The Pretty Skies Goodbye” is mildly notable for its introduction of some distant plucked string-like tones that feel like the memory of some other melody. They’re not invasive enough to change the overall tone though, which in this instance is a good thing- as an environmental work, it’s soporific power is its strength and it becomes pleasing that no surprises interrupt that flow.

The release includes the six individual tracks, and also a continuous mix which is just the six individual tracks one after the other, for Spotify convenience- the fades and tracks are not overlapped as you may find from other similar works. It’s the latter which has gone onto my sleep playlist. Despite some rumbling undercurrents, ultimately this is a pleasant and relaxing sonic wash that can change the listener’s mental environment, without any of the distress associated with solastalgia.

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
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.

[ówt krì]: Ximenes

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 22 2019
Artist: [ówt krì] (@)
Title: Ximenes
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
In order to have an idea of what you can expect before starting the listening of this self-released album by self-taught sound artist Kenneth Kovasin, I could refer to something in between the outputs of Helixes Collective's imprint Aural Hypnox (considering both of them come from Finland or from some inter dimensional gate in that area of the planet!), Phurpa ritual performances and the atmosphere of tracks like Jocelyn Pook's 'Masked Ball' (the track of most famous lodge scene of 'Eyes Wide Shut'), to pick something more generally known. The above-mentioned references are just clues to find more or less the statistical area on the wider map of what could be labeled as experimental ambient or dark-ambient, but Kenneth's project, called [ówt krì] (the phonetic writing of the word 'outcry'), has its own peculiarities, in spite of any possible similarities. Honestly he doesn't show any relevant instrumental skill, but as far as I know, Kenneth doesn't describe himself as a musician. He prefers to focus on human voice on this act, that he manages to place with some interesting conceptual fences. The title of the album is a reference to Ximenes de Cisneros, one of the more controversial and extremely austere reformer and inquisitor of the Spanish catholic church. During his life he promoted massacres of Muslims in Southern Spain and crusades during which his army killed and enslaved thousands of African Muslims, but he hardly criticized the spreading of slavery between the American natives after the "discovery" of Americas by Colombo and prosecuted some Catholic Spanish priests, who didn't observe the compulsory celibacy and preferred to convert to Islam and escape to Africa instead of breaking their unions. Such a bizarre duality gets mirrored by the dynamics of the album that departs by the sinister obscurity of tracks like "Sacra Tenebris" and "Resurrexit Dominus" to the gradual ascension of "Salve Regina" and the oblique catharsis of "Ad Caelum", passing through tracks like "Parce Domine" or "Veni Creator Spiritus", where Kenneth gets closer to the style of the above-mentioned composition by Pook. All lyrics got taken from historical catholic chants.

Nikos Stavropoulos: Micro-lieux

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 11 2019
Artist: Nikos Stavropoulos
Title: Micro-lieux
Format: CD + Download
Label: empreintes DIGITALes
There’s a strongly academic approach at work in UK-based Nikos Stavropoulos’ first album (perhaps unsurprisingly for someone with a Doctor title). It’s a compilation of eight works dated between 2003 and 2017, each typically between seven and eleven minutes long and each accompanied by their own independent explanatory paragraph that describes or justifies it with reference first to its title, then by the musical process by which it was reached.

Despite being a compilation spanning works over more than a decade though, this still holds together with the consistency of an artist album, because of a relatively singular and persistent approach. Predominantly, this is electroacoustic music with quite a bubbly nature, transposing biological data and rapid but arhythmic organic noises into fragile-sounding synthetic tones. It’s frequently scratchy, but interspersed with occasional thicker and wetter bass noises and rumbling percussive grumbles that add an unpredictable drama. The result is both atmospheric and alien, with a generally intimate, sometimes almost claustrophobic tone.

Pieces like “Ballistichory”, despite being inspired by seed dispersal, sound organically alive in a way that is unlikely to appeal to anyone with phobias of crawling insects, sounding as it does like angry ant colonies microphoned up while they strategise and attack. Other works like “Nyctinasty” and “Granatum” are drawn from very similar source remedies but are a little mellower, despite still being rapid- like a sonic interpretation of what vegetables would sound like if they could tweet like songbirds.

“Granicus” stands out as an exception, by drawing from ancient-sounding Eastern European and Asian dance rhythms that are contrasted and contradicted against themselves to some degree, but which for the most part hang together as a dramatic piece worthy of a dusty, desert-based, before-the-battle-tension scene for a non-existent movie.

There’s something a little over-familiar about the release as a whole- the combination of wet and bubbly organic grain noises feel a little like an electroacoustic staple and it doesn’t feel like any new ground has been identified with it here. To its credit though it is a polished and accessible example of it, with accompanying texts that serve well as an introductory process for new or sceptical listeners.

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