Music Reviews

Maggi Payne: Arctic Winds

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
 Edit (7009)
Apr 22 2012
Artist: Maggi Payne (@)
Title: Arctic Winds
Format: CD
Label: innova Recordings (@)
Distributor: Naxos of America, Inc
Rated: *****
Maggi Payne is a name that has popped up a few times on the Chain D.L.K. website but many readers/listeners may not be familiar with her and/or her music. I admit to being in the dark myself until I received this release. Ms. Payne has an extensive academic and professional technical music background - music degrees from Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, and Mills College. For ten years she was a recording engineer in the multi-track facilities at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills, where she is currently Co-Director and teaches recording engineering, composition and electronic music. She was a production engineer at a major Bay Area Radio Station for ten years and now freelances as a digital recording engineer and editor. She has had performances of her works throughout the Americas, Europe, Japan, and Australasia. She received two Composer's Grants and an Interdisciplinary Arts Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and video grants from the Western States Regional Media Arts Fellowships Program and the Mellon Foundation. She received four honorary mentions from Bourges, and one from Prix Ars Electronica, and was an Artist in Residence at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA. Perhaps one of the things that I found most curious about her was that she studied under Robert Ashley.

I am not familiar with Maggi's previous work or recordings, so this one stands on its own merit with nothing to bias me either way. Falling into the general category of ambient, perhaps minimal ambient, or isolationist soundscapes, 'Arctic Winds' is not a trip to the North Pole, but a set of discrete environments meant to evoke certain regions, landscapes or conditions. What is highly interesting on 'Arctic Winds' are the sound sources and how they were processed to evolve into what the artist envisioned, and the listener now hears. For those who have always been fascinated in the infinite possibilities and varieties of sound manipulation, 'Arctic Winds' should prove a revelatory experience.

The opening piece, 'Fluid Dynamics' sounds like a distant avalanche; washes and waves of rumbling low noise, along with wind. It later morphs into what I could only describe as an accelerated collapse. You would never guess the sound sources though- gas traveling through pipes, a water faucet, steel and brass ball bearing rolled across a wooden floor, a spare metal part rolling on a linotype machine, and the swaying of very thin brass sheeting, also a large steel ball rolling down tow strings of a small koto-like instrument. Of course you don't hear any of that because it was processed using phase vocoding, convolution, granular synthesis, equalization and extensive layering. As for me, I could grok the ball bearing rolling and maybe the gas pipes, but I find this astonishing, almost like magic.

And so it goes with other pieces as well. 'Distant Thunder' sounds similar to just that (well, maybe with some wet additives), but its sound sources are boiling tear water, resonant floor furnace and a little bit of adhesive tape unrolling. 'Apparent Horizon' initially sounds like a cruise across the stratosphere, but altitudes change from earthly to deep space to an environment that is just impossible to describe. It was incredible to discover that the sound sources in this piece were derived from Space Shuttle and Apollo transmissions, satellite transmissions and shortwave radio! (Oh, okay there was a brief span at the end of the piece where it sort of sounded like that, but not much.)

'Arctic Winds' utilizes dry ice and ball bearings rolling across drum heads to achieve its frigid environment. 'System Test (fire and ice)' is comprised of recordings of Jacob's ladders, ice melting and papers sliding against each other. (Tell me, what does melting ice sound like?) The result is a mélange of various waves of low frequency noise, sizzling and hissing sounds, deep rumblings, and ripping electronic zaps. There is a cyclical motion to this remarkably ominous piece. On 'Glassy Metals' Maggi explores the sounds of tungsten filaments in burned out incandescent bulbs, magnetic tape rushing across a head stack, small ball bearings, various sizes of ball chains, sheet metal tiny motor gears, bikes, the San Francisco subway, freight trains, and other metal objects. The sonic variety on this piece is amazing- it begins sounding like an insect typing pool, then a stuck alarm clock going off, a distant ringing, last gasps, a rotating lawn sprinkler on a summer night (that gets very loud and intense), and a wet and ringing wet wind with a rumbling rocket overhead. You just have to hear it. Final piece, 'FIZZ' makes use of the sound of a dysfunctional toilet and a recording of 'fizzing' provided by Ms. Payne's student, Alison Johnson. I suppose there is a certain element of fizzing to this soundscape, but there is certainly much more than that. It sounds quite vast and at times terrifying- like standing on the precipice of some ungodly high mountain while a hurricane swells on the horizon. The other half of the piece presents a calmer low frequency drone juxtaposed with the resonant zizzing of the fizzing. Wow!

I should mention that these pieces were conceived and created between 1996 and 2009, and I think there are, or have been, videos that accompany these pieces, but I haven't seen them. For fans of minimal ambient and isolationist soundscapes, this is almost as good as it gets, and that's quite good.

Foust!: Space Sickness

 Posted by J Simpson (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
 Edit (7007)
Apr 20 2012
Artist: Foust! (@)
Title: Space Sickness
Format: CD
Label: The Anti-Naturals (@)
Distributor: Eh? Audio Repository
Rated: *****
Space Sickness, the second transmission from Scott Foust's Foust! solo project, sounds like outer space, but its more like space station music than the void itself; there's lots of buzzing and whirring, crackles and static. Its like listening to machines do their thing. Mostly comprised of static drones drifting in and out of phase, creating a dense and invigorating atmosphere, lots to listen to, but each element is given enough space to be appreciated. Space Sickness was recorded during the same session that produced the first half of 2006's Jungle Fever, but while that record was dense and organic, Space Sickness is all clinical minimalism - 10 sound sculptures of claustrophobia and encroaching madness.

Most music that attempts to emulate the vast emptiness of space falls upon hackneyed dark ambient cliches of chorused synth pads, and the ubiquitous reverbed vocal sample, probably swiped from In The Mouth of Madness, but Foust knows better; he hates New Age music. Instead, he harkens back to the period of late '70s industrial noise, like Boyd Rice's NON project, tone poems and metal machine music. The chirping telegraph sounds, hissing airlock steam and binaural beats, make for interesting mental movies, and the relatively unchanging nature of each piece make for a meditative listening experience. Foust's years as a dedicated listener, as well as playing in a whole slew of different bands, means that he has learned how to avoid the perilous pitfalls many novices succumb to, such as recording straight to hard disk. He appreciates tone quality, room sound, and recording fidelity. Space Sickness is easy on the ears, which makest it ieasy to get lost in its lulling languorous spell.

Some people may find Space Sickness to be dull and lifeless, monotonous and irritating. Either you are going to love this record, or hate it. But if you like to close yr eyes and go for a drift, if you find yrself listening to the radiator hiss and hum when no one is looking, if you legitimately like the works of Pierre Schaefer or Bernard Parmegiani, if you dig Tarkovsky's Solaris or play sounds from a radio telescope during dinner parties, then you are in for a real treat.

Fear Falls Burning: Disorder Of Roots

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
 Edit (7006)
Apr 19 2012
Artist: Fear Falls Burning (@)
Title: Disorder Of Roots
Format: CD
Label: Tonefloat (@)
Rated: *****
Dirk Serries, better known with his moniker Vidna Obmana, started Fear Falls Burning project more as a sort of minimalistic diversion, but in spite of its interesting evolution towards a somewhat original concoction of experimental noise-rock and shamanic music elements, he announced that project came to a close. Thankfully he changed his mind, even if it seems this album wisely named "Disorder Of Roots" should be its very final act, but while we look forward to a not so desirable confirmation, we can appreciate this new issue. Four long-lasting tracks where Dirk's mastery in molding entrancing drones through microscopic variations embosses guitar tones which sound twirling with heady fumes since the initial track "The Roots Rebellion", where it seems the author lets the listener inhale till the moment when, after some hiccups of guitar slides, Phil Petrocelli's drums begin to pop with regular cues while over-stretched tunes gradually overtops in the sonic space. The following track "Virtue Of the Vicious" follows an analogous movement but drumming cues come at the outset of the anthem: in spite of droning rarefaction, there are more points of tangency with progressive-rock and so-called post-rock, but I can't rule out some old crossover stuff like Starfish Enterprises or Drift Pioneer could come to mind, which normally lingers on the same chord or echo for the whole playing length. On "Chorus of Dissolution" Dirk's accomplices, bass-player Frank Kimenai and Cult Of Luna's member Magnus Lindberg on drums, manage to sustain the hypnotical and gently abrasive drone which sounds like a filling of a mesmeric pool. On the occasion of Fear Falls Burning's last bequest before its supposed death, the track "I Provoke Disorder", a voice strikingly breaks in, the one by Michiel Eikenaar, who disguises it in the semblance of some distraught agonizing fiendish creature which manages to peek in heaven after a long paralysis for having been put on chains by kind permission of its torturer, while drone get more and more corrosive and drums beating time gets heavier and heavier.

Harley Gaber: In Memoriam 2010

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
 Edit (6997)
Apr 16 2012
Artist: Harley Gaber
Title: In Memoriam 2010
Format: CD
Label: innova Recordings (@)
Distributor: Naxos of America, Inc
Rated: *****
Many of you may not be familiar with American minimalist composer, visual artist, photographer and film maker Harley Gaber (1943-2011), and until receiving this, his final release (as far as I know), neither was I, although his name has surfaced here and there on the Chain D.L.K. website from time to time. Gaber studied music with Horace Reisberg, Darius Milhaud, Lejaren Hiller, Aldo Clementi, Franco Evangelisti, Giacinto Scelsi, Giulio Rotoli, William Sydeman, and Kenneth Gaburo. Gaber's handful of releases goes back as far as 1972, but his body of work seems to be larger than that. He quit composing in 1978 to devote himself to tennis, but did manage to return to music for 3 final albums beginning in 2009. Harley Gaber committed suicide on June 16, 2011 in Gallup, New Mexico after putting his affairs in order and paying for his website domain name 10 years into the future. (Odd, in my opinion, for someone not planning to be around very long.) The reasons for his suicide are complicated, but could be attributed to a deteriorating physical and mental condition. This work, 'In Memoriam 2010' was commissioned by Dan J. Epstein of for his mother Nancy Epstein (1920-2010), the widow of Chicago real estate financier Julius Epstein who passed away in 1968. Nancy and Julius started the Stephen David Epstein Foundation, which provided financing to hundreds of underprivileged children in the fine arts, hence the connection with music and this commissioned work.

The raison d'etre for this work is not as important though as the work itself, or as Gaber's swan song to the world. The track titles of this nearly 64 minute piece in six parts have an apocalyptic overtone, while the sound of the album is rather a dichotomy; a blend of the tranquil yet distressing, perhaps a metaphoric death, and surrender to the void. Not having any basis of comparison to Gaber's other works, I can only evaluate 'In Memoriam 2010' on its own. Frankly, when I first listened to the CD (with no knowledge whatsoever of its background or intent) I found it'¦difficult, and somewhat distressing, especially in the beginning. The track that opens the work- 'cataclysm and threnody' is akin to being jettisoned into space via Star Trek transporter, destination unknown. Actually, it's more like being stuck in the transporter with no hope of ever rematerializing. The sustained higher frequency ringing tones make for uneasy listing to say the least, and that this track goes on for 16 minutes is indeed and exercise in fortitude. There is a mix of other modulated noise, cosmic winds perhaps, giving the impression of motion through some kind of tunnel or wormhole. Imagine an interstellar subway, the express train. It's a rough ride on a smooth vehicle, an unlike anything I've ever heard before. The piece glides into 'threnody and prayer' with only subtle variations and a lessening of the peripheral noise elements. Fortunately, the piece turns down the dynamics but the high frequency drone is still the major element.

The tone and timber shifts dramatically in 'ground of the great sympathy:aftermath' with low frequency drone and the higher whistling drones set in the background. There is eeriness to this track as other subtle sonic elements come into play that are very dark ambient-ish- alien angelic voices, echoed noise, etc. For me, there is where things started getting really interesting. Categorizing it as 'cosmic dark ambient' would not be off the mark. The piece transits seamlessly into 'in-formation,' where there seems to be an uneasy yet peaceful atmosphere. The tonalities Gaber employs here are tenuous and ethereal, and you'd barely know they're there without turning up the volume, but I wouldn't recommend it. While 'coalescing' may seem like a hardly noticeable transition again, there are sonic differences in this section that could be indicative of discovering life'¦out there'¦just not the kind of life you're familiar with. There is this sound I can only describe as 'cosmic crickets' that accompanies much of the track which feels like space travel. Perhaps it's inner space though; it's all a matter of perspective. Finally 'with completion' seems to give birth to new lifeforms taking shape and swirling in the void, growing and expanding.

I suppose the album could be considered a metaphor for death transiting into new life, and in that regard it succeeds. Yet, as with concepts of life and death it is oblique and unfathomable, at least on this mortal coil. There is a chance that Harley Garber may have been unknowingly channeling the God-force in this work, and perhaps an equal chance that the artist knew exactly what he was doing, opting out after finishing this because in this space and time and life, there was nothing more that could be said or done that could have gone beyond what he envisioned. In any case, this is a deep and profound listening experience that may be best digested in time after multiple listenings.

VV.AA./Athana: Athana Remixed 2012 NO:US

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
 Edit (6996)
Apr 14 2012
Artist: VV.AA./Athana (@)
Title: Athana Remixed 2012 NO:US
Format: CD
Label: West Audio Productions (@)
Rated: *****
Although I didn't it, this Norwegian project, named after initials of its main mind Alf Terje Hana, has already been introduced on these pages and looks like based on the extravasation of guitars in a sonic blender whose blades have been turned rust-proof by the involving dynamics of drum'n'bass and its possible crossbreeds, so that by Athana's admission the concrete turning point as well as a source of inspiration (or even enlightenment) for his approach to composition came after seeing a TV broadcast by Roni Size in the golden era of drum'n'bass. Such an interest for new musical language pays off and after four years from its last appreciated collection of remixes - Athana Remixed 05-08 -, Alf decided to build a bridge between his home country, Norway, and USA taking the wraps off two of his songs ("Picazzo" from "Corridor" album and "I.O. Roni" taken from "Beats & Pieces", the one inspired by that inspiring perfomance on BBC's Jools Holland show) to a couple of Norwegian remixers and a couple of American ones. Those ones who remixed "I.O. Roni" are almost unknown to me, but they exhibit an interesting sonic weaponry. I've heard just a couple of releases (with Dialect Recordings and Crosstown Rebel imprints) by Ost & Kjex, but it seems they are so notorious in their country that they gained a nomination in the Norwegian Grammy 2010 and on this occasion they assemble a nice electronic/house movement, whose main elements (reverberations on claps, diluted synth bells, a certain funky gear combined with relaxed mood and a sound close to a mobile's dial tone acting as a metronome) recalls that style which radiated from some Scandinavian clubs (think about Plej, Hird or Ben Horn to name a few). In spite of his remarkable number releases, the name of California-based project Uberzone aka Timothy Wiles is totally new to me: his treatment of "I.O. Roni" blends together electro and breakbeat sensations, nice tablas, bleeping sizzles (turning into an 8-bit melody in the end of the track) and those centrifugated swirls which are normally used during dnb dj sets, which are going to delight ears of breakbeat and dubstep addicts as well. I'm more familiar with name and sounds by NY-based producer Dennis De Santis (his name gained some visibility for being involved in the astonishing Aphex Twin acoustic project "Alarm Will Sound"), who proposes a very catchy set of breaks & brakes flavored with sonic recipes such as guitar chords, synth brass gabbles, treated vocal slices, and by Mungolian Jetset, a nice Norwegian duo, which often build moody and daydreaming grooves with a sort of prog-rock approach, which seems to have been preferred on this occasion with the precious support by Emil Nikolaisen, whose additional guitar acts as an enzyme for dream processing.

Search All Reviews:
[ Advanced Search ]

Chain D.L.K. design by Marc Urselli
Suffusion WordPress theme by Sayontan Sinha