Music Reviews

Nate Trier: Palehound in a Sea of Color

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Dec 03 2019
Artist: Nate Trier (@)
Title: Palehound in a Sea of Color
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Nate Trier is a Connecticut-based composer and pianist who creates meditative and abrasive electro-acoustic ambient music. Dubbed a “Rosetta Stone” by the New Haven Independent for making atonal music accessible, Trier creates lyrical melodies with piano and accordion that alight on churning soundscapes of buzzes, hums, and crackling static. French new-music website L’Autre Musique featured his approach to music notation as an exemplar of “new forms of writing sound and music distant from the traditional Western scoring.” The 48th International Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt distributed a recording of his music to participants. Trier also curated and performed 15 one-minute graphic scores as part of New York City-based Composer’s Voice “Fifteen Minutes of Fame” series. He credits his sound to La Monte Young’s prose score that instructs, “Draw a straight line and follow it.” Taking this as a compositional mantra, Trier unified his disparate influences in jazz improvisation, classical counterpoint, and noise music into a style of music that begins with a conceptual motive and unfolds out into a complete piece. At times it may remind the listener of Erik Satie, spectralism, and ‘90’s industrial hip-hop. Ultimately, Trier’s music embodies the spirit of improvisation within a framework free of tonality and, at times, pitch.

That all pretty much comes from his website, but it is clear that Nate Trier is an avant-garde/experimental composer of some diversity, but there's not much diversity on this recording. (I did however listen to some of his other compositions on his website, and I can attest to the diversity.) 'Palehound in a Sea of Color' consists of two tracks - "Palehound" (7:53), and "In a Sea of Color" (1:01:04). The idea here is just three notes, held for a very long time on piano and accordion. The result is ambient drone-tone(s) with variation in timbre, harmonics and resonance, but not really much in pitch. For those unaccustomed to this kind of minimalism, this can get boring, and even annoying pretty quick. For the drone connoisseur though, the fascination is how these pieces evolve over time, and they do evolve here. "Palehound" could serve as the appetizer for the main course of "In a Sea of Color," being the obviosly briefer work with a quicker evolution time. Nothing is really quick here though, as Trier introduces new sonics at a quite leisurely pace within a repetitive scheme. While "Palehound" seems almost basic and quite minimal, "In a Sea of Color" becomes rich with droney resonance before it even reaches the six minute mark. The intensity of this is not sustained for very long though, which may be a relief to the casual listener. (This actually happens several times throughout the track.) One does notice other sonic effluvia creeping in; various noises that could be a side effect of electronic processing, or "other sounds" introduced into the piece. I think these events enhance rather than detract from the main drone and help keep it from getting too static. While this lengthy piece isn't what I'd call "noisy," there are definitely elements of noise employed in it. Most of those are of the subtle variety. Keep in mind though that the source instruments aren't going to sound like any conventional piano and accordion. It is all in the electronic manipulation of those lengthy held notes that the drones one hears are achieved, having little to do with any performance technique on the instruments per se. "In a Sea of Color" passes through various moods and shades, from light tones to dark dissonance, dense drones to minimal atmosphere, always eventually changing and evolving over time. Probably best experienced at a low volume as too many decibels could spoil the soundscape.
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.

Günter Schlienz: Know Your New Age

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Dec 01 2019
Artist: Günter Schlienz (@)
Title: Know Your New Age
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: *****
While his previous release on Zoharum, "autumn", was a kind of ambient music close to modern classical with its melodic framework, "know your new age" is a little bit more canonical in its construction and more meditative as it makes heavy use of field recordings to place the sound into a rather familiar environment for the listener.
This release has two faces: the first one is an almost direct follow-up of the previous release with its discernible melodies and the use of acoustic instruments which adds a catchy element to the whole composition which develops half way between ambient and pop; the second one is a more abstract palette, especially in "More Beautiful", that hints a movement towards a wider use of timbres instead of melodies which creates a more rarified athmosphere. However the music is always far away from an intellectual arrangement of sparse sound as a pictorial quality of the composition is always present.
This is a release that could keep its promise to heal the soul of the listener if the quietness of the music balances the urge for speed of modern life and point to a simpler one. Listen in a quiet environment.

PCM: Attraverso

 Posted by Ibrahim Khider (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Nov 30 2019
Artist: PCM
Title: Attraverso
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: n5MD (@)
A yin/yang four-track release by PCM, Milan-Italy’s trio of producers, Francesco Perra, Matteo Cantaluppi and Matteo Millea who alternate tracks that emotionally range from the pits of sheer angst to elevation of tranquility to dread again and then ascension to sublime wonderment. Quite the emotional wave for just four tracks, you may get vertigo from the sharp rise and falls. Title track “Attraverso” has a sense of elevated angst-ridden tension from keyboard/organ that builds gradually to greater angst and intensity. When you feel things cannot get any more dim or dark, the tones continue until you feel you are in a chamber where water enters, rises, and realize there is no escape. “Attraverso” eerie keyboard/organ resonances are joined with wisps of heavy wind that skitter over tracks like rats treading afloat as flood waters continue to rise, fill and then spill beyond the confines. As apprehensive as the track may feel, there is also a certain kind of resonating beauty to it as the piece progresses and the listener is fully enveloped in layers of waves. The following, “Atraves” deeply contrasts with gentle, pensive, spacious, strumming tones later joined by a compliment of sparse yet mellifluous electric guitar notes and shimmering tones that hover. Somehow this piece conveys romantic overtones, with a hint of wistful longing and mystery. Once more we return to angst ridden territories with the steadily modulating, galloping synth tones that continue into a kind of crescendo panic attack accented with sparse guitar notes that streak by like angels who survey a procession of the damned. The fevered pitch continues for about ten minutes without letting up, rather going through a gradual rise until components of the piece finally dissolves. Capping the release is “Par”, a mellifluous ambient counter to all angst to an orchestral sweeping finish with a slightly wintry feel, with lovely guitar notes that instill a sense of nocturnal, wind-swept landscapes, gentle guitar notes, with an occasional pulse-hum and a magical, uplifting finish. Though there are a mere four tracks, Attraverso feels more like an album for the variety of intense moods and emotions expressed.

Rudy Adrian: Woodlands

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Nov 29 2019
Artist: Rudy Adrian (@)
Title: Woodlands
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
New Zealander Rudy Adrian has been making electronic and ambient music for quite some time now, with albums that go back to 1999, and 'Woodlands' is his 6th release on the Spotted Peccary label. What Mr. Adrian accomplishes here is 13 tracks of pure enchantment, using a variety of drones and atmospheric electronics to present an impressionistic view of a natural environment, the wild forests and planted parks of Dunedin. It is a slow moving album that evolves over time, allowing the listener to become entranced within the domain created on 'Woodlands'. Each of the 13 tracks is different, yet there is a thread of similarity running through them that ties them together. "Postcard from Karnak" employs deep, slow, measured percussion and some of the drones that weave in and out sound almost human, or even godly. The babbling of a brook opens "Deep Within Forbidden Mountains" and the Asian style flute provided by Nick Prosser speaks of a realm far older than one might imagine. Other worldly voices haunt "Fields in Evening Light," in a mysterious, but not spooky way. If fact, most of the album has an aura of mystery to it, in spite of simple track titles such as "Treetops," "Moonrise," "Autumn in a Forest Glade," Hidden Pond," etc. Of course, what you make out of it comes from your own mind, but Rudy gives the listeners a lot to work with, in spite of the album's seeming simplicity. The drone textures are often complex, and frequently changing over time. Subtle additional electronics also alter the environments as well. Through the careful use of applications of reverberation, the environments often sound spacious, sometimes even vast without coming across as artificial. Twinkling higher frequency synths suggest starry nights, or even elsewhere, a gentle rain. I was a little taken aback by the real human male voice on the final track, "Three Views of a Japanese Garden" but somehow it fit and it wasn't like it was dominating, just added ambience. 'Woodland' is a contemplative work, good for meditation and relaxing. I imagine one could get quite carried away by it in the right frame of mind. Kudos to Rudy Adrian for another fine ambient album.

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