Music Reviews

Carlos Casas: Pyramid Of Skulls

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 05 2017
Artist: Carlos Casas
Title: Pyramid Of Skulls
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Discrepant
“Pyramid Of Skulls” is a Tajikistan-based field recording experiment in four parts of around seventeen minutes each. Found sound from a variety of different sources is layered and looped to create environments that manage to feel both familiar and implausible at the same time, as spoken word conversations blend with fireside crackling and light industrial machine sounds, melding overall into something that wanders in and out of making sense. The sound of the proverbial kitchen sink may be somewhere in the mix too.

To further complicate matters, Persian-sounding instrumentation such as the pamiri rubab and the ghijak are added, bringing folksy tones but played in strung-out and drone fashion, totally disassociated from their musical roots.

This isn’t purely ambience- this is deliberately and conscientiously layered and juxtaposed sound. Percussive elements are digitally looped and EQ’ed to make them unnaturally deep, bordering on organic techno. The vocal wails at the start of “Triune God” and the bizarrely lo-fi and distorted (possibly backwards) instrumentation alienate the folk tone from the original poem, exposing and twisting it into something warbly and alien. Certain editing, such as the abrupt cut at the end of “Avesta”, is seeking your attention in a way that soundscape works often don’t.

“Avesta” stands out for its increased use of analogue electronic noise, with white noise and primitive-sounding oscillations ripping through the soundscape with an abrupt determination, and a second half which is relatively sparse compared to the cacophony that has preceded it.

“Sinpoj Variations” gives a lighter touch to the editing, allowing some of the singing (credited to ‘Jonboz’) to breathe a little more naturally, with drones and plucked instrumentation meandering alongside. This slightly more minimalist approach continues into the final piece “Dargilik Variations”, where hollow reverb gives a more reverent and church-like tone, but the anachronistic electronics have not fully disappeared.

Overall it’s a bold clash of ethnically-sourced and ‘rustic’ sounds with an attitude-laden production aesthetic that demands attention and which isn’t afraid to break the context of the recordings even if it might seem disrespectful. And the net result is a success- bold, distinctive, and unusual, it’s a rare beast of a soundscape work that commands your attention and keeps you guessing, without detaching from its authentic origins.

Emanuele De Raymondi & Marco Messina: Saro

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 31 2017
Artist: Emanuele De Raymondi & Marco Messina
Title: Saro
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: ZeroKilled Music (@)
This album is the soundtrack to Enrico Maria Artale’s very personal documentary film “Saro” in which he travels to meet his absentee father for the only time in his life. So the tone is as you may expect- introspective, emotional, and with a sense of journey.

The soundtrack brings together the minimalistic string arrangements of Emaneule De Raymondi with the synthetic sound textures of Marco Messina, and results in something that is fairly typical soundtrack fodder- broad sweeping tones, plaintively plucked guitar notes, long sustained strings. It’s a familiar recipe used on many soundtracks and to be frank, many parts of this release are soundtrack-worthy in that they provide a tone, a general mood, but are otherwise unexceptional.

Most tracks are either de Raymondi or Messina on their own, but it’s when they collaborate, particularly on “Viaggio”, that the most powerful result arrives. It’s a well thought-out collaboration and the two composers clearly complement each other well- hopefully they may have more extensive combined work in future. The suspenseful “Mare” suggests they could also turn their hand to action movies as well.

The strongest de Raymondi piece here is “Assenza”, with its deep bowed ominous dawn and conscientiously simple piano work. For Messina it’s probably “Non Respiro”, an unnerving and alien layout with an ebbing sense of danger.

At only 26 minutes it’s a very succinct soundtrack album, with many pieces presumably only as long as the documentary required them to be, when in fact some, such as Messina’s “Terra Distante”, could easily have evolved and grown further.

Suplington: Repeating Flowers

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 26 2017
Artist: Suplington
Title: Repeating Flowers
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Youngbloods (@)
Supliington’s “Repeating Flowers” is a rich blend of digital ambiences, synthetic washes, mellow drawn-out instrument notes and effects, and an above-average helping of light multi-ethnic drum sounds. It’s a sonic bath, but at times a slightly disorientating one- while it doesn’t wander too far into dischord, there are some alien tones and odd juxtapositions here that make the release clamour for attention more than some do.

There’s a range of durations here, with “A Ritual Dance For Growth” little more than a 2-minute interlude, perhaps an unfinished idea, while “The Ocean As One Being” is allowed to breath for a justified and welcome ten minutes.

“A Place Of Fear And Realisation” is boldly simple, while “Spring Dance” brings live toms and deep drums into the mix in a way that feels natural and authentic. “Comforting Company” also adopts live drum sounds, but in a more regular and uniform manner than feels more like sample loops. The finger-snaps and gated vocal-like sounds of final track “An Infinite Loop Of Time” are a refreshingly upbeat way to mellow out, devoid of at least some of the melancholy that normally pervades this kind of soundscape.

It’s a smooth, fantastically coherent and ultimately rather beautiful 50 minutes of aural comfort, with just enough of the unorthodox about it to give it a memorable character.

(Oh and by the way, although I've listed it as "download only", it is also available as a limited edition cassette, but "cassette + download" wasn't on my options list.)

Yiorgis Sakellariou: Stikhiya

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 23 2017
Artist: Yiorgis Sakellariou
Title: Stikhiya
Format: Tape
Label: Crónica
“Stikhiya” is a pair of soundscape compositions comprising layered environmental found sound with additional electronic elements that sound sometimes like arcing electricity, sometimes like industrial gas processing, sometimes like the interference caused by mobile phones on unshielded audio cables. Repetitive mechanical processes occasionally form firm rhythms, ignored by their sonic neighbours. It’s an uncomfortable inserted juxtaposition that changes this work from ambient to uncomfortable.

Despite being labelled as only “part 1” and “part 2” there are smaller sequences within, and abrupt and distinct changes that jolt your consciousness just as you are beginning to tune out. On their own the environmental sounds are often quite prosaic- empty, everyday spaces with distant road noises and indistinct plastic hits. It often feels rather ordinary and familiar. Only fleeting glimpses, such as the odd whistling tones in the final minute, feel ethereal.

“Stikhiya” has all the commonplace elements of a soundscape arrangement but unfortunately it fails to shine as a self-contained work due to its uninviting awkwardness.

Jaap Vink: S/T

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 21 2017
Artist: Jaap Vink
Title: S/T
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Recollection GRM
Rated: *****
With the release of a double LP by Jaap Vink, the Recollection GRM series coordinated by Daniel Teruggi and François Bonnet, moves from the focus of releasing music strictly produced by the GRM group but extend it featuring composers who are not strictly affiliated with them, but whose approach and aesthetics are similar. Compiled with the help of the Sonology Institute in The Hague, this collection contains seven tracks recorded from 1968 to 1985. Born in 1930, Jaap Vink He attended courses in electroacoustics at Delft University of Technology and installed a pedagogical studio for electronic music in 1961 at the Gaudeamus Foundation in Bilthoven with the help of the Nederlandse Radio Unie (NRU). He was a staff member at the Institute of Sonology as a teacher in analogue studio techniques from 1967 until his retirement in 1993. Using oscillators, tapes, filters and modulators he was able to build up a sound that was rich and majestic. The opening track "En Dehors" is a magmatic drone made of many small frequencies and the effect created is just beautiful. "Objets Distants" has been recorded in 1970 but it sounds ahead of its time. It's sounding like travel through the space with hissing sounds, small feedbacks: a chaotic but yet controlled track that after seven minutes or raging sounds, turns quiet and minimal, playing with frequencies and feedbacks. "Stroma" is sounding like a strings orchestra which is on an astral voyage, where everything seems so distant and slow. The change of intensity and the multi layering is the key and Jaap Vink is a master in the process. "Granule" and "Residuals" pass from strong noisy parts to minimal ones and like the following "Screen" and "Tide 85" they play around the construction of multi tonal parts. I was amazed listening to this material and it recalls me also the same approach that nowadays artists like Boyd Rice on his "Children Of the Black Sun" had toward the construction of sound. Nice!

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