Music Reviews

VV.AA.: Fieldwave Vol. 1

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 17 2020
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Fieldwave Vol. 1
Format: Tape
Label: Nonclassical
“Fieldwave”, curated by Nick Luscombe, is an attempt to highlight the increasing predilection for musicians to include field recordings and natural sounds into their work. The first side of the tape is a collection of nine short works, mostly around the three minute mark, and essentially a sampler, giving us a breadth of approach to that integration, with the field recording aspect sometimes dominant, sometimes bordering on incidental.

So while Hojo + Kraft’s “The Hours Descend” is a composed edit built almost entirely of field recordings that have been ordered to form an open-minded narrative, in contrast to that pieces like Tuulikki Bartosik’s “Crossing Over Forest, Laho Lake, South Estonia” is essentially an accordion piece with a folky vibe for which the field recordings provide general atmosphere and texture rather than being the main focus. Others span the two, with Iain Chambers’ “The Regents’ Canal” layering found bell-tone sounds- that could either be church bells or industrial pipes- and extensively effecting and pitching them in the production process to bring melody into the portrait of a landscape.

For Now’s “Yellow Flowers” is practically an audio drama, a snapshot of family life cut into pieces, and contrasts nicely against purist field recording pieces like Kate Carr’s bizarrely compelling “Highway Bridge Drain Pipes, Saskatoon, Canada”. James Greer’s “Get Yer Kicks!” and D_BAM’s “Mr. Slush” are also notable for being so oddly unrecognisable, both more sci-fi than naturalistic, heavy sonic post-production twisting sounds into shapes very far removed (thankfully) from the everyday.

The second side of the tape is an utterly different experience, given over completely to the 27-minute work “Ng Geen Yun (No Police Here!)” by Gabriel Prokofiev. Whereas most of the first side could be regarded as ambient, this is sonic reportage from a recording artist who found himself caught up in the Hong Kong protests of 2019. Obviously they were a time of great civil unrest, but in terms of tension and stress levels, I would describe this work as a ‘medium’. Whether because the artist was on the periphery of the action- much of the large crowd shouting feels a bit distant- or whether because the recording is from one of the steady marches rather than the flashpoints, there’s an odd sense of security here. At times it’s almost as though we’re in a football crowd, surrounded by fellow supporters who are passionate without truly thinking that these events are important- which feels quite at odds to the scenario as we were shown it in the media. Certainly it’s a crowd who are not happy with their team, particularly in the final few minutes, but overall it’s far more peaceful than I expected. Being unable to speak the language (apart from a couple of very short English language snippets that catch you unawares), perhaps I would have appreciated the underlying tension more if I had understood the wording of the crowds’ chants.

This is a really nicely compiled selection of new works that show the versatility with which field recordings can be adopted to form their own artworks, or to supplement and bring almost infinite distinctiveness to existing musical forms. If anyone you know thinks that ‘field recording music’ is just a bunch of birdsong and ocean wave recordings, play them this.

Astatine: Global Exposure

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Dec 26 2019
Artist: Astatine
Title: Global Exposure
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
Astatine is the solo project of Stéphane Recrosio, based in Paris, France. For about two decades Recrosio is better known as member of the post-rock/slowcore band Acetate Zero with whom he has done several sublime releases on labels such as Arbouse Recordings, Intercontinental, Claire’s Echo, Drumkid Records and others, and shared the stage with The Album Leaf, Encre, Empress, Rothko, The New Year and Chris Brokaw, among others. Since 2011 Astatine has released numerous albums, EPs and singles on labels such as Cotton Goods, Cantos Propaganda, [A…]UTOPROD, Éditions Vibrisse, Doubtful Sounds and Recrosio’s own labels Orgasm and Fissile.

'Global Exposure' is Astatine’s new full-length album and first for Sound In Silence, featuring twenty new compositions with a total duration of something more than 46 minutes. Utilizing fuzzy electric guitars, delicate acoustic guitar arpeggios, mumbled and distorted vocals, minimal bass lines, rough drums, heavily processed found sounds, loops of abstract noises and field recordings.

Okay, all of the previous was gleaned off the Sound In Silence one-sheet that accompanied the CD. Before I even get into the review, I did my due diligence in checking out Acetate Zero as well as other releases by Astatine. Regarding the former, they are a mildly enjoyable female-fronted (often, but not always) alternative band, in the somewhat typical late '90s/early 2000s indie mode, with occasional noise/shoegaze elements. Regarding the latter, a survey of the great volume of material Astatine has produced has yielded both more and less interesting works than what's on this album; uneven, unpredictable, and sometimes unendurable. Out of context of course that's rather meaningless, so let me add some context. To me, 'Global Exposure' sounds mostly like dubious aural garbage with an occasional glimmer of light. It is amateurish and unabashedly awful, contextually incoherent, and utterly lacking in any semblance of meaning. It didn't begin badly, staring with "Snow Loop #1," 3 minutes of a mild noise loop drone, but then "Rotary Combine" puts forth what sounds like a rehearsal session with a guitar progression that sounds clean at first, but grows progressively dirtier with distortion as it repeats, and repeats, and repeats...I should point out that the album is 20 tracks of mostly short duration (the longest at slightly over 5 minutes, most of them under 3 minutes) so there isn't a lot of development within each track, and mercifully, they're over before they really start to annoy the crap out of you. One might think that within those confines and multitude of mini-works Recrosio's experimentalism might yield at least a couple of gems, but alas, no; things actually get worse as the album progresses. "Blitz Theorem" sounds like trying to repair an electronic gizmo in real time with disappointing results. "Decipher The Fall" has all the charm of a candid cassette recording of a band rehearsal with the least vocally proficient member of the band subbing for the singer who couldn't make it. I couldn't even begin to describe "Faux Positif 9" in its crackly quasi-drone-moan defective vinyl record mode. "Underdrive" has some pretty acoustic guitar, until the fuzzy guitar overdub comes in and spoils everything. "Softcore 99" is nothing more than vocally fucking around over some guitar/bass progressions. The "experimentalism" only gets messier and more insipid as time goes on and tracks pass by. I picture a couple of 13 year olds who just discovered Sonic Youth trying to emulate Thurston Moore, but get distracted by the noises their improperly maintained equipment keeps making. It's as if someone thought it was a good idea to record any old thing they came up with after smoking much too much weed. There is absolutely no filter of any kind, and that does not make for a good album, unless you happen to be a music genius, which Astatine is clearly not. I don't know what possessed George Mastrokostas to sign, let alone master this project, as it is certainly not one of Sound in Silence's finer moments. Thankfully limited to 150 copies.

Post Scriptvm: Variola Vera

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Dec 03 2019
Artist: Post Scriptvm (@)
Title: Variola Vera
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Tesco Organization (@)
Rated: *****
If there is one sure way to get my attention and have your release bumped up to the front of the review line, then send me vinyl. For me, vinyl has and always will trump other media formats. (Surest way to guarantee your review stays as the back of the line - digital only.) My prior experience with Post Scriptvm was on their 'Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes' (2016) split with Anemone Tube, an excellent album accorded an excellent review. Before we go any further,m I have to quote from the one-sheet to give some background on 'Variola Vera'.

"Post Scriptvm enters its third decade of marginal existence with a new full-length album of surrealist industrial—eight inexplicably obscure analog sound sculptures, created using antiquated electronics and obsolescent techniques, juxtaposing dark ambient, power electronics and electro-acoustic music. Titled after the outbreak of smallpox in the 1970s socialist Yugoslavia, unintentionally brought in by the pilgrims returning from a quest for divine illumination, Variola Vera is the soundtrack to the somatic and the metaphysical epidemics steering the human enterprise towards its termination. Adrift in the sea of narcotic synth textures, discordant recitations, contaminated laboratory noises, misshapen fragments of charlatan sermons, cannibal ceremonies, voices of dying children and speeches of the moribund Eastern Blok dictators, Variola Vera navigates its wayward course amidst the bitter nostalgia, ritualistic fervency, lethargic dejection, and frantic anguish."

Well, that about sums it up...No, seriously, this is one amazing experimental/dark ambient/noise release. Whether you buy into Post Scriptvm's concept for the album or not isn't important for enjoying this recording, but it does give some added intellectual depth, as well as its raison d'être. Opening track "Vuelos De La Muerte" finds heavy sawtooth low drones on the bottom, tremeloed harpsi-chords riding over them, echoed unintelligible voices, surrounded by a liquid plasticity. "Born into Trauma" conjures images of a Lynchian nightmare; imagine if the Eraserhead baby had a demonic twin!! It's semi-chaotic industrial, a real analogue noise-fest, inescapable in its intensity. "Chimera Of Conscience" is one odd track with a sporadic, semi-random noise-smacking rhythm, bleeps and burbles, an echoed foreign language speech, a wavering drone, and other odd electronic sounds scattered throughout. "Pathographia" introduces bells and bellish sounds into the electro-acoustic jumble and it gives me the impression of pranking chaotic spirits harassing the living. "Rat In The Crown" makes use of distorted, processed speech over echoed bleeps and industrial sonics. Even elaborate descriptions fail to capture this one as it peters out on a spiral of musical box memories. Now what would you think a track titled "Dusk In A Leech Jar" might sound like? Nearly anything you'd come up with would be wrong. This could easily be the most hallucinatory track on the entire album- a nightmarish dark ride through a severed psyche that only gets more bizarre as it progresses. "Storm Puppets" is my least favorite track on the album perhaps due to its lack of variation. It seems to reach a certain point of saturation, then stays there, with lots of repetition and little variation. Final track, "Fondamenta Degli Incurabili" turned out to be my favorite track, being sort of a mysterious funerary lament with spoken word in a foreign tongue in the background and high oscillating ringing tones. Midway through the piece low, thudding percussion emerges making the piece sort of processional. Something about this track really grabbed me; the perfect outro to the 'Variola Vera' experience. The album was mastered by Thomas Dimuzio, one of the most innovative avant garde sound artists, who has done mastering work for the likes of Negativland, Wobbly/People Like Us/Matmos, and GG Allin as well as worked on many remix projects, including the Art Bears.

Comparatively, I would rate Post Scriptvm's 'Variola Vera' as the experimental/noise release of the year. Few that I've heard in this genre seem to do it better, and this work is both magnificent and sublime. Limited to 300 copies on vinyl which I would highly recommend over the digital version.
Dec 02 2019
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.

Susanne Skog: Siberia / Sirens

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 19 2019
Artist: Susanne Skog
Title: Siberia / Sirens
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Fylkingen Records
“Siberia” and “Sirens” are two long works that Swedish sonic soundscaper Susanne Skog has built from extensive field recordings. At times the overlapping and transitioning is so subtle that it blurs the line between conscious composition and simply found sound, whereas at others there’s a more overt artificial layering and post-production at play.

“Siberia” is an abridged sonic account of a 205 hour train journey from Moscow to Vladivostok, as heard in a dampened interior. The rumbling wheel noise, initially distant and calm, is gradually replaced with tenser mechanical drones that become gradually less and less comfortable, as the sense of claustrophobia and human freight increases. Yet despite this, the disempowering sense of passive travel is still present, and it becomes possible to relax and bathe in the noise.

“Sirens” is a collection of different siren recording sounds, which on paper sounds like a potentially agonising twenty-minute listen. But in fact it’s far, far mellower than that, and instead offers up a series of rumbling steady mechanical sounds that, were it labelled differently, you could easily believe was a journey akin to “Siberia” but on a subtly different train. Occasional high pitched tones squeak through, gently, and there are cameo appearances from some electronic pulses and warning sounds- most notably in the final quarter of the piece- but this is a long, long way from the sound you would associate with sirens.

It’s a pair of lengthy and immersive soundscapes that aren’t nearly as different as you might first assume. They’re soporific and detailed, filled with a curiosity, and a strong result of many hours of dedicated field recording work.

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