Music Reviews



Jan St. Werner: Molocular Meditation

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 17 2020
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Artist: Jan St. Werner
Title: Molocular Meditation
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Editions Mego
I’m just going to come out and say this. Mark E. Smith is posthumously revered as a kind of post-punk counter-culture icon, but I just don’t “get it”. His train-of-thought, beat poetry-esque narratives have somehow never connected with me. I’ve heard others say the same about Karl Hyde’s lyrics (which as it happens I do appreciate), but for me, it’s Mark E. Smith whose word salad doesn’t connect or inspire. It’s entirely subjective, but I’ve got to put this out there first and face the inevitable wrath from those for whom his work had more power.

“Molecular Meditation” is a selection of Smith’s spoken-word work set to a dense, thick, experimental analogue electronic backdrop from Jan St. Werner, whose work I only know from the typically more structured Mouse On Mars. The words are front and centre, but there are hiatus points where the music speaks alone. It’s extremely scene-driven, with a series of rapidly varying electronic noise arrangements that jump and shift spontaneously and with urgency, rather than with any gradual evolution. In that way, it’s quite theatrical, adding to the sense of jazz beat poetry translated into electronica. Smith is the ringmaster, and it’s the electronics, rather than the jazz musicians, that react in a manner that feels improvised, driven by the varying levels of despair or fury in Smith’s voice.

It was originally performed in 2014, before Smith’s death, and has now been reworked in undisclosed ways. The twenty minute title track is the ‘original’, and it’s supplemented by three unreleased tracks that were recorded around the same time. Both “Back To Animals” and “VS Cancelled” feature more of Smith, and are urgent, angry, distorted, sweary, and compact compared to the main track, but act as interesting adjuncts.

Of the extra tracks, the standout is “On The Infinite Of Universe And Worlds”, a twelve minute ‘electronic opera’ piece based on Giordano Bruno’s Renaissance writings which Werner was asked to conceptualize for a Finnish new music festival. It’s a showcase track and an excellent tutorial on how to make rough-edged electronics feel more expressive, meaningful and emotive than most word choices.

For me, it’s the electronica that shines here. The dense but measured noise frenzy that opens “Back To Animals” is more to my taste than some of the looser, lazier, more drunken-sounding sections. So forgive me if you don’t agree, but I’m afraid I would find this album a more interesting listen if it were stripped of some or all of Smith’s monologuing, the extremely awkward mock-American accent, the talking about killing magpies with detergent, the bitter (bordering on childish) mocking and exposition of a fairly polite email cancelling a music project, and so on.

Thomas Dimuzio: Sutro Transmissions

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 10 2020
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Artist: Thomas Dimuzio (@)
Title: Sutro Transmissions
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Resipiscent Records (@)
Rated: *****
If you're into modern experimental electronic music, there is one name in the genre you can't help but be familiar with, and that's Thomas Dimuzio. This San Francisco based artist is one of those unsung artistic figures whose influence and abilities have substantially outstripped his visibility. Composer, collaborator, experimental electronic musician, multi-instrumentalist, improviser, sound designer and mastering engineer, not to mention a major influence on other experimental electronic musicians. As a collaborator, Dimuzio has worked with numerous artists and ensembles such as Dimmer (with Joseph Hammer), Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, Dan Burke/Illusion of Safety, Nick Didkovsky, ISIS, Negativland, David Lee Myers, Matmos, Wobbly, Poptastic, Due Process, 5uu's, Tom Cora, Mickey Hart, and Paul Haslinger. I have even mentioned Dimuzio in the past for mastering some artists’ projects I have reviewed here. All this is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Dimuzio's credits sand credentials, and this is the first Dimuzio release I've had the pleasure of reviewing.

"'Sutro Transmissions' is Dimuzio's first all Buchla-synthesizer album. Custom algorithmic crossfades of complex sound synthesis fuel this metabolism of mind and machine in real-time with no overdubs. His Buchla 272e module incorporates a polyphonic FM tuner introducing chance-factors snatched from live transmissions and steered via algorithmic mixing through oscillator arrays and envelope generators before spilling into the ears of blood-pumping audiences huddled in the slanting five thousand foot shadow of SF's iconic Sutro Tower. Each track is a site specific improvisation blooming in the dark of two underground venues on opposite ends of Haight Street just blocks from where Buchla invented the world's first synthesizer." {Label text, not mine.) The album is divided into two parts or sides - Lower Haight” and “Upper Haight”, in reference to Dimuzio’s resident San Francisco, and also the iconic stomping grounds of mid-late 1960s hippiedom. For those unfamiliar with the areas, Lower Haight has a more diverse population and a smaller number of retail businesses, which includes restaurants, small nightclubs, cafes, drinking establishments, galleries, and hair salons, but primarily, lots of residences. The more touristy Upper Haight (aka Haight-Ashbury) has been well-documented as the hippie haven of the past, and retains an ersatz commercial atmosphere from that era in its shops and houses.

That this album was recorded live with no overdubbing (or any other players) is truly astonishing because there is just so much going on. To describe what I'm hearing is extremely challenging because nothing really stays the same for very long. "Lower Haight" begins like some kind of extraterrestrial radio transmission, not only tuning in frequencies, but also some kind of arcane capture device that modulates the coded transmission into something only alien machinery can comprehend. Varying types of noise, jittery voice fragments and sampled sonic effluvia are combed over, swirled around and expelled with vigor from the darkness into the light. A drone tone sine wave (or is that feedback??) takes over for a spell, eventually joined and enriched with other tones simmering and morphing into something completely different when other sonic events come into play. There comes a point about nearly fourteen minutes into this twenty minute piece when a sort of shuffling-sluicing sound creeps in, then something vaguely tapping/dripping giving the impression of adding secret ingredients to the mix while the harmonic drone continues. More choppy transmissions occur, nearly threatening to manifest fully, but never do. Also, LFO oscillated tones emerge now and then. It is all resolved in the lower frequencies.

"Upper Haight" begins with what sounds like a sampled and sliced train whistle sent down the wireless in a not quite tuned in manner while a room full of clueless broadcast engineers try and figure out what's wrong with the signal. The knob fiddling only makes it worse and more cacophonic as channels begin to blend into each other. Dialogue (broadcast?) snippets appear and disappear frequently amidst the staticky noise. When things finally begin to calm down a bit you're left with cycling static noise that eventually dies down as other random thunks and thuds emerge like someone muddling through a room full of junk equipment, and maybe even instruments in the dark, while a hidden live mic records it all. That's not actually what's happening; these are just some of my imaginative impressions. This continues almost until the end.

Hard to say what the overall effect of these two pieces are; often jarring and inscrutable, sometimes minimal and isolationist, "Lower Haight" is a lot easier to digest than "Upper Haight," but the latter has much more going on in it. Perhaps that's a reflection of these two Frisco areas, or maybe it just ended up that way. After all, this album was improvised live, and who knows what thoughts went through the artist's mind as he was creating it. In any case, this is fascinating stuff for who like experimental electronic noise, and especially the Buchla synthesizer. The release on 160g vinyl (+ download) is limited to 300 copies, the first 30 of which include original letterpress prints created by Planetary Magnetics. I wouldn't be surprised if those were already sold out, so you might not want to delay and get the album before the other 270 are sold out as well.

Daspo: Samenreis

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 05 2020
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Artist: Daspo
Title: Samenreis
Format: CD + Download
Label: Setola Di Maiale
“Samenreis”, literally ‘together travel’, is a 5-track, 21-minute mini-album that takes environmental, natural and acoustic recordings and treats them extensively to the point where they feel completely artificial. It was recorded in the anechoic chamber of the HKU in Utrecht to complete the artifice. The duo of Davide Palmentiero and Giuseppe Pisano have then layered on a smattering of melody and guitar. The result is a small pack of what feels like broody digital electronica, where only the lightest natural textures drift through.

“Lorentzweg” is the centrepiece, a six-minute unfolding Russian doll of sonic adventure that rotates through several different levels of tension, almost an audio illusion that constantly feels like it’s rising yet never arrives, save for the sudden and very overt drop-and-return in the centre of the guitar section. It somehow manages to travel all the way from ambient to Americana then back again without going fast, which is no mean feat.

The other tracks are quite diverse, but generally quite sketch-like in nature. “Hollandische Rading” is principally a series of analogue pulses that harks back to early electronic music, before “Oudegracht” brings the twangy guitar back melodramatically for a rumbling, evil-edged piece of road movie music that feels like it’s been pulled straight from some Scandi noir. “Schiphol” ups the drone factor, switching and cutting between a series of different rumbles like a twisted travelogue.

It’s a curious work, and unexpectedly compact, at EP-length, containing plenty of elements and layers that could easily have been explored for longer.

RNL: Conquering King Kong

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 03 2020
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Artist: RNL (@)
Title: Conquering King Kong
Format: Tape
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Our second old school review of the day is the cassette release by RNL, a three-track album titled 'Conquering King Kong'. Jesse Farber (from Germany), the man behind RNL describes it as "an openly collaborative and solo project for experimental sound, art, and ideas." It was begun in the early '90s, focused on tape experiments, collage flyers, and performative actions. Little of the work was shared outside of the handful of group members, most of whom never even met each other. Jesse describes 'Conquering King Kong' as a 45 minute trail through mental states and thought patterns, an abstract audio film that unspools with the logic of a dream."

The first track - "Eyeholes" is nearly 31 1/2 minutes long in 8 parts (Autopoiesis, Edict, Eyeholes, Weft and Warp, Remember, Charge - Discharge, A Sword Within A Sword, Death Without Decay). Each part is somewhat different. There are ambient sections, rhythmic sections, unusual electro-acoustic sections, electronic noise segments, a real potpourri of audio experimentalism. Some of it is intriguing, some of it is annoying, and some just passes by without raising any eyebrows whatsoever. "Intereggnum" is a little 1:16 interim track with a squeaky melody and metronomic rhythm. "Chopping Off Every Finger" (OUCH!!!) is another multi-part piece (Chopping Off Every Finger, Phyllotaxis, Humineral, S. S. Saturnia, 1950, and Everything Ends in Success) with a duration of 12:50. As the title might indicate, this work is a bit darker than what preceded it, but at least you won't hear any screams of victims having their fingers chopped off. Mostly it is submerged in the murky waters of the subconscious with little chance of fighting its way to the surface. Even when a rhythm gets going it sounds more like the monotony of a factory in purgatory than anything that would make you want to tap your feet. Before you know it, it's over and you're back in your own real world, whatever that is.

It's hard to really appraise something this diverse, as there are positives and negative throughout. There were parts I really liked, and some I didn't care for at all. Maybe one needs to listen to it a good number of times to get the most out of it but for me, 'Conquering King Kong' wasn't as triumphant as I might have hoped. Perhaps I should try destroying Godzilla instead?
Jan 28 2020
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Artist: Christine Abdelnour / Magda Mayas
Title: The Setting Sun Is Beautiful Because Of All It Makes Us Lose
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
This album is one 35-minute piece, recorded at the duo’s concert at Ultima Festival in Oslo in 2018. Not content with the long title of the album, the piece itself is called “Thousand and One” and it finds Abdelnour and Mayas experimenting and improvising with acoustic instruments, in a manner of playing that makes the base instrument sometimes unrecognisable. Breathy clarinet and saxophone-like parps, harp-like strings that are variously caressed and strained, soft percussive hits across a variety of surfaces, and treated and often harsh piano plinking are casually tossed together into an out-there assembly of avantgarde jazz. As instruments are switched in and out, we are given different phases, like chapters, that keeps things moving.

It’s full of measured energy, sometimes feeling like a polite sonic argument, two performers responding to each other’s expressions but with an excitability that leaves them often overlapping, but moments of real synergy, or even tonal simultaneity, are quite rare. When they do occur, it’s in the space between flurries, rather than the flurries themselves, that the performance really seems to be in accord.

As a live performance it’s well-recorded, though compared to the standard of other live recordings I’ve heard which have sounded studio-quality, there is just a touch of brightness lacking, an edge of hollowness which makes some of the sounds feel a touch muted or undetailed- but this is very minor and you would still be hard pushed to know it was a live recording if not already told.

It would certainly have been an impressive performance to see at the festival, but unfortunately there’s something about this recording that doesn’t really sparkle. It feels like a workday piece of experimentation, rather than true inspiration, and while it rolls along nicely and produces some interesting textures, for me I’m afraid it doesn’t charm or amaze.


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