Music Reviews

Merzbow: MONOAkuma

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 30 2018
Artist: Merzbow
Title: MONOAkuma
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
Masami Akita as Merzbow has been a big name on the experimental noise front for decades and “MONOAkuma” continues to grow the discography without pulling any surprises. It’s almost exactly fifty minutes of extreme noise, distortion and grind, blending analogue and digital elements into an affronting wall.

New elements arrive with varying levels of abruptness throughout to keep you on your toes, most notably the more structured pulsing that comes and goes quite abruptly from around the 32-minute mark, and the almost quirky foghorn-like feedback sound that flits briefly across the plain a few minutes later.

Somehow it manages to carry you along with it, transforming the baseline of your sonic perception throughout. It leaves you, at the end, feeling like you’ve just had a nearly-hour-long sonic bath in electrified gravel- an experience that ought to have been horrible but which in practice is inexplicably gratifying.

Hanno Leichtmann: Nouvelle Aventure

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 27 2018
Artist: Hanno Leichtmann
Title: Nouvelle Aventure
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
Some of the biggest names in ‘new music’ are associated with the Darmstadt school- Stockhausen, Cage, Boulez, Ligeti, Messiaen and many more. The school’s Summer Courses for New Music have a recorded archive stretching back 70 years, and in true ‘new’ fashion, instead of drily reissuing archival recordings ‘as is’ and making them seem stuffy and no longer avantgarde by context, instead Hanno Leichtmann has been let loose on the recordings in order to not collate them but sample them, twist them, create homages to them and generally freshen them up into a work that’s both old and new.

Sometimes we revel not in the lectures but in the music itself. The theatrics and bold tape manipulations of the 1960’s are most notably on display in tracks like “Substanzsuche”, with pieces like “Klangfigur (fur Klavier, Stimmen und Regler” openly melodic. There are elements of spoken word recordings dropped in, as short snippets or as elements looping into abstraction, in a manner that strangely recalls the Monkees movie “Head” (a reference that may seem obtuse but which will become apparent to people who’ve listened to both), especially when the accents are American.

At other times, pieces like “Einheit von Maß und Zahl” are more faithful to the lecture format, inserting a large chunk of spoken word explanation about feeding a music score into a computer and underpinning it with drone and spontaneous percussion in a manner reminiscent of Johann Johannson’s “IBM 1401”.

It’s a very refreshing way to revisit and rework an archive. A movement of artists whose core work involved challenging preconceptions would, I presume, be generally satisfied that their work has been reappropriated in such a manner. What we have here, in effect, is an intriguing and high-quality bit of music history that’s also brand new.

Monty Adkins: Still Juniper Snow

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 26 2018
Artist: Monty Adkins
Title: Still Juniper Snow
Format: CD + Download
Label: Huddersfield Contemporary Records
In this short concept piece, Monty Adkins “paints over” acoustic pieces performed by Sarah-Jane Summers and the Bozzini Quartet. The original performance was inspired by Norwegian landscapes, and Scottish and Norwegian folk traditions. Adkins has stripped away the performance elements, smothering them in processing and reverb, stretching and washing them until only the atmospheres and broad tones remain.

After “Hollow” and “Distant Waters”, two pieces of slightly more generic cold-yet-positive drone from which the origins would be very hard to guess, it’s in third piece “Spiral Paths” that more of the original source material is exposed and the unique reworking approach really clicks. The plaintive violin work rolling across the melodic slow bass drone in a much more cinematic fashion.

It’s a curious concept piece that feels like it’s not given enough time to really breathe as a drone work, and in “Spiral Paths”, just hints at what award-winning soundtrack album could be conceived if this area was delved into more deeply.

Bow Gamelan Ensemble: Great Noises That Fill The Air

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 25 2018
Artist: Bow Gamelan Ensemble
Title: Great Noises That Fill The Air
Format: CD
Label: Cold Spring (@)
Rated: *****
Bow Gamelan Ensemble was an unfortunately little known group formed in 1983 by Richard Wilson with Paul Burwell and Anne Bean which tried to adapt gamelan music to the industrial scene which was establishing in those times. So, they used instruments made by metal or motors or common domestic objects. They aimed to adapt the music to the environment where they performed and they challenged, inspired perhaps by canonical avant-garde, the notion of musical instruments.
So, a track ad "Snappits/Hooter" creates music from the elements that make noise in everyday car traffic while "Horse/Bells/Hubcaps" is hypnotic in its use of metallic sounds and treat percussion as an element of musical language instead of something that beat the time. "Take III" shows how they use wind instruments to achieve sonic nuances uncommon in a period where this kind of music was challenging the listener with physicality while they take this path in a track like "Thundersheets/Sirens/Baths" of impressive sonic mass. However, the next track, "Pyrophones", is a sequence of subtle and meditative low volume tones.
For the quality of the music and the originality of the musical opus, this reissue is a a way to remind than the music scene is filled by great project that never had the spotlight but their opus hasn't aged a bit instead of most group which are on the magazines' cover in this times of retromania. Almost essential.
Artist: Oren Ambarchi & Jim O'Rourke with special guest U-Zhaan
Title: Hence
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Editions Mego
“Both comforting and subtly strange” is a given description of this album and it’s very apt. Across two twenty-minute parts, simply labelled ‘Hence One’ and ‘Hence Two’, we get a concoction which has atmospheric drone at its base, but which is layered with a fairly generous variety of obtuse and self-contained layers, ranging from processed guitar to bleepier analogue electronic noises, laid up into long patterns that slowly undulate, build and fade as though taking keyframe points from topography of a rather gentle hill walk.

The tabla rhythms from special guest U-zhaan are a prominent part of the jigsaw here. Those contributions are less heavily treated and processed than some of the other elements. With a tonality that gives the work a decidedly pan-geographic flavour for which you would be hard pushed to stick a pin on a map- shades of Japan, shades of Africa, shades of more Western sensibilities, it’s a blend that works but is hard to categorise. The second part of the work is a shade lighter and more melodic, with bubbly electronics complimenting the gentle plucking work.

The result is a gentle and mellow, yet complex, ambient and soft electronica arrangement with a distinctive and very approachable flavour.

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