Music Reviews

Frode Haltli: Vagabonde Blu

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Dec 02 2014
Artist: Frode Haltli (@)
Title: Vagabonde Blu
Format: CD
Label: Hubro (@)
Rated: *****
I remember an interview to Salvatore Sciarrino when the Sicilian composer described the first stage of his own compositional process and the invention of sonic worlds as the extraction from the bottom of Hades, the mythological reign of the underworld, of something which composer or musician wants to bring to light in spite of the fact it could be unknown or unfamiliar. I have not quoted this description of compositional process in order to introduce this release by Norwegian accordeonist Frode Haltli for the mere fact he named his first properly solo album after Sciarrino's notorious composition "Vagabonde Blu", but mainly for the choice of the scores he performed and the location where Frode recorded them. First of all, the three compositions he interpreted have some connections to that idea of life-in-death and death-in-life and its inner unpredictability and such a feature resurfaces from performative and compositional aspects: the alternation of grueling overstretched tones and sudden tonal tangles in "Flashing", Haltli's homage to Arne Nordheim, whose music according to Haltli's own words "is hurled out into space, into the universe, into eternity", mirror this duality, but also the breath-like sequence of sometimes agonizing tiny emissions of air and convulsive noises and the trembling motion that got vividly rendered by variations of intensity and speed in "Vagabonde Blu" as well as the lullaby-like "Ein kleines...", a composition by Aldo Clementi whose repetitive modal theme fades over slow reductions of dynamics and tempo, focuses on this duality. The link to Hades or to the interzone between life and death (or I'd rather say between discernible and undiscernible) is less dependent on the sensibility or the ability to focus of the listener for what concerns the place where this album was recorded: Tomba Emmanuelle, the mausoleum that artist Emanuel Vigeland built with the intent of making a museum for his sculptures and paintings, is a place whose acoustic features attracted many notorious musicians (Diamanda Galas, Huntsville, Susanne Sundfor, Stian Westerhus) who used the place where Vigeland's urn got hosted as a recording hall. Frode describes this place in album's cover notes by these words: "When your eyes get used tot he darkness you can see the fantastic and grotesque fresco of life that covers the walls and ceiuling in the vast, cold room. The massive acoustics produce a long and lively delay covering the entire register fo sounds, and as a result it is nearly impossible to carry out a normal conversation. Silence usually prevails, because you instinctively whisper if you want to say something the room is such an active partner that it changes my music and my playing radically. I listen and wait, and I play offensively at the room so that it can be difficult to determine whether a sound is coming from the instrument, the echo, a combination of the two, or simply a member of the audience who accidentally touches his jacket.". There is no need to highline how this evocative place managed to turn the above-described compositions into almost otherworldly listening experiences...

Dag Rosenqvist & Rutger Zuydervelt: Vintermusik

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Dec 01 2014
Artist: Dag Rosenqvist & Rutger Zuydervelt (@)
Title: Vintermusik
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Rated: *****
This album is a reissue from a CDr from Rutger Zuydervelt, known as Machinefabriek, and Dag Rosenqvist that sounds as an experiments of contemplative and evocative music that sounds unfinished but, so, incredibly honest and childish in his developments.
'Frost / Vries' opens slowly this release with static layers of drones evoking a snow that falls with the brightness of the light reflections. 'Gräs Som Bryts Och Går Av / Gras Dat Knakt En Breekt' starts an exercise on isolationism and ends as a quiet ambient track. 'Blåsa Rök / Rook Blazen' is based upon a guitar lines upon a soundscape and a distant drum that evolves in a static drone and ends with an old recording sample that ends with a stylus fault. 'Ljus I November / Licht In November' starts as the noisier track of this album as it's focused on the guitar distortions but ends as the most ethereal one as the child's field recordings and the piano creates a romantic atmosphere. 'Tappad Vante / Verloren Want' sounds as an introduction to 'Islossning / Ijsbreken' that closes the original release with layers of drones carefully constructed to quietly close the release.
'Feberdröm / Koortsdroom' is a bonus track from another CDr and is based on resonances and filters to create a meditative atmosphere.
This release could not be as remarkable as the latest releases from Machinefabriek but it's so emotive and appealing that sounds as a christmas' gift to his fans. A nice release.

Chvad SB: Crickets Were The Compass

 Posted by Edward Trethowan   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 30 2014
Artist: Chvad SB (@)
Title: Crickets Were The Compass
Format: CD
Label: Silber Records (@)
The cover art of Crickets Were The Compass depicts beautifully in ink and watercolour a grainy, post-apocalyptic landscape strewn with grim, colourless debris. A solitary dog stands in the foreground, dolefully glancing about; after an unspecified disaster, life has inevitably found a way. As much is reinforced by brief elaborations upon each of the tracks' titles, such as 'It Haunts Her' ("She was scared. The storm outside hammered the walls and lit up the sky. We found solace in sound.") and 'Crickets were the Compass and the World Goes 'Round' ("Directionless I listened for something to guide me. The crickets called from all directions at once. I stood still."). Combined with the album's images and compositions, these brief passages give the impression of survivors or travellers in desolate and unwelcoming places, faced with the numbing challenges of life in the wake of massive and abrupt change.

The music itself contributes to this setting in various layered articulations of thick, distorted drones, live instrumentation and gritty textures. The chief (but by no means sole) source of each of these appears to be the guitar. Alongside producing low-end grimness, it also often takes on a cleaner role, with lonesome, aimless picking delaying into the distance on several of the pieces. Analogue synthesisers and unidentifiable samples provide additional texture. A running evocation, sometimes impersonated and sometimes probably directly sampled, is that of radio, now vacant of living broadcasters and transmitting only the stiff indifference of empty frequencies; the sound of the absence of others. As it crawls along, the record's style is definitely consistent and strongly focused on representing its themes. Despite this, each piece has something of its own characteristic arrangement. 'It Haunts Her' opens the album with a buzzing, slow warble rather resembling a siren - drearily and dutifully continuing to sound out long after the dust has settled. 'People Keep Asking And I Say You're Well' begins with radio-like feedback manipulations, gradually accompanied by a slow, shapeless synth motif and introverted guitar twangs. 'There Isn't A Day That Goes By' stands out particularly, portraying a dance of looped quavering feedback and undulations of slow-attack lead noodles. The whole thing rolls about in a murky mid range, but retains a lighter tone than the other pieces. "But there are moments", reads its subtitle.

Besides periods such as this, the relentless and discomforting gloom of it all makes for quite a dreary listen. Chvad SB manages well to soundtrack a forlorn, speculative narrative of life after disaster that recalls literature such as McCarthy's The Road. The album's limited source material and resulting sameness of texture hammers home a sense of entrenched desolation and destitution, unlikely any time soon to change significantly. The world painted has lost much of its colour and, in a slightly disconcerting way, has entered its own kind of relaxed state. There is, of course, a suggestion of allegory. "[Of] coming to terms with fond memories", as the press release puts it, "& letting them go."

Urs Peter Schneider: Kompositionen 1960-2012

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 30 2014
Artist: Urs Peter Schneider
Title: Kompositionen 1960-2012
Format: 3 x CD (triple CD)
Label: Cubus Records (@)
Rated: *****
I'm quite sure that if you met Urs Peter Schneider by chance in the street, you would surmise he could have inspired the character of the old priest in Age Of Empires or you would associate his nice aspect to the cliched one of a hermit who decided to have a walk to buy a tinder for his pipe after centuries of studies in an abandoned tower in order to discover the secret language to access to mystical experiences. Jokes apart, this assumption could be partially true as this interesting collection of works that Swiss label Cubus released on the occasion of his 75th birthday includes many compositions with a plenty of open references to Christian mysticism, such as the quotations by German Domenican frier Henry Seuse in "Kreuze", a really bizarre ensemble that Schneider derived by turning the events of Good Friday into sound where besides the illusion of nails hammered into wood, all musical parameters got structured in the form of a cross, to the references to Meister Eckhard's "Granum Sinapis" on the impressive "Senkforn", even if the meaningful intersections that this interesting and almost unknown Swiss composer are wider by far; spirituality together with a certain sense of humor plays an important role to understand Schneider's wide repertory as well as the "semiotics" and the connection with language of his compositions. For instance there's a strong sense of humour in "Familie" (2010-2012), the composition which ends the first cd and a bizarre series he named "Vier Familien", in the triggering by means of a poem about animals by Franz Josef Czernin, or in the confused tangle of male and female tone combinations and in the choral octophony of "Androgyn". According to the explanation you will find on the booklet, "most of these productions do not content themselves with being a collection of various compositions; they are programmes that are composed right through, in which single pieces depend on each other and make up a whole cluster of meaning, comparable with the structures that are effective in single pieces of work.". This concept of composition should be constantly kept in mind in order to appreciate his variegated productions, as some moments of this collection (particularly of the second cd, which mainly includes ensembles), ranging from operettas to early electronics, quasi-algorithmic sequences to proto-drones, could sound quite boring or gibberish to untrained listeners.

Paul Baran: The Other

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 29 2014
Artist: Paul Baran
Title: The Other
Format: CD
Label: Fang Bomb (@)
Rated: *****
One of the most meaningful and brilliant crossbreed between electroacoustic music and metacultural reflection on life under neo-liberal monstrosities, where it's quite clear that amplified truths in the name of the holy capital are nothing but blinding lies while keeping a personality or so-called critical awareness is almost a privileged state of being, came from Goteborg-based label Fang Bomb and got signed by Glasgow-based composer Paul Baran - it's not a moniker for some electronic music project taken from the inventor of Internet! -, who wove ten impressive sonic reflections/refractions around the concept of alterity or otherness, which should be regarded from the symbolic and psychological viewpoints filtered by flickering moments where perception of reality meets a sort of inverted rapture. The sound on "The Other" that his wise author fittingly linked with Britain, student protests, riots, Neo Liberalism, fear, nationalism, Haiti, chess, geopolitical sum games, Potlatch, celebrities, Obama, Shoah, love, Reflexive Impotence, the Wheel, inversion, Tarkovsky's The Zone, is less influenced by dark-jazz sonorities (Bohren und Der Club Of Gore, Dale Cooper and so on), even if there some moments when those influences resurfaces. The sinister squeaks and a sort of heartbeat whose rising pace and distorsion seems to mirror the growing disquiet and fear of our age on the opening track "Time" and the drunk limerick-like words from Obama's speeches about Holocaust by Paul over the estranging laptop-generated poltergeists by Sebastian Lexer and the heart-rending quartet of Sarah Whiteside's cello and the violins of Sylvia Hallett, Sasanna Ferrar and Alison Blunt on the evocative "Himmelstrasse" perfectly tunes listener's mood: the following "Dissent" where Paul inserted recordings from protesting students before repeating like a gawping "Beating the barricade" reminded an image I have on a t-shit I bought in UK with a picture of Smiley-masked police anti-riot squad wishing "Have a nice day!" while the really evocative sonic portrait of UK by the above-mentioned string quartet and the electronic grasps and the programmed drums by Gordon Kennedy on "Britonia" renders the portrayed object better than other similar portraits; the obscure mantle of distorsions and electric sparks which wraps the instrumental parts by Axel Doerner (trumpet), Werner Dafeldecker (double bass) and Richard Craig (flute) on "Celebrity" tears the veil of golden patina out by a brilliant Debord-ian reflection on the ephemeral consistency of the society of the spectacle which precedes the voodoo-like percussive track "The Human Republic Of Haiti" where Paul meaningfully hits a fire extinguisher on the fragmented structures and fragmented piano by Sebastian Lexer, the soothingly disquieting fake idyll by Sarah Whiteside's cello, micro piano melodies and life support-like artificial breath that Paul extracted from a VCS3 on "Krom" and the borderline post-industrial suite of "Time Zone", inspired by Tarkowski's The Zone; the lopsided classical hamronies of "Looking For Bobby", which got inspred the troubled chess player Bobby Fischer, and the withering atmosphere of the final "Potlach" ends an album which could be the perfect soundtrack for the ominuous decaying of humanity which seems to mark our century.

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