Music Reviews

VV.AA: Merry And Bright

 Posted by Marc Benner (@)   Industrial Noise / Power Noise / Harsh Noise
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 29 2019
Artist: VV.AA (@)
Title: Merry And Bright
Format: CD
Label: Zaftig Research (@)
Rated: *****
For a while, ever year Brett Lunceford would release a Christmas compilation on his label Zaftig Research. I believe the last one for a while was in 2008 then it came back in 2017 and now we have the 2018 version to review. I am not usually very good about reviewing compilations because it is tough to break down every single track but I wrote a short little blurb here about each one as I went through them, some two times to get it all in.

Conure: The Return of Ralphie is more sapling from A Christmas Story layered and chopped into an ever-growing noisy nightmare, excellent as expected from Conure!

Darmkwadraat: Electric Snow is a digital soup of synthesizer bleeps and bloops with a noisy edge on top. Great stuff from a pretty new act who as far as I can tell only has one release on Lage Landen Lawaai, which puts out super limited tapes. Lots of fun!

Dead Shall Not Have Died In Vain: Jingle Construct is the track I provided for this compilation, so I will not be reviewing it here ;-)

Goose: Sugarplum Dreams contains a beautiful winter landscape of drones and bells, you can hear the wind in the background and some bells jingling nearby, excellent mood music. A brief version of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy shows up at the end.

Praying For Oblivion + Skullwall: Stockholm Syndrome brings together two harsh noise masters with a track of layered chaos. Both projects released a collaboration at the end of 2017 and much like this split they bring in the sound from each project and mix together very well.

Jan-M. Iversen: Christmas Morn brings a beautiful drone piece that is so intricately layered and musical. If you know how prolific Jan-Morten Iversen is you will not be shocked by the talent behind all of his music.

Orange: No Presents For Christmas is another one of Brett's projects, this time though he brings in the Power Electronics to punish our ears, good old school dirty vibes.

Narishkeit: The Ant Eater. Narishkeit appeared on last years Christmas compilation and they also have a release on Inner Demons. This project from the Netherlands has not been super productive but what they are putting out there is pretty great. The project has some mystery behind it but hopefully, we will hear more from them in the future.

Phog Masheeen: It Will Be Christmas In Hell is a weird loungy track with spoken/sung "lyrics" on top of it. I have not heard any of their other work to know if it is like this but it is odd and I'm not sure if I like it.

Weeping Wall: Five Minutes With A Ten Dollah Ho Ho Ho brings a "noise" track that I wouldn't call harsh at all, it is like a broken digital sounding wash of static. Not many changes in the track but I dig it. I can't find much about this project out there, hopefully, more will turn up soon!

Survey Control: Salamajarvi National Park is an excellent stark track that sounds like someone floating through space attempting to make radio contact with someone out there. Gorgeous outer space drones! Sounds a bit like Bad Sector maybe?

Stolen Light: Boxing Day where Brett brings in the layering of noise and recordings from home maybe? Layered professionally and masterfully.

Bardoseneticcube: Ambioz is another classic ambient sci-fi sounding track as would be expected from this project. Never disappoints!

C/A/T: A Letter To Santa sounds like what we have come to expect from Ben Arp after all these years, classic Rhythmic Noise, I am happy to see that Ben is working on new material again!

Collapse: Happy Xmas (War Is Over) Revisited, the first part of that track name "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" is a John Lennon song but I am not sure if that was the inspiration for the title. Collapsist is a project that I believe uses modular synths. Excellent repetitious waves of synthesizer sounds!

Overall this is an excellent compilation from Zaftig Research, I know Brett has more planned for the label which is very exciting for myself being a fan for years.

Original Past Life: Inference / Interference

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 28 2019
Artist: Original Past Life
Title: Inference / Interference
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Tone List
Three-piece Original Past Life use a combination of improvisation followed by studio reworking to craft a selection of quite gritty pieces that build thick and electronic atmospheres, drones and manipulations around an instrumental core of guitar, bass and drums to give a result that only hangs my a thin thread of connection to the conventional music those instruments are normally used for.

Michael Caratti’s percussion work is fairly organic and live-sounding, complex drumming that provides an anchor to jazz and ‘normal’ music. Adam Trainer’s bass work is generally quite languid, exploring long notes and sustains that work at a slow pace that pulls in interesting ways against the drums, while Warwick Hall’s guitar seem to have freer reign to twist itself into odd noises, scratches and impulsive expression.

All three of performers are also credited for ‘electronics’ and in pieces like “Serpentform”, the original instrumental work (if there is any) is so heavily processed as to be unrecognisable in a totally digital-sounding environment of rumbles and pulses. In its calmer and less distortion-washed moments it has shades of a moody M83, while “Blessing The Barn” has dub-like levels of reverb that feel nicely relaxed, compared to some of the other pieces which, while never overtly angry, sometimes come across as agitated.

It’s a strong collaborative effort that never really feels like it has struck new territory, but is still rewarding with 43 minutes of moody texture.

Stolen Light: Self Destruction

 Posted by Marc Benner (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 23 2019
Artist: Stolen Light (@)
Title: Self Destruction
Format: CD
Label: Zaftig Research
Rated: *****
Over the last year or so I have personally started to move toward a more positive focused lifestyle. If you can find a way to talk about your feelings or find a way to vent them in some creative manner this seems to work best.

Stolen Light is Brett Lunceford who I have known, chatted, and been fond of his work for years. This time he has released an album title like Self Destruction it sounds like this could possibly be a cry for help, but to me the music seems as if it is a good way for Brett to get out some anger and frustration. The first track is titled "Frustration" and it lets loose a barrage of harsh noise precisely layered and focused for a 15-minute assault on your ears. I would shy away from calling this a harsh noise wall because it does have some feeling and texture to it unlike a lot of the nihilistic emptiness of that scene, however, it would likely appeal to that audience.

"What The Hell Happened To Us?" is the second track which starts off with a more quiet approach, it takes me back a bit to the 3" CDr on Inner Demons titled Voices. This track goes in waves of these field recordings with background noise textures, that pan from left to right, to harsh blasts through out the 30-minutes. Often times I see a 30-minute track and I wonder if my short attention span will kick in and I will get bored, but it is kept interesting enough and kept my curiosity piqued.

The final track titled "Memories Reclaimed" has a cleaner field recording session from somewhere with people talking, the discussions are not clear but different voices are there. There is a constant less abrasive sound over the recording this time which almost seems more cathartic than the two previous tracks, this is a good finish to a solid album overall.

As I said in the beginning, as I get older I find it important to find ways to vent your frustrations and move past negative circumstances. Self Destruction has shown a healthy way of moving forward.

Åke Hodell: Verbal Brainwash and Other Works

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 21 2019
Artist: Åke Hodell
Title: Verbal Brainwash and Other Works
Format: 3 x CD (triple CD)
Label: Fylkingen Records
This compilation of Swedish experimental composer Åke Hodell’s “text-sound compositions” from between 1963 and 1977 was collated by Hodell himself and Mats Lindström, and signed off two days before Hodell’s death in 2000. It’s now being re-released on what would have been his 100th birthday. It selects a variety of pieces spanning decades of work, remastered from the original tapes- and at times edited as well, though only with Hodell’s consent- into a plush package.

Hodell referred to his work as “elektronismer” or “text-sound composition” and for the most part this term covers field recordings and sound effects work, with opening pieces like the looped military march counting of “Law & Order” and the gunshot sound effects repeated and decontextualised into abstraction in “Structures III” wandering a grey area between art and raw sound effects akin to those you might find on a 1970’s era BBC sound effects LP.

After a life understandably scarred by war- Hodell spent several years in hospital during the Second World War after a crash as a fighter pilot- there’s an understandable and macabre emphasis on war sounds, guns, crashes, bombs and explosions. As it progresses a handful of broader found sound elements are introduced- ferry and other transport noises, windy atmospheres, some that I think are treated farmyard sounds- but the military sounds are never too far away.

Inbetween these are vocal-only works. “General Bussig” is an example of a vocal-driven experiment, standalone spoken word exercises in stuttering, alliteration and scat-style syllable-bending that apparently had a strong political message when first composed and performed, a message which is certainly hard to identify now. “igevar (Presentarms)” stretches this idea even further, taking one strained vocal note and looping it repeatedly so that it begins to take the form of a broken yoik or ballad before the listener gets so accustomed to it that it stops being a loop at all. “Numro Ba Besch” sounds like a short experiment with deliberately stuttering a CD player, yet was produced years before CD players were invented, an experiment with gated tape work that “220 Volt Buddha” later explores in much more broody depth.

The first disc contains 20 mostly shorter pieces and proceeds as a montage of contrasts, while the second and third discs contain longer works, most of them over 20 minutes long each, which tell much more developed but open-ended stories involving a small amount of spoken word among classic radioplay-style effects like police sirens and train works which, devoid of traditional narrative fiction dialogue, leaves you to decide for yourself whether you’re listening to a classic documentary with the narration switched off, or a made-up tale of city life and portraiture. 1960’s documentaries often blurred those lines for artistic effect, and the same principle is at play here. It’s given something of an ironic twist when it leverages wholesale some 1950’s rock and roll instrumental music and abruptly interjects S.O.S. messages into it in the quite theatrical “USS Pacific Ocean”.

“Cerberus, the Hellhound” has a slightly more full-bodied collection of dialogue that feels somewhat sci-fi at times but still incoherent, in the nicest way, a thought-provoking melée of alien invasion and post-war urban regeneration that draws no conclusions for you. “The Road To Nepal” has a very curious stripped-back electronic section that’s hard to put a finger on and which sounds, very loosely, like a brief form of proto-techno.

“Where Is Eldridge Cleaver?” is a thinly disguised 13-minute collection of politicised chanting and shouting, dotted with just enough sound effects and compositional work to qualify it as art instead of just recorded shouting. It’s not necessarily clever but the simplicity and rawness of it helps add to its power and it’s an interesting listen as a historical document, a European expression of support for the black freedom movement, which (for fair warning) contains a fair few trigger words as well. Less successful, with the benefit of decades of hindsight, are pieces like “Mr Smith In Rhodesia”, a piece which contrasts school-style repetition of the phrase “Mr. Smith is a good white man” with a whispered voice “Mr. Smith is a murderer” in a manner that undoubtedly seemed like a strong expression at the time, but which has not aged well and which exhibits the naivety and on-the-nose attitude of a teenage experimental theatre class, especially with the final and rather Orwellian chorus of “God Save Our Smith” to “God Save The Queen”- a trick which is repeated almost verbatim in the final track “Spirit Of Ecstacy, Racing Car Opera”.

Emotive and quite single-minded musique concrete material, this three-disc collection of a singular voice in relatively early modern sound-art is comprehensive to the point of being immersive, but if you’re not already familiar with Hodell’s work, then a shorter sampler might be more a more gratifying introduction than this nearly-four-hour experience.

Geneva Skeen: A Parallel Array Of Horses

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 20 2019
Artist: Geneva Skeen
Title: A Parallel Array Of Horses
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Room40 (@)
Rated: *****
The title of this release is borrowed from a geological phenomenon in which mineral veins are able to completely separate rock blocks, and it's a metaphor for a society divided by elements of precocity. The aim of this release is the depiction of a sort of being in the world as an exercise of presence instead of action, a matter of understand prior to modify. From this summary of the liner notes, it's almost evident how Geneva Skeen could be placed among the artists whose opus is driven by a conceptual focus and is inspired by philosophical concepts.
As the first track, "The Sonorous House", starts with field recording of an house during a monsoon which gives a background noise, the other element slowly unfolds and are stacked until the synthetic sources, based on oscillators, develop a trajectory form isolated sounds to a sonic continuum. "Los Angeles Without Palm Trees" uses nightly sounds as a background for a drone which slowly emerges after a percussive part moving in the binaural field. "A Parallel Array of Horses" seems a drone track but it's instead a juxtaposition of continuous tones whose timber create a meditative atmosphere. "Frain, Refrain" continues in the same vein but using filtered voices instead of drones taking advantage of countability. Closing a circle, "Flutter in Place", starts with a drone which slowly fades in a field recordings of singing bats mirroring the structure of the first track.
This is release dealing with familiar musical structures to those accustomed to experimental music based on drones, however the remarkable sound quality and sense of writing makes this one a release that could be enjoyed. It's worth a listen.

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