Music Reviews

Worsel Strauss: Unattention Economy

 Posted by J Simpson (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 22 2013
Artist: Worsel Strauss
Title: Unattention Economy
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Vicmod Records (@)
Rated: *****
One of the main criticisms levelled at electronic music is that anyone can make it, the machines do all the work. That is true, just press the triangle and let fly! This then raises the question: What makes good electronic music? Sure, we can listen to the refrigerator hum or blender whine for hours, but does that constitute good 'music'? Worsel Strauss, half of the retro electronics outfit Schleusolz, plugs in his machines, and considers the results.

Inspired by an infamous piece of early electronics, Douglas Leedy's 'Entropical Paradise (with bird call),' a triple-LP of self-generated modular synth music, Strauss wondered if he could make some interesting synthnoise, without resorting to sidelong synth soundscapes. Instead, he wondered if the machines could come up with more conventional 'songs', and set to, armed with a vintage Buchla synthesizer and some other analog electronics. The pieces were composed, straight to tape, and then edited later, in a process he called 'subtractive mixing'. 'If there is a creative process involved at all it is the design of the rules and the final choice of which results to present, and which ones not.' He even wonders if it can be considered music at all.

Which brings us to the mechanical heart of 'Unattention Economy,': Does it sound good? An album reviewers purpose is to report back what he hears, and to alert listeners as to whether a particular piece is worthy of their attention. While 'UE' might be cyberdine techno, it sounds REALLY good. At first i was skeptical: another experimental synth record? How much knob twiddling can a bloke hack? But it is my job, to parse through the datastream and report what i see, and i will not let you down. It is our job, as listeners, to try and remain unjaded, to not let the cultural torrent wash us away. This comes through presence and awareness, and the final analysis is, Strauss' machines sound boss. Bringing to mind a surprising amount of modern electricians (Nine Inch Nails, Autechre, Jessica Rylan), the sounds are all sourced from exquisite components. The drums kick like a Parisian siege, while the analog pads are as warm as a Sahara sun. There's bleepy, gloopy tones, that'll appeal to the retro-fetishists out there, but there's also dance floor fare (Shopping for Antibiotics). 'Swarm Intelligence' is a standout track, killer martial breakbeats and detuned swarming melodies. Its like an instrumental outtake from 'The Downward Spiral' remixed with a Pure Data patch. It brings the body and the head together, and could help introduce some listeners to the world of abstract electronica that's out there.

Vicmod Records could have a real hit on their hands here. Worsel Strauss is worthy of yr time and attention, possibly yr praise. The time and care he took to setup the experiment allowed for some remarkable alleatoric daemons to manifest, and i'll be damned if i don't hear a bit of soul in there. 'Unattention Economy' is very highly recommended.

Anworth Kirk : Shacklecross

 Posted by J Simpson (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 21 2013
Artist: Anworth Kirk
Title: Shacklecross
Format: 12"
Label: Pre-Cert Home Entertainment
Distributor: Boomkat
Rated: *****

Shacklecross is the newest transmission from the Andy Votel's shadowy alter-ego, Anworth Kirk. Its a double-sided psychogeographic sojourn, that takes you on a voyage through the communal id of a hamlet in Central England. Shacklecross is a non-descript village in Derbyshire; not much information is available. When you look it up, the only image that pops up is of an antiquated Lock, in a barren urban no-man's-land. Like the music contained on this vinyl, the image is mysterious and alluring, pulling you in and making you look further.
Every release on Pre-Cert Home Entertainment, the label run by Andy Votel and the Demdike Stare folks, brings to mind the era before the internet, before the simulacrum took over, with its self-satisfied mapping, cross-referencing, and immediate archiving. Votel and co. serve to remind us that there is much wonder in the wondering, in the thrill of discovery and curiosity, of finding something unknown and brilliant. Or just plain weird. Andy Votel, Demdike Stare, and all the artists they work with, seem to genuinely cherish the strange and half-bad. They love the beautiful losers, and are pulling them back out into the spotlight. Votel was one of the founders of the brilliant British re-issue label, Finders Keepers, that have pulled so many records out of the dustbins of history that it makes you slightly fearful for the social lives of its curators. In the process of archive diving, researching and investigation, putting together obscure mixes, Votel has built an intricate sampledelic style completely his own, also being refined by Demdike Stare, and others are starting to catch on. Taking tiny fragments from movie scores, Indian tabla records, sci-fi musings, and seemingly blending them with his own recordings of wheezy pawn-shop instruments, yr just never entirely sure what is going on. How is he making all these sounds? Who is this person? These people? Its a weird wormhole, that will take you further than you are comfortable with. The world inhabited by the Pre-Cert folks is strange, horrible, brilliant, dusty. You'll be watching cannibal flicks before you know it, and stopping to sample the muzak, down at the supermarket. It gets inside you.
'Shacklecross' is a travelogue through time, space, and genre. There are seperate tracks, but its blended as a seamless hole, and its hard to tell where one ends and another begins. It starts with some noxious, growling synth that lets you know this record is going to take you to the darkside, but things get decidedly less cut-and-dry from there. The image that i was left with was of leaving the safe civilization of nearby Derby, travelling through picturesque Borrowash, leaving the modern world behind. As you get further and further away from society, you leave the touchstones of consensual reality behind you. You fall out of time, you even leave the Earth behind. This is a world where faeries gather in toadstool circles, and gypsy curses level the fields. You fall in with an uncanny gypsy caravan, trip-trapping down gravel country lanes, who take you to a Persian hashish ceremony, then lead you to the burial mounds, once yr seeing stars. Lying on the grass, with these impossible companions, you let go and let loose, drifting off into space. Yr no longer in yr body, sensory data is just not the same. You can see sounds and hear colours, and yr just not sure WHAT yr going to say to the blokes at the office on Monday. But fear not! Anworth Kirk will not leave you floating in the stars. He guides you back, quick as you like, the same way that you came. As you exit the strange terrain of Shacklecross, leaving yr phantom companions with regret and also exhiliration, as you backtrack down those gravel lanes that looked so VERY different in the starlight, the world begins to solidify. You begin to wonder if it were but a dream. But yr trousers are still damp with the dew, and there are scratches from black twigs on yr neck.
Its a disorienting affair, and not for those that like their techno bright and quantized, but the possibilities raised by Anworth Kirk's masterful sample-stitching are hair raising. Maybe, finally, we shall finally arrive at a newform of music, not merely refining staid genres, to win cash and prizes. These are sonic alchemists, bemused at possibilities. The whole Pre-Cert roster's dedication to soundtracks make all of their records like a surreal story. Sounds leave so much more to interpretation and imagination than film, and the images conjured while listening to these headphone opuses are layered and dense and moving.
Andy Votel, Demdike Stare, Pre-Cert Home Entertainment, Finders Keepers, and a score of others, are redefining music, and offering a light in the grim postmodern tunnel. We're assimilating our influences, and weaving the future. It's thrilling to watch it unfurl in realtime, waiting with baited breath for each uncanny release. 'Shacklecross,' like every Pre-Cert Home Entertainment release, is dreadfully limited, and may be long gone by the time you read this. But now you've been warned! Don't sleep on these gents. Let them invite mystery to yr hearth.

Robert Normandeau: Palimpsestes

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   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 21 2013
Artist: Robert Normandeau (@)
Title: Palimpsestes
Format: CD
Label: empreintes DIGITALes (@)
Rated: *****
Many followers of electroacoustic music and fans of one of the most renowned imprint, the Canadian label empreintes DIGITALes, were asking themselves about this skilled performer Robert Normandeau, who already signed a plenty of "movies" for the ears according to the way many reviewers described his art, but after listening to his long-awaited album - his last release on the label was "Puzzles", which came on the unlucky DVD-Audio format -, I could say it's worth the wait. The initial title-track "Palimpsestes" is an amazing collage of hubbubs, gargles, sniggers, grumbles, soughs, wheezes, snorts, pants and other bizarre expression of human voice, whose opening "disorganization" seems to get gradually organized so that they looks like staging a sort of gargantuan machine in the second part of the track, while the following "Murmures" is an interesting acousmatic sample, where Robert seems to amplify metallic, plastic and gummy noises in order to render a certain sense of perceived mechanical degradation, whose incessant sinister swarming sounds constantly transposed from urban to natural settings. On "Jeu De Langues", he manages to render flushed and flustered sides of the nocturnal hot dreams he grabs and the subtle flutes he added vividly depict the worming of wantonness and tempting reveries which silently sneak into a bed. The following track "Anadliad" - the one I like most - has been named after a Gaelic word, which means breath and inspiration, and the great work he made by combining the sound of a bagpipe and a pigborn, a Welsh wind instrument, and the strong winds and intense storms of that lovely place of the planet could let you feel like a particle, which get pushed out of the drones to meet the violent electric energy of thunders outside before getting inhaled again into bagpipe's bag, a listening experience which anticipates the final "Palindrome", a mesmerizing track, where various sonic elements seems to overwhelm listeners after wrapping them up by a series of eruptions which feed a persisting mental strain.
Jan 19 2013
Artist: Locrian & Christoph Heemann (@)
Title: s/t
Format: 12"
Label: Handmade Birds (@)
Rated: *****
This is one of the few releases I luckily managed to save from the hard disk of my old laptop (summer's hot temperature and bad architecture of different parts almost melted condensers and motherboard so that it was turned into a fused silica filled sandwitch which could cause over excitement to a Luddite!). I have to say this salvage was a good thing: even if releases coming from artists and musicians who fed or keep on feeding the mass migration from metal-related stylistical grounds to electronic or more cinematic stuff usually sound disappointing to me as most of them cannot totally detach some compositional schemes, this collaboration between appreciated Chicago-based post-metal band Locrian and Christoph Heemann, an hyperactive sound artist, whose remarkable hidden "militancy" within the 80ies industrial and noise scene (collaborations with Current 93, John Duncan, Organum, Merzbow and many others) facilitates the interconnection with above-mentioned resettling migrants, give rise to a really visionary release. On this occasion both drums and guitars play a different role than in previous releases by Locrian: Steven Hess' drumming and Foisy's guitars just emerge in the first visionary track "Hecatomb", an impressive clotting of fatal visions and hypnotical post-industrial drones, which could evoke baleful and disastrous allegorical scenes and a sense of forthcoming collapse, highlighted by low piano keys, which mark the rhythm in the guise of a death toll, the ventricular fibrillation of fluffy tapping on drums and the threatening bustle's buzz, which sound like swallowed by the following track "Loathe The Light", where drums move towards fringe side of the drone in order to build the scenery and guitars weave a net of low-frequencies which emphasizes the hefty sonic setting, disrupted by the crummy cries by a Terence Hannum in deep grief, the highest peak of metal-imported brutality. The physical consistency that sinister guitar-driven low frequencies sounds more noticeable in the following "Edgeless City", where Locrian and Heemann vividly render the feeling of angst related to disquieting desolate and abandoned places, the artistic habitat of this band, before the prostrate chant of the grey and dusty final track "The Drowned Forest", where the drone sounds like singed in accordance with the general clouded atmosphere of the track.

VV.AA.: Gravity's Drop Out

 Posted by J Simpson (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 15 2013
Artist: VV.AA. (@)
Title: Gravity's Drop Out
Format: CD
Label: Alrealon Musique (@)
Rated: *****
'It's hard to explain with words. Some explanations should be left to experience. The meanings of life are not verbal, they are felt. To express deep meaning I must communicate with visuals and sound without language. I must make a film. Colours and audio vibration, to entrap the viewer in mood, in feeling. The viewer exits after experiencing the screen with understanding and not with words. If words are used they are abstractedly used for their vibrations of sound adding to the experience of art, of presentation. I leave to you 'me,' in vision and in sound. I leave to you a film of my soul. Alan Watts once mentioned that people once experienced things and then made words to describe them, now they make words before experiencing them. Let's avoid words, let's have pure experience of sound and vision.' - Robert L. Pepper (PAS), from the liner notes

Its a daunting proposition, reviewing the second in the series of PAS-curated compilations for Alrealon Musique, after reading such an admonition. It also strikes an icy dagger in the postmodern heart of criticism: what is the role of a critic, at this juncture? We are all starless voyagers, navigating a seamless sea of technology. We are all curious investigators, who need to understand an endless array of non-Pop musicks, to make any sense of what our ears are hearing. On 'Gravity's Drop Out', Robert Pepper introduces us to Thorsten Saltau who acts as Virgil to the jewelled underworld of his own label, m.m record. This record is an excellent microcosm of contemporary experimental music. Sound collage meets loopy free-jazz, while mingling with 20th century difficult-listening classical music.

PAS opens the show with 'To Understand Colour': a 7-minute wash of gelatinous soundscapes of questionable origins. It embraces you, like an acid washed paisley blanket, wrapping yr ears in hypnotic stereo effects, as reverberations of mangled samples pop up like snippets of last night's dreams. 'To Understand Colour' is like walking through a Mark Rothko exhibit, if that particular gallery happened to extend 4 miles, and you were lost, hungry, and afraid for 3 weeks.

Margitt Holzt's contribution, 'Bears Head', is the lengthiest offering, and a most perplexing movie, indeed. Its a ten-minute voyage from relatively unprocessed academic jazz, an incoherent music box alarm clock that will not let you sleep, which is then pulled into deep space; abyss of radio voices and solar winds. Transmissions from 1954, rapidly approaching the Andromeda galaxy, eagerly devoured by alien ears. The atonal, non-repetitive nature of the sound sources make 'Bears Head' rather abrasive at first, the juxtaposition of squeaky avant-jazz a harsh contrast to the soothing somnolence of PAS' chapter, but it is a rewarding journey that can expand yr sonic palette. Don't stop here! Don't turn back!

'The Drig Bift Transition' by Herr Penschuck is the subtlest construction. Miniature machine hums, like a laundromat late at night, are split by distant foghorns, while sleepy voices murmur in the hallway. This one is a travelogue, for sure; it sounds like going for a stroll in a galactic shopping mall, while you are waiting for your dry cleaning. You come upon an organ grinder, who tears yr heart with his nostalgic reminiscence, before stepping out to a dark and lonely cab stand, beside the turquoise sea, to catch some air and a quick smoke.

Ebinger's ethnographic, radiophonic jazz is the most easily accessible track, probably because it has a beat. Scratchy middle-eastern fiddle meets mechanical Table; this is yr grandfather's Klezmer, remixed. Those that have enjoyed the plunderphonics of Oh No or S3cond Class Citizen, add this to yr walking around playlist. The beats are flawless and masterfully executed, and the antiquated grit of the samples sound lovely, meshed with the modern dance.

'Jousan' by Nika Son, bears the most striking resemblance to classic tape music. It's subtle and evolving, with rainbow-like quaver tones \ occasionally interrupted by disembodied knocks and snippets of song. It utilizes, to brilliant effect, the ability of sound collage to simulate the patterns of thought. The narrative \ebbs and flows, \unexpectedly disintegrated by invading Daleks, before returning you to Earth, in the middle of a pedestrian mall. Delightfully contradictory, but only for those that can handle the shock.

The final chapter in this edition of the PAS-curated series is a collaboration between Herr Penschuck and Thorsten Soltau, 'Screening: Delfter Blau Simultan & Urmutter/Hohlspiegelgondolier'. It bears the strongest resemblance to 20th century classicists like Messiaen, Stockhausen, or Xenakis, the ones who were integrating electronics and pre-recorded tape into the established canon. Here, P & S integrate strings and percussion with layers of vocal samples, speaking auf deutsch, and electronic squawks, echoes, and feedback. It sounds like the soundtrack to a decrepit Soviet science fiction film, an existential narrative over sharp black-and-white celluloid. 'Screening' gives a sense of tradition and classical mastery to end this dream.

Alrealon Musique is allowing listeners an overview of the many prismatic hues of modern experimental/electronic music, and a context for them to understand. Many avant-garde movements gestated in a broiling melting pot of visual artists, writers, and musicians of every conceivable style. Punk bands opened up for country/rockabilly-sequined acts, but we lost that wide-angle diversity, over the last 30 years. Now that everybody hears everything, we are all together. And that is why it is so special for people like Robert Pepper, and the folks at Alrealon Musique, to make interesting documents like 'Gravity's Drop Out', to introduce people to new sounds, to help ease familiarity, and to help us acclimate to the global ears we now find ourselves sporting.

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