Music Reviews

VV.AA.: Il Picchio

 Posted by Marc Urselli   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 26 2017
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Il Picchio
Format: CD
Label: 19'40" (@)
Rated: *****
This new release coming your way from the British/Italian subscription-based label 19'40" is one that prominently features percussionist Sebastiano De Gennaro (who is also part label owner and part recording/editing engineer/producer on this CD) as the sole performer (except for a couple of violin/viola parts played by Yoko Morimyo) of a repertoire that includes five pieces by Louis Andriessen, Edmund Campion, David Lange, the great Enrico Gabrielli (the other one third label owner) and Nikolay Popov.

If the composers' name don't give it away, rest assured you are in for 35-40 minutes of stochastic, angular, unapologetic, contemporary pioneering experimental music that pays tribute to the woodpecker (english word for "picchio"), the bird who sometimes annoingly and persistently pecks away at trees in the forest, making noise all by himself, bothering the peace and the other birds but also making himself known as the percussionist of the forest, the pace-setter, the one who provides the rhythm to the ornithological spiecies' songs and calls; I guess this is also how De Gennaro thinks of himself.

The opening piece of the album (written in 1999 by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen) entitled "Woodpecker" couldn't be more adeptly placed and chosen, especially since it features 6 wood blocks, 5 temple blocks and a xylophone (only wood instruments).
From the rhythmic and time-enforced confines of that, the second track ventures into a much more open and outlandish avant-garde territory with a piece by American Edmund Campion origially written for tape loops and vibraphone. Then the most well known of these composers, the American Bang On A Can co-founder David Lang, takes center place with his "Unchained Melody" for 7 glockenspiel bars, 7 noises and one nasty metal, which comes off as the most glitchy and electronic of the bunch, especially since the performer has decided to use some Teenage Engineering 8 bit noises as the 7 noises to be played along with the 7 glock bars (removed form the frame of the instrument and placed side by side). Then we get to my favorite composer of the bunch: Enrico Gabrielli, who borrows from linguistics and from chemistry to title his new 2017 composition "Coppia di Allotropi (Pair of Allotropes)" originally written for violin, cello and piano but specifically re-worked for De Gennaro to be played on xylophone, non-tempered balafon, vibraphone, drum-pad violin and viola. The CD closes with another millennial piece by Russian Nikolay Popov entitled "Artra" and based on the two golden discs that were sent into space by NASA on the outer solar space exploration vessels Voyager 1 and 2 in 1977 (coincidentally these two 12 inch discs have recenly been reissued by Ozma records).

Don't let me forget to mention that the CD comes in a limited hand-numbered edition of 200 copies in the beautiful origami folding carboard packaging that 19'40" has accustomed us to expect. Make sure you get a subscription so you can get this and the upcoming releases!

VV.AA.: Selected Works Of Experimental Music And Art Expo

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 26 2017
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Selected Works Of Experimental Music And Art Expo
Format: Tape
Label: Kotä Records
This epic compilation to celebrate KotÄ Records’ 20th release is a collection of 5 tapes, collecting together over five and a half hours of music, all of it performed live at the EMA Expo in October and November 2016. Thirteen different Russian experimental musicians or groups each submit lengthy self-contained works, all simply entitled “Live Document” with no other labels. The shortest performance is ten minutes long, and there are three pieces that each top the 40 minute mark. As a back-to-back listen, this is a whole day’s work! Hence the extended review...

Vlad Dobrovolski & Michel Klimin kick things off, if you can call it kicking, with a mellow affair of clean-sounding bottle-like bleeps and pings that ride over a hollow and reverberant base, and occasional interspersed snippets of clear, (I think) Russian spoken-word that sounds like the reading of an instruction manual. Things get a little more warped and deeply processed as it progresses, with a steady pulse developing towards the end.

SAD & Bred Blondie is a duo that also includes Vlad Dobrovolski so the fact the second track has a flavour consistent with the first is not too surprising. There’s a slightly more analogue and organic texture here, with faintly quirkier and more percussive shades of Pierre Henry or the early Radiophonic Workshop at times, again alongside a mottled bed of soft drone, and spoken word that this time is more distant. And again, a more structured set of pulses join in the second half to enhance the feeling of progression.

Alexei Borisov and Benjamin Skepper offer up something darker and harsher, with acoustic instruments such as a cello being scratched and distorted in an initially aggressive improvisation that slowly drops in energy. Dmitry Morozov, as ::vtol::, then brings us something akin to the electronic equivalent on the same side of the tape- another sinister soundscape with frequent but unpredictable interjections from harsh-edged waves and distorted electronic signals.

Lovozero & Kira Weinstein, the latter better known for indie-pop than avantgarde, offer up something audibly more feminine. Long folky vocal notes, marinaded in reverb, float over gentle squeaks and a super-soft hollow chord. Compared to what preceded it, this feels like chill-out music, until yet again a rhythm- in this case a soft kick pattern- arrives twelve minutes in. Adding gentle rhythms ten minutes into long freeform pieces is in fashion, it seems. The spaced out feel to it, with theremin-style tweaks, becomes very reminiscent of 90’s The Orb towards the end.

Kasich brings a piece which, at only 10 minutes long, seems like an interlude compared to its peers. It’s centred around a custom-made experimental instrumental called the FingerRing (though if that’s a product ever to be marketed in the UK, some awareness of the other meanings of “fingering” might encourage a name change). It’s difficult to tell what the FingerRing is doing purely from the audio, but what we get is a stop-start, glitch-heavy succession of ambiences, with heavy rain recordings that seem to reduce into white noise and what sounds like the noise of passing cars towards the beginning. In an unexpected twist, almost out of the blue, the final three minutes bring in a heavy breakbeat and starts messing around with it, making it the single track that covers the most distance from beginning to end, despite being the shortest.

Dmitri Kourliandski & Andrey Guryanov use unspecified “instruments and constructions native to electronic dance music” to build their experimental improvisations, and yet again, you have to wait fifteen minutes before the spontaneous electro-industrial whirrs and squelches form themselves into the shadow of a short-lived dark techno beat. Again it devolves into non-matching patterns, and it’s another ten minutes before the hi-hat elements reform themselves into a new, frantic but regular pattern. This is, as it suggests, a total deconstruction of techno sounds into an experimental space where elements act like layers in a moire pattern that are more often out of sync than in.

The longest piece, from Brinstaar, Marc Myasoedov & Nikita Oleinik, is notable in that Marc Myasoedov is only seven years old (or he was when this was recorded, at least), and Brinstaar is his Dad. A fairly lethargic, slow-stepping arrangement of bleeps and tweaks plays out with a strong tinge of melancholy. Higher-pitched, birdsong-esque chirrups arrive progressively, before some bell and digital thunder noises with a slightly more horror movie tone. This floats away into lighter territory as it winds up. Shouldn’t seven-year-olds be full of sugar and bouncing around manically to cheesy pop music? I wasn’t listening to this kind of stuff when I was seven. Nevertheless, as an in-depth and solemn bit of electroscaping, it goes far.

Roman Golovko as Wolffflow opens with an repetitively looped American spoken word sample monologue about art not floating in a vacuum, which initially, perhaps ironically, floats in a sonic vacuum. Gradually bridges are built, with a low repeating bass pattern working its way in. The arrangement feels more orchestral at times, a thick layering of pad synthesis that feels more assured and composed than live, with the palindromic structure that becomes evident towards the end emphasising the sense of tight planning.

Andrey Guryanov’s 21-minute piece has a generative feel to it, as though elements are triggered based on data. Rhythmic tip-tapping noises come and go, ambient effects drop in briefly, and harsh metallic screeches switch on and off abruptly. The pace and the amount of layering rise and fall without ever really feeling structured, other than perhaps in the rapid fire finale.

The piece by “Solo Operator / Multi-Operator” is an interesting installment piece in which Alexander Serechenko, who normally uses the Solo Operator name, collaborates with his audience through the use of an app which allows audience members to sample and retrigger parts of Serechenko’s improvised saxophone on demand, thus making them part of the performance. Initially it’s too chaotic for the innovative function of it to shine through, but the unique approach becomes more evident as Serechenko’s playing simplifies and thins out to allow the audience-triggered segments to be appreciated.

The fifth and final tape starts with Alexander Senko’s sci-fi soundscape, with deep synth sweeps and geiger-counter-style clicking. Initially a 10-channel performance, it’s been confined to stereo for this release for obvious technical reasons, which is a shame as it’s an environmental sound piece that would sound excellent when listened to immersively. Later-introduced elements such as choral pads, twinkles, digital wind and vinyl crackles veer gently towards the more cliché sounds of ambient music, but this changes in the second half as we appear to board some sort of steampunk bi-plane which motors gruffly around the sky. This metaphorical plane lands and leaves us in a barren alien landscape for the final few relatively subdued minutes.

Finally, the KotÄ label’s co-founder Brinstaar allows himself another piece, this time without his seven-year-old son, though there’s nothing in the press release about whether he needed to get a babysitter. For this final forty-minute piece we get crisp envelopes of softened white noise and warm analogue hums, clicks and flutey melodic squeaks. Though the accompanying description cites a variety of real instruments- guitars, whistles, harps and toys (which presumably the seven-year-old had now grown out of and didn’t need any more)- these elements are cut and treated in such a way that the whole affair feels thoroughly digital. A long gentle centre period solely of bleeping that feels like an unknown variant of musical morse code is followed by a slightly shoegazey section with plucked and delayed guitar notes that changes the mood somewhat.

All of these works are fully-fledged experimental journeys in their own right, that you could listen to independently and judge on their own merits. So what you’re getting here is, in some respects, thirteen for the price of one. Personally I’m still cynical about the appropriateness of the cassette format for music like this, particularly the more ambient and spacious pieces that have subtlety and detail not usually benefitted by the whirr and hiss of a cassette, but luckily it’s available as a download as well. It’s a mammoth and indulgent bundle, carefully compiled with like-minded pieces together for the most part, and with some unique and innovative ideas in it for sure. In the North of my country there are days that are shorter than this compilation.

Ghédalia Tazartès + Maya Dunietz: Schulevy Maker

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 25 2017
Artist: Ghédalia Tazartès + Maya Dunietz
Title: Schulevy Maker
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Holotype Editions
Experimental music at its quirkiest, this recording of Tazartes and Dunietz’s first live performance as a duo is energetic, theatrical, and packed with large doses of both light and shade. The two twenty-three minute parts with no internal labels have the sound quality of a studio recording.

With occasional rave piano noises and drum machine pattern cameos that sit somewhere between the IDM label and circus music at times, this is at times more structured and steadily grooved than you might expect. Both artists use their voices with passionate, mostly wordless grunts, guttural throat singing, meaningless (I think) operatic wails and some almost tongue-in-cheek ‘laaa’ noises, making those the dominant instrument throughout.

Rapidly panning processed white noise, strung-out low bass string notes, harmonica-like meanderings and occasional twinkling bell sounds abound. Threatening rumbles, mocking laughter and muted timpani rolls bring an almost pantomime flavour at parts. Particularly in the second part this settles into a darker, bluesier, sometimes almost ecclesiastical tone, though once you’ve got the image of Grandpa Simpson moaning into your head, it’s difficult to shake it. A big finale of sampled fanfares and radio noises pushes its uniqueness even further.

It’s refreshing to hear an experimental performance demonstrate such an ability to have fun without ever devolving into self-parody. Unashamedly “peculiar” (their word), it’s an attention-grabbing and conversation-starting bit of strong vocal arrangement that made me want to check out whether they would be performing live in my part of the world. (They did, but four years ago... whoops.)

Rasalasad, Featuring Von Magnet and Wildshores: Magnethism

 Posted by eskaton   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 25 2017
Artist: Rasalasad, Featuring Von Magnet and Wildshores (@)
Title: Magnethism
Format: 3" MiniCD
Label: Thisco (@)
Rated: *****
This is the second of two 3” discs that they had sent. I had heard of Von Magnet, but the other two were new to me. This is one 17 minute composition that combines spoken word with an interesting music track. A meandering drum beat that functions as just another sound, drones that stretch on forever, Male and female voices that you can hardly make out, even with headphones. The woman says “this” in a kind of cadence, while the man’s rich bass voice blends into the music. Eventually, the woman takes over, but it is still difficult to make out – something about transformation, values, the soul, and technology. It gets repeated over and over, but this is like listening to an overheard conversation – you can make out bits and pieces, but you can’t help feeling like the words were never meant for you. Overall, the track is pleasant and interesting, with a lot going on in it. Definitely worth checking out. This album weighs in at around 17 minutes.

Rasalasad vs Amantra: Thisturbia

 Posted by eskaton   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 25 2017
Artist: Rasalasad vs Amantra
Title: Thisturbia
Format: 3" MiniCD
Label: Thisco (@)
Rated: *****
I had not heard of Rasalasad or Amantra, but I had reviewed several albums from Thisco and had enjoyed them, so I was interested to see what they had here. This is the first of two 3” discs that they had sent, with folded brown packaging and a stamped cover. The nice thing about 3” CDs, is you can get right into the music, so let’s go! “Rapid Eye” opens the disc with a splendid mixture of glacially moving synth drone mixed with electronic noise and static. The contrast works well together, and when the drone wins out, you feel like something is missing. “Awakening” keeps this feeling going, and reminds me of older Lycia. It’s not harsh, but there is an edge to it. “Peak” brings in a heavy, thudding bass beat that gives it a martial feel, like the soundtrack to the aftermath of a battle scene. “Error” closes the disc, and is a bit different with a simple keyboard line over noisy drone. It’s almost like listening to the closing credits of a film in a factory. Seems somewhat out of place with the rest of the album, but rather nice nonetheless. Overall this was a good taste of each of these bands, and makes me interested to hear more from each of them. This album weighs in at around 19 minutes.

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