Music Reviews

Agnes Hvizdalek: Index

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 08 2017
Artist: Agnes Hvizdalek (@)
Title: Index
Format: CD + Download
Label: Nakama Records (@)
Sometimes there can be a perception gap between the concept of a piece of sound art, and the tangible audio that forms the end product. In my opinion, this is such a case. On paper, “Index” is an engaging abstract vocal piece. One forty-seven-minute long track, recorded literally at the bottom of a chimney in a factory, Hvizdalek’s experimental vocal noises meld with the funneled-in external atmospheres of São Paulo, hybridising into something resembling an organic, living and breathing. Conceptually it’s very strong.

In practice somehow it’s less compelling. Hvizdalek’s adapt vocal work is capable of both purity and temper, but somehow, almost inexplicably, manages to avoid being beautiful. Some of the growling tones seem to be a parody of jazz, almost comedic. Sometimes it sounds like piano strings being tightened, at other points like dolphin conversation. Undoubtedly it’s technically extremely impressive but I’m afraid at times it sounds more like a vocal challenge than a performance, and it points it even sounds like gargling, or 1970’s Doctor Who monsters and aliens.

The layering of other elements is too light, a little too subtle, and inhibits a true sense of interaction between voice and surrounding. Much of it is only audible through headphones or in a good acoustic environment.

As a virtuoso piece of solo experimental vocal work, it’s impressive, and the concept behind it watertight, but the net result tends a little too much towards the inaccessible side of abstraction.

Antoine Chessex - Apartment House, Jérôme Noetinger: Plastic Concrete / Accumulation

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 07 2017
Artist: Antoine Chessex - Apartment House, Jérôme Noetinger (@)
Title: Plastic Concrete / Accumulation
Format: CD
Label: Bocian Records
Rated: *****
This enjoyable release includes two adventurous live sessions that the Swiss sound artist and composer Antoine Chessex (this guy, who is known to be one of the founding member of the followed doom-noise band Monno is a real wizard in finding a dark and sometimes poetical dimension to dirty sounds or other sonic 'scraps') held at Cafè Oto in two different moments with talented French electronic musician Jerome Noetinger (co-founder together cinematographers and performers Christophe Auger and Xavier Querel of Cellule D'Intervention Metamkine in 1987, which later became a record label and an appreciated distributor ) and Apartment House, the appreciated avant-garde/experimental ensemble created by the cellist Anton Lokoszevieze in 1995. This pot of musical voices succeeds in forging something vaguely musical, where the boundaries between music for soundtracks, improvisation and classical notation got relevantly blurred by reel to reel tape machines. The hissing chances of deforming sonic inputs and whooshing sounds of Noetinger's approach emphasizes or sometimes mitigates the swirling inferno of string-driven stridors - masterfully played by Gordon Mackay (violin), Hilary Sturt (violin), Bridget Carey (viola) and Anton Lukoszevieze (cello) -, where the listenable clues on both the opening and the end vehiculate the imagination towards an unlucky ship facing a ferocious storm in "Accumulation" (recorded live by James Dunn on 29th of April 2015). Noetinger's sonic freaks and dense electronic textures amalgamate the parade of figures that could be related to many different tricks used by soundtrack composers to highlight drama and act like combustible materials of the same data in the second part of "Plastic Concrete" (recorded on the 28th of February 2014), a session which could be somehow matched to the roaring fire for the imaginary funeral pyre of the evoked fictional elements.

Chris Cobilis ft. Spektral Quartet w/ Kenneth Goldsmith: This Is You

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 07 2017
Artist: Chris Cobilis ft. Spektral Quartet w/ Kenneth Goldsmith
Title: This Is You
Format: LP
Label: Room40 (@)
Rated: *****
The idea behind this interesting conceptual project was supposedly fed by some screenings of America's Funniest Home Videos, the TV program produced by Vin Di Bona - mostly inspired by similar TV products, broadcasted by Japanese TV -, featuring the gangly anchoring and the snarky and vaguely derisive comment by Bob Saget as well as an extensive set of sound effects that got matched to a likewise broad set of homemade videos, documenting dubbed domestic animals, bizarre facial expressions of babies, slip-ups over any kind of surfaces (the most typical ones were plastic inflatable garden pools or gym stands) or during family's parties or wedding parties. Such a starting point is not related to some nostalgia at all, but it's rather a unpitiful and somehow innovative representation. This sort of specular mirroring of this subtly ridiculous way of satisfying the built desire of being on screen by a relevant part of Western society was somehow adapted to music and became a sort of animated graphical score and accompanying script for the Australian self-taught musician and composer Chris Cobilis, whose musical transcription was performed live in studio by Chicago's Spektral Quartet and conceptually espoused by well-known American poet Kenneth Goldsmith - founder of UbuWeb and author of ten books of poetry (his most recent one is "Wasting Time on the Internet"), mostly based on the so-called 'uncreative writing', aimed to focus on ignored fragments of mass culture, nothwithstanding its intent -. His rich baritone voice sounds a wise provocation (I particularly enjoyed the lesson about electricity introducing "Dust In The Gate" as well as many subtly mocking sentences) perfectly matches the set of sounds, which seems to emulate the sound effects I mentioned before or add an alternative soundtrack to that kind of TV programs (many clones of American's Funniest Home Videos invaded and keep on surviving on a plenty of TV channels in the world), which sounds filtered and adapted by a critical eye on this phenomenon. Masterfully mastered and recorded by Steve Albini.

Chester Hawkins: Apostasy Suite

 Posted by Ibrahim Khider (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 07 2017
Artist: Chester Hawkins (@)
Title: Apostasy Suite
Format: CD
Label: intangible arts
Perhaps Apostasy Suite is an audio meditation on the darker sides of faith or maybe what producer Chester Hawkins considers to be gloomier belief systems explored via brooding drones, dusky ambient and moments of forbidding noise. Glancing at the CD digipack art work with the modern architecture design of a Church window up front and the close-up on the crucifix on the back, I expected the first track, “Mass/Easter” to be imbued with piety, wonderment, and reverence. Rather the track typifies the whole album which starts off with tones that sound like Church organs processed into drones and then travels into darker tones and moods. But if you think about it, the story of the crucifixion is a dark one so one can say that the music is at least topical. By way of digression, I came to think of much of this album somewhat akin to the Spire: Organ Music Past Present and Future compilation put out by Touch Music in which various artists used Church organs as the artistic source to process into drones or into field recordings. Where the comparisons depart is the source material, as Hawkins uses modular synth, prepared vinyl (whatever that is), live loops, sequencers, oscillators, keyboards, vocoder, lapsteel guitar, mobile telephone for composition. Except the mood lacks the optimism of Touch and Hawkins’ overall mood tends to the gloomier. “Equinox” is a shifty ambient drone piece with electronics that emit like the hum of a transformer, the lulling of synthetic crickets chirping into oncoming washes of drones and then once again morphs into what could be described as electronic-ambient. “Intifada” is a curious track title for a seemingly Catholic-themed album which opens-up droney enough until a kind of modulating fervency builds, perhaps to emulate the newsreel footage of fervent Muslims masses chanting fanatically. There is something in the tone, perhaps the fervent mantra-like mood of the album that reminds of “You Have a Yearning for Perfection” by Pablo’s Eye. “No Body” moodily opens with ambient bliss overwhelmed by overcast emotions and five minutes in clears into cloudless dreamy ambient again. “Exterminator Pump” might qualify as Hawkins’ attempt at dark techno with its sharp digital tones and mechanical rhythms that may be what The Terminator chills out to in between exterminating humans. In the first few moments of “Mass/Dissolution” there is a strong Touch artists vibe be it those from the Spire compilation or Philip Jeck, again shifting into angsty ambient (perhaps this is a new genre?) overwhelmed by drone surges that reach a crescendo of sorts and a disembodied voice calls out ‘test’ in a continuous, looping mic check. Apostasy Suite is certainly a moody album with varied textures and tones, but also a rewarding listen. Chester Hawkins may be reflecting on faith or a lack of it, but maybe it does not matter because we are here for some fine ambient, noise and dark drone.

156: Memento Mori

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 05 2017
Artist: 156 (@)
Title: Memento Mori
Format: 10"
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Most of you have probably never heard of 156, self-described as an "industrial junkyard outfit" in the tradition of Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept., Z'ev and other similar entities. 156 is masterminded by Adel Souto, a Miami musician based in NYC. So far 156 has released one CD, four cassette EPs, and one 10" (this one I presume), but Souto has a long history of participating in, and/or leading experimental and avant-garde music projects all the way back to 1985. Those with releases in any format include: Violent Deed (Miami sXe band, 1987); DÄÄb-Soul Destruction (Denver, 1991); Hangman aka Timescape Zero (Miami, 1992); Shroud (improvisational jazz-doom-punk outfit, 1992); None Dare Call It Treason (metalcore sludge band, 2001); Martini Kulture (experimental tape collage project, 2002); Sound 4 Sound (2003-2007, 2009); and also vocals to a track on DNME's 'Last of A Dying Breed' LP,and drums for The Goslings on an album and EP. That's just Adel's musical resume. He's also a writer, artist and photographer as well as occasional lecturer.

Now I've never heard these bands and music projects that Adel was involved with, but for the purpose of this review it really doesn't matter. I did listen to some other work in 156's discography (for comparison's sake) and found them quite interesting, although very
different from 'Memento Mori,' mostly because of the "instruments" employed on this disc. (More on that soon enough.) Prior recordings were more organic industrial ambient with rhythms being banged out or scraped on metal, glass, concrete, and found objects, as well as field recordings, voice, etc., much of it being more "out there" and edgier than any of 156's influences. Much of it is closer to true "industrial music" than anything put out by (synthesizer/guitar) bands that are often ascribed that label. Now although 'Memento Mori' is quite different than the others, some of the techniques Souto employs on it are similar to ones used in 156's previous works. On 'Memento Mori' the instruments used are only human bones. Yes - skulls, femurs, vertebrae, bone whistles, and Tibetan thighbone trumpets (kangling). Now that might give some chills (especially if one pauses to consider that these "instruments" were once living human beings) but in the context of what this music is supposed to be (Meditation music for metalheads) it makes sense and has an aura of purity as well as a spiritual connection about it. Over the nine tracks on this 10" EP (recorded at 45rpm but playable at 33rpm for the Thunderdrone versions) you will hear breath bone drones, scraping, rhythmic clacking, whistling and bone tinkling in a variety of tempos, textures, and terrains. Sometimes the bones are even able to emulate other instruments such as cymbals. The overall effect is one of primitive ritual, something far more ancient than any contemporary music form. I'm reluctant to call it "tribal" because
of the overused genre-tag associated with it. When slowed down to 33rpm (Thunderdrone versions) the pieces take on a different flavor, although (obviously) the components are the same. So at least you have options in your experience of them.

Granted, this kind of music is not for everyone. (Not much in 156's oeuvre is.) And although one might expect 'Memento Mori' to be inherently "dark side" music, I wouldn't call it that, especially in relation to some of 156's other works which definitely are. Ethnomusicologists will have a field day analyzing, dissecting and categorizing this recording as well as attributing which (primitive) cultural influence is in play in which piece. (Track names such as "Kokoro," "Demeter and Persephone Run From Hades," "Winds of Vayu," "Dance of the Ophites,"and "Chodpa" certainly add ethnic flavor from ancient Greece to Asia.) So what we have here is more ancient World Music than anything else. The recording is excellent, in part because it was mastered by James Plotkin, a name you ought to know from Scorn ('Evanescence,' their best work in my opinion), and numerous other projects, collaborations and solo recordings. This 10" comes on bone-colored vinyl with a lavender sleeve and is limited to 489 copies. Not cheap, but worthy. If you prefer, it is also available as a digital download from 156's Bandcamp page where you can preview any and all tracks. I would highly recommend that. I believe 'Memento Mori' is an
important work that brings ancient musical tradition to light in a way seldom heard in this day and age.

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