Music Reviews



KAHN/MÖSLANG/MÜLLER: Signal to Noise vol. 3

 Posted by Eugenio Maggi (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Dec 25 2008
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Artist: KAHN/MÖSLANG/MÜLLER
Title: Signal to Noise vol. 3
Format: CD
Label: FOR4EARS
Rated: *****
Recorded live at Tokyo University in 2006, this third chapter of the "Signal to Noise" series (now at vol. 6) features the core trio of Jason Kahn (analog synth, percussion), Günter Müller (ipod, percussion, electronics) and Norbert Möslang (cracked everyday-electronics). Now, this is one of those rare live improv sessions where you can't really tell one performer apart from the other, and I mean it in a positive sense. While other expanded line-ups of the "Signal to Noise" adventure seem to open up the sound and make it more expanded and erratic, this trio recording focuses on rhythm. Don't expect regular beats, of course (I still dream of a techno album by Müller, but I digress), but rather a primordial pulse which disintegrates in a thousand particles, though never losing its flow. High-end bleeps, crackles and electronics gurgles seem to mimick bird chants (track 2), or collide before boiling down to a low-end swamp (track 3), only to reassemble in the almost steady beat of the final track. A great performance by an amazingly cohesive and sympathetic trio, possibly one of the best improv ensembles around today.

JOHN HUDAK: On and On

 Posted by Eugenio Maggi (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Dec 24 2008
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Artist: JOHN HUDAK
Title: On and On
Format: CD
Label: Presto!?
Rated: *****
"To create «On And On», I recorded myself strumming a guitar for a long time. I converted the strumming audio to midi information (a collection of numbers that hold the basic pitch information along with duration and volume). The computer had to simplify the strumming, and in this simplification, left me with a melody ... a succession of number information that I used to trigger the pitches of an instrument much like a dulcimer". Call me lazy but sometimes quoting the artist himself is the best way to introduce a very peculiar work. "On and On" is a mammoth single-track, 70'28" by an artist who's surely not easy to pigeonhole, having worked with anything from pond microsounds to human voices to "traditional" instruments as in this case. But "On and On" is surely not a traditional guitar-based album. The simple strumming is layered and repeated in a sort of cascade continuum, with a minimalism that could even get on your nerves. You sense there are notes, yet the repetitive structure is that of a though minimalist opus (Charlemagne Palestine's strumming came to mind, though it's surely not the closest comparison). And yes, somebody has already underlined that, there's a sort of zen serenity and detachment that seems to spring from these notes. Now, I feel this acts a sort of Rorschach test: can you stand 70 minutes of (true, non plastic, non wallpaper) beauty and detachment? I can surely stand ugliness, and gravel-like sounds, but I've found this an uneasy listening. This eventually revealed a harder experience than I expected, and not because of boredom.

Legendary Pink Dots: Plutonium Blonde

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Dec 23 2008
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Artist: Legendary Pink Dots (@)
Title: Plutonium Blonde
Format: CD
Label: ROIR (@)
Distributor: ROIR
Rated: *****
With a musical career continuing over a quarter-century and releases numbering well over 40, LPD has managed to avoid making commercial concessions throughout that time and grow a cult of listeners into a sizable fan base. Not a huge fan base, but certainly a respectable one for this kind of music. No one in these economically depressed times would be doing extensive touring (especially in the U.S.) if they couldn’t count on a substantial audience willing to spend the bucks to see em live. And the Dots have been touring quite intensely over the last few months to support the new album, PLUTONIUM BLONDE.

The Dots have always been somewhat of an enigma, especially to reviewers and critics. I’ve seen them described as experimental-industrial, neo psych-folk, acidized avante garde ambient electronica, and all manner of other permutations in the pigeon-hole game. Truth of the matter is, LPD can’t be pegged down with a simple description. They are all of the aforementioned in general and no single one in particular. Even Current 93 (kind of a parallel as far as a similarly prolific career goes) is easier to quantify and assess on a "per album" basis. So what have the Dots wrought on PLUTONIUM BLONDE? Is this an essential Must-Have LPD release? Not exactly, but it is an interesting one.

As any Dots fan is aware, LPD is the band vehicle for Edward Ka-Spel, the Wizard of Odd in the windowpane world of the Dots device. Your trip through it is perceived through the lens of his kaleidoscopic spyglass, and like an LSD experience, you never know what you’re going to get in advance. Still, like the drug, there are certain things you can expect- tracks that start out as songs and tangentially morph into something else; Ka-Spel’s inimitable vocal meanderings with cryptic lyric imagery; ominous dream-like passages, and an overall tone of psychedelia. And yes, PLUTONIUM BLONDE definitely has all of these elements.

There are also a few tracks where the main focus is Ka-Spel backed primarily by acoustic guitar or even banjo lending a folky touch (think Incredible String Band rather than Pete Seeger) seeming more wistful than I’ve heard him sound in a while. But no ditty stays intact from beginning to end as strange, spacey ambiences take you elsewhere. Perhaps the most "commercial" track on PLUTONIUM BLONDE, if you could even call it that is "My First Zonee" sounding like a bit of Syd Barrett style twee Brit-pop. It actually has a simple, memorable hook. Nice, in a whimsical sort of way.

I’ve always found the Dots to be rather melancholy outfit and PLUTONIUM BLONDE is no exception. Still, Ka-Spel is not without humor. His oblique narrative on "Arm and a Leg" bears that out. There is also a good amount of sonic psychedelic effluvia which Dots fans have come to expect and enjoy. So why then, do I consider PLUTONIUM BLONDE a "good" Dots album, rather than a "great" Dots album? Lack of focus for one thing. Lack of intensity for another. Although it may take a couple of listens to really appreciate, by that time much of the impact has worn off. Of course, there’s always the "altered state" value, but having put my indulgence in that behind me, I can only reference my imagination. One other observation - PLUTONIUM BLONDE seems to be a more minimal and sparse endeavor than other LPD outings. It is generally fairly slow-moving too. Maybe something equivalent to an opium dream. After experiencing it, you might be apt to remark, "Where was I for the past hour, and what was that all about?"

Airchamber 3: Crumble

 Posted by Marc Urselli   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Dec 22 2008
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Artist: Airchamber 3 (@)
Title: Crumble
Format: CD
Label: Amirani records
Rated: *****
Airchamber3 is an Italian trio featuring Andrea Serrapiglio, Andrea "ICS" Ferraris (who also writes for Chain D.L.K.), Luca Serrapiglio. "Crumble" is their first CD as a trio (although they all have previous experiences and side projects) and also features Alessandro Buzzi on one song. "Crumble" is the document of a series of recording sessions where the three experimented live with laptops, guitar, saxophone, cello, percussion and a bunch of other toys, gadgets and instruments (phototheremin, kaoss pad, wind controllers, loopabow, contact mics etc). These sessions were tracked live, without any overdubs, and were simply divided into multiple different sections that became the "songs" of this CD. If you are familiar with the live experimentation and avantgarde music scene you'll know exactly what it sounds like, if not you should come to NY and spend a couple of nights at John Zorn's venue The Stone, and you'll see... or hear... The downtown music scene of NY or the SF live improv scene have a ton of bands and artists that could be used as comparisons here (Fred Frith, Eugene Chadbourne, Chris Brown, Jim O’Rourke, Bill Frisell, Elliot Sharp and so and so forth). This is the kind of CD that would not be out of place in the immense Tzadik catalog, but if you are interested in a different, foreign look at what this scene has been creating, Airchamber 3 might be a good place to start your investigation.

VV. AA.: Berlin Electronics

 Posted by Eugenio Maggi (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Dec 21 2008
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Artist: VV. AA.
Title: Berlin Electronics
Format: 4 x CD (quadruple CD boxset)
Label: Absinth
Rated: *****
Besides documenting some of the most interesting performers out of Berlin's seething improv circuit, Absinth is always a standout label in terms of visual presentation and packaging. "Berlin Electronics" (following the "reeds" and "strings" chapters) features four 3" cds by Gilles Aubry, Annette Krebs, Andrea Ermke and Ignaz Schick housed in a cardboard sleeve handpainted in acrylic blue. As usual, the design and its handmade realization make for an eye-catching, peculiar object. That said, the sounds alone are above average, and easily avoid the quality issues of many radical improv documents. Aubry creates shifting tracks out of softwares and feedback, throbbing frequencies which at times are stretched out and squeal like reeds. Krebs offers a particularly intense set with some of her trademark starting points (guitar, mixing board, radios and tapes) alternating quasi-silent passages with crisp noise fragments. While her records are rather hit or miss for me, this is a sturdy performance. On the other hand, I've found Ermke's mix of erratic field recordings and mixing desk-generated noises too loose and unfocused to truly engage me. The best 3" is probably Schick's, who creates four amazing tracks of (edited and recomposed) improvisation out of organ pipes, cymbals, bowed turntable (!), effects and electronics. The squeals and hisses of mouth-activated pipes are looped and pitch-shifted merging with the frantic manipulation of other objects, creating a fascinating composition closer to NWW's surreal landscapes than to your standard improv performance.


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