Music Reviews

Hadas Pe'ery: The Secret Lives Of Electromagnetic Transducers

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 09 2019
Artist: Hadas Pe'ery
Title: The Secret Lives Of Electromagnetic Transducers
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Elli
Despite being recorded live in 2017, the theory behind this work from Tel Aviv-based composer and sound artist Pe’ery seems to hark back to the boom days of the electronic avantgarde, around the 1960’s, give or take. The time when every expression seemed new, and every theatrical or obtuse idea seemed valid, and the acoustic was the norm and the electronic was the new.

Five performers of ‘real’ instruments (flute, trumpet, piano, guitar, and double bass) were surrounded by electro-magnetic transducers and speaker components, routed in obscure ways so that one output feeds into another, some transferring between instruments, and even with some speakers being worn around the necks of audience members. The players are then driven by impulse, focussed on varying levels of urgency rather than melody, for a stop-start six-part play of audio textures. It’s a sprightly conceit, that feels quite entertaining.

However the 40-minute sonic result, in six parts, does suffer a little from the sense of “you had to be there”. The recording quality is perfectly decent, but many of the sounds seem distant and any sense of intimacy has been lost. There’s a sense that a greater number of microphones recording the event might have aided this as a sonic product.

The playfulness is still rather endearing though. Part II feels especially melodramatic, as though it yearns to be loaned to the world of interpretative dance. The sporadic string work in Part III is somehow quite nostalgic, while Part V forefronts the electronics to increase the sci-fi factor, melding the electric buzz with the acoustic drone to strong effect, before embarking on a fast-cut series of international vocal sounds that forms the work’s most modern-sounding zone.

The most intriguing part, as well as the best sampler of the whole, is the spoken-word driven Part IV. Unprocessed and processed dialogue, described as “improvised text”, in a language I must apologise for not confidently recognising in full but which has the tonality of French, brings forward the sense of theatre that is then followed up by rapid-fire plucking and tweaking that best showcases the unorthodox staging of the instruments.

It’s avantgarde that’s old-fashioned, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, but there’s more than enough innovation within that context to make it worth checking out if that’s your bag.

Jean-Philippe Gross: Curling

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 06 2019
Artist: Jean-Philippe Gross
Title: Curling
Format: CD + Download
Label: EICH
As an adjunct to his ‘proper’ new album “Reflex”, Jean-Philippe Gross has offered up a distinctly odd 22-minute track “Curling”. Over a steady and regular drone tone, the only element that really differentiates this from just being late-night sports TV found sound, it’s the sound of a series of curling teams discussing their shots, variously in English and what I think is either German or Dutch. The sound of scratching brushes and impacting picks (if they’re called pucks?) adds the under-texture, with occasional crowd appreciation offering a kind of structure. It’s a raw juxtaposition between the vocal tension- which at times turns into real shouting- and the low-level bass drone underneath.

The use of lengthy vocal samples reminds me of the first CNSNNT release, but without the techno underpinning. But ultimately this becomes something of an acquired taste. As a UK resident the equivalent I’d compare it to is like listening to snooker with your eyes closed- without a visual guide to what’s happening, or a commentary, it’s an exercise in tension without context- which I think is what Jean-Philippe Gross is aiming at.

Like dropping into some random sport on late-night TV because you can’t sleep, 20 minutes is almost long enough to feel engaged even if you’ve never watched the sport ever before. I find myself beginning to relate to these players- one of whom seems to be called Caitlin- and wondering when this match was, and who won. But it seems I’ll never know, which is oddly frustrating.

It’s rare that any piece can make you feel so relaxed and so tense at the same time. A curious listening experience, if not entirely an enjoyable one.

Sweeney : Human, Insignificant

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 02 2019
Artist: Sweeney (@)
Title: Human, Insignificant
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
Australian artist Jason Sweeney has been composing and recording music for about 20 years under project names such as Panoptique Electrical, Other People's Children, and Simpatico, as well as numerous other projects with friends. 'Human, Insignificant is a collection of 8 brief (26 minutes total) pieces for voice, instruments(s) and sounds in an introspective, fragile and delicate manner. Minimal - absolutely. Emotionally challenging - assuredly. Definitely something you have to be in the mood for though. On my first run-thru of the album I really didn't care for this at all. This was more me than Sweeney though; I just wasn't prepared for something so dispiriting and personal. The mood is maudlin and melancholy, not something you'd want to hear on a cheery summer day. So I came back to this on an overcast afternoon with a slight chill in the air, and now it fits perfectly. Stylistically 'Human, Insignificant' has a good deal in common with the more introspective works of Scott Walker, Tim Buckley and the Harris/Bates 'Murder Ballads' collaboration. Sweeney's tenuous vocals are complimented by minimal piano, and cello feedback/noises in some places courtesy of Zoe Barry and Jed Palmer. Song-wise the compositions are fairly far left of center bearing no resemblance to anything akin to ‘pop’. This is an album for reflection and wallowing, in a mood bereft of joy, mirth or positivity. Sometimes we just need this kind of thing. Limited in the physical edition to 200 handmade numbered copies.

Microtub: Chronic Shift

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 02 2019
Artist: Microtub
Title: Chronic Shift
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Bohemian Drips / Ace Tunes
Believably “the world’s first and only” microtonal tuba trio Microtub offer up two interpretations of a scenario where the tubas performed long melodic drone notes inside the unique acoustic space of a large water tower. This is supplemented by analogue synths offering up humming waves and resonant chime sounds that generally parallel and compliment the tuba noise.

It’s second piece “System Reboot” that is the more purist representation of this- an absolutely luxuriant drone piece, relatively untouched by post-production, in a warm resonant environment that sounds wonderful in stereo and presumably even more incredible in a 3D audio version. Initially fused into a single layer, the sounds gradually peel out, unfold and overlap in varying combinations so that the whole work shifts imperceptibly slowly and elegantly, with a rewarding sense of calm.

First piece “Chronic Shift” is more deconstructed, if you like, taking sonic material with the same timbre but cutting it up and looping and rearranging it to post-produce new melodies. The rough-hewn cuts, complete with clicks and glitches, are so frequent and artefact-laden that they start to dominate the sound underneath. It’s an approach handled boldly and with purpose, and largely it works, especially thanks to the gradual introduction of more sedate structures as it progresses, giving the piece a sense of direction.

Ultimately I’d rather listen to the unadulterated (or less adulterated) second track, but it’s a beautiful combination of instrumentation and environment that really sparkles. Absolutely lush.

The Strange Walls: Thirteen Dollar Cabs

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Aug 30 2019
Artist: The Strange Walls
Title: Thirteen Dollar Cabs
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Media
After the success of their Droneuary project, in which they released a new drone recording from a different artist every day in a project that was intended to run for January and ended up running into March, Silber Media have followed up the daily release idea with an “August Fields” series, releasing a field recording from a different artist throughout August- and potentially beyond, by the look of it.

As I need to put an artist and title into this site in order to review, I’ve chosen one at random, but frankly it’s worth highlighting and praising the whole series, which has thrown up some fascinating ideas so far. Also, all the releases are name-your-price on Bandcamp, so there really is no reason not to check out the entire series!

Many of the tracks are short. Some, like Shane De Leon & Jon Lodge’s “Saw Chain”, are very literal- unique sound effects or environments in a raw and abrupt form, that sound like the oddest items you might found in an old sound effects library. Offerings like Bryce Eiman’s “Calendar”, Azalia Snail’s “Bernal Chimes” or Philip Polk Palmer’s “Cricket Choir” offer up darker twists on some familiar environmental scenes.

Others, like “Thirteen Dollar Cabs” by The Strange Walls or Yellow6’s “Birds Sea Underground Car Park”, are more abstract, throwing together and juxtaposing contrasting sounds to tell open-ended wordless stories that vary from the terrifying to the amusing. Harsher and more heavily reconstructed examples include “violence and domesticity (for Abbas Akhavan)” by Determinist?, giving something for the lovers of darker noise. Premature Burial’s “Fire In The Sky” takes a fireworks night recording and cuts it up into a found sound drumkit and forms proto-techno rhythms with it, making it something of an odd one shot in a series that’s mostly rhythmless.

Most items are around the five minute mark, but there are longer pieces as well, many of them documents of everyday life. Subspace Annex’s “Officespace” forces you to pay attention to the everyday office noises your brain was cancelling out, adding delays and reverb to throw them into relief, while CNSNNT’s “Commute” is an 80-minute multilayered hum of muffled motorway noise, and similarly “I Perso La Corva” from The Grishnobler brings distant sounds of modern life and travel into the peripherary of a sandpapery soundscape. REMST8’s “Thunderstorm” and Electric Bird Noise’s “doohrobhgien eht dnuora klaw a” do exactly what it says on the tin, albeit backwards in the latter case.

Some of the pieces have brief explanations on their release pages, citing the sources, and some don’t require any explanation- but some, like The New Schwansteins “Fatal Eggs”, are decidedly mysterious. I haven’t got a clue what’s going on there, at all.

A fascinating series, at a name-your-price level, that’s very worthy of attention for any lovers of found sound or experiments with ambience both light and dark.

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