Music Reviews

Catherine Christer Hennix: Selected Early Keyboard Works

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 06 2018
Artist: Catherine Christer Hennix
Title: Selected Early Keyboard Works
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Empty Editions/Blank Forms
These are unreleased works dusted off from rehearsal tapes recorded for a 1976 concert. The fact the concert also featured works by La Monte Young and Terry Riley is a reasonably strong indicator of what to expect, but since these pieces are so heavily rooted in the sound of tunable electric keyboards, there’s an extra layer of melodic context and more familiar electronic experimentation here. Young or Riley’s works might be described to exist in their own vacuums, and while these works too form a sort of self-imposed splendid isolation, there are flickers of the outside world- a world of Rick Wakeman and the Radiophonic Workshop- that seem to seep through.

The two parts of “Mode nouvelle des modalités”, running for just over half an hour, is a sombre and lengthy bit of Rhodes-based improvisation and impulse work with quite a pure vision to it, split roughly into a lonelier-sounding first part and a warmer, dreamier second.

“The Well-Tuned Marimba” is a complex exercise in high-pitched melodic sounds- marimba settings on the keyboard more fully surrounded by sine wave generation, live electronics and a sheng, all deliberately merging and blending into each other’s space so that it becomes impossible to unravel the sound you’re hearing. The high drone that builds underneath is genuinely unsettling, and the overall displacement effect genuinely powerful- early ‘plinky plonky’ tone disguising a very bold piece.

“Equal Temperament Fender Mix” invokes mentions of Radiophonic Workshop again, serving as it does as a prime example of the 70’s vanguard of experimental atmospherics, a nearly 25-minute long piece exploring the new worlds of loop and reverb and echo and decay through extensive tape manipulation. As a melée clears towards the end, we are left with unrelenting arpeggios that are slightly reminiscent of Philip Glass.

A fascinating unearthed collection of 70’s experimentation. With hindsight it sounds quite familiar thanks to the wealth of similar music that has been made since, and time and the evolution of ambient has perhaps deprived it of its edge, but in its original context it was certainly worthy of more attention than it ever received.

Three Free Radicals: Travelogue

 Posted by Marc Benner (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 01 2018
Artist: Three Free Radicals
Title: Travelogue
Format: CD
Label: Improtest Records
Rated: *****
This album is described as a collection of free improvisations. I will start by saying that it is a pair of talented individuals and the music on this album is quite enjoyable. The only issue I have with it for my own personal tastes is that it is all over the place, it is good but it doesn’t have a consistent theme.

Experimental music should be challenging and this is for me because I often look to either chill out or put on something heavy when I’m listening to this genre of music and this goes back and forth. If you listen to this type of music and can switch back and forth between repetitive drones and guitar strums to noisy guitar fuzz then back again then this is a great album for you. I just could not find a consistent pace to get into it for myself.

I guess reflecting back this isn’t a bad review, and maybe this just wasn’t the right space for me at the time. I recognize the talent and effort put into this album but I felt slightly uneasy going through it.

Rudolf Eb.Er: Om Kult: Ritual Practice of Conscious Dying - Vol. I

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Sep 01 2018
Artist: Rudolf Eb.Er
Title: Om Kult: Ritual Practice of Conscious Dying - Vol. I
Format: CD + Download
Label: Schimpfluch Associates
“Om Kult” is a collection of 31 short atmospheres built out of electronic drones and noises that are garnished liberally with a broad collection of dark, gothic audio imagery- found sounds from monks chanting, maggots feeding on carcasses, the sound of digging and scratching in dirt, human and animal growling, scream in pain and so on. describes it as “a glimpse into occult techniques for the transition from life to death”. It’s fair to say this isn’t a comedy album.

Does it stand up as a sonic work out of its compositional, or de-compositional, context? Not wholly. With many of the tracks under two minutes long it sounds like a sketchbook of sonic ideas, many of which begin and end abruptly as though samplers of longer works. The digital processing certainly throws up curious effects. The pieces are rarely long enough to have the kind of mental baseline-shifting effect that some drone and noise works are capable of. At times it just sounds like the blackest of sound effects CD’s.

The six parts of “How To Die” are perhaps the strongest section, adopting a structure that feels more scripted and ritualistic, especially with the slow unrelenting kick sound that begins in the first part. “Licht (Unborn Light)” is notably theatrical, with more overt vocal noises and wailing. “Beelzefest” is notable, for maybe the wrong reasons, because it’s difficult to tell whether you’re listening to pitched-up human screaming, or the sound of seagulls who’ve spotted your sandwich.

There’s a rich underground history of dark noise work like this, and while this release increases the size of that oeuvre, it doesn’t really expand or push it particularly far. If you like your extremely dark noises in bite-sized easy-to-digest chunks, then this may well be very palatable for you; if not then you may find it to be one of those challenges that doesn’t offer enough reward.

Athana / Andreasen: Tapes From Slowland

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Aug 28 2018
Artist: Athana / Andreasen (@)
Title: Tapes From Slowland
Format: CD
Label: West Audio Music
Rated: *****
Almost after two years from "Invisible Colors", Alf Terje Hana and his project Athana are back with a new musical adventures. This time, for the album "Tapes From Slowland", Alf teamed up with Guttorm Andreasen, who's presenting himself on his website this way: "is one of Norway's most experienced and versatile journalists. He has worked as a program and journalist in radio and television since 1985 and has the country's widest record collection! Guttorm Andreasen is a popular lecturer, conference and stage interviewer, musician, DJ and cultural organizer". The collaboration grew up with the time after several gigs they did together, so at a certain point they decided to take a bunch of guitars, pedals, effect boxes, different iPads and synthesizers and spending some time at the Rifferiet, Alf's own studio, to experiment with sounds and atmospheres. Experimentation is the key and I think that "Tapes From Slowland" is one of the most noisy and experimental albums that Athana ever did. With the previous albums I was used to hear Fripp influences here and there along with free jazz, fusion, a bit of prog and stuff like that. On the seven new tracks the guitar is still sounding like coming from David Sylvian's ambient album but everything that's around is different and it's noisy. The opening "Plastic Ivy" starts quietly with distant slow guitar arpeggios and little by little it grows including synth noise sweeps which are coming and going. After a while it gives me the impression of a message coming from space. "Crawling Wall" mix synth, noise, treated metallic sounds and it gets more intense with the time. If you would turn up the volume really much, you would think it could be a new Sunn O))) track. The experimental approach founds its peak with the improvisations on "Broken" where a spacey guitar sound little by little is joined by guitar drones, synth pulses and synth digital sounds. "D With A Stroke" is another tune which improvisation is king and where layers of sounds make it sound like the devil opened a factory and he's hammering from hell. "Nanula" with its nine minutes is the longest track, along with the opening one and it's a trip that starts with an ambient guitar just to get more intense and turning into a flow of sonic lava which is getting saturated more and more. When the going gets tough, the tough get noisy...

L# Collivasone: Vostra Signora Del Rumore Rosa

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Aug 26 2018
Artist: L# Collivasone (@)
Title: Vostra Signora Del Rumore Rosa
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Furry Heart Records (@)
Rated: *****
I think we've become jaded and lazy as far as new music goes; in what we listen to, the way we listen to it, where we get it, and what we pay for it. At the risk of being called an old fart (I am, but that's beside the point) I recall a time when ever new album was a special event; something to be savored and cherished. Yeah, there was the radio, but it mostly played "songs," not complete works. It was a taste- incomplete and usually only the highlight or "hit", not the whole work. (A bit of a different situation with classical music, but that's another story.) The point is, with so many different music outlets and formats, we tend to take it for granted. Stealing music on the 'net is commonplace. Many new music artists give it away just to get known. Nearly everybody streams their stuff, so you don't have to pay anything to hear it (not to mention YouTube), just to own it. To some extent I think that cheapens the experience, and also cheats the artist. But if you can't listen to it (radio is a dead, at least here in the U.S., for most new music artists) how are you going to get it to the people who will most appreciate it? Record companies (labels) used to pave the way, grease the right palms, and obtain exposure for new artists. Now it doesn't work that way anymore, partly because the labels can't afford it, and partly because they're unwilling to do the kind of work they used to do. The whole game has changed and it's up the artists more often than not to promote their product. With so many out there doing that though, it's a cacophony of sound where one has to slog their way through so much crap to get to anything really good. This is where folks like me come in. I don't necessarily think reviewers are the arbiters of what's good and what's not, so much as guideposts pointing potential listeners in the right direction. Yes, we're all biased to some degree as no one can be completely objective when it comes to an art that is just so subjective. However, a good reviewer should be able to provide context and maybe even some nuance when it comes to description and qualification.

So why the big long preamble here? Maybe because this is a review of something so far afield from the norm that it warrants some expository treatment. When I come across unfamiliar music that purports to be "avant garde" I tend to wince because it's a genre that is often refuge to the talentless and inept, music utterly lacking in palatability or associated redeeming features. (Just because it's weird doesn't make it good.) I am most pleased to say though that L# Collivasone's 'Vostra Signora Del Rumore Rosa' (Your Lady of Pink Noise) is not that dreadful, poorly conceived and executed kind of avant garde music, but the real deal. A little background on Luca Collivasone (AKA: Doc. Luden Looksharp, Aston Baxmaq, L #, L.L.Looksharp): this Italian musical genius/savant began his artistic career as a musician at the turn of the ’80s as founder and guitarist of the band Aus Decline. He then studied classical guitar and various programs for the production of music with computers, composed soundtracks for documentaries, tv shows and advertising. He played with the Italian rockabilly band Stiletto, then later (2006-2013) established the art-punk/rock 'n' roll/retro band The Masked Marvels which toured extensively in Italy, Switzerland, Germany and France. Post-Masked Marvels Luca formed the band Iarballe, playing prepared guitar and a small synthesizer accompanied by a bassist and a drummer. It was around this time that he stumbled on the concept of the "Cacophonator," the primary and only instrument (excepting Collivasone's voice) played on this album.

The Cacophonator was made from an old (1940's) Singer sewing machine he found in a junk shop, that he modified with an assortment of strange sound producing elements. To see this contraption you would have no idea that the sounds on this album would even be remotely possible from some an archaic device, but they are. It really sounds as if it was made using some hi-tech combo of sophisticated modular synthesizers and samplers. (He calls it the "Concrete Music Machine".) A bit of Collivasone's philosophy regarding this work - "Slow down. Remove technology with its sure result. A strong idea becomes the first musical instrument..." There is much more but you can chew on that for now.
So what does this sound like? Well, a wide variety of things ranging from subtle ambient to chaotic experimental electronic. Dynamics are quite varied; quiet at times, loud at others; sometimes beatless, sometimes rhythmic. The album is comprised of nine tracks all with different motifs, moods and sonic palettes. "Alpha Crucis" which open the album is low-key ambient and kind of droney. The title track features a poetic recitation by Luca (in Italian) with slow beats, twisty, contorted sounds amidst light bellish tones and the occasional moaning, groaning bass. "Tropicantor," one of the longer pieces on the album, begins with a variety of low tones, then ghostly moaning oscillators enter the picture. Also eventually some squeaky sounds in a repetitive pattern, with a slow noise as well. This piece also has a vocal recitation, a short phrase repeated like a ritual chant. Collivasone concocts a plethora of odd electro-acoustic sounds for "Everything About Her Was a Lie," backed by an off-kilter rhythm. The bizarre vocal track on this one just has to be heard. If there could ever be a hit single from this record (which is highly unlikely) this would be it. There is even some sort of stringed instrument solo (warp guitar??) but all that is coming from the cacophonator.

Moving to side 2 we begin with "Bela Bite" which uses a simple metallic rhythm over which bowed, scraped and plucked string sounds, bass and little noise elements interact. The piece grows noisier over time as the volume increases. There is a definite buzzy machine-like ambience in "Sanguisuga," also with heavier beats which begin a basic rhythm you could even dance to. In fact, this is REAL industrial dance music, but not the kind you may be used to hearing. (I'd recommend this as the B-side of the non-hit single.) "Anus Pelicanus" almost sounds like its title, but I was thinking "duck farts in a shallow bathtub". String plucks and woodwind squeals over that strange duck-farting sequence on a repeating loop with blasts of noise interspersed. My description doesn't do it justice. "Rain On Your Parade" might be as close as we get to a conventional song with Luca's spoke-sung lyrics and repeating chorus, but it's not that close. Finally, "Caramel Moon" is a musique concrete fantasia with just about everything in it including a rudimentary beat. Usually when I've listened to this much avant-garde music I've had enough for a while but this album just makes me want more. Highly recommended for its concept and execution, but you'll need some quiet time to process it all. Thanks Edwina (owner of Furry Heart Records) for sending me the vinyl rather than just a download link. Tangible product is always appreciated, and I’d recommend the vinyl over the download.

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