Music Reviews

IKB: Dracaena Draco

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 01 2017
Artist: IKB
Title: Dracaena Draco
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
I finally managed to listen to the missing item of a sort of trilogy/tetralogy that IKB Ensemble, a copious ensemble of improvisers grouped by Ernesto Rodrigues, performed between 2012 and 2014. This one, named after the so-called dragon-tree (many of you maybe saw them in the Canary Islands), includes two sessions held in the same place - St.George's Church in Lisbon, the only Anglican one in the Portuguese capital city - in two different moments. Each CD includes the recording of those improv sessions - the first occurring on 13th October 2012, the second on 9th November 2014 -, performed by slightly different musicians. As for the releases I already introduced signed by IKB ("Monochrome Bleu Sans Titre" and "Rhinoceros"), it's better to highlight the fact that the number of involved musicians could be a somehow misleading piece of information, as their sound is other than a bulky instrumental condensate. The line-up somehow affects the sound of each session, as you'll notice the one recorded in 2014 tend to be more electroacoustic (featuring in details and in no particular order: Maria Radich's voice, Armando Pereira on accordion, Paulo Curado on flute, Eduardo Chagas on trombone, Yaw Tembe on trumpet, Nuno Torres on alto saxophone, Guilherme Rodrigues on cello, Bruno Parrinha on alto clarinet, Rodrigo Pinheiro on organ, Ernesto Rodrigues on viola, Miguel Mira on double bass, Jose Oliveira on acoustic guitar, Nuno Morao on percussions, Gil Goncalves on tuba and flugabone, Carlos Santos manoeuvring a computer, Abdul Moimeme on electric guitar, Marian Yanchyk on violin and Joao Silva on a Feng Gong and Tibetan bells), while the blend of piercing pure radio frequencies and the dizzying dissonances of the session recorded in 2012 has a more "electronic" approach (there were more or less the same musicians involved in that session, but there were also Paulo Raposo on radio-driven electronics, Christian Wolfarth on cymbals, a wider set of percussions and percussionists, Pedro Sousa on tenor and baritone saxophones, Ricardo Guerreiro siding Carlos Santos on computers and Eduardo Rodrigues performed on harp instead of viola). There could be some analogy with the mentioned tree: both the session seems to proceed very slowly (just like the growth of a Dracaena Draco or only drago -!-), the instrumental elements appears to group in a seemingly nervous tangle (close to the intricate web of lower branches of that tree) and the general atmosphere of the sessions evokes something in between mysterious and sinister (many alchemists and magicians looked for that tree, whose red sticky resin was so red and dense that was apparently referred as "the blood of a dragon"!).

Glice & Coen Oscar Polack: Race To The Bottom

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 20 2017
Artist: Glice & Coen Oscar Polack
Title: Race To The Bottom
Format: Tape
Label: Narrominded
“Race To The Bottom” is a single, 42-minute improvised slab that combines raw electronic noise with music concrete. Despite being billed as a single track, there are two fairly distinct sections, the first for the first fifteen minutes, the other for the remaining twenty-seven.

In the first part, the central bed, while synthetic (I think), sounds a little like tuvan throat singing, with subtle and slow variations in pitch giving a constant and unsettling sense of suspense and disquiet. There’s a constant and very frequent undulation in this, giving it the tone of a old car motor constantly ticking over. Over this are constant and rapid blips like secret hidden radio messages.

At points, we are joined by other instrumentation that’s been pulled so far away from its comfort zone that it’s barely recognisable- there’s something which I think, unconfidently, is a saxophone, though I wouldn’t be shocked if it turned out to be a clarinet. A few minutes later there’s something that has a chanted vocal quality to it, yet it’s so distorted you have to question whether it’s somebody shouting, or a guitar wailing. It starts to feel more like a musical quiz than a passive experience- “can you tell what instrument this used to be?”

The second part, while constructed of some of the same building blocks, switches tone. The subbass drone is mostly gone, replaced in part by industrial sound effects, metal scrapes and drags. Electronic loops and squelches are more prominent and the vocal is almost clear and discernible (but not quite). Relatively speaking everything’s a bit more playful and a bit more percussive. As with the first part, tension builds so steadily that it’s barely perceptible.

It’s a dark, noisy, sinister and attention-demanding collaborative work with a very raw feel, that brings dramatic control and balance to a sonic ensemble that is too often just an exercise in extremes.

Mazen Kerbaj/Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues/Carlos Santos/Sharif Sehnaoui: Blue Rain

 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 19 2017
Followers of free jazz and free improv scenes should be familiar with the name and the sonic art of Lebanese trumpet player and former painter Mazen Kerbaj as well as his long-lasting collaborator, the guitar player Sharif Sehnaoui. He gained some notoriety for "Starry Night", a 40-minutes lasting improvisation on trumpet recorded in Beirut on the night between 16th and 17th July, where he also grabbed the noise of Israeli bombs outside in the middle of the so-called war of 33 days in 2006 that Israel declared against Hezbollah in Lebanon (killing many more civilians than members of Hezbollah actually...). The difficult situation in that area of the world profoundly influenced both the music and the paintings by Mazen: the Picasso-like cover artwork of this release comes from his hand, and the analogy with the political works by Picasso is not casual... and the title "Blue Rain" also seems to be a quotation of the very first cycle of Picasso's painting, the so-called blue period. One of the interesting aspect of this output by Portuguese label Creative Sources is the moment when it got recorded: it comes from an improv session recorded by Diego Tavares at Tcha3 Studio in Lisbon on 23rd June 2006, some days before the Israelian bombing, but when it was clear that a military escalation of the political situation could follow. The sonic painting by Mazen on his beloved trumpet, whose mouthpiece got commonly joined to a yellow tube, and Sharif together with Ernesto Rodrigues (viola), Guilherme Rodrigues (cello) and Carlos Santos (on computer and piezos... the thuds at the end of the first of the three untitled tracks included in this release, as well as other moments you can supposedly catch while listening to it, could sound like a grim foreboding) seems to mirror such a worried whiff.

Andreas Pollak / Johan Graden: Terror of Positivity

 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 18 2017
Artist: Andreas Pollak / Johan Graden
Title: Terror of Positivity
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
The cover artwork chosen for the bicephalous project (so unknown that even the notorious database/marketplace Discogs mispelled the name of their output!) by improvisers Andreas Pollak (playing percussions and a set of object) and Johan Graden (on a prepared piano) has been guessed for the sound they forged on this first appearance on Portuguese label Creative Sources. The portrayed image looks like an elevator shaft, where its straight lines converge on a highlighted vanishing point, which seems more a metaphor of the emotional settings and some tortuous convolutions of the thought that their installation could evoke. There are many references and quotes that cannot be immediately understood, such as the name of the album itself: it seems to be a reference to the interesting analysis/diagnosis by the South-Korean philosopher Byung Chul-Han, who referred to contemporary society as a tired society, as a consequence of an excess of "positivity", and the title of the two parts of the longest piece on this album - a sinister condensate of somehow scary aural entities, a carnival of isolated tones in between often frightful stridors, that could push your mind towards reasonably unpitiful and likewise afraid contemplations of some lumpy pustules of contemporary world -, "Hyperculture" seems to be a reference to one of the most interesting essay of this philosopher. Similarly all the fans of Antonin Artaud should recognize the quotation of his "Artaud le Momo" in the title of "O Kaya Pontoura", a disquieting confluence of creepy chord-driven melodies suffocated by tonal thuds on piano, a viscous web of percussions hits and sudden piercing dissonances, which correctly renders the mood of that poetic incomplete self-portrait. The final stage of this sonic journey, "Quad", reasonably ends on the senseless flapping of all the instrumental and noisy elements, where a sort of spell seems to involve them in a feverish ballet, whose lack of a particular direction appears to awake the dormant catalyst of the almost logical self-annihilation.

Andreas Oskar Hirsch: Row

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 17 2017
Artist: Andreas Oskar Hirsch
Title: Row
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Makiphon
There’s something almost comedically prosaic about “Row”. It is, quite literally, field recordings of being in a rowing boat. Specifically it’s a trip with the Dutch rowing team Roeiteam Terschelling Recreatie on a training exercise in 2011. The press release even names all the rowers and tells you which harbour they were rowing out of. On the A side we row out, on the B side we row back in. Nothing more, nothing less. Even the cover art seems to acknowledge how profoundly simple it is.

So as you’d expect, the steady constant is wooden oars being pushed, splashed, and pulled, steadily and cyclically. The coxswain’s grunts and single-syllable commands really define a rhythm- it’s described as “resembling a funk singer” which is pretty accurate, it does often sound like James Brown calls that have been disassembled into single-syllable noises. It’s very steady, with only subtle and natural adjustments in tempo. Very loosely I timed it at 60bpm, the low end of resting heart rate speed, which seems an appropriate rate for a passenger who isn’t having to do the hard rowing work.

Other sounds are few and far between- a few seabirds, more noticeably at the beginning, and that’s about it. It’s a calm, windless day and no other vessels come into earshot. To my untrained ear, rowing out and rowing in are sonically almost indiscernible, except of course for the journey’s very beginning and end. It’s relaxing, in the same way that a narrowboat trip in the UK, or NRK’s Slow TV coverage of a boat journey can be relaxing- it’s natural, traditional, and simple, but you never completely lose sense of the underlying industry at play.

It almost feels inappropriate to praise or criticise that’s in essence a raw field recording- I might as well critique the sound of a tree- but speaking personally, it’s the coxswain’s constant grunting alone that prevents this from being ideal “last thing at night, drifting off to sleep” playlist material.

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