Music Reviews

VV.AA.: Interactions: A Guide to Swiss Underground Experimental Music

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 12 2019
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Interactions: A Guide to Swiss Underground Experimental Music
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Buh Records
This is a sampler, in the proper sense, a sonic buffet providing 27 short works or snippets, all under five minutes long, the vast majority under four minutes long. It’s a palette wetter, giving you brief, but largely radio-unfriendly, nuggets that will hopefully launch you into wanting to know more.

There are a variety of styles at play- noise, industrial, ambient, drone, and more constructed and melodic offerings as well.

The more accessible tracks include “Nozomi” by Papiro & Yanik Soland, which is a quirky bit of ethno-electro-pop, and Julian Sartorius’ bouncy “Ziggli”. The out-of-breath panting sounds of Martina Lussi’s “Pool” are attention-grabbing in an obvious but still successful way, while Serote’s “Niton” is string-heavy, soundtrack-like melancholia with a gritty twist. Joke Lanz’s “Dutschke” feels like a throwback to the weirder side of early-naughties sample-hop, and the distinctive groove of Tout Bleu’s “Souviens-toi” makes you want it on repeat play.

Electronica and more production-centric works get a showing with pieces like the sci-fi-trailer tones of Therminal C’s “Sputnik Crash”. Manuel Troller’s “Hologram”, acoustic instruments bathed in rapid retriggering and looping, has a fascinating purity about it that’s rather endearing. Souharce’s “Assurance Maladie” is a glitchy lo-fi affair of pulses and melodic deformation, and Gilles Aubry’s “And who Ears the Desert” [sic] applies a similar scratchy digital logic to untraceable but vaguely Eastern-sounding ethnic found sounds and traditional music, for a form of broken reportage, while the excerpt from Purpura’s “Cruel” puts foghorn-like low bass notes on a turbulent sea of white noises.

Darker and more avantgarde offerings are included too, for example of “Tod am Bach” by Rudolf, a shifting noise and drone pattern which at such short length becomes a prelude. Christian Müller’s “London Study #2” is a characterful assembly of found percussion that flows well into Flo Stoffner’s plucky stop-start and increasingly chaotic “Carmensac”, while Christian Kobi’s “I” is a curious set of blowing noises that seem to be both pneumatic and asthmatic at times. Denis Rollet’s “sW#1” is a curious and cathartic selection of twisted noise of various colours.

Not everything was to my taste, understandably. Erb/Loriot/Morishige’s “Ice”, with its nails-down-a-blackboard toned violin screeching, was just the wrong side of painful for my ears and made me actively wish for less capable headphones, while Jason Khan’s agonised sing-wailing on “Nearly You” was somehow just the wrong kind of emotional mess for me.

As an 89-minute listening experience in its own right, it’s only moderately satisfying- like trying to structure an entire dinner out of small snack bites- but the track sequencing is reasonably well balanced and keeps you interested. But with such a broad selection on offer, there will definitely be at least something to pique your interest here, and something you can’t be bothered with- the true sign of a good sampler compilation. It’s a sign of a very healthy underground scene in Switzerland, for sure.

François Bonnet & Stephen O’Malley: Cylene

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 11 2019
Artist: François Bonnet & Stephen O’Malley
Title: Cylene
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Editions Mego
Stephen O’Malley’s guitar work here is very recognisable from his work in Sunn O)))- long, cavernous, reverb-and-effect laden sustains describing a series of cavernous, hollow, barren yet somehow darkly peaceful environments. Francois J. Bonnet is the studio re-worker, the producer, but despite having his name credited first, it does like Bonnet has adopted a very subtle, less-is-more approach to the studio post-manipulation, allowing the plaintive guitar work acres of respect and calm. Synth pad and environmental elements are subtle, and have a very strong synergy to the guitar work that makes them sometimes border on the unnoticeable.

Bluntly, for most of this work it feels like there is more variation in the track lengths than there is in the tracks themselves. Lengthy and mesmerisingly simple pieces like thirteen-minute “Pahoehoe” have the same sonic quality as the shorter sketches like three-minute “Premiere noire”, but simply for more time, dim though that may sound. And while that may sound like a criticism, if you want to approach this album to enjoy the value of its soporific stillness, it becomes a virtue.

It would be unfair to say there’s no variation, of course. For example “Tephras”’s wind tones add an extra haunting element, while the reverb dips a little deeper into the realm of an alien foghorn, and this flows fluidly into the more atmosphere-led “Dernieres teintes noires” where the guitar itself is less distinct and the after-effects of it explored further. The opening of fifteen-minute final piece “Des pas dans les cendres” is the album’s softest section, the soft pads sounding almost synth-choral, before unfolding into the warmest and most velvety of conclusions.

It’s reliable and deeply atmospheric guitar-drone that will certainly appeal to existing Sunn O))) fans, but which shouldn’t really feel like it has travelled anywhere new.

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.

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