Music Reviews

Mensimonis: Clone Fever

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Mar 08 2017
Artist: Mensimonis
Title: Clone Fever
Format: CD + Download
Label: Opa Loka Records
The story of how Radboud Mens and Lukas Simonis came to work together as Mensimonis is remarkably prosaic. Both independent audio experimenters in their own right, they both helped run recording and improvisation workshops in secondary schools, whereupon they found themselves on stage performing together in front of a bunch of teenagers who, they say, preferred playing “a stupid game on their iPhones” to listening. It’s a refreshingly unpretentious beginning.

But unfortunately, the story behind it is arguably more remarkable than the sound itself. Simonis runs spontaneous guitar notes and short patterns which are sustained through feedback until the result is a thick soup of guitar drone that carefully tip-toes towards howl-round but stays under control. The more electronically-minded Mens meanwhile is generating deep drone tones that sit underneath, much of it slightly buried in the mix and supplementing the overall tone.

While long tracks are never a problem, the succinctly-titled 22-minute-long opener “The individual is handicapped by coming face-to-face with a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists” doesn’t quite warrant its own duration. There’s not enough progression, nor is there enough detail in the sound, to sustain interest for that long. Second track “Few believe me when I tell them that the rulers of this planet are of reptilian bloodlines” is less patterned, a more consistent wall of electronic drone and hum with occasional hints of metallic industry.

“Give the clone a soul, god is watching over your shoulder” is a little bit more twinkly, with the bass tones lolling around in space vacated by stripping back the guitar feedback, and the gentle balance is certainly more palatable- the strongest track of the bunch. Final track “All rumors being investigated” brings plain and persistent rhythmic guitar twanging back to the fore in a slightly more ingratiating fashion, but shifts towards the familiar feedback drone in the second half more successfully.

This is one of those extended drone releases with such a steady hum that when it finishes, your ear begins to feel alienated, as though it has normalised this music as its new base level. While it isn’t spectacularly innovative or eventful on the surface, it’s a coherent and simple package of long drones that will take your thoughts into a different place.

Sult / Lasse Marhaug: Harpoon

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Mar 03 2017
Artist: Sult / Lasse Marhaug
Title: Harpoon
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Conrad Sound / Pica Disk
Acoustic improvisers Sult are a three-piece taking guitars, percussion instruments and contrabass and abusing and misusing them in a visceral chaos of tortured scrapes, crashes, wood being stretched, and metallic awkwardness. It’s as though their mission is to make the most unpleasant recorded noises possible from traditional instruments. This is a wall of difficult, unpleasant noise abstraction which at times is akin to fingernails running down a blackboard. Extreme stereo separation at times allows you to listen to two independent pains at the same time.

Sound artist Lasse Marhaug collaborates with them on “Harpoon”. Underneath the agonising squeals, only half audible, are drones and other found sound hits, but it’s difficult to ascertain where the crossover of responsibility lies. Regardless, Marhaug’s presence is certainly not a tempering one.

Two equal-length halves, “First” and “Second”, change and shift over time but without any clear sense of identity or progression. The result is a 35-minute affront, one of the most uncomfortable and unwelcoming pieces of audio you’re able to deliberately buy on a record label. And while ChainDLK revels in the avantgarde and the dark noise-battles where sound and art argue loudly, this release is perhaps a stretch too far. One for the audio-masochists.

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.

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