Music Reviews



Distant Animals: Weaves

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jun 05 2019
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Artist: Distant Animals
Title: Weaves
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hallow Ground
This is the second release on the Hallow Ground label from the unidentified artist using the Distant Animals alias (unless I’m mistaken about it being an alias, and Mr. & Mrs. Animals’ urge to name their daughter “Distant” raised no eyebrows at the registration office). While the first release was a more purist and simple drone, this is a more complex affair built from a variety of elements drawn from the sonic palettes of electronica and avant garde classical. There are low synthetic bass tones, string strums, tuned wooden and metallic block hits and bell tones, and found sounds disassembled at a granular level.

The arrangement of these is based on a written word text that has been used as a trigger- though details of the process, the transposition, or even the identity of the source text, is not provided, so the extent of Distant Animals’ compositional influence is hard to judge. Across two numbered parts and a total of 33 minutes there are ebbs and flows, louder and more dramatic sections contrasted with more peaceful times, but it does certainly feel like there is a helping of randomness, or at least arbitrariness, at play here. This is audible both in the rhythm, or sometimes the lack of it- an impulsive and reactionary percussive approach makes this a sound which never sits still- and also in the melodic treatment, with several pitched elements which repeat or shift notes with a similar, seemingly anti-pattern mentality. That being said, there’s also a progression- a devolution of sorts, with noisier sounds, heavy wind and distorted vocalisations (possibly religious ceremonial chanting, it’s hard to tell), gradually creeping in more and more towards the finale to give a defined structure and defy any notion that the whole work has been truly randomised.

The result is a relatively sparse, disorientating alien environment. It’s a little bit sci-fi, and just a little bit tense, as though you are lost in an unfamiliar metal forest and there are industrial creatures flitting past nearby- but where, for the most part, you are being left alone and where loneliness not tension may be your overriding emotion.

It’s a dark and brooding bit of experimental work, grumbling and sinister, but it’s a work you may appreciate cerebrally more than actually enjoy.

MIS+RESS: Dispellers

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jun 03 2019
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Artist: MIS+RESS (@)
Title: Dispellers
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
MIS+RESS is the ambient solo project of Brian Wenckebach, based in New Jersey, and he is also 1/2 of the electronica/shoegaze duo Elika, experimental/electronica duo Thee Koukouvaya, and lately as a member of Measured, a new collaboration project along with Evagelia Maravelias, the other 1/2 of Elika, and electronic producer and latter-day Tangerine Dream member Ulrich Schnauss. Prior to 'Dispellers' MIS+RESS has released an album and an EP. What Brian does with this project involves mostly effected electronically processed delayed guitar loops, but not so much you can't detect the guitar. In fact, the guitar base is usually quite evident. While these pieces aren’t necessarily what I'd call ambient, there is a certain ambience to them. On the one-sheet, Sound in Silence compares MIS+RESS to Michael Brook, Daniel Lanois, Durutti Column, and July Skies, something that I'd agree with but not in every aspect. There is a gentle and genial melodicism running throughout the eight tracks on 'Dispellers.' You have to love titles such as "Highly Functioning Sleepwalker" and "She Trembles As She Paints," which are somewhat evocative of the music they represent. While not as intense as say, the Fripp & Eno collaborations, the album isn't far off the mark from that kind of thing in places. Still, there is a rudimentary experimental quality about much of the material on ‘Dispellers’ that sounds as if Wenckebach was more interested in amusing himself than in developing thoughtful compositions for a sophisticated audience. That this album is under 30 minutes in time may make it a pleasurable breezy affair, but some may want more bang for the buck. Limited to 200 numbered copies in a custom handmade cardstock envelope.

The London Sound Survey: Thames

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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May 20 2019
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Artist: The London Sound Survey
Title: Thames
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Persistence Of Sound
After being live for just over a decade, Ian Rawes’ London Sound Survey, an online collection of over 2000 field recordings of environments in and around the capital city, has purportedly documented a substantial change in London’s soundscape since the project began. “Thames” is a collection of eight unprocessed and original field recordings, from different times during the last decade, presented with explanation but without comment.

As such they stand alone as eight mini soundscapes- between three and seven minutes long each- that fall generally into two categories (in my opinion). The first of these is the “Tower Bridge” category. From one angle, this is the epitome of music concrete. The harmonious, almost-melodic drone of final track “Tower Bridge: Machine Room” is accidentally more musical than some intention compositions, mirroring first track “Tower Bridge: North Bascule Chamber” which with its distant tannoy announcements and more percussive sounds of everyday life, feels like a staple work of ambient music as practised years ago by dance acts like The JAMs or The Art Of Noise. The sightseeing boat horn audible on “Tower Bridge: South Bascule Chamber” almost feels like cheating, since it is a deliberately composed three-note warning siren where the melody has not arisen purely by accident.

The second category is calmer, wildlife environments- as though setting out to show the ecological health of the city by the volume of its natural sounds, or wandering into twitcher territory. There’s a neat juxtaposition between “Allhallows Marshes: Day”- a very purist bit of wildlife sound recording, full of busy birdsong- and “Coryton Refinery Siren”, the note of a siren at a now-closed oil refinery which is so tuneful and strangely emotive that you might initially believe it’s a rare birdsong. Following it with “Maplin Sands”, a quieter and possibly more dusky bit of birdsong soundscape, is a smart bit of intentional compilation.

The exception to the above categories is “The Albert Basin”, a short recording of weighted halyards clanking against metal flagpoles which have been removed since the recording- it’s a sort of off-key wind chime effect, fairly relaxing, and also potentially quite nostalgic for anyone who used to live close enough to hear it.

It’s a neat and accessible found sound collection which, while it could never claim to make any broader claims about the city as a whole or what it sonically represents, provides us with some thoughtful set pieces and which should provide strong encouragement to wear headphones less often when wandering around the greater London area.

Spoelstra: West Side Story Winner of Ten Academy Awards

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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May 09 2019
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Artist: Spoelstra
Title: West Side Story Winner of Ten Academy Awards
Format: CD + Download
Label: Narrowminded (@)
Rated: *****
I guess I sort of made the mistake of popping this into the CD player before reading the accompanying one-sheet, searching the internet for info, or doing any kind of homework on this at all. To me, it sounded like Captain Beefheart without the Captain; plenty of beef though. Avant-garde mayhem tempered with some temper but I just didn't get that it was dekonstruketed West Side Story, that Bernstein B'way musical that is the most truly American romantic tragedies ever foisted on the public. I suppose it took a deep underground Dutch avant garde band – Spoelstra, to pull it off, or even attempt such a thing. On the bandcamp site (where you can listen to the album) there is a lengthy description of each track that begins "Gross misrepresentations of all songs of the musical West Side Story as performed in seven chapters," which of course, I read in its entirety. If you want to be spared reading it yourself, it's a satirical take on the plot of WSS in minute detail, without mentioning any names. While this purports to be an avant garde take on the music of 'West Side Story,' in actuality there are only some passages where form and melody resemble anything approximating Bernstein's creation. It's all instrumental, so you don't have to worry about anybody warbling "Maria," "America," or "Somewhere". Yet sometimes those melodies do surface amidst "hysterical prog events, discordant guitar alarms, polyrhythmic pile-ups, untrue country and fluffy drones" as the one-sheet put it. In spite of its chaotic off-kilter rhythm and fractious-frantic guitar beginning after the arrhythmic finger-snaps, this is a deeper, more rewarding listening experience than conceptually it has any right to be. The sheer variety of quirky moods, sonic insanity, bizarre rhythms, repetitive mind-fuckness and bending over backwards to execute this crazy mess is something that deserves a REALLY BIG round of applause. Unfortunately, like most avant-garde works by marginal artists it will either go unnoticed, unappreciated or held in contempt. There is more of worth here though than a good dozen modern avant-garde groups that I can think of.

Von Tesla: Ganzfeld

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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May 08 2019
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Artist: Von Tesla
Title: Ganzfeld
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Boring Machines
Italian Von Tesla takes the sonic palette of synth sounds more commonly found in more mainstream electronica and techno, and, by more conventionally musical methods and also via custom software development, breaks them down and disassembles them into structures that go beyond glitchy electronica and into more experimental and even randomised territory. However instead of the aggressive, gritty, “smash the system” attitude that this is sometimes handled with, this is a much much gentler affair- almost passive in its steady, undramatic layout.

Among the more accessible tracks are “Everything” (sorry, “E v e r y t h i n g”), an endearing bit of awkward-beat glitch that twists and warps in a generally cheery manner which is about as unchallenging as glitch gets. Similarly “Out Of The Surface” uses the familiar device of super-soft melodic chords contrasting with fairly frenetic high-pitched clicks and bleeps for a result which ought not to be mellow, but somehow is. “Lighted Room”, by contrast, is darker and sparser and could readily soundtrack the sinister alien landscape part of a game. Grumbling eighteen-minute piece “Echoes Of The End” is the most industrial-sounding moment here, a semi-robotic affair of arpeggiating proto-acid loops, while the slightly more stuttering approach of “Feedforward” is also interesting.

There are tracks which use their duration to draw you in- the thirteen minute “E-e” is a loose assembly of seemingly random and sparse synth melody notes that initially seems gently broken but which, by the end, has begun to feel like a new definition of normal. Something about the washy atmospherics of “Infinity Reveal” and the brooding final track “In The Red” feel like a throwback a couple of decades to earlier days of electronic ambient- the former containing one noise in particular that triggers a Future Sound Of London comparison I just can’t shake.

It’s a release that perhaps could have been gently curated down into a single-CD format; the average track length is nine and a half minutes and that could certainly be accused of self-indulgence or an unwillingness to edit. Brevity issues aside though, it’s a strong and accomplished bit of devolutionary electronica that explores the wiring under the board and comes up with something listenable and distinct.


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