Music Reviews

Bana Haffar: Genera; Live At AB Salon, Brussels

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jul 24 2019
Artist: Bana Haffar
Title: Genera; Live At AB Salon, Brussels
Format: CD + Download
Label: Touch # Tone
“Genera” is a live performance in five pieces (labelled ‘zones’), 32 minutes in total. Haffar uses a large array of modular synthesizers and is compositionally very free with them- melodies are present but spontaneous, non-repetitive, and unpredictable. Into the mix are thrown field recordings of environmental atmospheres, and snippets of traditional music performances- some possibly related to Haffar’s Saudi Arabian heritage, others more rooted in her modern North Carolina life. The result is a collage of disparate elements, presented expressively and emotively.

The first zone draws heavily on flute-like sounds that are twisted and shifted hypnotically, while in the second zone the synths form an organ-like drone for a flatter and more mesmeric landscape. This then brightens up into brighter and breezier synth arpeggios in the third zone. Unexpectedly and quite suddenly, zone four is a hollow cavern- low rumbles, trickling water noises, distant echoes- while the final zone, of stuttering chords and mellow Tangerine Dream-esque arpeggiators, both creeps up and fades away gradually, with a final devolution into crisp walking atmospherics and wind-like noises to close. Throughout, digital clicks and textures decorate the top end, providing a linking consistency.

It’s a short but sweet performance that would have been fascinating to catch live back in May. Fresh-sounding, despite familiar ingredients, it’s a premium package that represents modern electronic music well, and which could also serve as a strong entry point for people new to the genres being touched on here. The only awkward thing about it is the reference to the division into ‘zones’, ‘zone’ being one of those words that, once over-used, starts sounding quite silly somehow.

Electric Bird Noise: Hearn-Roberts-Strong-Watts

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jul 16 2019
Artist: Electric Bird Noise
Title: Hearn-Roberts-Strong-Watts
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records
South Carolina-based Silber regular Electric Bird Noise has been expanding the breadth of sound on his releases, always fusing drone, ambient and jazz into distinct shapes but now with increased emphasis on percussion. The title of the release and the song titles are all namechecks of the guest artists who’ve joined Brain Lea McKenzie this time around. The effect has drawn this release unexpectedly into the world of instrumental prog rock. Dynamic and powerful drumming, discordant guitar jangling, long chord beds, suddenly tempo changes- there’s a revelry in musical virtuosity here that feels live and energetic, and unusually positive, yet also pointed. “Steve Strong III” has a crescendo worthy of a full late 60’s wig-out., while “Hearn-Roberts I” brings to mind Robert Fripp in an angry mood.

But instead of prog rock’s lengthy noodling indulgences, these pieces are short- only one of them topping four minutes, and while some of the tracks are sequels in name, they all start and stop punctually, with no ongoing flow. In tracks like “Hearn-Roberts II”, this also manifests itself in a more conventional structure that toys around on the verges of being song-like.

“Hearn-Roberts-Watts” throws you by chucking in a spoken word speech, with Alan Watts as the orator, talking about self-awareness, being born, being God and karma, with the rest of the band noodling about steadily and respectfully underneath. Being honest this is an experiment that doesn’t quite work for me, clashing a little unsuccessfully.

An intriguing progression from Electric Bird Noise, and at only 27 minutes, it’s a collection that certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Magna Pia: Daiauna

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jul 12 2019
Artist: Magna Pia
Title: Daiauna
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Feral Note
Hüseyin Evirgen is still one half of techno duo Cassegrain, but for the last few years has also been putting out solo works as Magna Pia. This release, on German label Feral Note rather than the artist’s own Arcing Seas imprint, is far more art music than techno. Evirgen’s first instrument the piano is brought centre stage, gently and respectfully treated, sometimes drenched in reverb and echo, and surrounded by rumbling percussive noises, long synthetic pads and drones and a handful of electronica’s other trappings.

The result is a 41-minute work with a rich, emotive, cinematic feel. The title track is a scene-setter, tense and nervous, and hints of that mood never really go away. “Dionysys” has a sparing melody underpinned by a steady delayed drum sound that is the closest point to techno on this album’s distant orbit around it. “Sacred Ibis” is more romantic somehow, with a capriccio playing that feels fresh and honest, while “Tocharian Love” comes across as more of a lost love ballad, sad minor piano chords setting in odd, pulled-string-and-earth-tremor environmental oddness. “Inanna” takes a similar approach, with the drone atmosphere becoming some form of distant alien choir under quite a songlike melody.

Final point “And So We Crumble” is a quirky little finale, pitting pure piano notes against processed, detuned and cheap-sounding piano for a bizarre downtempo duelling-banjos affair, while the rumbling underneath grows gradually more displeased.

It’s an unusual combination, pitching ‘proper’ piano against both tonal and atonal sonic curiosities. However over the course of 41 minutes it does end up feeling a little languid and tired, without enough energy or enough diversity in approach that would really elevate it into something special. It’s perhaps unkind to say it’s one of those “if you’ve heard one track, you’ve heard them all” releases but there’s a degree to which that’s true. It’s certainly still worth checking out nevertheless- “Dionysus” is the place to start to get a flavour of it.

Day2 Alliance: Pardon the Interruption (Commercial Themes Volume One)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jul 04 2019
Artist: Day2 Alliance
Title: Pardon the Interruption (Commercial Themes Volume One)
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records
Silber Media’s 5-in-5 series, where an artist offers up 5 short tracks with a total running time of only 5 minutes, relaunches with a collection of releases, including this one which takes the idea one step further- and features five tracks by different artists (erm… four of them), all part of the Day2 Alliance art collective.

This time around it’s mostly ambient and brooding atmospherics, rumbling found sounds, crisp wind noises and distant grumbles, forming alien environments. There are some exceptions- “Charnal House And Crematorium” dabbles with a very sparse melody, while “Return To The Source” is a percussion rhythm built of raw samples reminiscent of JJ Jeczalik’s drum-building approaches.

As always it’s a fascinating little sampler, a buffet of miniscule ideas that leaves you wanting more.

Philippe Petit: Descent Into The Maelstrom

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jul 01 2019
Artist: Philippe Petit
Title: Descent Into The Maelstrom
Format: CD + Download
Label: Opa-Loka
Petit’s “Descent Into The Maelstorm” is a pair of chaotic and noisy works, “Descent” and “Into The Maelstrom” (with a four-minute interlude piece “_ _ _” inbetween), inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name about surviving a whirlwind, a story which some people now regard as an early example of science-fiction.

And early science-fiction seems to be an inspiration sonically here as well- this is a cacophony of old-fashioned-sounding simple analogue modular twists and turns, derived from that most fashionable of retro electro-experimental instruments, a Buchla easel. Squeals and bleeps akin to 1960’s sound designers impressions of broken robots or egomaniacal computers are the other of the day.

But unlike the 60’s trend for sparsity (driven at least in part by technical limitations), here the sounds are laid on thickly. Rapid-fire comb filters abound throughout, keeping the energy level persistently high. The noises are dragged into an artificial stereo due to processing the signals differently for each channel, which ends up being quite discombobulating, like being told subtly variant versions of a story in each ear at the same time- strangely tiring in a sitting of almost 50 minutes.

Moments of relative calm provide breathing space- for example at the 13:30 mark in “Descent” when the composition wantonly demonstrates an audacious change of musical note, or 7:30 into “Maelstrom” where it sounds like The Clangers have arrived to party- but these moments are brief and it’s rarely long before another ascent into the more manic arrangement begins. Despite the naming, if anything it’s the “Maelstrom” second track that is slightly more subdued than the first- not actually calm, but with a deeper, more bass-rich profile that isn’t quite as grating.

The press release states- or at least implies- that the Buchla is the source and this is a one-take affair, but the level of complexity involved certainly gives the impression (perhaps falsely) that there are both other sources and other processes at play, because it is sonically more diverse than one instrument would normally provide. Some of the higher-pitched elements sound like vocal noises that have been digitally cut-up and glitched, and some of the fastest parts do give the impression of digital dissection post-performance; but if that’s not the case then it is a compliment to the capability of the Buchla.

It’s a wilfully difficult listen, and I would definitely recommend headphones for it to get the fullest effect. If you’re in the mood for a gloopy, indulgent and moderately abrasive analogue aural bath to give your ears a good modular scrubbing, then dive into this.

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