Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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Music Reviews

Artist: Compest (@)
Title: Leitern Und Pfade
Format: Tape
Label: Oxidation
Rated: *****
Compest is the work of German composer Martin Steinebach. His other projects include Conscientia Peccati, Monoid, and StillStand. I have been familiar with his work for many years (I did a split with him many years ago and contributed a remix for his amazing Heimat set), so I was interested to hear how his music has evolved. The label describes this particular project this way: “First known as Conscientia Peccati (orchestral and ritual/tribal synthetic atmospheres), Steinebach later launched two other projects to explore new paths: Monoid for more rhythmic industrial sounds, and StillStand for more ambient abstract soundscapes. Then he melted all his influences in Compest that can be seen as a kind of meta-project.”

One of the things that I have enjoyed about his work is that it never seems to stay in one direction. This is by design though. In one interview I found while looking for a website for this project, he was asked, “Many artists dream of a “magnum opus.” Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?” He responded, “No, I’m sorry. I am rather exploring new directions than going extremely deep into one.” This is oddly fitting for this release as well, which translates out to "Ladders and Paths." Let’s see which direction he is taking us this time.

“Leiter” kicks it off with a track that is a bit darker than some of the stuff I am familiar with, but really engaging. The percussion keeps it moving along, as the synth lines intermingle together. “Aufstieg” is a bit weirder, with pitch bent analogue synth. “Sprossen” shifts gears with droning synth with a hint of distortion. There is a melancholy feel to the composition. “Umweg” closes the side on a noisier note, as if he took a synth line and covered it with a blanket of static which dissipates over time.

Flipping the tape over, we have “Pfad,” which is a heavy synth composition that flows like the waves of the sea. “Oben” has a kind of a cinematic feel to it. This is the part of the film where the battle is just about to commence; the calm before the storm. “Abseits” is perhaps my favorite track on the tape, with pulsing synth lines with bass guitar and clashing cymbals and chimes. A very interesting composition.

Overall, the feel reminds me of some of Asmus Tietchens' more mellow works. I enjoyed how he changes things up to keep it engaging. If you have enjoyed Steinebach’s other works, this is a solid entry into that catalog. If you have not heard his work yet, this is a good place to start. Like all of the Oxidation releases, this is also packaged in an interesting way. The cassette is tied to a wooden tile between two ladders with dirt affixed to it. Those of you on the other side of the pond will have to affix your own dirt because of shipping regulations. Well worth checking out.

Artist: Signalstoerung (@)
Title: Viel Lärm Um Nichts
Format: Tape
Label: Oxidation
Rated: *****
Signalstoerung has had a releases on Hymen Records, Inner Demons, and several digital releases on his own label Adventurous Music. He has also performed at such venues as Wave-Gotik-Treffen and Forms of Hands. This is my introduction to his work, however. The label describes the album this way: “Whether you do not play a tape or are unable to get a radio signal, there are still sounds you can listen to by operating a mono tape recorder. These sounds are collected and transferred into four tracks. No additional sounds were used.” A tape made with nothing but a tape recorder? Sounds delightfully meta. Let’s get into it.

First up, we have some low level hum that goes for a while. Some crescendo and decrescendo keep it moving. Nice, but this is pretty minimal stuff. This is just a ruse though, if you think this is going to be nice and chill. The next track begins with a similar trajectory, only in this case it becomes increasingly noisy. The result is aggregative, as the layers pile on to each other. Suddenly it all stops.

Flip the tape over and we begin with more warbling, crackling minimalist noise. There is a nice low end rumble that keeps everything grounded. Next up, we have more minimal noise. There is a bit of sweeping static underneath the main drone, which sounds like it was recorded in an irrigation drain. It's almost peaceful to listen to, and you can let your mind drift a bit while listening to it.

After listening to it a few times, I can appreciate what he is doing here, but this was a bit too subtle for my tastes. Still, this was pleasant listening, and I really enjoy that Signalstoerung is putting the experimentation back into experimental music. This tape weighs in at around 20 minutes and comes packaged in a cardboard box hand stamped and wrapped in strands of cassette tape. Fun, old school weird packaging as one would expect from Oxidation.

Artist: Mlehst (@)
Title: More Punishment
Format: Tape
Label: Oxidation
Rated: *****
Man. This is a blast from the past. I remember seeing this artist in catalogs from Self Abuse and others. The descriptions sounded intriguing, but I was broke and never managed to pick anything up from this artist. Mlehst is the work of Englishman All Brentnall. One of the things I remember being interested in was that the music was never quite described as noise, and this tape is no exception. This is more Hafler Trio and less Merzbow. Mlehst seems intent on creating a feeling - not a bad feeling or a good feeling, but more an unsettled feeling. Let’s get into it.

Side A opens with high pitched whine and some barely audible voices. The voices stay just out of reach, as some slight static and what sounds like footsteps on a sandy road creep in over time. If you like your changes slow and subtle, this is for you. Suddenly the high pitch drone cuts out and you can clearly hear what is left (although the voices have long faded away). This shifts into heavily processed voice with varied drone. At times, there is little there but the voice, and you still can't make it out. You can just sit back and enjoy the soundscape as the songs blend together. At one point, there is a drum machine keeping a beat, which seems a bit out of place with the previous tracks. Soon we are back to the familiar gritty droning. This is just on the border of noise.

On Side B, almost before you realize it, it becomes noisier and noisier. It never becomes totally harsh noise wall or anything. It's almost like listening to a noise performance from backstage. Then it shifts gears to an almost mellow bass line with various frequencies and textures of drone. It is almost hypnotic and quite pleasant listening. Bits of sound bubble up in the sea of drone, only to submerge again, leaving space for other sounds. This too becomes increasingly dissonant as the track marches on. Finally, we have a short, percussion-based track that becomes slightly distorted before quietly ending.

Overall, this was a nice listen. It is quite limited, so you'll want to pick this up while you have a chance. One thing I enjoy about the Oxidation releases is that they hearken back to the weird packaging of late 90s early 2000s noise releases. The general tape edition features a handmade plaque with whip & cassette, both of which are nailed to the plaque. Mine was the non-whip variety, so I guess my Saturday nights will have to be much as they have been…. for now.
This tape weighs in at around 90 minutes.

Artist: DsorDNE
Title: Lontano Da Dove?
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Details Sound (@)
Distributor: Rubadub
BUY from HERE or from HERE
This nearly unpublished and lost Mini-Album was conceived during the mid to late 90's and only recently rediscovered. Now remastered and redesigned Lontano Da Dove? could be easily a current release - asking existential questions of the Where from? to the Where to now?
The Torino based Italian collective DsorDNE in this incarnation were Marco Milanesio together with Luciano Gelormino, an early associate and Maisie's singer Cinzia La Fauci.
Musically the four pieces are surprisingly accessible with solid basslines, trip hop influenced beats and most of all the ethereal hushed female vocals from Cinzia. There is even a rare vocal appearance by Marco on 'Zerouno'. Too soon 'Zeroedue' continues upbeat and expands the dreamy side while 'Zerotres' moves on hinting at the more ambient direction Marco soon would take. A well balanced melancholy continues and shimmers through in the last track 'Piano Zeroquatro'. The more experimental sides of DsorDNE's past do show only in small details - an abrupt ending in 'Zerodue', the ultra clear accent when the beat starts in 'Zerouno', a tape ending sound as finale.
Lontano Da Dove? is a bittersweet romance - promising and exciting but also vague and misty.
This was actually DsorDne's final release for close to 20 years - Marco went on to built himself a career with O.F.F. Studio, engineered, remixed, guested, scored videos and produced many interesting projects besides appearing solo and disguised as 9cento9. Since 2017 interest in DsorDNE led to various more than interesting releases and some re-releases from facsimile reproductions up to this LP with completely new artwork.
The cover, designed by the Swiss graphic agency Enea Bortone choosen tastefully by the Label adds another accent of timeless pop appeal meets abstraction.

Artist: Steve Roach (@)
Title: A Soul Ascends
Format: CD
Label: Projekt Records (@)
I assume that most of you as most of the people into ambient music are quite familiar with the name of Steve Roach. I would also include most of the audience following what gets normally labelled as 'new age', that I personally consider more a way to functionalize - sometimes in a not so guessed way - music belonging to different genres, that the well-known social and cultural phenomenon and set of sometimes freakishly syncretic beliefs of new age. Steve could have become a sort of spiritual guru for some of this kind of audience after some of his recent albums - "Spiral Revelation" (2017) and "Molecules of Motion" (2018) - received two consecutive Grammy Award nominations as New Age Album of the Year (a notorious contest won by big names like Pat Metheny, Yusef Lateef, Andreas Vollenweider, Peter Gabriel, Peter Winter or Enya), but this aspect is not necessarily an entrypoint to the heart of music lovers or simply audiophiles. By the way, this recent output, pushed by the awesome imprint by Sam Rosenthal, can satisfy both listeners who love synths and sequencers and those who talks to angels or other alien entities by burning tons of scented oils and coloured waxes. Including three long suites, recorded at the Timehouse studio in April 2020, Steve immediately brings the listener into a lavishly austere suite of flowing synth brasses and sort of whistles over the 32 entrancing minutes of the opening "The Radiant Return", that slowly pour into the central "In Present Space" (16 minutes lasting) after those cosmic whistles temporarily dissolve to come back as isolated beams of light in the darkness, evoked by a slightly different set of reverbs, that seems to support a sort of expanding movement of the above mentioned sonic entities. If audiophiles won't be overwhelmed by trance, sleep or boredom, they will appreciate more "Reflection in Ascension", the third stage of this album (other 26 minutes to be added to the listening or meditative session - depends on your expectations!), where Steve feeds less fluffy dynamics by nice percussive elements (I guess maybe stones and woods). If some mystical experiences will be somehow inspired or triggered by the listening of this album, please share!


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