Saturday, July 11, 2020
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Music Reviews

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Artist: Roman Rofalski
Title: Loophole
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Nonclassical
Loophole is a four-track EP that sees Berlin-based pianist Roman Rofalski supposedly channel his love for 90’s underground techno into a piano work- though let’s say from the start that the results are not techno, either piano-techno or otherwise. It’s a fusion that’s been melded before- it draws a lot of comparison to some of Christian Prommer’s works- but while Prommer and other artists have composed fairly purist techno-inspired but traditional pieces, Rofalski instead has adopted a more editing-heavy and processing-heavy approach.

On “Alpha”, the chopping up of the improvised acoustic piano sounds has an abruptness and punchiness that gives it a lot of energy, and it really feels like it has been composed after it was performed. “Sea”, by contrast, is initially a more ambient work, setting sparse individual high notes over a drone and effects bed derived but long detached from the low note sounds, before a gradual and decidedly soundtrack-like tension build-up in the second half, where we’re joined rather unexpectedly by cut-up drum sounds that give everything a more avantgarde jazz feel.

“Nagging” has a tense, unsafe feel thanks to its high string-scratching tones, before final piece “Redemption” is the track that comes closest to the EP’s techno-inspired pitch, with a more rhythmic approach and a nicely constructed repeated pattern of low bass notes and sharp-cut percussion- ultimately it still feels more like modern jazz than techno, but it’s very accessible, with crossover audience potential.

At times, the glitchy cut-up processing is a little reminiscent of Brian Transeau, and if you like his more mature soundtrack work, this will appeal in a similar way. If this were the soundtrack to a short film- and it sounds like it ought to be- I’d watch it.


Lean Left: Medemer

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Artist: Lean Left
Title: Medemer
Format: CD + Download
Label: PNL Records
Medemer was recorded live at a concert (remember them?) in September 2018, though casual listeners might guess it had dropped through a wormhole from the 1970s.
The quartet of Terrie Ex and Andy Moor on left guitar and right guitar, plus Ken Vandermark on saxophone and clarinet and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, jamming live and publicly, is very much a work of avantgarde prog rock and post-rock. Other aspects of the package- from the slightly grungy recording quality on the guitars and more chaotic moments, to the paint print style of the artwork- back up this impression as well. The saxophone, in its predominant moments such as in the middle of part 2, feels like a guest appearance of experimental jazz, but its not anachronistic.
It shares that long indulgent approach too- theres no time for brevity. Its labelled as six numbered parts, all over eight minutes long, one almost nineteen minutes long, but all of them were potentially divisible into much smaller scenes and the 73-minute work could easily have been split into over 30 parts if theyd felt inclined. The entire work feels driven by spontaneous impulse.
Its a diverse conversation between four musicians and at times its metered, rumbling and sparse (towards the end of Part 1 an example), with strong elements of disquiet or dischord (the opening of parts 3 or 6). Then at other times its noisy, confrontational and argumentative. Sometimes its got more than a shade of the funk- the latter half of part 4 being decidedly groovy, whether it likes it or not. And sometimes the wig-out is sheer musical adrenaline kicking in, such as the end of parts 2 and part 5, a frantic performance workout that elicits cheers from the audience as much praising the exercise level as the music itself.
Its old-fashioned yet still avantgarde, and Im sure it wouldve been a fantastic concert to be at. The translation into a recorded work leaves me feeling just a touch cold and disconnected though, and despite this releases clear energy and undeniable virtuosity, I wasnt fully sold on it.Medemer was recorded live at a concert (remember them?) in September 2018, though casual listeners might guess it had dropped through a wormhole from the 1970s. The quartet of Terrie Ex and Andy Moor on left guitar and right guitar, plus Ken Vandermark on saxophone and clarinet and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, jamming live and publicly, is very much a work of avantgarde prog rock and post-rock. Other aspects of the package- from the slightly grungy recording quality on the guitars and more chaotic moments, to the paint print style of the artwork- back up this impression as well. The saxophone, in its predominant moments such as in the middle of part 2, feels like a guest appearance of experimental jazz, but its not anachronistic. It shares that long indulgent approach too- theres no time for brevity. Its labelled as six numbered parts, all over eight minutes long, one almost nineteen minutes long, but all of them were potentially divisible into much smaller scenes and the 73-minute work could easily have been split into over 30 parts if theyd felt inclined. The entire work feels driven by spontaneous impulse. Its a diverse conversation between four musicians and at times its metered, rumbling and sparse (towards the end of Part 1 an example), with strong elements of disquiet or dischord (the opening of parts 3 or 6). Then at other times its noisy, confrontational and argumentative. Sometimes its got more than a shade of the funk- the latter half of part 4 being decidedly groovy, whether it likes it or not. And sometimes the wig-out is sheer musical adrenaline kicking in, such as the end of parts 2 and part 5, a frantic performance workout that elicits cheers from the audience as much praising the exercise level as the music itself. Its old-fashioned yet still avantgarde, and Im sure it wouldve been a fantastic concert to be at. The translation into a recorded work leaves me feeling just a touch cold and disconnected though, and despite this releases clear energy and undeniable virtuosity, I wasnt fully sold on it.


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Artist: Christian Kobi
Title: Cathedral
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Buh Records
Cathedral is a single 34-minute experimental piece comprised solely of solo saxophone and prominant feedback from Swiss-based Christian Kobi that will put off many listeners within the first five minutes thanks to the early squealing, shrieking sounds that jars right through your teeth. If you can’t stand the sound of nails down a blackboard, you’ll be reaching for the playback stop button very quickly. And that would be a shame, because if you’re willing to hold out until (or skip to) around the six minute mark, things settle down somewhat and the lower, slower textures of the sax begin to shine through. By the twelve minute mark, it’s positively sedentary, beautifully recorded to show the expressive husky reverberence of a saxophone in extreme close-up detail.

A second lease of life comes halfway through, with the sax jumping from almost trad-sounding jazz, to more squealing and dog-frustrating sounds (don’t say I didn’t warn you), down to lowest-register drone hums, in fairly quick order.

It was recorded in 2019 in the former Swisscom high-bay warehouse- “probably the largest underground space in Berne”- and officially it’s the last part in a trilogy, after releases in 2010 and 2013. I haven’t heard those other two releases though so can’t comment on its effectiveness as a triptych. However I would say that 34 minutes seems just about right for the concept, and it neither overstays nor understays its welcome.

In old-fashioned avantgarde fashion it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, to put it mildly, but if you have the high tolerance required to get past the initial gateway, it’s certainly worth delving into for half an hour.


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Artist: Alex White
Title: Transductions
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Room40
Alex White works predominantly with electronic music, but Transductions is based almost wholly around a disklavier- a MIDI-controllable yet acoustic (and seemingly extremely expensive) piano- which is being driven through programmatic or machine-output patterns. Consequently, the result sounds like the work of a classical pianist who’s going a little bit mad.

The variation comes from differing levels of chaos. “Slow Descent Of Wooden Window”, despite its name, is one of the noisiest and least obviously structured pieces, while “Cheekbone Against Window Of Train” is calmer and more solemn, evocatively reproducing those senses of travel and the slow travel on raindrops on glass.

Each track title describes a transfer of energy, yet I have to say that overall, the feeling is more sedate than energetic. Even shorter more active pieces such as “Bicycle Rear Wheel Lateral Movement”, thanks to their enchanting and slightly fragile acoustic sound, have an effect that’s a little like listening to a waterfall- while it’s a wall of seemingly unmanaged noise, it flows in such a way that it feels like a single natural texture.

Despite the unique methodology behind it, the only criticism I feel inclined to level at this release is that it sounds much like the simple work of an experimental pianist, sketching textures with their fingers alone, and if you hadn’t read the accompanying blurb to tell you how it was generated, you wouldn’t realise how it had been formed. But nevertheless it’s a rich avantgarde piano work that’s worthy of attention.


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Artist: Renaud-Gabriel Pion
Title: Hinterwelt In Silico
Format: CD + Download
Label: Audiotrauma
From the off, it’s clear that Renaud Gabriel Pion’s dual role as classically-trained pianist and electronic producer is going to make this an unusual release. Despite being the work of one man, the steady pull of the clarinet towards jazz while the electronic work pulls towards glitch and abstraction is at the core of the album’s friction. But it’s a friction that gives energy, rather than stress, as evidenced beautifully in the upbeat opener “Zeitgeist”.

At times the see-saw swings more to one side, sucha s in the beautiful layered second half of “Russian” which gives us a dubsteppy wub-wub sound playing deferentially quietly under multi-tracked rich clarinet tones. In return, there are points in pieces like “Lush” or the decidedly trip-hoppy “Katana 2” where the clarinet takes a breather (but not for long) to let the intricate and detailed click rhythms and synthetic pad work come to the fore.

“Radiance” features the soft, fragile vocals of Big Sir’s Lisa Papineau. It’s a standout track, not just for that reason but for the richness of expression throughout. Fans of Submotion Orchestra should absolutely connect with this, and I hope it has some broadcast success that draws people in to hear and appreciate the instrumental work.

It’s mostly fairly punchy stuff, bordering on frantic in the rhythm department occasionally, though there is a nicely timed mid-album lull in “Cyborg” where the sounds get a little darker and more expansive, before opening up to a new dawn in “Tala” and beyond. Examples from the international rhythm flavours in “Bunraku” to the electro bass of “Neo-Tokyo” emphasise the diversity of elements being called on.

Across thirteen fairly short pieces, the electronica here is not revolutionary or ground-breaking. But the fusion between the electronica and the earthy expressive tones of a clarinet (which as previously documented is an instrument I’ve got a serious soft spot for) is handled absolutely beautifully here, and it’s that richness that genuinely makes this one of the most striking and attention-grabbing albums I’ve heard this year so far.



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