When you have instrumentation credits that include "Baseball, Ping Pong, Stringed Instruments, Toys, Violin, and Broken Hurdy Gurdy," you know that you are in for an interesting ride. What we have here is some minimalist experimental improvisation. One image that came to my mind is being in a shopping mall during the holidays and listening to the clumsiest gift wrappers you've ever heard continually dropping rolls of paper, dropping the tape, dropping the scissors, and tearing the paper as they rip and shred and wrap gifts. In the background a guitarist is tuning their guitar. Kids are walking around hitting things and bumping into stuff. On "Quartet 2," they shift gears a bit as we're treated to some bizarre scat singing over the music. The final track, Quartet Live," was recorded in 2001 and weighs in at a hefty 46 minutes. It opens up slightly minimal and pretty raw; a bit too minimal for my tastes as it opens up. They really begin hitting their stride around 20 minutes in as the percussion elements are highlighted. Later on, some voice comes to the forefront, but this is the kind of voice that is like a child making noises when playing as if they're a plane shooting down things or choking or coughing up phlegm. Later on, the strings come in with full force as they feverishly scrape and bow on violin or whatever else they have hanging around. At the end it winds down to a nice calm conclusion. If you enjoy really experimental improvisational music, this may be worth checking out. This album weighs in at around 76 minutes.
Larme Secrete marks the first collaboration between the veteran duo of Marc Hurtado and Pascal Comelade (whose toy instrument work I’ve encountered before). Sometimes new pairings can feel instantly assured, as though they’ve been collaborating for years, while sometimes the artists can end up playing it safe and being friendly, which can result in less experimental or less energetic output. With this album, it feels like a bit of both has happened. Comelade takes on the instrumental duties, with Hurtado out front on vocals and ‘sounds’, and a handful of extra musicians drafted in for guitar and drum work. The result is somewhere on the soppier, more lazy-afternoon side of avantgarde rock.
“Eclair” has a singular groove and vitality reminiscent of old Silver Apples tracks, and as an opener, indicates a shared understanding and sets out the album’s stall with good effect. Much successful play is made of the contrast between the steady energy of Comelade’s music and the slow, abstract (and at times frankly old-sounding) lyrics from Hurtado. The swaggering organ of “Eté” plays nicely against Hurtado’s breath-heavy vocalisations.
However some tracks, like the long but not mesmerising “Infini”, feel overly easy and unchallenging, with Hurtado’s spaced-out poetry echoing at length over a repetitive light rock groove that doesn’t quite manage to carry you along with it. “Or” stretches the aforementioned contrast in energy levels to its logical limit, so that when followed by similar-sounding “Cri”, it starts feeling a little bit ‘done’. Strongest among the downtempo pieces is “Spirale”, where the moody atmospherics and storytelling fit together just right.
It’s a rewarding collaboration, certainly a little on the safe side but wonderfully moody.
After originally meeting in unusual circumstances- teenage Hoogland attending a gig with Zea performing one evening, then attending school to find Zea was his new sociology teacher- the duo have since been collaborating for some time, combining Zea’s guitar and voice with Hoogland’s piano, electric clavichord, “synths and sirens”. Summing is a nine-pack of short experimental-rock-alt-pop pieces that sounds like the duo are still challenging one another, rather than settling and getting comfortable.
There’s something of a 60’s or 70’s wig out feel at times, including sonically- sometimes relatively static, at other times not. The title track’s chaotic final minute, that segues gently into the brooding “You’re Dead”, is a strong example of that. Some tracks, including again the title track, have various production details that qualities that demonstrate the 2019 nature of the recording, but at times the only detail that indicates that the tracks are modern, rather than unearthed from the annals of prog rock, are lyrics such as “We Lost Our Phone” (which is not as flippant as the title suggests) and the talk of track-and-trace delivery in curiously passive-aggressive “I Never Threw A Stone”.
More introspective moments come in tracks like the surprisingly moving “Atomic Heart”, which if it had been released in a more acoustic form by a pop-singer-songwriter, might be getting lauded as a beautiful pop song. Final track “Trip the Light Fantastic” is notable for its jazzier, more laidback feel as well.
At only 32 minutes it’s a compact album that buzzes with ideas and moods. The duo work together with other musicians on other releases too, and it feels like that’s probably necessary in order to drive the inventiveness further. But this level of expressiveness from a duo is rare and heartfelt.
Like many releases at the moment, “Music For Violin Alone” is a work prompted by lockdown, and dare I say inspired by lockdown. Orazbayeva’s fourth solo album contains performances of works from six different composers, ranging from J.S. Bach through John Cage to Angharad Davies. It’s then topped off by one of Orazbayeva’s original compositions, seven pieces in all.
The album is bookended by some decidedly avantgarde work. “Circular Bowing Study” (Davies) sets a tone, a rhythmic scratching that rises and falls in waves, a divisive piece that will mesmerise some and be like nails down a blackboard to others. At the other end, Orazbayeva’s own “Ring” is a dark arrangement of slow breathy string drags that’s strangely compelling but which does feel somewhat like horror movie sound design.
Between those poles is a slightly more conventional collection- most obviously “Largo from Sonata no. 3 in C major” (J.S.Bach), a beautifully recorded and expressive meandering solo which flows beautifully into the energetic and optimistic “Alla Fantasia” (Matteis Jr.). The second half is a tad more experimental- “Koan” (Tenney) is the longest piece, and feels it thanks to its relentless bowing and alarm-like steady pitch rise that begins to feel like a Shepard tone as it gets under your skin. It makes the sparseness of “Eight Whiskus” (Cage) feel like relief.
“Blurry Wake Song” (Leith) is double-tracked, layering up (I think) two takes into a duet with some unexpected tonal changes, but most of the rest of the recording is single-layered and it’s a testament to the playing and the recording quality that a single instrument can maintain your attention and keep things interesting for forty minutes.
It’s another introspective but fascinating work from the lockdown period.
The sheer weight of feeling behind a cause doesn’t prove that cause’s validity or importance- but it must surely be a massive indicator. It speaks volumes that JMY set out to do a benefit compilation raising funds for Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and received over 100 tracks from over 80 different contributors. That’s eleven and a half hours of music. And while the sheer scale of a compilation album doesn’t equate to its quality, I’d certainly call it value for money!
The quality is excellent. I can’t feasibly comment on every track, but to generalise massively, there’s plenty more reasons to buy this compilation than just the charity aspect.
The arrangement of tracks is such that listening to the first few tracks is quite misleading. This opening hour or so is a collection of works from the thoughtful and introspective side of electronica, but with lashings of acoustic elements, found sound and sound design and atmospheric work. There are huge doses of ambient, some drones, including Silber-ish guitar drones, some more cinematic pieces, and plenty of sombre moods and environmental pieces.
However this is not the full story, by any means, and after this point, a lot of musical diversity arrives. TV POW’s “Cadillac A” and Precise’s “It’s On Me” are on-point rap track (the former with a nice line in American culture samples), while Tina M Howell and Just Nick offer up a soul-meets-trip-hop affair in “Donna And Tina”. Gel Set’s “Headless Statue #3” is an intriguing bit of semi-retro synthpop with a nice hook to it. Extraordinary Popular Delusions’ “Contention” is a straight-up slab of avantgarde jazz, Jeb Bishop Trio’s “Fifth Gear” is a smooth cruising jazz (the latter a part of a jazz zone that the album enters around two-thirds of the way through), and Azita’s “Something That Happened” is a straight-laced reggae groove with dub elements- until the point where it isn’t (spoilers!).
The diversity plays out piece by piece, and throws up some assured surprises. But the compilation does keep returning to the electronic world periodically, making it its home turf and leading to some interesting contrasts- none more than the roll from Spanish-sounding guitar ballad into Zoot Houston’s sine-wave symphony “xrstlyedit.mp3”.
Many of the tracks have a political connection to the cause in hand, like the protest crowd sampling “BLM about the Permawave 2020” from GK Jupitter-Larsen which covers a self-contained distance from found sound through to a wall of distorted noise- and at the other end of the spectrum, Simon Joyner’s acoustic folk ballad “There Will Be A Time #2”. Few are more unsettling than the long drone, sirens and riot noises pulling against solo choral and ballad singing in Jesse Goin’s somewhat Jimmy Cauty-esque “Is There A Balm In Gilead”, while some take topical sounds but process them into more abstract soundscapes, like Fred Lonberg-Holm’s “Slow Riot” or the sinister but not gruesome “Smoldering Corpse Outside The Embassy” from Our Wrongs.
The compilation does return to its gentler more atmospheric and ambient roots at later points as well, with Doline Karst’s haunting “Incolae” and Pharmakustik’s “Freight” some of the finer examples, and some more interlude-like pieces like Mykel Boyd’s “60 Miles South of Chicago”. There are plenty of immersive soundscapes here as well, many of which top the ten minute mark on their own (and some nearer half an hour!). Some are on the unsettling side, like the dizzying “Untitled 200613” from J. Soliday, or Al Margolis’ “QueBec” with its utterly unexpected accordion halfway. The selection of alien environments on offer ranges from the straight-laced, like Kazuya Ishigami’s “Lemurian Memory”, and the dark and grunge, like Gabie Strong’s “Sous Les Pavés”, to more unusual offerings like Stephan Comford’s presumably lock-down inspired “A Finite Number Of Rooms”. Others like the excellent “Carrier v1.40” from remst8 + Drekka or Rugar Magnusson’s “Gull” are more accessible and warm drone works. Towards the end of the compilation there’s a greater prevalence for sparse, isolated solo tracks, like Jeff Kimmel’s extremely plaintive “Solo At ESS”, as well as some extended noisier abstract works like K2’s “Flat Horizon Is So Black”.
Although this is a political hot topic at the moment, there’s surprisingly little here that feels rushed or overly raw. It is curious to think that if the dates are correct, I’m reviewing tracks like Jeb Bishop’s dizzying “mISTAKES v170620” less than two weeks after they were finished, but it still doesn’t feel underbaked Some tracks feel like an opportunity to try something unique that might not fit into the rest of their work- while I’m not familiar with Mike Bullock’s work, his chaotic string and processing piece “Tread” feels like a good example of that scenario working well. There’s the odd short sketch, like Nick Hoffman’s one-minute guitar piece “Sufferir So Disposto”, but the calm maturity in tracks like Neil Jendon’s “Sulu Bleeding Heart” rather suggests that the current lockdown situation has given many musicians a bit more time to work on these tracks than they might’ve had otherwise...
Other miscellaneous highlight tracks include Jim Becker’s pulsing electronics and fragile melody of “Jajouk 2213”, and the bright but twisty electronic drone-fanfare of Boris Hauf’s captivating “Exspiro”. Pandabrand’s “Listen” is from the very quirkiest edge of pop, and the raw electronic techno of Danfan’s “Contratiempo” or Frank Rosaly’s “Fool” both leap out at you, as does the sharp one-minute guitar-techno “Grass Dance” from Kendraplex. For the introspective side, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson’s yoik-like multitracked vocal “Turning Down The Volume Inside Your Head” must be mentioned.
For eyebrow-raising weirdness, a number of special mentions should go to No Motive’s “Untitled”, Pavlos Vakalos and Nicolas Malevitsis’s bold stop-start sample-metal “Cry”, the energetic cut-up monkey vocalisations of Karen Constance and Blue Spectrum’s “Medication Bathing Wine”, the mental-health-concerning twisted vocalisations of Leif Elggren’s “Soya” or the noise wall of Crank Sturgeon’s “Standstill Until”. Ernst Karel’s “Cassette Field Recordings, Thailand 1993” tells an interesting but sparse story of forgotten television broadcasts, while Weasel Walter, Brandon Lopez and Michael Foster offer a track called “Current Events” which is a difficult wall of distortion, angst and percussive noise- which is very fair, because that’s what current events do feel like.
Eleven and a half hours is a marathon listen, for sure- but considering the minimum price is only $7, it’s insane value, and even if you can only relate to half the tracks on here, it’s still a fantastic find. Plus it’s a charity record for a solid cause too- leaving you with pretty much no reason left not to buy it.