Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Music Reviews

Artist: Robert Millis
Title: Related Ephemera
Format: 12" + Download
Label: The Helen Scarsdale Agency
This LP from Robert Millis is a reflection on the fact that early shellac and wax cylinder records were fleeting novelty items, and decidedly temporary, at odds with the long-term collectivity and adoration that they inspire in some today. The source material is predominantly the surface noise and hiss from old records, but with a large helping of atmospheric and melodic ambient sounds to provide meat as well. Due to the deliberate artifacting, it was mastered twice, once for vinyl and once for digital, with apparently very different results, so I should say I’m commenting on the digital version here, where a lot of the crackling sounds feel almost electronic, like sci-fi locust noises, and not old but rather surprisingly new and clean.

The real composition, if you like, is actually the slow glass-like melodic elements that run underneath the noise, while old shellac recording material as found sound is sometimes more of a cameo than the central focus (final track “Lament (I Always Hesitate)” sums this up in barely one minute). On the first side of the LP is a single 20-minute piece “Samsara” which is extremely spacious, almost barren, but with slow changes in this fragile tone keeping a dynamic going, while the second side contains six shorter pieces with a bit more diversity. Pieces like “Matters Of Court”, are generally a little more traditionally composed, bordering at times on abstract symphonic, with some beautiful string work, while “Further Evidence To The Contrary” is an interesting little piece from the softest edge of glitch work. The fragile tones return with the almost-choral atmosphere of “Only Here For A Short While”, before being interrupted very abruptly by an old spoken-word recording, and for contrast, the almost inaudibly low drone of “Theories Of The Lower Twelve” wanders into sonic space that old vinyl could never get anywhere close to reproducing.

As love letters to old shellac and vinyl go, this one is rather obscure. But as an experimental ambient work that eats up the ambitious challenge of merging vinyl found sounds with some absolutely gorgeous melodic elements, it’s rich and impressive.

Artist: Ben Lind / Ernesto Diaz-Infante / Barbara Rose Lange / philip gayle (@)
Title: BERP
Format: CD
Label: Yabyum Productions
Rated: *****
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.

Artist: Pascal Comelade & Marc Hurtado
Title: Larme Secrete
Format: CD + Download
Label: Klanggalerie
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.

Artist: Zea + Oscar Jan Hoogland
Title: Summing
Format: CD + Download
Label: Makkum Records / Klanggalerie
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.

Artist: Aisha Orazbayeva
Title: Music for Violin Alone
Format: CD + Download
Label: SN Variations
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.


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