Siegmar Fricke is a long-standing contributor to the experimental electronic / dance music world. The German producer (who also works as a visual artist) began releasing music in the mid 80s and has produced many albums across a variety of styles including industrial, techno and ambient.
Funkwellen (translated as “radio waves”) is described in the press release as “melodic based sequencer driven work with…futurist appeal”. The album itself has quite a history. Originally recorded in 1994 at Fricke’s Pharmakustik Studio, the work was not released until 2008 when it surfaced as a free download in a different form with a slightly different tracklist. It has now been reassembled and remastered by Fricke, and this “definitive edition” is available as a 24 bit high quality download.
The music itself is quite brilliant. The whole record has been approached with a rare attention to detail and subtlety. Its melodies, grooves and robotic loops owe much to house and techno, but it also contains an underlying and ever-present arty weirdness. This is not “hard” dance music, but it marches forward with enough intent and drive for it not to sit comfortably in the “ambient” category. The beats often seem to be right on the edge of climax, but instead they gracefully hold back. This has the effect of holding the listener on the edge of their seat, energised and alert. The synth sounds are expertly jigsawed together. Angular and disorientating sequenced arpeggios mesh with warm atmospheric pads. Repeated samples of single words or short disembodied phrases in German or English come in and out over the top. By its nature this music is repetitive, but Funkwellen artfully pulls off the trick of creating subtle and sometimes barely-perceptible variation bar-by-bar. New synth parts and samples rise up and fall away whilst filters, reverbs, delays and panning are constantly being controlled to generate dynamic motion.
Funkwellen is evocative. It paints an ever-shifting mood journey. There is hopeful excitement and there is cold bleakness. Sometimes these feelings coexist. The palette of sounds is familiar, but its application is idiosyncratic. It will energise you, it will stimulate deep thought, it will make you feel something, and it will hold your attention.
If you like to think as well as to dance, and if you enjoy having your expectations subverted, then Funkwellen by Siegmar Fricke is album you should hear.
Funkwellen is available now via Bandcamp.
The self-titled debut release of Cernichov was actually recorded some time ago - between October 2017 and April 2018 - but got recently discovered and reissued by limited edition specialists Cathedral Transmissions from the UK (whose version is already sold out as of today).
It's 5 tracks, developed as the first collaboration from Bruxelles based David Gutman (who also releases experimental ambient and improvised music as Drawing Virtual Gardens a.o.) with Torino based Marco Mazzucchelli, are too refreshing to be called Dark Ambient.
There is constant movement, transformation and a sublimity in the use of sounds which makes it easy to listen to this as a whole. None of the tracks outstays it's welcome, in fact my favourite is even the longest one "Dissipated Poets".
The well constructed and mastered pieces are drones - painting a mood picture which is open to individual interpretation. As such they actually work as ambience too and very well.
As of now Cernichov are working on their second Album which should appear later this year and is definitively something to look forward to.
Established Israeli singer-songwriter and film composer Zoe Polanski, with help from producer Aviad Zinemanas, offers up a very lush nine-pack of leisurely dream pop with a shoegazey but generally optimistic feel. Slow instrumental patterns blending synths and acoustics roll quietly along, while Polanski’s reverb-laden vocal wafts like a cloud over the top. “There’s nothing violent about these musical flowers”, as a proper music journalist might say.
Though the term ‘ambient’ is referenced a few times, most pieces have a relatively conventional pop structure, like the folky radio-friendly “Pharoah’s Island”, the more synthpop-leaned “The Willows”, or the bright and almost naive-sounding lullaby-like “Ya’ar Bein Olamot (Forest Between Worlds)”. Even the more ‘out there’ pieces, like the nicely Tangerine Dream-like arpeggios and slow build of interlude piece “Humdolbt Current”, always have a rhythm at their heart, even if it’s a very mild one.
Highlights include the nicely infectious “Closer”- which, thanks to the slightly heavier percussion and faster tempo, is rather upbeat by this album’s standards- and by contrast, the more mesmerising simple patterns of “Slopes”. The purposeful synth chords of “Bubbles” hint at a little more attitude, but it’s a mood that seems to pass quickly.
I do have a sense that I would probably connect to the emotive vocals a little more if I could more confidently make out what the lyrics were. The treatment is so dreamy, so effect-laden and stuff, that sometimes vocally it feels like a string of loose vowels or Enya-style wordless vocalisations. Anyone who wants to really connect emotionally to the story side of this release might need a lyric sheet.
Polanski has been a supporting act for acts like Swans, Tame Impala and Alessandro Cortini, and you can see why that arrangement would work well. Lacking the cut-through melody, distinctive character or hooks that would make her steal the show, Polanski’s music is liable to remain the warm-up act, though musically it might be more appropriate to call it the cool-down act. But what a beautifully measured and refined output it is.
Mystery surrounds the artist known as Chiang Valley Liberators, whose new album - And Then Everything Changed - is an experimental electronic affair encompassing the influences of noise, ambient, drone, and industrial music. There is little information about the person or people behind the project, the intentions of the work, or even about which part of the world it originates from. I listened with an open mind, not knowing what to expect and piecing together my impressions of this album.
The first track - “Lightning Stations” - runs at over 10 minutes and is centred around a compellingly dark drone. As mysterious as the origins of the project itself, this piece seems to immediately drop us on some unknown and bleak planet, or a desolate dystopian future. The tone and intensity of the deep and otherworldly soundscape subtly varies, and samples of various recognisable sounds gradually emerge in a series which includes old-fashioned army fanfares and talking dolls. It is captivating, evocative and filmic.
“Addiction”, the second track, again features a droning backdrop, but we are now in post-industrial territory and there is heavy dub influence in the electronic drums and effects. The leaden, grinding, and purposeful beat is augmented by samples of shouting men. The use of the stereo field is impressive, with futuristic beams of glassy synth noise and dub reverbs bouncing all over the place but never distracting from the drive of the sinister underlying beat. Again, the single-note drone is the only harmonic or melodic feature here, but the texture, dynamics and rhythmic emphasis are constantly moving so as to hold our attention.
“SAND 7” has a more delicate, somewhat ethereal, touch and sounds like a tropical rainstorm on another planet heard from the shelter of a strange cave. The manipulation of noise and samples to create atmosphere is very impressive and highly effective.
“Summer in the Dark” features a steady four-to-the-floor kick drum beat but, again, everything is infused with an alien quality. Aggressive stamping sounds processed with a queasy reverb contrast with delicate ambient synth melodies. Yet again, a deep, enchanting and unrelenting drone flows underneath the whole affair. The calm and tranquil sounds are mixed and processed to feel close, while the tense and abrasive ones sound further away - a technique which makes this piece feel like a safe haven amidst chaos and destruction.
The album closes with “Devoted To You”. At nearly 15 minutes, this piece completes the construction of an album which opens and closes with its two epic-length pieces. As with the first track, percussion and strong rhythm is largely eschewed in favour of a soundscape approach. Again there are some samples of speech (I could make out “they gave me an electric shock and it destroyed my memory” amongst the largely unintelligible words). However, this track avoids the bleakness and tension of previous ones. It features a repeated rising two-chord synth pad pattern which seems to be designed to relax and soothe like a lulling dream. Although this pattern continues for the full duration, the piece maintains interest due to subtle and clever variations. This soft and comforting piece is a somewhat unexpected but very welcome way to close the record.
On a cerebral level, I suspect that some political or historical themes or at least cultural allusions of this album might have passed me by. Nevertheless, the emotional experience is highly engaging and the technical construction is expertly executed. If you enjoy dark and rich synth textures and if you like albums which take your mind somewhere else and need to be appreciated as a whole then you may well greatly appreciate And Then Everything Changed by Chiang Valley Liberators.
And Then Everything Changed is available now for download and streaming and will be released on vinyl on 27th August 2020 on Corrosive Growth Industries.
Due to the COVID-related block of flights, I had to postpone the listening of some stuff I received in Italy, but as far as I managed to repatriate I unpacked (almost) all of them. One of the release that immediately grabbed my attention has been the one signed by KrysaliSound founder Francis M.Gri - a very good ambient label, whose releases were introduced many times on this space -. Named after a Japanese word meaning blur and mental confusion, "Boke" is the touching translation in music by which the Swiss-born Italy-based artist (also known as the co-founder of the Italian ethereal dark band All My Faith Lost, whose albums reached big labels of this niche like Projekt Records and Cold Meat Industry) articulated the different painful stages of a degenerative pathology burning the memory (I guess Alzheimer syndrome) diagnosed to someone very close to him and that many of us could have lived as powerless frustrated spectators. The electro acoustic microsounds appearing since the beginning of the opening "Loneliness" seem to render impurities in the entrancing blending of distillated synth pads over the repeated sequence of two tones, almost a sonic rendering of gradually petrifying or crystallizing mnemonic particles before the trigger of the emotional rendering by a melancholic guitar-driven melody. In "Lost", the listener can perceive both the beauty of getting lost and the rising sense of tragedy of feeling lost, where parts of piano and guitar are like dissolving flakes, which get agglomerated in a sort of buzzing lullaby at last. The strong knocking in the first moments of the following track "Void", where the melodic drafts leaking out of a synth, a whistling mouth and a guitar, continuously fade out in blurred evanescences, emphasize the progression over some of the worst stages of the disease, whose more tragic peak get sumptuously rendered by the final heartfelt hugs in between minimal ambient and post-rock nuance on "Disappearing", last chapter of an "interruption of memory" that gets aptly described as "a collision between our dreams and what we are".