Sunday, August 9, 2020

Music Reviews

Artist: Vision Eternel (@)
Title: For Farewell Of Nostalgia
Format: CD + Download
Label: Somewherecold Records (@)
Distributor: The Business

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Alexander Julien, a Canadian resident American is the sole member of Vision Eternel. Starting in 2007 he released a batch of highly conceptualized EP's circling around romanticism, heartbreaks and solitude.
As the cover by Michael Koelsch illustrates this EP explores thematically no new ground. In the making since 2017, aborted and reworked from scratch the 4 tracks had time to ripe until they finally got mastered in early 2020 and now be published this September as limited Cassette (with additional Cassette of rarites), CD (with exclusive bonus track) and unlimited Files.
No vocals or lyrics are set to the music so full attention went into composing this mood pictures just with electronics and guitars. The careful arrangements and lush production are those instrumentals strongest and weakest points at once. A mellowed out ambience drifts by moment after moment which invites the listener to drown in his own reflections and memories but is too kind to grab the attention completely. I think a few samples and a little more space in the arrangements could have made them more memorable and differentiated but this seems not be the artists intention here.
After reading the short story which accompanies this EP I'm sure he strived for a coherent mood and this Julien achieved successfully.

Mystified: Yenisei Crossing

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Artist: Mystified (@)
Title: Yenisei Crossing
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
Under the project name Mystified, Thomas Park has many, many releases on a variety of labels that go all the way back to 2003. Among other projects, Park put out a couple of techno releases under the name Autocad, and has also collaborated with Robin Storey of Rapoon and also released a primordial soundscape triology with Shane Morris. With all the albums Park has put out (16 pages worth on Discogs) one could spend months, maybe even years wandering through his discography. Well, I haven't done that, and all I have is 'Yenisei Crossing,' a quite different album even for Mr. Park. The title was inspired by a dream he had about being in Siberia, where the Yenisei River just happens to be. As Park says, "The Yenisei is a huge river that moves through this landscape. It divides Siberia in half, carrying time forward and water to the sea." Don't be expecting a nice flowing watery ambience though; more on that shortly.

This album, consisting of 17 pieces clocking in at a little over an hour was created by Park curating a large pool of sound sources that he transformed into elements ideal for iterating and mixing. Then he used Python programming code with his computer to give the machine the leeway to layer and combine sounds. This puts a lot of trust in technology, and results may not necessarily be what you might expect, or even want. Thomas doesn't say how much he discarded or didn't use that was computer generated, or even if the order and length of the pieces on the album was predetermined, so we really don't know about the editing process, if any. Track titles may have been computer generated as well, with titles such as "LUSCG," "XTWZ6," "OECV4," "DZE3W," etc..
Let's get back to the Yenisei River. There is nothing that sounds like a river (Yenisei or otherwise) on this album. What we have are 17 industrial ambiences that rely primarily on a looped base sound pattern with other loops and/or sound elements overlaid. Looping is both an art and a science. While examining the sound waves visually for loop start and end point is the science, what your ear hears is the art to creating the perfect loop where the loop point is almost impossible to detect. Computer programs are pretty good at the science aspect; not so much in the art aspect, hence the rub. When you let the computer determine what's appropriate to combine, aesthetics sort of go out the window. On 'Yenisei Crossing' sometimes that works out okay, but a lot of times it misses the mark in my opinion.

To illustrate, let’s analyze the first track "LUSCG," begins with a steady ticking/tapping that eventually multiplies (short slap-back echo perhaps?) over time while a sound like dull metal clanging against a flagpole and a wordless sampled voice humming an abstract melody over and under heaps of drone while a low pulsing looped tone emerges through bubbling electronic oscillations. For me everything was fine except for the percussive tapping which came across as uber-annoying and superfluous. In fact, most every track that utilized a stick type of percussion (be it stick, snare, drum, whatever) I found distracting and superfluous as no (extraneous) rhythm seemed needed to carry off the mechanical concept. "XTWZ6" begins with a loop where the loop point causes a rhythm. Since the material in the loop happens to be noise, this creates a mechanical industrial machine-like ambience. Other sonic elements provide some enhancement but it's pretty dry and static throughout the nearly 5 1/2 minutes of the piece. That's another problem with this type of programming. Once a scene is set, there seems to be little deviation from it except in additives, and "OECV4" is a perfect example of that. It starts out with a very short noise loop and a snare hit with constant cymbal noise while a whole lot of sonic effluvia plays in and around it. The snare hit multiplies into multilayered hits no longer rhythmic but rather arrhythmic as more and more sonic elements are mixed in. Unsettling, but not necessarily enjoyable to listen to. Not every piece has this percussion element, but there were enough tracks that did, and it was just unsettling.

Some pieces are less chaotic than others, and the ones that have less defined percussive components tend to be easier to digest. One of the problems with having so many of these similarly schemed pieces is that extended listening becomes tiresome. Then again, there are anomalies where everything seems to work great together, such as on "L31MF" sounding to me like a tin can tugboat ride in a kiddie park., if such a thing were to exist. I'm sure that repeated listenings could produce more imaginative descriptions of other tracks but I think you get the idea. Another thing I noticed is that numerous sound elements and loops appear again and again in different tracks. While they may be combined differently on subsequent tracks, you get the feeling you’ve heard this track or that track before and it starts to blend together.

So this is sort of as mixed bag; when things work well together a track sounds great in its mini-environment, but when they don't, not so much. Although there are some abrasive elements employed, this definitely is not power electronics or harsh noise, even though it sounds quite industrial. This is more of an experimental industrial ambient album, not something the Spotted Peccary label is known for, but I guess they're branching out.

Artist: Lionel Marchetti
Title: PLANKTOS / 2015 - 2020 ~ composition de musique concrète
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
“Planktos” is a series of musique concrète works, divided into five movements and running almost four hours in total. It’s an exploration of electroacoustic sounds, predominantly drones, hums and pulses, with a stretched out and mesmerising slow attitude and a lot of long, low, bass tones- but it’s not electro-ambient or pure drone, and there are melodic layers, arhythmic percussive sounds and some sharper electronic twists and glitches along the way.

Some of it is two-tone electronic, that gradual rocking between two pitches that feels like being lulled to sleep by a robot- the end of the first part of movement 1 typifies this, and there are smoother more slow-breathing-like waves to be found as well. Acoustic instruments make appearances that feel somewhat like cameos, such as the sparse harp-like melody in movement 2 part 1, and parts are nothing less than melodic, including the haunting and Ligeti-ish movement 2 part 4.

At times there is a decidedly Radiophonic Workshop feel, prompting unavoidable subliminal feelings of watching alien worlds in black-and-white- movement 1 part 4, or the anti-gravity spaceship landing of movement 3 part 2, being examples, and the sudden synth wash nine minutes into movement 4 part 4 could hardly be more Peter Davison-era Doctor Who if it tried. The curious alien monkey noise (I think from manually tweaked sine oscillators) that pervades several parts becomes something of a recurring theme. This isn’t always comfortable- the squealing tones at the start of movement 2, and the tinnitus-tingling high tones at the end of it, are both of the nails-down-a-blackboard type that some listeners will grind their teeth in discomfort at, and the insectoid sounds towards the end of movement 3 might not sit nicely with certain phobias either, invoking thoughts of creatures much weirder than the jellyfish in the artwork.

Movement 3 is not industrial per se, but there’s certainly an increased sense of activity initially, distant rumbles and pneumatic tones that feels like business, and this makes the contrast with the purer melodic sections (e.g. the end of movement 3 part 1) feel like more of a relief, in a positive way. Curiously, the warm melodic aftermath and persistent monkey-like noises in this end up throwing up comparisons with Future Sound Of London works, despite the alleged genre mismatch.

Although movement 5 has the label ‘Ocean’, and certainly has its squelchy expansive but high-pressure feel, for me it’s movement 4 that most reflects the aquatic artwork, with part 1 a particularly bubbly and wet-sounding piece with some distant whalesong-like noises. But the sense of alienation persists, with a texture that’s more gelatinous than oceanic, and continued glitching and grasshopper-like scratching. “Calming sounds of the sea”, this certainly isn’t.

The movements are broken into pieces of varying lengths (not counting the 2-second pauses between movements), though many of these pieces could easily have been broken down into far more and smaller chunks too, with parts like movement 3 part 4 arguably a series of related vignettes. But broadly, each movement is 40 minutes and could standalone as its own independent work, if you wanted to consider it a ‘five for the price of one’ musique concrète multipack. With enough imagination, you could regard the five movements as a long sci-fi journey, travelling between different alien planets and the deep space inbetween, but in more sonic-specific terms the progression or order in the five movements is less obvious. While each certainly has its own character, or perhaps is better described as having its own priorities, it does feel as though you could drop into these movements in any order for equal impact.

Over the course of nearly four hours, it is an engrossing journey and it certainly has the capability of switching your headspace and mood entirely. It’s not overtly chillout music, nor is it routinely calm, yet it has some of the same heart rate lowering and entrancing effects that the best of such music can offer. Indulge yourself in a long dive into this collection that’s neither one thing nor another, and see how you feel when you come out the other side.

Glok: Dissident Remixed

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Artist: Glok
Title: Dissident Remixed
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Bytes
Around a year ago I gave “Dissident” a generally positive review, as a decent piece of synthwave work (from the historically non-synthwave Andy Bell, not the Erasure one etc.), with the 20-minute title track earning particular praise but some of the other tracks feeling a little experimental and running out of steam. Now, a year on, Glok have enlisted the help of a stellar list of guests to remix the tracks, and in some cases fully realise pieces that perhaps felt a little bit underbaked on first outing.

Many of the tracks play on the safe side, rolling steady DJ-friendly electro and progressive house vibes that unfold gradually and without drama. Richard Sen’s version of “Dissident” and Franz Kirmann’s version of “Kolokol” are among these, although the latter’s extra dub version at the end of the release is perhaps more interesting than the main mix. Glok’s own extended mix of “Pulsing”- of which there’s a 15-minute version, but the album version has been cut down to 7- exemplifies the patience of just letting a groove, that’s acid and house without being acid house, meander and fade in and out, and the resulting sense of satisfaction- with its exit through the ‘ambient’ door slightly unexpected.

Others allow themselves to break off in different directions. The unexpectedly funky bouncing-bass groove and glitchy dance-rock of Minotaur Shock’s version of “Weaver” comes from the leftfield. C.A.R. takes the trip-hoppy original of “Weaver”, strips it down and spaces it out into something much more atmospheric. Timothy Clerkin’s 90bpm take on “Projected Sounds” elasticates and rubberises the groove and gives it a kind of adventurous swagger, covered in many layers of top-end pretty sounds- though the screaming guitar loop that arrives halfway through does feel a touch noisy and invasive.

Special mention obviously has to go to the late legend Andrew Weatherall, whose contribution to making the electronic music landscape as diverse and rich as it is has been justifiably much discussed, but really can’t be understated. Weatherall mixes were never predictable, and so it is here, with a version of “Cloud Cover” that goes for soft synth-symphonic electro, nicely underplayed but always steadily evolving- and with a fitting and almost symbolic catch-you-out tempo change ending.

The Jay Glass Dubs Reboot of “Exit Through The Skylight”, curiously, ends up sounding a little more old-school-Weatherall-like than the Weatherall remix thanks to its Sabres Of Paradise-ish use of slow delays in its electrodub. The Maps remix of “Pulsing” embraces the synthwave idea most of all, with its bright chord breakdowns, but enough complex production to prevent it from sounding truly retro.

To top it off and add value, an eight-minute edit of the original album’s 20-minute title track, that sounds more and more Tangerine Dream-like the more you listen to it, wraps things up nicely.

There was certainly nothing wrong with the original album, at all, but if anything this remix album manages to make it better- fully realising and fleshing out some of the sketchier tracks, and adding more breadth thanks to the diverse range of contributions. Rather than ‘milking another remix album’ as other labels are sometimes prone to, Bytes (as part of the Ransom Note group) have rolled out an essential electronica work that absolutely deserves to be listened to, even if the original passed you by.

Signal~Bruit: Hyperborée

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Artist: Signal~Bruit
Title: Hyperborée
Format: CD
Label: productionB
Rated: *****
"Hyperborée" is the second album by Signal-Bruit, the second solo project of Celluloide's keyboardist Member U-0176.
"Hyperborée" is also the second release of productionB, sub-label of BOREDOMproduct which is dedicated to the release of projects sounding a bit more experimental compared to what BOREDOMproduct is releasing usually.
This album contains nine new tracks which are chapters of a story based on the journey of Pytheas, a Greek sailor lived in the 4th century BC who embarked toward the northern seas, aiming to prove that the Earth is a sphere and that if someone was standing on the top of it, he should be able to see the sun all day.
Each track is a soundtrack to a different moment of the travel: if "Lacydon" shows the start of the trip, on "Pentécontère I" he's heading to the pillars of Herakles just to pass to the open Atlantic on "Atlantique".
At every stop, he's meeting new people or strange creatures until on "Baltique" he's facing the cold and the ice.
His travel ends with "Nuit Blanche" where the sunset and the sunrise melt in only one moment.
Musically the tracks ideally melt the '70s Berlin/French school of electronic music.
Most of the rhythms are produced by sequencers (if you have in mind the early Klaus Schulze albums, you know what I mean) while melodically I hear echoes of early Jarre and I'm not saying this because Member U-0176 is French.
Think about that mixture of styles and add also a modern production that gives a fresh approach to classic sounds.
Nice release!


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