Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Music Reviews

Artist: Ian Mason (@)
Title: Volans-1800
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: self-released

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Atmosphere is key on Volans-1800, the second album from Switzerland’s Ian Mason. At 18 years old, Mason’s musical palette already incorporates ambient, drone and noise music and elements of avant-garde classical, all fused together with what Mason calls a “punk rock attitude”.

The electronic soundscapes are bleak, dark, brooding and otherworldly. Samples of string instruments provide minimalist melodic or chordal interest and tension, and spacey sound effects creep in and out.

Mason has a very strong grasp of harmony that would put a lot of far more experienced noise / ambient producers to shame. His use of musical intervals to create tension and resolution is admirable and lends a journey-like quality to the music that can sometimes be lacking in works from this type of genre.

Through the five tracks of varying lengths - all titled simply Volans-1800 with a Suffix denoting the track number - the droning unease continues and follows peaks and troughs. There is a sense of chaos, mystery and even the reverence of contemporary classical music within the deep tones. There are some truly magical moments. “Volans-1800, Pt Four” features a descending drone section which made me want to either throw up or grab on to something for dear life.

On occasion Mason’s relative lack of experience shows. The intention of using the string samples is ambiguous. Are these meant to be electronic / “keyboard” sounds (in which case the sounds could be made to be more robotic or lo-fi) or are they meant to sound like real acoustic instruments (in which case actual string players or a much more fine-detailed approach to programming and effects could be employed)? They don’t quite sit in either category and this can jar a little.

Album closer “Volans-1800 Pt. Five” is very different. A drumless psychedelic Stooges-esque wig-out; here we get to witness Mason’s rock influences. As the song disappears I am left not entirely satisfied with this musical journey, but equally aware that this album shows a great deal of promise, talent and creative drive.

Ian Mason says “Volans-1800 is my sound”. It certainly captures a moment, and it lays bare Mason’s determination to create idiosyncratic and challenging music. Mason’s sound will no doubt continue to twist and change. He can go in any direction he wants to. And he probably will. Watch out for him.

Volans-1800 is out now on streaming platforms including Spotify and Bandcamp.

Artist: Selfimperfectionist
Title: Life In Square Brackets
Format: Tape & Digital Download

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Giorgio Pilon from Torino is the Selfimperfectionist. As such he released and performed since 2012 some singles and a few EP’s besides his debut album with remix album. Looking at this it’s obvious he is an artist who takes his time until he is satisfied with the results and puts great care into each. These singles show his musical ways from Ambient, Downtempo IDM, minimal electro up to his 2017 work ‘Sehnsucht’ which boarders into electro house territory and its DsorDNE Remix.
His latest work finds more and more also a physical manifestation again as does ‘Life In Square Brackets’ which is also issued as limited Cassette with an exclusive bonus track.

The well defined production and mastering by Marco Milanesio / DsorDNE gives this release more edges compared to his earlier works but without harming the various mood shifts and the flow.
This modern ambient electronica works, recorded between late 2017 and May 2019, do use dreamy sounds to create a mood of neo-romanticism but not escapism, especially on the opening track “Purple Wheeze” but also in the longest pieces “Ocean Lines” and “First Check”.
In “Lost And Shattered” they are combined with a dubby minimal techno rhythm to great effect as in the surprisingly groovy sequencer driven “Lichen”.
The center piece “Balance Increase” combines both with dreamy sequencing and a solid rhythm which leads one into a rare state of dynamic melancholy but the outro “Berlin (The Wait)” finally implodes it all – shattered voices, no connection on telephone lines, unfocused sounds to display the daily confusion we all have to handle.

This album is a multi-facetted whole of self-contained creativity which is a pleasure to listen to (sound- and music-wise).

Artist: Sanderson Dear with VV.AA. (@)
Title: Dancing With Fireflies
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Stasis Recordngs (@)
Enter the three track EP remix of Dancing With Fireflies by Stasis Recordings founder and producer Sanderson Dear, off his Urban Mosaic full-length on same label. The three remix artists are Louis Haiman, Minimal States, and Off Land wherein each bring their own emotional take on the track; including deep, moody yet heavily grooving house (Haiman), angsty techno from Minimal States and spacious ambience of Off Land on a retro-stylings tip. Opening with an infectious bass groove and restrained hand percussion rhythms, “Louis Haiman’s Evening Shadows mix’s” synth tones and melodies hover and shimmer like fireflies on a dusky expanse. Overtones of melancholy permeate, the the way the sunset makes one feel sad from the loss of a sunny day, but there is also anticipation of various excitements with the approach the night to counterbalance as the tune picks up. The following “Minimal States remix” has more anxious overtones with tense, dramatic synth melodies that layer and build until they are propelled by controlled yet layered techno beats that interplay and build in intensity. As the track progresses, the beats and momentum harness the angst and throw into an infectious-dance driven excursion, ultimately providing a kind of resolution to the turmoil. By way of contrast, the dreamier “Off Land recon” rolls into the listeners’ ears like a gentle morning mist with whispering rhythms and tones that echoes fragments of nostalgic 80’s songs tantalizingly just out of memory’s reach. Murmurs of dialog periodically peep through the billowing ambience as the mind struggles to reconstruct what could be an event from the past or some distant dream. Three satisfying emotional takes are offered here and the one critique is that it would be nice to experience the original track here so the listener can compare and contrast. This listener is certainly motivated to acquire the Urban Mosaic album to hear the inspiration behind all this musical goodness. If you like your electronic music moods mixed, the Dancing With Fireflies EP will not disappoint.

Artist: Simon Šerc
Title: CMBR
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silent Records / Pharmafabrik
Simon Šerc’s CMBR is the ‘sonification’ of data from the ESA’s Planck space telescope, studying “the coldest objects in the universe”, tracking variations in the baseline sound of the universe, “the oldest sound in the universe” and other such statements that seem like grand hyperbole but which are broadly scientifically valid, as far as a layman like myself can tell.

Of course the passage from data to sound is such an arbitrary and redefinable concept that it’s in that translation that the creative composition is found; given the same data set, other people could just as easily have transposed it into coloured noise or glitch rhythms. But Šerc’s approach is a touch more purist, in a way, offering up four fifteen-minute-long pieces of atmospheric and ambient sound design that feel like they paint different landscapes.

“Cold Care” initially comes across as a relatively typical, almost familiar-sounding sci-fi representation of what deep space might sound like if there were any sound in space. Hollow, reverberant tones give an open chamber feel. There’s a sense of distant wind. But as it proceeds, the wind gets louder and noisier, until it is a thoroughly gritty and jarring, with an abrupt end. It’s a transition effect that is repeated throughout the other three pieces as well, each beginning far more calmly than they end.

Surprisingly, “Greybody Fit” sounds like a medium-sized industrial unit, with a steady background hum that feels decidedly mechanical. Perhaps the curve of a statistical analysis became a waveform, and if so, it feels like a familiar and very human pitch, a steady vibration that anyone working in industry or manufacturing might feel very at home with. Top-end rustling sits somewhere between distortion and the digital rustling of the leaves on artificial trees.

“Flux Density” sounds like high level sonic wind, relentlessly battering and pummelling the spaceship you’re trapped in, loud and oppressive yet also somehow safe, before the gradual arrival of clicking sounds that feel more invasive. Final piece “Declination” begins with a low synthesized bass tone that feels quite soundtrack-like, reminding me unexpectedly of the “2010” movie, before again devolving into noise. The most unexpected part is the final minute, which feels, perhaps intentionally, like all the equipment suddenly breaks and the relentless whirring winds down. It’s an unusual, almost comic way to return your ears into normal space.

ChainDLK’s format options prevent me from listing the unusual array of formats that this release is available on- namely 7-and-a-half inch tape reel, Blu-ray disc, and 24-bit digital. The format options feel like the most ostentatious part of the release. There’s really nothing wrong with 16-bit stereo and the promo I listened to was comprised of compressed MP3’s, and contrary to what some audiophiles will tell you, it sounded fine! Sadly I can’t comment on the ‘responsive video’ on the Blu-ray, which would be interesting to see and could add another dimension.

It’s nicely executed if slightly indulgent as a work, an interesting way of translating publicly available data into sonics. A few more surprises or unexpected production twists might have been welcome, and by the time the sound devolves into noise for the fourth time it feels a little ‘done’, but as gritty ambiences and hums go, it’s certainly well done.

Artist: C. Lavender
Title: Myth Of Equilibrium
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Editions Mego
New York-based C. Lavender is described as a “sound artist and sound healing practitioner”, and this third full-length album (if you can call 29 minutes ‘full-length’) seems to be a combination of those two disciplines.

A relatively thick-layered collection of drones, abstracted industrial sounds, found sounds and various atmospheric textures, it’s essentially a series of ambient soundscapes that have been given some story and form, without resorting to rhythm or pattern. At times, it also introduces more electronica-minded elements, such as the low melodic bass tone in “Embrace The Call” or the flute-like (and faintly barking mad) wind noises of time-to-wake-up final piece “Expel The Atrophy”- a track that’s the exception to the ‘no pattern’ rule I just mentioned thanks to its gradual build of delayed percussive hits.

Normally in this genre, the scenes are portrayed quite expansively, in long, drawn-out journeying pieces, but here they are kept succinct, with the seven pieces averaging only just over four minutes each. In some cases this is not actually unwelcome. The alarm-like high-pitched alert sound of “External Becomes Internal” is an ear-scrub that’s quite curious to listen to, but I’m grateful it doesn’t hang around too long. At other points though, like the gritty, waspy rumbles of “Dimly Lit Exit”, there’s the feeling that the process could’ve been extrapolated a lot further to see what mesmerising result was obtained.

So it’s a short series of soundscapes that work best in an immersive situation- the usual low lights, headphones scenarios. They don’t hold a great deal of surprises but they’re a healthy dose of your recommended daily allowance of rumble, drone and controlled noise.


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