Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Goldmund – Two Point Discrimination

Like fellow traveler Sylvain Chauveau, Bostonian Keith Kenniff is a sometimes-electronics artist (recording as Helios) who spends moonlight hours at the piano. Also like Chauveau he has just released an e.p. that illuminates the roots and branches of minimalism. But Kenniff’s main branch is perhaps as much miniaturist as minimalist. The eleven brief tracks feature cascading repetitions and overlapping movements that hearken to the schools of Riley, Glass and Feldman. Each is a delightful clockwork that appears fully formed only to vanish wisp-life leaving the next to take up the space. The inside piano is close miced, creating an intimacy with the physical presence of the music and revealing tiny details created with each impact. The single word titles are also linked into the sentence “Leading them from light to shadow they will see as one,” and this also creates another layer of meaning with the music. The final three pieces settle into a quieter lull that concentrates as much on the resonance and sustain as the notes themselves, like a breath of satisfaction slowly released.

Western Vinyl

Brian Grainger – Eight Thousander

Alan Weisman’s recent book The World Without Us speculates on the Earth’s post-human development. Were it not a contradiction of sorts, Brian Grainger’s desolate guitar improvisations would provide an ideal soundtrack for this vision. His approach culls aspects of Stars of the Lid’s oceanic wash, Flying Saucer Attack’s grainy panorama and especially Roy Montgomery’s talent for describing space through sound. The opening trio of pieces captures a mood of twilight weariness; the guitar’s muted figures nested in the amp’s unmasked electric hiss. “Above the Sky” breaks free of the pregnant drone into a tremolo wide enough to bend at the edges. The only slight misstep comes on “Lost in the Woods,” a track that fetishizes the delay and creates a miasma of overlapping notes that disrupts the albums overall arc. Grainger’s unvarnished, no overdub strategy gives the work a vital feel despite its overall coolness and restraint.


Origami Arktika – Trollebotn

Once you get past the wince-worthy name this folkloric Norwegian band makes up with fireside balladry that calls to mind a mead-headed Circle or electricity-free Current 93. Recording in the region of Seljrod the band, whose ranks swell and contract from 7-10 members, excavate traditional folk songs of the area and give them reverent yet slightly askew treatments. Singer Rune Flaten’s warm narrow-ranged vocal easily casts us back to pre-Plague times and song cycles for beautiful heartbroken ladies. The band both plays and manhandles their instruments into making occasional non-proscribed sounds. The ceremony is steered by new drummer Kjell Runar A159’s (the numbers are doled out based on the person’s order of entry into the “Origami Republika”… I think?) loose meandering beat, keeping the sometimes trancelike instrumentation from suffering the crush of gravity. While the majority of the tracks grow out of some dark root, “Fanteguten” is a lighter narrative guiding “how-to” deceive pretentious women, and with a tight looping rhythm that could easily double as a RZA backing track.


The Drift – Ceiling Sky

With their 2005 release, Noumena, this San Francisco crew eked out a patch of post-rock ground that abutted against the jazz/fusion property line. This collection of tracks previously only available on vinyl releases further articulates some of their best attributes. On the 2004 “Streets/Nozomi” tracks Safa Shokrai’s upright bass sits atop of the alternately driving and dragging rhythms; fantastically recorded to capture every hint of vibration, string snap and finger pluck. The two tracks taken from the vinyl version of Noumena are a touch chillier, exploring dub rhythms and atmosphere with the aid of Jeff Jacobs’ lowering trumpet work. The crown jewel of the release has to be Four Tet’s remix of “Gardening, Not Architecture.” Kieren Hebden knows his way around acoustic instruments, upping the free jazz overdrive of the drum track while swirling the electronics and guitar like a blizzardy treat. Eventually high-pitched electronics sub in for the woodwinds it all locks down into an over-caffeinated loop. High energy fun.

Temporary Residence

Lawrence Casserley / Simon Desorgher – Music from Colourdome

While the intrusion of laptops and homemade electronic gadgets into “proper” improvised jazz seems to be on the increase, many of these interlopers are still pushed to the periphery of their respective outfits. From their time out corners most manage only the odd crackle or sine wave to stain the acoustic eminence. Lawrence Casserley strikes a blow for the wire jockeys by forcing the acoustic instruments to come to (and through) him. The ColourDome is an actual structure used in the long running Colourscape Festival, directed by Casserley and Desorgher since 1980. An air-supported labyrinth of colourful PVC, it provides an environment for spectators to inhabit and experience sound. In addition the duo use this structure to improvise new ideas. Here flautist Desorgher is joined by UK saxophone giant Evan Parker and violinist Philipp Wachsmann. On the other side of the coin, Casserley’s usual instrumental processing is abetted by David Stevens. The end result is most successful with the acoustic instrumentation and mutations simultaneously inhabit space. Occasionally this balance is lost and we hear the sound of someone wandering and lost in the ColourDome. What would Mel Gibson do? Sorry.


Tarentel – Ghetto Beats on the Surface of the Sun

This San Francisco outfit continues to red shift from its beginnings as an above average post-rock outfit in the vein of Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky. Subsequent output revealed a growing interest in improvisation, “Eternal Music”-style minimalism and probably pharmaceuticals. This limited edition double disc unleashes an avalanche of ideas, and like most avalanches there are only a handful of air pockets for those trapped in its path. The objection of too much belies the fact Ghetto Beats is likely not meant to work as a coherent statement… more of a flare-lit aggregation of tribal beat driven and ambience-heavy sketches. Long pieces like “All Things Vibrations” and “Sun Place” grow and unwind into their own ecosystems split free from greater context. Some of the shorter pieces, however, suffer from under and over-watering. All in all, if fans of Tarentel have followed this far they should have little fear wading into this foliage. Others may need to sharpen their machetes.

Temporary Residence

Michaela Melián – Los Angeles

Having strong roots as singer and bassist in German band F.S.K. (begun in 1980 and still going steady), Melián’s solo career is surprisingly new. This organic and lovely release follows her more DJ friendly debut Baden-Baden that appeared on Monika two years ago. Focus here is on warmth and acoustics, with violoncello, Spanish guitar and ukulele balancing the stoic against the playful. Given the album’s title it’s difficult not to picture a smog-obscured landscape made golden and dreamlike in early morning light. The instruments are likewise bathed in refracting layers of ambient noise and stacked upon each other until the loops punch through to the surface. Pieces like “Stein” or “Stift” conjure Steve Reich in a dream of quicksand. This mould is broken on later tracks like “Convention” and “Sebastian” that resolve into sharper detail, revealing angles and edges where before there was only heat haze. A closing cover of Bryan Ferry’s “Manifesto” further dims the lights and sparks up the neon of Sunset Strip. Sometimes it is about the nightlife, after all.


To Kill A Petty Bourgeoisie – The Patron

The term “dream pop” is generally used to describe a music where the melody, voices, rhythm and tone all blend into a kind of indistinct haze. TKAPB have more vivid dreams. The Minneapolis duo of Jehna Wilhelm and Mark McGee take an expressionist and/or baroque approach to lyric storytelling. The Patron is, from all accounts, a love song-cycle for merging corporations… and indeed the musical equivalent of concrete buckling and heartrending electric wiring is laced throughout. Somewhere, perhaps hiding under a photocopier, Wilhelm sings her swooning romantic songs while McGee catapults flaming boulders against the outer structure. In other words this ain’t “Jack and Diane.” At intervals, like on “Lovers and Liars” and “I Box Twenty,” there are bits that more closely resemble songs in the canon of, say, CocoRosie or The Cranes. Elsewhere shards of feedback and crumpled electronics gyre around the idea of a song. For all that it is an impressively elaborate first recording that challenges and repays the brave and economic of heart.


Sylvain Chauveau – S.

This first release for Type records marks a return to minimalist experiments for Chauveau after his surprisingly faithful album of acoustic Depeche Mode covers in 2005. Over the five brief tracks his strongest weapon is tension, built with a play of elastic and irregular intervals. As on opener “Composition 8,” where a few low tuned electric guitar notes bob and eddy in a thick bass drone amongst the liquid popping of looped analog input contacts. The piece is bracketed by two louder “plug-in” noises, creating the illusion of a placid and self-generating oasis hidden from outer chaos. “P.” features Chauveau at the piano, seeming to acoustically recreate the overheard electric sounds of the previous. “E/R” is something of an anomaly here: an extended cycle of regular digital figures with little variation, not unlike contemporary minimal techno from Kompakt stripped of nearly all dance floor pretense. After another brief piano composition, the closer “A.” is a simple and quiet song that seems to have been fed a drug and left to weave and stumble upon itself. Chauveau continues to prod the world of post-Satie classical piano composition into new enclosures with subtle electronic boundaries.


Sun – I’ll Be the Same

Oren Ambarchi and Chris Townend switch back from their artist/producer dynamic to their group one for this second effort on Staubgold. As with the eponymous debut a pun-obliging sunniness touches the diffusive songs until you can’t always spot a structure amongst the lens flares. Tracks like “Mosquito” and “Smile” channel fragments of classic cracked psychedelia beamed from Donovan to Brian Wilson to CSNY. The image of a Laurel Canyon mega-jam at its psilocybin peak spilling over into Venice Beach or Malibu also comes to mind. Ambarchi and Townend apply a loose improvisational approach to broader tracks like “Help Yourself” and “Soul Pusha” that results in wonderful “first-take” instrumental collisions and drumming that defies any time-keeping theories. The Animal Collective have occasionally mapped out songs like “Bruise Things,” with its mix of acoustic trippiness, electronic arabesque and found sounds. Sun, however, take this map, read it upside down and stumble onto a bridge that drifts off into morning fog. I’ll Be the Same may test patience if you’re expecting common sense to be the guide, but if you’re willing to abandon steering you may be ready for this ride. Man.


Oren Ambarchi – In the Pendulum’s Embrace

With recent pendular group work that has swung from the high brow [Keith Rowe] to Cro-Magnon browed [Sunn O)))], Australian guitarist Ambarchi returns to center with this new solo release. Following a thread begun with Suspension (2001) and Grapes from the Estate (2004), both on Touch, Pendulum starts as a familiar meditation on tone. The Sunn O))) aesthetic of repetition and vibration suffuses the muted low guitar rumble and sympathetic cymbal shimmers of “Fever, A Warm Poison:” the sound Ambarchi building a monolith in a bell jar. The tone-cloud returns on “Inamorata,” retaining its slow pace and evocative shape until it is slurred into colourful contrails by a bowed drone just past the track’s midpoint. “Trailing Moss In Mystic Glow,” last of the three long pieces, adds lovely meandering acoustic guitar clusters to the mutating electricity; closing off is a wordless vocal counterpoint in the Lichens / Alexander Tucker family. This de-centralization of the guitar simultaneously breaks open new melodic terrain and maintains Ambarchi’s distinctive voice. One senses that if the albums through-line was extended a song might eventually emerge. But if this is the close of a triptych or just another evolutionary step remains to be heard.

Southern Lord

Brian Joseph Davis – The Definitive Host

Serving as either a summation of or introduction to the collected sound projects (2004-2007) of Canadian artist Brian Joseph Davis, The Definitive Host is an inarguably wonderful looking package. There are unavoidable comparisons to be made with fellow maverick John Oswald, and especially his Plunderphonics works. Underlying considerations of copyright and censorship are manifest on pieces like “Ten Banned Albums Burned, Then Played,” sounding as title describes, and “Eula,” which features the Sony/BMG user license agreement orchestrated for and sung by a choir. “Ten Banned Albums…” features everything from Mahler and Stravinsky to Dead Kennedys Frankenchrist in a suite of stylus-jarring loops. New to this collection is “Five Box Sets Played on Fast Forward, Then Edited Into Songs” that, as advertised, takes on Motown through Metal, repurposing themes from a machine-driven randomness. And perhaps this is where Davis and Oswald part company: while Oswald performed exacting surgeries with razor and magnetic tape, Davis seems to embrace the chaos of creation that occurs when the technology runs itself. He also lets human error direct things as on “Yesterduh,” featuring layered performances of “Yesterday” by paying users of a gallery’s recording booth, encouraged to sing the song from approximate memory. The edited results are embarrassingly lovely. The disc is held in a chapbook-sized glossy package with photos of the burned albums, the score to “Eula” and several other tidbits to pore over while you listen.

Blocks Recording Company

MC Maguire – Meta-Conspiracy

Using the computer as a compositional tool is not exactly groundbreaking, but using it to achieve the level of musical density present on Meta-Conspiracy stretches the boundaries of its applications. The two long suites by Canadian composer MC Maguire both began as commissions for orchestras and/or dance accompaniment but have since grown in proportion and purpose. “A Short History of Lounge” is a duo piece for CPU and piano (played here by David Swan). Described by Maguire as “a quasi-rondo sonata… a kind of Boulezian pandiatonic Rumba,” it begins as an accelerating, percussion-happy absorption of musical themes, both naturalistic and digitized, heroically accompanied by Swan’s piano. The piece slows to regroup in several spots over its duration before swelling again into massed but always musical layers not unlike a thick sandwich of Zappa’s mid-80s Synclavier experiments in contemporary classical themes. “Got That Crazy, Latin/Metal Feelin’” is also explained with notes pointing to “a harmonic 49-chord progression (forward then backwards through all the major/minor keys),” but in the listening it can be taken as a half-hour collage of overlapping themes. Accompanied by John Gzowski’s guitar and vocals by Maguire with Sam Sinanan and Barnyard Drama’s Christine Duncan, it somewhat resembles a more frenetic, serial version of label boss John Zorn’s Naked City band pieces. That is to say good fun for those who like music that resembles rollercoasters.


Hildur Gudnadóttir / BJ Nilsen / Stilluppsteypa – Second Childhood

Though she’s worked extensively with fellow Icelandic artists like Múm and Jóhann Jóhannsson, it is likely cellist Hildur Gudnadóttir who is the dark horse of this collaboration. Her spare and echo-enhanced strings however do define the space and direction of these pieces. BJ Nilsen has gradually gone from the atmospheric electronics of his Hazard projects to nearly pure atmosphere, as with his recent CD Storm with field recording artist Chris Watson. Here he provides an enclosure that gives the ambient music room to breathe. He also serves as full circle connector to expatriate Icelandic duo Stilluppsteypa, having worked with them on two previous albums for the Helen Scarsdale label. Where earlier releases where typically barbed and dark-humoured affairs, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson and Helgi Thorsson have recently embraced restraint as a new tool in their arsenal. Most of Second Childhood inhabits a twilight realm that teeters on the edge of beauty and foreboding. “How to Catch the Right Thought,” for instance, is an idyllic shimmer of cello notes that seem to be broadcast from a subterranean chamber. It is this pepper-laced honey that keeps things from drifting into new age torpor and makes this a repeatedly intriguing listen.


A_dontigny – Geisteswissenschaften

Aimé Dontigny is a Quebec artist with a slippery aesthetic that wriggles free of easy classifications. Having begun with the “free noise” collective Napalm Jazz, his treatment of sound at its root informs later work; from electro-acoustic duos with Diane Labrosse, Chantal Dumas to a recent live performance under the direction of Francisco Lopez at this year’s Victoriaville festival. Dontigny accesses these muscles here, but also draws upon his work with Érick D’Orion in morceaux_de_machines, a project that force-feeds noise into the drum n bass paradigm. What Geisteswissenschaften offers is the rapid survey of a micro-managed patchwork landscape where many styles and ideas compete for space. It opens with the lazy hip-hop pulse of “Koons” that is eventually overturned by a chaotic collapse of competing beats, followed by the smooth flow of “Pruitt-Igoe” where the electric piano and syrupy strings are just a little too uncomfortably degraded to produce nostalgia. The album begins to describe the worm in the heart of cultural recycling. What many modern electronic albums undertake to preserve through mutation and adaptation Dontigny slathers with new layers of decay and distance-confusing disorder. The album especially succeeds by allowing just enough of the “known” to peek through while spinning through its disorienting cycles of hyper-detailed noise.

No Type

Marhaug / Asheim – Grand Mutation

Organs have figured prominently in the Touch catalogue over the last couple of years, most notably with the release of the two Spire compilations featuring artists exploring the intersection of acoustic tradition and electronic innovation. Grand Mutation places this intersection dead centre of Oslo Cathedral where noise artist Lasse Marhaug and organist Nils Henrik Asheim first crossed paths ruing the 2004 All Ears Festival. Returning to the cathedral in June 2006 they brought along engineer Thomas Hukkelberg to capture their monolithic improvisations. Starting with “Bordunal” the drone elements and resonant space serve to soothe and seduce the listener before eventually terrifying them. Marhaug’s electronics were played live through a loudspeaker to share the space more naturally with Asheim’s organ, initially leading the way. By the bridge into “Phoneuma” the distinction between the duo’s tonal palettes blurs, with Marhaug exhibiting a great patience for gradual change not always evident in his Jazzkammer work or recent collaborations with Maya Ratkje and Testicle Hazard. “Philomela” illustrates the denuded sound of air forced through the fluttering stops before interjecting tones and notes. Taken as a whole the work transits from pure tone through unadulterated noise and eventually into “Clavaeolina,” something closely resembling a devotional grandeur the space must usually host. After fire and brimstone returns a more benevolent deity, theoretically.

Touch Records

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Surgery 52

Pinch - Underwater Dancehall (Tectonic)
Various - A Number Of Small Things (Morr)
The Drift - Ceiling Sky (Temporary Residence)
Bogdan Raczynski - Alright! (Rephlex)
Astral Social Club - Neon Pibroch (Important)
Charalambides - Likeness (Kranky)
Origami Arktika - Trollebotn (Silber)
Toshinori Kondo - Silent Melodies (Stilll/Off)
Ateleia - Swimming Against The Moments (Antiopic)
Sylvain Chauveau - Nuage (Type)

Track Listing

Pinch - Widescreen
Teamforest - Home
The Drift - Gardening, Not Architecture (Fourtet Remix)
Bogdan Raczynski - Alright! Part Six
Astral Social Club - The Big Spree (edit)
Charalambides - Saddle Up The Pony
Origami Arktika - Fanteguten
Toshinori Kondo - Song For The Small Planet
Ateleia - Production And Poverty
Sylvain Chauveau - Fly Like A Horse

Listen to Surgery 52 click here