Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Surgery 75

Mark Nelson began making music with Labradford back in 1992. Their album Prazision was Kranky Records' very first release and it was reissued last year, remastered and with bonus tracks. This month sees Nelson's White Bird Release, the sixth album under his Pan.American alias. Surgery 75 is an hour of music that spans the two decades of Nelson's career. A brief e-mail interview follows the track listing below.

from Labradford - Mi Media Naranja (Kranky)
Coastal from Pan American - 360 Business / 360 Bypass (Kranky)
Star City, Russia from Labradford - A Stable Reference (Kranky)
Settled from Pan*American - The River Made No Sound (Kranky)
By Chris Johnston, Craig Markva, Jamie Evans from Labradford - E Luxo So (Kranky)
The Penguin Speaks from Pan*American - For Waiting, For Chasing (Mosz)
Wien from Labradford - Fixed::Content (Kranky)
Lights On Water from Pan*American - Quiet City (Kranky)
Scenic Recovery from Labradford - S/T (Kranky)
Train Station from Various - Personal Settings (Quatermass)
Preserve The Sound Outside from Labradford - Prazision LP [reissue] (Kranky)
There Can Be No Thought Of Finishing from Pan American - White Bird Release (Kranky)

Listen to Surgery 75 click here


Interview with Mark Nelson

The music on the new album has little reminders of things that span your career from the creeping ambience of early Labradford to the electronic pulse of the first Pan.American discs. Was it a conscious decision to revisit themes?

No, but there was not any process that dictated how this record came together. There may have been more of that in the past. So this record was free to any sound or process. I guess it makes sense in this context that certain pet sounds (if you will) might emerge.

The song titles are a quotation from a letter to HG Wells that refers to "the thrill of just beginning." Is this a reference you apply to the album making process or does it extend outside of that as well?

More to all projects we might take on in life. Jobs, parenthood, school, music. I guess I'm at an age where I feel it's important to remind myself that I can be as much a beginner as anyone else. As for the the record, it's specific in that context as well. I've been conscious with each of the last 3 records that they could well be the last things I do. (I'm not dying or anything, just hard sometimes to project forward and see myself always wanting to devote the time that these records require.) Also I try to be realistic and honest in answering the questions have I done enough? Is it time to leave it alone? No more good ideas or inspiration? the quote meant a lot to me in all those contexts.

Do you hate trying to come up with song titles?

I like song titles. I've said before though, that I view them more as elements of graphic design communication than meaningful hints about the individual songs. I put them together at the end and move them around freely to fit what I see as a flow with the artwork. I imagine people reading them in the store looking at the record (an old fashioned idea, I know). And that's how I imagine song titles having the most impact.

The inclusion of vocals is another element that links this to your earliest work. What prompted this decision?

I came back to that on Quiet City as well. Just a little more tolerant of how my voice sounds. I like the attention and focus it brings in very limited doses in this kind of music. An obvious humanizing component.

When Labradford began there weren't many other bands that shared your sound. Now labels like Temporary Residence, Type and Miasmah, to name only a few, have bands that fit that bill. Do you ever feel partly responsible for inspiring this "scene"?

No. I've said before I think if there is a "gift" that Labradford left behind I would rather it be seen as a generally more open world of possibilities for bands starting than there was when we started. I would be much more proud if people took away from Labradford a sense that they could feel free to create their own scene (even a scene of one) rather than just participating in a slightly different sounding scene with the same social/critical politics as any other scene.

You've frequently collaborated with others for Pan.American, but do you miss the dynamics that come from a more consistent group situation?

Yes. The sixth sense or unspoken communication with someone else is probably the most sacred aspect of the music making process to me. Not sure if it's something that one can hear or not though. In other words, does it actually affect the music in a strangers ear?

Is there anyone you've wanted to work with but haven't yet?

I would still like to find the perfect double bass player. also a reed player with an emotional but abstract approach.

Finally, of the "new generation" of like-minded artists are there any whose work you find particularly inspiring?

I'm not sure who you're referring to here - but I'm inspired by many, many artists. Arve Henrickson, Burial, the Necks to name three. I wouldn't call this grouping either a "new generation" or necessarily -"like minded" in all respects either. So I'm not sure that's a good answer or not.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Surgery 74

Giuseppe Ielasi - Aix (12k)
Vic Mars - Kanransha (Pragmatism Series)
Emeralds - What Happened (No Fun)
Mountains - Choral (Thrill Jockey)
M. Templeton & Aa. Munson - Acre Loss (Anticipate)
The Setting Sun & Shigeto - Table for Two (Moodgadget)
Troubles - Wolf (Self-Released)
Takeo Toyama - Etudes (Karaoke Kalk)
Burbuja - S/T (Kompakt)
Atom™ - Liedgut (Raster-Noton)
Chihei Hatakeyama - Dedication (Magic Book)
Fraet - For Another Day (Benbecula)
Mokira - Persona (Type)
Philip Jeck - Sand (Touch)
The Sight Below - Glider (Ghostly)

Track Listing

Giuseppe Ielasi - 01 [0:00]
Vic Mars - Ferris Wheel [3:27]
Emeralds - Up In The Air [6:28]
Mountains - Map Table [10:23]
M. Templeton & aA Munson - It's OK To Fall [15:53]
A Setting Sun & Shigeto - Polaroid Romance [19:38]
Trouble - I Absence, Am Abraham [24:18]
Takeo Toyama - Drops [28:11]
Burbuja - Traces [30:57]
Atom™ - Funksignal [32:49]
Chihei Hatakeyama - Chair & Acoustic Guitar [36:09]
FRAET - Dips Of Green Elms [39:57]
Mokira - Contour [45:30]
Philip Jeck - Fanfares Forward [50:46]
The Sight Below - Without Motion [55:29]

Listen to Surgery 74 click here

Monday, February 16, 2009

Astral Social Club – Octuplex

Vibracathedral Orchestra’s Neil Campbell continues down the robot-strewn road less traveled with this new eight-tracker. Octuplex is part perpetual motion machine and redefinition of the 70s and 80s German “motorik” propulsion. In this case the “motorik” thrust seems provided by a sewing machine motor and faulty Nintendo games. The trio of tracks that open the album bleed into each other like a damp hallucination of squelching mushrooms and a knitted yarn rainbows, eventually exhausting their high at the end of “Aggro Vault.” “Pilgrim Sunburst,” which follows, sounds like a slow-moving cyclone has plucked up a merry-go-round and flung it into a calliope. “Sweet Spraint” and “Radial Hermaphrodite” are reminders of Campbell’s more ambient work with their unbroken axle of loops and globules of acoustic guitar surviving the buffeting of noise. It’s a maximal use of sound over a minimal amount of time, and it’s the closest to actual space travel I’ve come so far this week.


Bohren & Der Club of Gore – Delores

In the 90s when the blip that was the slowcore movement was enjoying its time under the arctic sun groups like Codeine, Low and Red House Painters took rock’s pitch control waaaay to the left. Who knew that the jazz world had its own snail pacers? Well apparently Mike Patton did, and he’s given them a new platform on his Ipecac label. The current group evolved between 1988 and 1992 from “Bohren” (German for drilling), a grindcore outfit, to play their current style of music, self-described “doom ridden jazz.” Delores, their sixth full length, maintains the inexorable crawl of their earlier works, but they’ve somewhat lost that “sinking feeling.” Thank Cologne’s Christoph Clöser who joined the band in 1997 and substituted saxophone, vibraphone and Fender Rhodes for the previously dominant guitar sound. Added to the existing drum, bass and organ he is the top layer of a slow-moving avalanche of minor keys. Imagine Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer was never found and stayed frozen under the river; this is what Angelo Badalamenti’s score might have sounded like. Meditative, melancholy and safe to waltz to if someone spikes your Cosmo with Librium.


Asher – Landscape Studies

Obsessive recording often breeds an extra dimension of hearing, of isolating layers and distinctions of sound that normally blend into the background of everyday. Asher Thal-Nir’s refinement of sound for another project led him to explore the native tones he discovered in the different rooms of his house. These sounds were recorded and filtered and reinterpreted by the artist until the actual sound events and also how they affected mood and energy was described. The result is sublime in its simplicity. A clean and frictionless orchestration of cycles and tones that depicts a specific, rich micro-environment. Unlike other room sound recordings, like Jacob Kirkegaard’s Four Rooms for example, Asher concentrates on the barest trace of music that is trapped within the walls. With slight adjustments to frequency and resonance the pieces sway from energizing to listless and hopeful to slightly foreboding. A tiny testament to the subliminal power of ambience.

Room 40

Svarte Greinter – Kappe

Erik Skodvin’s “Tunnel of Love” seems to be littered with broken syringes, rusted chains and the rings and necklaces of past travelers bumping against the hull of a small craft. And that is how the second solo album from one-half of Deaf Center opens. His previous effort, Knive, took the unlikely but highly successful route of springing doom from the rattling acoustics of guitar, cello and violin. Kappe is wired, but still rough and shuddering. “Mystery Man” is a gray glacier that turns howling guitar loops and what sounds like the bowing of the world’s largest cymbal into a creeping menace. “Candle Light Dinner Actress,” which features distended saxophone from Ultralyd’s Kjetil Moster, plays out like a scene in a flooded operating theatre. Low lit glints of surgical steel give way to waves of glittering viscera as each new layer of sound is peeled back. Skodin specializes in violence, not of sudden attack, but of mounting psychic dread that you may have wandered too far into gathering darkness.


Robert Henke – Atom/Document

Gathering material from performances in collaboration with visual artist Christopher Bauder, Atom/Document is a surprisingly organic listen. Bauder’s contribution was a matrix of 64 helium balloons whose heights he controlled. Henke’s musical triggers then lit or extinguished an LED contained in each balloon, creating a kinetic sound sculpture The first four pieces on the album are either fairly gaseous drones or rhythmic sequences of deadened-action piano notes layered with more “live” piano playing. It isn’t until “[metropol]” that anything resembling Henke’s Monolake work shows up, and even then the electronics resemble bursts of air and faulty circuits. Then “[first contact]” trips along like a Satie/Cage slap fight inside the piano’s body. The album succeeds both because of its polarized style and its unified purpose, evident even in the absence of the visual elements. Pared down to four percussive layers for the purpose of the exhibition, restraint yields point/counterpoint tension and, alternatively, a soothing ambience. An album of expansive remixes in the Kompakt style would be a nice follow up.

Imbalance Computer Music

Sylvain Chauveau – The Black Book of Capitalism

Originally released on the Noise Museum label in 2000, Sylvain Chauveau’s first album is a work of structural ambition and variety. An approach that he has simplified and refined in the later half of this decade. The title refers to a French collection of essays published in 1998 in reaction to The Black Book of Communism from the previous year. The classical pieces tend toward the stoicism, but with little direct reference to the text. The chamber group accompanies his piano with viola, cello, bass and accordion with either ceremonial progression or with a drone that isolates it in the center. Chauveau breaks from this dominant mode with tracks like “Géographie intime” that edges closer to a Mogwai-like post rock with its creeping bass and organ and extended ambient extro. The stolen Depeche Mode sample from the following track is a nod to his later album of DM covers Down to the Bone. It’s a reissue that will surprise folks who know Chauveau only from his most recent and considerably more stark works.


Dirty Beaches – Horror LP

There is a peculiar strain of haunted electronics popping up lately that seem bent on exorcising the ghosts from the machines. Its proponents owe a debt to the deteriorating ambience of William Basinski and the abandoned industrial soundscapes of David Lynch. Artists like V/VM’s James Kirby (recording as The Caretaker) and the Opalio brother of Italy and their My Cat is an Alien project reach into the decaying guts of sound’s mechanisms. Montreal’s Alex Zhang Hungtai joins their ranks with his Dirty Beaches project. Like MCIAA he follows a strict code of single takes, but builds corroded layers of musical elements. Unlike the Opalios he uses guitars, harmonica, drums and other actual instruments alongside his less identifiable noises and found sounds. While Horror’s brief scenes strike a consistent mood (closer to lassitude than actual horror) it feels like they need more bone and less of the pulverized meat that fell from it.

Fixture Records

Manual – Confluence

Jonas Munk also has his finger on the pulse of shimmering microbeat electronics, but this new album follows the strand of ambient instrumentals he began with The North Shore in 2003 and Bajamar in 2006. Where Bajamar had a hazy late summer sea and sand feel Confluence is full of sounds that seem to call from cloud to cloud as each turns purple and golden just after sunset. Fans of Stars of the Lid might be easily convinced these were outtakes from one of that group’s recent albums. Gusts of guitar tone wash over meandering one-handed piano sketches. The tracks flow into each other, defined more by density than simple tone the way Rothko paintings appear to describe changes of elemental state by colour alone. The simplicity and seamlessness of the eight tracks gives the album a singular identity as a unified work of art. For those who’d like to freeze dusk in its tracks, here is someone who’s come quite close.


Ethan Rose – Oaks

Ethan Rose is another in a growing number of electronics artists forging links to antique and disused musical apparatus. On his second solo release the Pacific Northwesterner concentrates on the sound of a 1920s Wurlitzer organ he discovered in the Oaks Park Roller Rink in Portland. The sounds of the organ are fed into a digital matrix, but rather than obscure or disassemble the original tone, like a parfumier Rose plumbs into hearts of notes and extracts their essences. Tracks like “On Wheels Rotating” and “The Floor Released” have the warmth of pleasant reflection; the blur and smear of sounds operating like the memory of events overlaying the events themselves. The music is open and optimistic and slowly undulates as most good ambient music will, but contained within the waves is a richness of tone and atomized events that draws you below the surface. In its blend of futurism and nostalgia Oaks is an album unstuck in

Holocene Music