new music reviews authored by paul khimasia morgan

Friday, 11 October 2019


Matt Atkins  / Adam Kinsey
UK  Minimal Resource Manipulation   MRM033  CD-r / DL  (2019)

Obtained from Matt Atkins in person at a concert at Hundred Years Gallery in Shoreditch earlier this year where Atkins performed in a trio with Brigitte Hart and John Macedo.  Minimal Resource Manipulation is Atkins own imprint and is named succinctly after the situation most non-mainstream musicians find themselves in these days.  LOWERCASE is an ironic title given that most of the gathered material here is fairly maximal in nature and a far cry from the early 2000’s New London Silence, Berlin Reductionism and indeed lower case music championed by London’s Sound 323 record shop and others.  Perhaps this is simply a reference to a scene that Atkins and Kinsey love.  But here, the duo break down the ideas and techniques associated with so-called lower case music and reassemble them in relatively dynamic and “in-your-face” ways.
There are two pieces on the disc; “Part One” feature grubby tape record heads and  broken twigs while small motors molest crockery.  A vaguely gothic synth-drone loops for a while, the musicians shuffling about, rubbing various utensils against multiple surfaces.  Then, close mic’ed patterings emerge before someone begins turning the platter of a record deck backwards by hand so that the lp lurches drunkenly through the frequency spectrum.  “Part Two” plays around with the ticking of insects, transducer hums, filter sweeps, a stylus sticking in a run out groove.  Later, reverbed IRCAM homages swoop about like pitchshifted bamboo chimes or gaseous tubes vibrating.
It transpires that these are two live improvisations made utilising laptop and modular synth, the recordings mastered by Phil Julian.  Expert sound-making - which I very much enjoy listening to - of a stripe that many musicians are dabbling with these days.  But it seems to me that the real challenge  is to make something bigger than the sum with these components.  I include myself in that.  LOWERCASE is a great example of these two musicians’ work.  I’ll be keeping an eye on their future output.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Deux Sowaris

Phil Durrant
Sowari Modular
UK  Linear Obsessional  LinOb  LOR097  CD/DL  (2019)

The highly respected improvisor Phil Durrant forks over fertile new ground with this release.  Whether it be composition, his involvement in New London Silence with Angharad Davies, Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell as a violinist; his solo or collaborative work with modular synthesisers or more recently exploratory mandolin in a duo with guitarist Martin Vishnick and others, Durrant has an enviable reputation.  Sowari Modular is Durrant solo and in inquisitive mood, perhaps due to Linear Obsessional head Richard Sanderson’s policy of open-mindedness and regard for his artists’ freedom to choose whatever they wish to submit to his imprint.  To my mind, Sanderson’s approach produces wildly varied - but always excellent - output.  Sowari Modular is no different.  Named in reference to Durrant’s trio with Burkhard Beins and Bertrand Denzler, Trio Sowari - or perhaps,  more literally, his role within it -
 'Sowari Modular' features tracks using either modular synth assemblages or tracks made with single semi-modular synthesisers. Ranging from enveloping drone pieces influenced by Eliane Radique through to more "gestural" pieces incorporating outside sounds such as electric motors and wine glasses, the album is a blueprint of singular patches and hairtrigger fluctuations - a very physical music from a very arcane source.
according to the label’s marketing.
Opening track “Survey” is an exploration of imaginary terrain.  Terror and terroir.  Tramlines.  Moving tones. Motorways.  “Misty” bounces along like a monster-fied mutant Pong video-game.  
“Zero Coast” is thick with analogue synthesis and is more aggressive, you might say.  Analogue synths seem to be often in control of their owners rather than the other way around and I wonder if this might be the case here; Durrant locked in a battle of will with the angry filters and oscillators.  “Sweep” is longer at 11 minutes and more meditative and explores the less audible ends of the frequency spectrum before generating a tone reminiscent of Tuvan throat-singing with occasional crystalline pitch shifting effects.
“Radio Gag” gets staticky - kind of like what you might hear from a pocket short wave radio if you were Jeff Bridges in Tron.  “From Another” sounds like something I imagine you might hear drifting out of an open window as you stroll past the IRCAM building on a summer afternoon.  “Field” utilises a simple machine rhythm as a base on which to build seemingly random, autonomous sound events.  Erosion quickly sets in and like the sands from a south coast beach, the noises and little sequences find themselves drifting off and settling in places far away from where they started.  No electronic groynes have yet been  provided.  At fifteen minutes, “Still” is the longest piece on Sowari Modular.  Typical perhaps of Durrant’s occasional interest in a drone-based approach, it is made up of small, gentle modulations and developments; a well-chosen handful of shimmering fragments introduced slowly and then left to fend for themselves.
The portrait of Phil on the sleeve is by painter/bassist Kev Hopper, (he of Stump, Ticklish and Prescott), who also releases his own music on this excellent South London imprint.

Trio Sowari
Third Issue
AUSTRIA  Mikroton CD 67  CD/DL  (2018)

Following on from 2005’s Three Dances and 2008’s ShortCut both released by Potlatch, their third release - this time on Mikroton; one of my current favourite imprints - finds Phil Durrant on modular and software synthesisers, Burkhard Beins on percussion and objects and Bertrand Denzler on tenor saxophone.  On the back of the cover is a photograph of a neatly cut stack of firewood and kindling against a stone wall.  Someone’s ready for winter.  Within, you will find four pieces of music with great one-word titles; “Gravitation”, “Suspension”, “Exploration” and “Levitation”.  That last one probably not referencing Terry Bickers and Bic Hayes’ 90s prog-rock band, but hey, who knows?  Eclectic tastes never hurt nobody.  All three players are known for their considered approach to their relative instrumentation, so I was very excited to receive this disc.
A hum, initially seemingly simple, but opening up incrementally.  Swept metal; poise.  A gentle increase of intensity, like a slight but noticeable change in air pressure.
Low drone to start; joined by a horn tone almost like a human voice, opening out into a recognisable sax.  Nice combinations of beat frequencies, overtones, harmonics and sine waves.  A distant drum?
More percussion-led.   Bells, chimes, struck metal… There is some bass information, fleetingly.
With the use of their fairly orthodox use of bowed cymbals, saxophone and  tone generation, we could almost be listening to a free jazz unit of which there are many youthful examples around at the moment.  Trio Sowari are not so predictable however, and things soon take a turn for the oblique.  The musicians carefully develop their material into a group dynamic so restrained and in harmony with itself, it could be the musician’s metabolisms we’re listening to.
What is unusual about this clutch of recordings however, is the way they seem to bend time.  “Gravitation” is nearly fifteen minutes long and “Suspension” is twelve, but they seem to pass by in an instant due to the density of the actions and the deep levels of unspoken communication between the players, I think.  These recordings were made over two days which suggests to me that the group were prepared in advance for a short and intensive burst of activity.
Recorded by Patrick Robalewski at Sudstern Studios, Berlin, July 2016.  Mixed and edited by Burkhard Beins.  Mastered by Werner Dafeldecker.  Seek it out.

Monday, 12 August 2019

bass is the place

UK  Linear Obsessional  LOR132  Cassette/DL  (2019)
An engaging, super-varied, set of twenty (count ‘em) tracks of dub-inflected electronica, none of which break the two and a half minute mark, which is great if you’re, like, you know, into the whole brevity thing.  Linear Obsessional describe the work as “…abstract noise, majestic cavernous dub and angular funk…” which puts you in the ballpark, but I would add that parts of Blipcuts manage to bridge the divide between bass music and “experimental”; a divide whose borders seem to shift in intriguing ways on a seemingly daily basis - see recent work from Hieronymus Dub Sounds, Diatribes, Al Breadwinner/Nat Birchall/Vin Gordon, Young Echo, Dhangsha (see below) as well as recent developments at the ever-reliable On-U stable.
Felix Tigersonic is a London-based producer/engineer and bassist who works provides creative mentoring and recording services from her studio SmartMix.  Felix uses her knowledge amd expertise to good effect on this tape; presenting a batch of great-sounding material.
As a whole, Blipcuts is massively enveloping, with nicely paced development, despite the shortness of the tracks.  In fact, I found the shortness of the pieces a refreshing approach.  “Incoming Blur and You May Be Late show a distinct On-U Sound influence.  “Shadow Shimmerfeatures Mick Karn or Jaco Pastorius-like bass harmonics, while “Lava Lava Lamp is more abstract.
Apparently, initial copies of this cassette come with a packet of her own Tigersonic branded popping candy, in an effort to highlight the dichotomy in the necessity of presenting artistic endeavour as commerciality, perhaps.  The cassette I obtained direct from the label included a “Happy Bassday” badge.  Nice.
Future Tense
UK  self-released  no number  Cassette/DL  (2019)
I’ve noticed that there has been a steady drip feed of new material from Aniruddha Das under the moniker Dhangsha mainly on Soundcloud over the last 18 months or so.  Dhangsha is probably better known as  Dr Das, erstwhile bass player of Asian Dub Foundation who continue to regularly release new material, but perhaps more interestingly have been developing a second revenue stream by means of their live rescoring of films La Haine and The Battle of Algiers.  On Future Tense, Das weaves a dense and paranoid web of sonic intrigue with his minimalist electronic set up. Das says “DHANGSHA (Bengali for destruction) produces dark, edgy soundscapes where cyclical noise and distorted synth motifs mutate over sparse but heavy beats. Using little more than an Elektron Digitakt and RAT distortion pedal, he attempts to emulate the sound of broken speakers / windows reverberating at a warehouse party / interrupted transmissions from outer space.
The dub sensibility is still heavily in evidence as you might expect, but this work is looser, more organic than any of his work with ADF, certainly.  The material is broken up into a morass of arterial tendrils; the unrelenting low end rolling over the listener in waves.  Actually, this is music best heard over a large soundsystem; I suspect Das has designed it that way - recently he has been working in partnership with Bantu and Ramjac.  Dhangsha live outings saw him in underground club spaces like Grow Tottenham and with 50-50 Soundsystem.
It shares some of the attributes of dub techno, but the DNA is not the same.  Where even the best dub techno has the feeling of being tightly controlled, this is seemingly on the edge of collapse at all times.  Satisfyingly, tape delay effects are allowed to feedback freely; some of the electronic drums sound like tabla.
Das himself says of Future Tense:
A documentation of my return after over 25 years, to using hardware to pursue my undiminished love of experimental rhythm and noise. The sound is a consequence of being a practising dub musician who happens to listen to Detroit techno, particularly Underground Resistance and Robert Hood, electronic noise music and the scorched soundscapes of 70s Miles Davis.  An exploration of minimalism, repetition and fragmentation in sound and the political potential of pure frequencies.
Available on Bandcamp for those of a non-analogue persuasion.  Recommended.
Aniruddha posted a response to this review on social media which goes some way to explain the exact nature of his project Dhangsha, so I include it here verbatim:

"This album marks my departure from the 'dub scene' - but not from a 'dub mentality' as you rightly point out. I still utilise dub's scientific principles but am not at all interested in deliberately re-producing the 'genre,' or any of its mannerisms. The most perverse thing I've done is that as a known dub bass player of 25 years, I've not written any bass lines! What you have instead, are tuned bass drums, which, combined with de-tuned congas and other low frequency synth fragments produce 'implied' or 'imagined' bass melodies in the mind of the listener. The kicks are also modulated with a low pass filter which bends the note and produces movement. Your observation of the music being "seemingly on the edge of collapse" (a great possible album title) is spot on. It's deliberate and facilitated by feeding the entire mix through a RAT distortion pedal and blending to different degrees with the clean signal. Aside from my finding these textures rather pleasing (very disconcerting though for sound engineers and traditional dub heads) it has various implications - it represents uncertainty, discontent, debate, discussion, possible violence, destruction of discredited ideas, personal struggle etc. It is meant to f**k with your mind - in a positive way - not to be a passive, unquestioning recipient of someone else's wisdom - and compel your body to move in different, freer ways. In relation to the latter point, I've dispensed with snares and the few understated claps appear in unusual places. The rhythmic framework has been bust open - you've got 'Beat one' heavily stated to orientate you- then you're free to dance how you want."

- Aniruddha Das, august 2019

Monday, 17 June 2019

Rapt... up... again...

Within Thrall
UK  self-released  CD/DL  (2019)

Brighton-based Jacob Ware follows up his 2018 self-titled debut album with this EP; a collaboration with Demi Haynes of the US nu-shoegaze troupe Seashine, and with the addition of Nestor Middleton on piano.  Haynes and her lank-haired troupe have perfected the kind of The Scene That Celebrates Itself (TM Steve Sutherland) or “cathedrals of sound” – there, I said it – approach typified in the late 80s by Lush, Moose, Slowdive, Catherine Wheel, Curve, Kitchens Of Distinction, Chapterhouse and Ride, which seems to be on trend in the US recently.  Despite seeing most of those 80s bands the first time, it is a trend I have little first-hand knowledge of - I do have a soft spot for Ringo Deathstarr and Ulrika Spacek - but Seashine themselves keep a fairly low profile within it.  What evidence I have found of their work on YouTube demonstrates that their output is pretty interesting, although miles away from Ware’s previous work, stylistically at least, so at first glance I thought this might be a weird pairing.  Not so.  Yes, largely a complete departure from his first – self-titled - album, Within Thrall carries over the lush production techniques but presents material less electronic in nature, more within the genre occupied by Haynes’ musical activities; neo-folk, rock influences in other words, or gentle, US-style acoustic indie-rock.  An acoustic Galaxy 500? A more upbeat Mazzy Star?  You get the idea.
Ware states: “The starting point on the EP conceptually was WB Yeats’ poem The Song Of Wandering Aengus.  Hmmm…the poem that gave Silver Apples their name.  And gave Morton Subotnik a groovy title.  You may think this poetic reference suggests wistful, windswept pale youths pining away and/or contemplating the meaning of it all from the relative mystery of a windswept promontory, deserted jetty or distressed attic room at dusk.  And you may be correct, but those are fairly apt images, considering the faintly dark mood of the music here.  Case in point is the first song, “Girl In Black”.  A minimal arrangement of Demi Haynes’ vocals, acoustic guitar and a nice Mellotron-like flute way back in the mix.  Nestor Middleton’s pretty piano parts are treated to a smudge of delay.  The chorus of “killing me…killing me…” has a backwards pad of some sort.  “Wax And Rosewood” features Ware on vocals while Haynes contributes heavily reverbed backing “aaah”s.  “Torn” sounds to be like it should be a parallel universe My Bloody Valentine demo with its whispered harmony vocals and pseudo-MBV chord progression.  Closing track “Lighthouse” has suitably remote and weather-beaten lyrics.  Isolation, regret, letting go…
Ware imbues a similar atmosphere of vague intoxication into the music on Within Thrall as on Rapt.
But where Rapt was expansive, Within Thrall is intimate.  Only his second release under the name Rapt, this is a beautiful and well put together EP.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Matt Atkins & Peter Marsh

Matthew Atkins & Peter Marsh
Paper Wasps
UK  Invisible City Records  ICR40  Cassette  (2019)

Paper wasps gather fibres from dead wood and plants stems which they mix with saliva and use to construct water resistant nests.  From ICR, (not to be confused with Colin Potter’s ICR), comes scuds of therapeutic laptop hums and buzzes from London based musicians Matthew Atkins and Peter Marsh.  You may recognise Marsh’s name as the bassist from the consistently wonderful Woven Entity, but he also dabbles in live soundtracks with Fourth Page and general freeformery with others including Found Drowned; a trio with drummer Crystal Moth (also from Woven Entity) and guitarist James O’Sullivan.  Atkins has released previous work under the name Platform, which was “…about lo-fi computer based sound manipulation and rhythm, twisting and deconstructing found sounds and unlocking the patterns within.”, but currently seems to be operating under his own name.  I’ve also been listening to his recent Porous Inner Montage cassette/download.  I believe Atkins is a drummer, but there is little evidence of what you might ordinarily think of as percussion in those recordings, being made up mostly of a most agreeable type of diaphanous backwards things, and delay.
Here on the four pieces that make up Paper Wasps, a stringed instrument is plucked and struck.  There is a good amount of creaking in the background and noises made by sheet steel and rebar being dragged around a builders’ yard.  Marsh is credited with "electric bass and assorted machines", which is intriguing, while Atkins uses "computer, percussion, objects, contact mics and pedals".  The music feels constructed to me, (although I cannot back this assertion up with any hard evidence); the final arrangement could have been made via software or possibly a hardware sampler.  I could be completely wrong and it may be that Messrs Atkins and Marsh have simply set up a mic in the middle of the rehearsal room and got everything as you hear it straight down to tape in one pass.  Either way, it’s certainly worth your attention.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

The Necks in Brighton

photo by Al Hill

The Necks

St Lukes Church, Brighton
Sun 26th May 2019

Presented by Dictionary Pudding and The Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival, who were responsible for bringing this Antipodean improvising trio of Lloyd Swanton, Chris Abrahams and Tony Buck to Brighton at the same venue in 2017.  Tonight, BAJF founder Daniel Spicer makes the mildly irreverent introductions:  Make good use of the cushions; the pews are quite hard…” Spicer urges; “The Necks will be performing two sets this evening…so that’s one per cheek…
The Necks’ first set finds them in an abstracted mood.  Gradual changes, locked-in interplay of the type usually displayed by groupings that have played together for over thirty years.  Chris Abrahams’ piano works through every conceivable extrapolation of the key in which they play; a trembling filigree from his right hand while his left holds down rhythmic chords for drummer Tony Buck to bolster with his simultaneous shakers and bells; tinkling artefacts, openly resonating bass drum skins, simultaneously playing in marching time and syncopation.  Over the top of all this, double bassist, Lloyd Swanton coaxes simple yet effective non-typical sounds from his strings, sometimes pushing little scraps of melody off toward the edge of his plate.  At one point, the piano sounds almost like an electronic organ; lending a kind of Popol Vuh flavour to the music.  All the while, the group are bathed in an unchanging blue and pink light; the height of the church ceiling producing a lovely airy acoustic.  Beautiful music, a superb example of what can be done by three musicians improvising together at a consistently high level.
After a half hour or so interval – I use the word “interval” deliberately; this concert’s presentation at the foot of the pulpit had more than a little theatricality about it, albeit most likely unintentionally – the trio reconvene.  This time, however – and perhaps this was discussed as a strategy during the break – the initial impression is of the deep communication and delicacy of the methodically drifting first set has been lost and replaced with what seems to me, an almost a deliberate attempt to disrupt unity.  Tony Buck seems to unseat the rhythmic propulsion of the first set with a much more tangential strategy.  In fact, unison playing only happens sporadically – yet beautifully – as the players seem to concentrate on themselves as individuals.  Perhaps they simply wanted to make it a little harder on themselves; I’m all for musicians pushing their ideas of what is possible, especially improvising musicians.  Swanton veers from percussive mark-making to melodic input and Abrahams produces more electronic-like tones until, finally, unexpectedly, they bring the whole thing to a precision close with a pretty resolution; hitting the final note together in crystal harmony.
The difference in approach to each piece clearly appeals to the audience who applaud generously with even some whooping and some members off to the right hand side trying to encourage a standing ovation.  This ain’t a concert hall, sunshine, but it is the best place to see a jazz trio, only partly because St Luke’s reportedly has the best grand piano of any venue in Brighton.  Their recent long player, Vertigo is now available on vinyl as well as cd I’m told.  Best get your hands on a copy.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Diatribes - Echoes and Sirens

Echoes and Sirens
SWITZERLAND  Aussenraum  AR-LP-011  LP/DL  (2018)

This duo of Laurent Peter - aka d’incise - and Cyril Bondi break new ground in their pursuit of an amalgam of improvisation and modern composition, or as the sleevenotes put it; “…a possible relation between dub and experimental music.”  Echoes and Sirens is their third approach to said amalgam given a release after Augustus and Great Stone/Blood Dunza.  The task Diatribes have given themselves is to dissolve a healthy enthusiasm for dub reggae in a solution of sound production techniques before passing through a filter of extended-technique electro-acoustic improvisation.  Echoes and Sirens is a substantial piece of work.  Where on the previous records they have worked as a duo, here they employ more firepower; as well as adding Raphael Ortis on electric bass, they exploit a real horn section; Pierre-Antoine Badaroux on alto saxophone, Bertrand Denzler on tenor saxophone, Louis Lourain on trumpet and Fidel Fourneyron on trombone to great effect.
Aussenraum choose to describe what lies within these grooves in negative; “…It’s definitely not dub music, nor a dub version of experimental music, it’s not remixes nor a figurative soundscape…”  More like a silhouette.  There are flashes of the source subject; reminders or reflections of the original genre.  The sleevenotes cite the “aura” of London-based sound system operator Jah Shaka in particular as the inspiration for these pieces.  Shaka makes his own productions, most notably his Commandments of Dub series from which The Ragga Twins famously pulled a sample for their pristine 18” Speaker in 1991.  Diatribes may have borrowed the title of the first piece on Echoes and Sirens from Hugh Mundell’s Jah Fire Will Be Burning; a track Shaka has versioned.  Furthermore, the music is described as Highly detailed textures, repeated gestures, soft tones, febrile pulses and acoustic hyper-sensibility”.  The album is presented as Four imaginary moments of a sound system night” with the addition of “…found field recordings of Shaka’s parties and interactions with the crowd…
The first piece is “Dub Fire Will Be Burning”.  Stretched perception.  Long-held harmony tones from the horn section; circa 44 hertz sine tones for a bassline, lo-fi shouts and cheers from the recordings of the parties, reverb-spring hits reverbed in turn, live rim-shots sporadically placed; a deliberate chord progression.  This is followed by “Tell Me, What Do You See?”  The hi-hat is used as the spine of this piece.  Shaka’s trademark siren makes its first appearance.  The sound of a vintage keyboard – possibly a Phillicorda? – is employed, and long echoes.  The horn section play a slow suave chord progression, the bass guitar stays minimal.  A flip from hi-hat to rim-shot and tambourine changes the mood to urgent; the horns become more strident.
Flipping the record over, “Don’t Trouble I (oh no)”, - the title possibly a reference to Johnny Clarke’s Don’t Trouble Trouble; an artist who has also worked with Jah Shaka - has an air of Minimalism about it.  Relentless repetition.  Bass and drums distilled down deep; forget about finding the One – this ain’t One Drop – this is No Drop.  The final piece, “Continually”, features the instantly recognisable vocal melody by Aisha – “The First Lady of Dub” no less - on Fast Forward Into Dub by Mad Professor, which you will be familiar with from Blue Room by The Orb.  Through endless repetition, Diatribes wring every last morsel of meaning out of it; a simulated locked groove.
All four pieces hover between 10 and 11 minutes each, giving a nicely four-square feel to the album.
What is common with all of Diatribes’ work is the care with which they select their sounds; often complementing percussion sounds with electronic noises of similar timbre to great effect.  They select carefully with the skill and experience of a Michelin-starred chef choosing ingredients.  The idea in use here is a good one and produces four radically different pieces.  Could Diatribes be moving experimental music on a couple of steps here?  I like to think so.  Highly recommended.