new music reviews authored by paul khimasia morgan

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.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Slow Listener Live at Fort Process

Slow Listener
Live At Fort Process
UK  Chocolate Monk  CHOC425  CD-R  (2019)

Banging and a-clanging like there’s no tomorrow in suitably mysterious demeanour comes Newhaven’s premier sound-mangler Slow Listener.  Noises of beaten metal - dropped, thrown, chimed, bowed and struck - are arranged in steadily more and more yogic contortions.  These sounds were made inside Newhaven Fort at last year’s Fort Process experimental music/sound-art hoe-down.  Whether they were pre-prepared or derived from objects or the environment at the Fort is not stated but it certainly results in a chewy great wad of sonic paan with which to easily disorient the unwary spectator.  Slow Listener masticates a cheek-load over the course of 26 minutes; the steel girder intimidation gradually gives way first to suitably eerie electronic chirps and whispers and finally to phantom Morse code, slowed vocals, the smallest hint of Carnival Of Souls-style Wurlitzer, and electronically processed breathing.  Periodically, a female voice intones eerily “a thousand and seven, a thousand and twelve; eight, a thousand and five , nine nine three, nine eight eight; five, nine eight one” and so on.  The phrase “A thousand and five falling slowly” is repeated and seems to have some significance to Slow Listener.  I wonder what this is.  A numbers station?
Suitably stimulated by his own actions, Slow Listener gobs a big red gout of sickly sonic-paan residue out at the feet of Chocolate Monk heads Dylan Nyoukis and Karen Constance, who quite sensibly immediately sensed its transcendent potential and put it out as this here cd-r.  Constance provides the artwork for the full-colour sleeve.  Edition of 60, and be warned, Chocolate Monk titles don’t tend to hang around, so show ‘em yr heels.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Cristián Alvear on Pilgrim Talk

Cristián Alvear
Pieza para Guitarra Afinada
USA  Pilgrim Talk  PT37  cassette  (2019)

Following Sarah Hennies collaboration with Cristián Alvear from 2016; Orienting Response for guitar on Mappa Editions, and the 2015 Diatribes & Cristián Alvear 3” cd Roshambo (trio) on 1000füssler, which both landed on my desk for review, here is a new one hour 29 minute solo piece for guitar from Cristián Alvear recorded at Estudios Madre Selva, Santiago de Chile in April 2018.  The slightly mysterious Pilgrim Talk tape label is a good home for this particular piece of work as their recent release schedule features modern composition including Baroque Classics (for Electronic Oscillators) – Couperin, Telemann, Scarlatti et al – and Parvae Harmoniae by Nick Hoffman.
On Pieza para Guitarra Afinada, Alvear has worked out a way to influence one’s perceptions for mysterious purposes.  Time bends.  Listen in awe as glum murders of crows contemplate the dwindling woodland habitat.  Alvear’s classical guitar exerts an iron grip on the listener’s senses though his use of subtle modulation threaded within structural repetition.  It is as if the instrument itself is audibly succumbing to a depressive episode.  The piece begins forlornly and continues with pitiless efficacy.  Alvear is commenting on his surroundings; his world – our world - if you want my opinion.  He make the guitar chime like plague bells.  It some mental temerity on Alvear’s part not just to compose such an unflinching piece of music but to then relentlessly rehearse and perform it himself as well.  Lesser souls would easily give up after half an hour and gone to the pub.  I’m making it sound faintly dark and ominous and depressing – not which the music actually is - but actually, I think Alvear is attempting to push notions of the classical guitar recital to the very edges.
Theres no doubting Alvear’s commitment to his instrument.  He knows the thing inside out.  What is also remarkable, is his accomplishments as a composer.  A process of stripping back – ideologically as well as musically.  Like neighbours who remove mature planting to “get more light” but what they are actually doing is reminding us of how uneasily close we have been placed to each other.  Proximity.  Claustrophobia.  This music is a salve to those of us who are sick of having to deal with fellow inhabitants of this world who “don’t like trees”.
It’s nice to see this on cassette – the aforementioned tape with Sarah Hennies from Mappa was presented in a wooden box with handmade inserts and is a beautiful object.  Quite a lot of my non-music friends now express surprise when I start talking about new releases on cassette; mostly they are surprised the format is still being manufactured.  “My cassette deck broke ten years ago and I didn’t see the point in replacing it” is a common articulation.  But for those of us whose first exposure to pre-recorded music was courtesy of the cassette-tape format and, more importantly, whose minds were opened by the ability to easily use them to make one’s own recordings, it’s hard to let the format go.
Alvear is co-curator of Relincha Festival in Valdivia and, together with Santiago Astaburuaga, directs LOTE, an ensemble focused on the production of experimental scores.  In addition, he coordinates concerts and experimental music workshops in rural areas of the Los Lagos region of Chile.  For this, and other more prosaic bureaucratic reasons, Alvear rarely visits the UK, although at the time of writing, I believe he will be touring Europe and the UK in May.  Keep an eye out – that prospect is not to be missed.

Friday, 22 February 2019

The Lessons Of The Past...

Songbook #7
Germany  Munster Records  ???  LP  (2019)

This morning as the grey clouds parted, out of the murk appeared a brand new, curious and unsolicited item from Mattin’s infamous anti-copyright operation.  At first glance, it appears to be a document of a theatre piece of sorts; a recording of a performance at Cologne’s Digging The Global South Festival from November 2017.  This lp functions as part theatre, part concert of improvisation, part history lesson.  As you might expect from Mattin, it is delivered, in places, with no small amount of outrage or vitriol.  Some of this vitriol is delivered in an overdriven punk-vocal style, but at other times, text is recited quietly and calmly, although the methods utilized for the recording of vocals remain resolutely low fidelity.  Sometimes a pitch effect is used.  Texts are recited sometimes in English, sometimes in German.  Sometimes, when the pitch effect is particularly thickly used, the meaning of the words becomes lost entirely.
Mattin pulls together an interesting group to help him realise this work (and claims the record was made “collectively”); artists Lucio Capece, Marcel Dickhage and Cathleen Schuster alongside experimental musicians Moor Mother, Colin Hacklander and Farahnaz Hatam.  Capece – he of the floating balloon/speakers soundwork EPOCHÉ - uses bass clarinet and sampler.  Berlin-based Schuster and Dickhage apparently “…engage with the contemporary environment, evolve in dialogues and [what] could be termed as critical shaping”.  Here, they are responsible for voice, sampler and texts in German.  Moor Mother is a “…self-described Afrofuturist, she uses spacetime-bending sound and lyricism to reformulate concepts of memory, history, and the future in an afrocentric or afrodiasporic tradition”.  On Songbook #7 she uses electronics.  Colin Hacklander and Farahnaz Hatam have a pre-existing duo; Hacklander plays drums while Hatam utilizes computer.  Hacklander is  fairly prolific and has worked with Mark Ernestus’ Jeri-Jeri and NU Unruh, while interestingly, Hatam co-founded N.K., Berlin’s “…space for the avant-garde and non-mainstream culture”.
In the included four-page libretto, texts from the piece are reproduced which give an introduction to the history of revolutionary politics of the early Twentieth Century, focussing in particular on the year 1917.  The texts are printed in English and German.  Also included are lighting notes for the stage production itself, the tracklisting – tracks are named after the first seven months of the year – and a quote from the activist Germaine Berton, whose visage adorns the sleeve.  Berton is infamous for having assassinated Marius Plateau, the Secretary of the Far-Right political organization Action Française in 1923, being unable to find her initial target, its leader Leon Daudet.  She was subsequently acquitted, but eventually died by her own hand four days after Daudet’s own death in 1942.
My first exposure to Mattin was the Sakada 3” cd document of his 2002 meeting with Eddie Prevost released on Confront.  This was recorded at a concert in the basement of Mark Wastell’s Sound 323 record shop in London and Mattin is credited with “computer feedback”.  As an aside, Mattin has also worked with Mark Wastell in Belaska, whose two releases, VAULT and Reductionism Is Dead may be hard to come by these days.  For me, this record exists more as a sign post for further research than a musical piece to listen to for entertainment, but I’m guessing that’s partly Mattin’s intention here.  So check it out yourself; do your own research.  Recommended.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Two From The ‘Hood

Tim Burness
UK  Expanding Consciousness  EXPAND16  CD/DL  (2018)

In which Tim Burness teams up with Monty Oxymoron (The Vitamin B12, The Damned) on keyboards, Keith Hastings on bass, drummer Fudge Smith (ex Pendragon), rhythm programming courtesy of Julian Tardo, who also co-produced, engineered and mastered the album and Paul Pascoe.  Tim sings, plays guitar and synth parts and wrote all the material.  He adds the following statement to the copyright information on the sleeve; “However, as we all know, a little bit of copying here and there never hurt anyone” which made me chuckle.  And quite right.
Tim Burness was part of the new wave of British progressive rock in the 1980s with his band Burnessence.  I first came across him accompanying himself on acoustic guitar at the Brighton Festival of Freedom back in 1995.  Eight albums later, he’s at the cutting edge of what he terms “progressive pop-rock”.  He’s not alone; see Galahad’s continued existence, or Mandragora’s recent reunion at Rumbellion.  There’s also the current upward trajectories of ex-Levitation guitarists Bic Hayes’ Zofff and Terry Bickers’ duo with Pete Fij to consider, and Lewes Psych Festival going strong.  I saw Kavus Torabi & Steve Davis spinning Prog in London last year and found myself at a Nik Turner gig the other weekend.  Burness, however, is interested in conveying ideas as much as drifting off to a bitchin’ synth pad or digging an unusual time signature.  Throughout Interconnected there’s a seam of commentary that shows Burness’ interests; the health of the planet, society, philosophy and astrology.
The album kicks off with the super-positive and upbeat “Electric Energy”.  Burness displays an endearingly British vocal delivery even when he’s feeling particularly hopeless and desperate as on “I Am Afraid (Saturn Conjunct Pluto)”.  Here is the first evidence of his preoccupation with our current situation as a species; “Can we turn it around?  We’ve reached our limits.  He continues with the refrain “save us from idiots, save us from ourselves” on “Freedom”.  “Making It Up” is based around a beautiful piano and string synth arrangement, while the skewed, 60s-style jazz-rock riff of “Still Mumbling” could almost be the germ of a Stereolab track.
“Ants” is a paranoid waking dream propelled by a spooky backwards loop, where Burness presents himself as a newly self-aware drone; seeing for the first time the proverbial “glitch in the matrix”.  “Beautiful World” successfully evokes the mood of pre-Dark Side… -era Pink Floyd - lush Mellotron, rotary speaker effects on the guitar and vocal harmonies on the middle eight.  And appropriately wobbly, tape-saturated chords underpinning Julian Tardo’s guitar solo.  The disc finishes on a lighter note with the catchy sing-a-long “One More Time” showcasing saloon bar-style piano alongside Burness’ kooky lyrics about personal relations, or a quick smoke, or none of the above.
Burness asserts that the album is “Based on a concept of the interconnectedness of all things…”  This is a notion that also came to me one clement autumn afternoon in the early 90s while lying on the grass in rural parkland in Surrey…  An idea that resonates with a lot of people.  On the whole, a strong piece of work; strangely appealing.

The Emperors Of Ice Cream
Employees Of Ice Cream
UK  Self-released  no number  CD/DL  (2018)

Some superb Brighton-based slackness here, released at the cold end of 2018 from a group featuring Tim Cottrell, Joe Cutting, Sam Cutting, and Karl M V Waugh.  Mister Waugh has had his hand in a few other projects over recent years; DR:WR, Binnsclagg and the A Band for example.  While those projects are all of an experimental nature, the Emperors of Ice Cream are a traditional group of the vaguely “post-punk/rock” variety, pulling their moves partly from the US alt-rock bands we all loved so much.  These guys have been listening to their parents’ record collections and good thing too.  All hail Hanover and the paint-flecked flannel shirts within.  Previous output has included the Kickstarted Picture Pout/Small Time Hero  7”, and an ep, Second Names, from 2015, plus a cassette, This Thing, and a three-song limited cd less from 2016.
The superbly nihilistic “Nothing Belongs to You” sets the tone with its scratchy guitars, two note melody and repeated lyric, while “Oh!” is a cynical put-down of youthful selfishness; almost Pavement-y or Parquet Courts-ish in its initial moments.  There’s an almost early 70s pop sensibility about the doubled vocals and the barest hint of that elusive Tony Visconti-esque production sound.  Like a forgotten Malkmous ballad, “Ain’t Got The Money” says “we’re just gassin’ so it’s fine” and “you ain’t got the right lies” which resonates with me for reasons I’m not entirely sure about.
“Test Case” is like putting 1960s Venice Beach sociopaths Love in a stuck lift for four days without their medicine - all antagonistic guitars and cyclical white-out rhythm section.  Guitars are in their respective corners; panned hard left and right, all the better to absorb their demented counterpoint.
“The Sunshine Song” a cruelly distressed wah-wah pedal is deployed on this brutally short track.  Over way too soon.  The genius “Can I Lie Down In The Snow”  is probably the most entertaining song I’ve come across about mental distress, (if that is what its actually about).  Punkish buzzsaw guitars and a chant-a-long lyric.  “What You Did” is nine and a half minutes of epic-ness reminiscent of the unsettling vibe of Charlottefield’s Noisestar improvisation, only we’re in the modern digital recording era now and the track ends with the guitars producing remarkable digital feedback drones.  You can really hear the difference in how analogue and digital pedals sound, I think.
Employees of Ice Cream was recorded and mixed by Mark Roberts at Brighton Electric and a very high production was achieved with the material.  As much as I love the lo-fi, garagey-sounding approach to recording bands – “Give Me Less” on the Emperor’s Less is a good example - I love being able to discern the words just as much.  I believe these guys gig a fair bit so if you get the opportunity to see ‘em, take it.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Puddling by The Static Memories

The Static Memories
UK  Linear Obsessional  LOR107  CD  (2018)

Just squeezed into the very end of the 2018 Linear Obsessional release schedule is this stunning item from Brighton musicians Gus Garside and Dan Powell.  Before I go any further, there is probably a need for disclosure on my part in relation to this duo.  Firstly, the label I manage, TSOKL, released the Static Memories’ 2014 album The bloudy vision of John Farley and thus I was closely involved in the brokerage of that release.  Secondly, I occasionally record with Dan Powell under the name Brambling.  And lastly, I have recently begun developing a project with double bassist Gus Garside.  Okay.  So far, so incestuous.  You may quite reasonably assume – based on this information – that I might be far from neutral in my appraisal of Puddling.  It’s fair to say that I have a lot of admiration for these dudes’ musical output, yes, but I was sent a review copy, so my intention is to try my hardest to be impartial.
On Puddling, Garside plays double bass and electronics while Powell uses “electronic and acoustic objects”, “electronic…objects” being a fairly opaque way to describe software and various associated pieces of hardware.  But there’s nothing wrong with a little mystique. 
I particularly like the pieces that don’t immediately conform to what one might expect from electro-acoustic improvisation: “The Moon”, “Recedes at Daybreak” (an interesting noise at the beginning like hearing distant rock guitar out of doors), “The Homeless”, and “The Fifteenth Boulder” all share a searching quality; an attempt to break new ground.  On the other hand, after repeated listens, pieces like “Time and the Hunter” or “The Pilgrimage” could be viewed as a little over-wrought or conventional in comparison, perhaps.  One other interesting thing that I’ve not been aware of so much in their previous work, is the inclusion of unprocessed sounds of hand percussion: bellstrings, shakers and the like, drifting and evaporating like small clouds on a summer’s day.  It reminds me a little of Powell’s other project, Nil; an improvising duo who use acoustic objects exclusively.
On the whole, Puddling is good, considered, balanced improvisation.  The Static Memories refer to their work as “…music spontaneously composed…”. but let’s not split hairs.  The pieces appear to have been the result of more than one session, being recorded over winter and spring 2017-2018.  So, not your usual free improv, then, but testament to the good taste and discerning palette of Linear Obsessional boss, Richard Sanderson, who has been involved in myriad experimental projects himself and, therefore, knows his onions, as it were.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Two from Marginal Frequency

Sandy Ewen & Chase Gardiner
USA  Marginal Frequency  MFCD B  CD  (2018)

An interesting pairing here, from the consistently excellent Marginal Frequency imprint run by Laminal Audio’s A. F. Jones out of Kitsap County, Washington USA.  Sandy Ewen is described as “an experimental guitarist, artist and architect” whose playing is “centred around found objects and extended guitar techniques”, while Chase Gardner “is an artist with a focus on exploring the abstract elements of art in order to express his personality and ideas”.  The music they present here is extremely well-presented as you would expect from a Marginal Frequency release and has a close-up, surgical focus I particularly enjoy in material derived from prepared instruments.  These are very brutish - in a good way - and upfront guitar extrapolations featuring lots of interesting techniques not least of which is a process Gardiner describes as “divided pickup”.  Are we to assume a physically divided guitar pickup?  Divided how, I wonder?  Physically by splitting the output of said pickup or by making two movable pickups or theoretically - by way of separate EQ-ing, perhaps?  Intriguing, but no further explanation.  Perhaps none is needed.
Interestingly, Ewen spent much of 2017 performing solo sets and in collaboration with Steve Jansen (tapes and electronics) and Maria Chavez (turntables) around Europe – Chavez is performing in the UK in the early part of 2019 I believe – while in 2018, she performed at the Sant'anna Arresi Jazz Festival, Experimental Sound Studio Option Series and the High Zero Festival.  There is also evidence of a performance with Keith Rowe and Damon Smith from 2012 on YouTube.  Gardner is involved in a variety of different projects such as his experimental music duo with Adriana Valls, Cut Shutters and appears to be involved in various North Texas-based improvised music ensembles.
Transfusion is a compelling document of these two artists’ current practice.  Certainly the sounds they have developed for this album are very curious; there is an emphasis on a percussive approach as well as the generation of unusual timbres, particularly on “Molded”, for example.  There is a sense of urgency as well, which I like; the pace is set pretty quick from the outset but despite this, there are no lulls in the performances, no surfacing for air.  They take their feet off the gas briefly during “Sync” but even then, they demonstrate an intensity of action with even the slightest movements and adjustments.  Mastered by the afore-mentioned A.F. Jones at Laminal Audio.
Howard Stelzer
Across the Blazer
USA  Marginal Frequency  MFCD C  CD  (2018)

Howard Stelzer is an artist whose palette is almost entirely made up of domestic tape machines.  The way he employs those devices, for me, give an overall effect that is rather like the sound your ears make when you are underwater.  In other words, you are still hearing the world around you, going about its business as usual, coexisting blithely as it always does, but with a big, dense filter getting in between, clouding your perceptions.  It’s a comforting filter, almost imperceptible, momentarily cloaking and protecting you from your surroundings; hiding your existence in time and place, but with the unspoken threat of unintentional harm; the element of surprise – forget not to breath and you’ll be thrust back into the open in a violent and sudden explosion of panic…
You may also be familiar with the label Intransitive which Stelzer ran from 1997 through to 2012.  The Intransitive back catalogue features many big names in the “experimental” arena; Roel Meelkop, Richard Chartier, Jim Haynes, C. Spencer Yeh, Kapotte Musiek, and many others.  Stelzer himself has worked with Vic Rawlings, Jason Talbot, Frans de Waard, John Hegre, Jazzkammer and David Payne.  Stelzer’s pivotal solo release seems to be 2008’s Bond Inlets, which Stelzer himself refers to as “my first artistically successful proper album after numerous false starts.”
Here, the first piece, “Selective Memory (You Never Know Absolutely Quite Where You Are)” presents a broad range of tape detritus from channel-tuning television static to a distant thunderstorm heard through earplugs.  Relax, as all our changes are smoothly transitioning.  It could be that we are hearing sounds of tape itself, or the mechanisms of various machines, or sound recorded onto tape in certain and multifarious lo-fi ways.  Either way, a good way to unwind at the end of a stressful day.
The second of the two pieces is “Across the Blazer”.  What is this “blazer” I wonder?  Possibly complex distilled strings with a classic crescendo model in terms of dynamic, additive composition.  I found it less obviously relaxing than “Selective Memory…”; its dynamic alone ramps up the anxiety, even before the amplified distorted driven-into-the-red bell chimes make an appearance but composed as it is from the sharpened essence of brittle shards of orchestral strings, the overall sonic effect is harrowing.  My new favourite bedtime listening.