Archive | December 2015

(New Album Review) Frédéric D. Oberland- Peregrinus Ubique

Frédéric D. Oberland is a multi-instrumentalist and visual artist based out of Paris, France who has been maintaining a staggering output since his first guest contributions and compilation appearances around 2007. He’s been a major international presence in post-rock and ambient music since, favoring resonant dark ambience and blistering noise over the usual middle-of-the-road stuff. He’s helmed too many bands to reel off, collaborated with Charlemagne Palestine and Lee Ranaldo, and continues to put out experimental, consummately-assembled, textural stuff year after year. 2015 saw him a busy guy, bringing droney, primitivist psychedelic soundscapes reminiscent of Cul de Sac to life in FOUDRE! and Les Reveils des Tropiques as well as guiding oceanic post-rock into the unknown in Oiseaux-Tempête’s highly anticipated Ütopiya? and now his debut full-length solo effort, Peregrinus Ubique, for VoxxoV.

Six scenes, six spaces for dreaming– Peregrinus Ubique is cinematic minimalist music that resists being described in terms of one uniting style. Desolate drones seep into the chilly recesses of Oberland’s field recordings of environments both derelict and public, from which insistent krautrock rhythms gradually emerge, seemingly keeping time with the flight of a haunted outsider. The swift emotional transitions of the work unfold like the soundtrack to a series of clashing episodes in a fractured narrative. And for further abstracted-suggestion, the physical release comes with a book of photos also by Oberland– but whatever narrative you end up inventing for this dream, you no doubt see that it flows from one space to the next with a sense of precise construction that nevertheless does not forget to leave room for sonic exploration. The pieces are deliciously layered with tactile details from pantophone, signal generator, and a whole array of esoteric acoustic instruments, though Oberland’s jagged, emotive electric guitar tone is usually the anchor. Oberland finds equal inspiration from psychedelic rock, electro-acoustic experimentation, neoclassical, and even folk, using a bouzuki on the plaintive “Scene IV” to evoke the sense of a doubting pause in the chase just before night falls, and with it the windswept despair of the buried synth and guitar on “Scene V”. A really well-constructed and eclectic collection– a vision that was a long time coming and certainly demands your attention.

(New Album Review) Warren Schoenbright- Eaten by the Forest [EP]

Another netlabel gem from the tail end of 2015: the experimental noise/improv duo (Daniel McClennan on drums, Matthew Pastkewicz helming laptop and other electronics) Warren Schoenbright’s Eaten by the Forest, off London’s Vacant Fulfillment. Though they are after all a noise duo with a drummer, McClennan more evokes the disintegrating ambient jazz of Tony Buck than Tatsuya Yoshida’s manic prog galloping. Pastkewicz’s insistent, spectral loops are equally adept at evoking breathless calm as they are with the tried and true gloom and doom. The pair can unleash an avalanche of noise rock fury, and they can explore impassive ambience via live looping– in other words, don’t want to be pigeonholed, and cannot be anyway…so don’t even think about it. A really wonderful release from a deeply textural project that really needs to put out a full length! Here’s hoping we get to see that soon…

(New Album Review) Edu Comelles- Agost

Edu Comelles is a Valencia-based sound artist, musician, and curator whose work represents some of the most psychically dynamic, deliciously-textured acousmatic music out there waiting to be uncovered by whoever’s inquisitive enough to take the plunge. Beginning with the seething laptop drones of his live performances as Mensa, over the years he has formed a consummately expressive, immersive style of sound art that meshes sound synthesis and processing with field recording, as well as telepathic collaborations with acoustic players such as cellist Sara Galán. Moreover, his netlabel Audiotalaia  released work by Philip Sulidae, one of my tried-and-true favorites among the international acousmatic scene (though less active in the way of releasing new material as of late), in addition to a DJ mix from the always engrossing Heezen. In short, if you are in search of mind-manifesting electro-acoustic soundscapes, then Comelles is definitely your guy, whether as curator or architect… which means that his new release for Barcelona’s spa.RK, Agost, will no doubt be a great last-minute discovery for your 2015!

For Agost, Comelles had some help from Sara Galán on cello once again, along with Avelino Saavedra on drums, Lucy Claire on piano, and Fernando Junquera on electric guitar, but really, what fascinates about these pieces is the impressionistic manipulation of a sample Comelles recorded of his finger brushing the edge of a wine glass– the concept here was to utilize this single sound source to the exclusion of any others, barring the contributions of his collaborators. From this single seed, lush drones flower and die. Agost is a municipality near Valencia– its sonic counterpart holds within it long quiet afternoons and nights of fireflies. Compared with chilly, uneasy stuff of the likes of Comelles’s more field-recording-oriented A Country Falling Apart, Agost is serene and pensive; listening to this, I feel like I’m falling through a sun-dappled leafy funnel from the golden hours of summer into autumn’s embrace. How odd, then, that it’s seeing the light of day now that the hours are so cold and short. It is endlessly enveloping all the same, a shimmering dream that ends too quickly…

(New Album Review) George Cloke- Hrísey

On his new digital release Hrísey, George Cloke (of the ambient outfit Team Morale, with Oli Dewdney) invites listeners to actively participate in the field recordist’s process of making sense of a place and drawing-up a sonic map of its disparate environments. The sound artist and musician spent a month on the island of Hrísey in Northern Iceland collecting the sounds he later compiled on a digital map showing the approximate origin of each recording
(the map can be accessed via this link: http://mapmaker.donkeymagic.co.uk/map/29103).
Nestled among hydrophone recordings of rockpools and awe-struck reveries beneath fireworks and flocks of seabirds the listener will find, on closer inspection, the points on the map at which musical tones complement the wide variety of  natural ambiences– the human reply we make once we’ve allowed the world to say its piece. By the time the delicate keyboard lines and contemplative downtempo of “ferry out” are unfolding, you know that this is a journey you’ll likely take again and again.

(New Album Review) The Occupant- Gradient Rot

The Occupant is Portland-based sound and visual artist Shane McDonnell, whose contributions to Portland’s totally passionate noise community, along with those of comrades like Debris Field (Cody Brant, the owner of Textural Sounds), Tim Sternat (of AweFull Records, and too many bands to list, including Delusional Reality, his band with McDonnell and Brant), Open MarriageLamella, Geneva Snyder, Ure Thrall, and Indignant Senility, make it clear that the work of characters like Maurizio Bianchi and Robert Turman not only still holds a ruinous mystique but has soldiered on in spirit through the experimental sounds of the Pac NW. On his excellent new self-released tape Gradient Rot, The Occupant takes sound collage hauntology into deeply-textured zones, with impassive pre-recorded synth chirps and trills hiding in the shade cast by mangled sonic odds-and-ends, the groaning timbres of metal on metal. Nighthawks scatter before the gnashing teeth of monster machinery among urban wreckage, just before everything goes black. Truly mind-manifesting stuff…and definitely among the essential listening of the year if you are at all interested in the American experimental/noise underground.

Gradient Rot can be purchased directly from Shane via PayPal. Please listen.

(New Album Review) Twinkle³ with Sidsel Endresen – Debris In Lower Earth Orbit

Twinkle³ (Clive Bell, Richard Scott, and David Ross) and Sidsel Endresen’s Debris in Lower Earth Orbit, the second release from Manchester’s Cuspeditions, is a real treat; the esoterically-cultivated British experimental trio and the now-legendary Norwegian jazz vocalist have come together for a total psychical eclipse, a meeting orchestrated by David Sylvian that birthed a meditation on impermanence teeming with deep textures and mischievous, alarming juxtapositions.  These electro-acoustic soundscapes, dominated by Bell’s shakuhachi and other woodwinds along with Endresen’s glossolalia and vague intonations, crackle and shiver with Ross’s interruptions on modified oscillator and Scott’s electronic revisions…it is a conversation that smacks just as much of wind and water as of gas clouds and detritus whirling through space. Sure, one could say that Debris in Lower Earth Orbit samples from several different cultures instrumentally (check, for instance, the shimmering tone from Ross’s kantele toward the end of “The Kessler Cascade”) to “exotic” effect, however, the point here is that the timbres selected are uniquely suited to the effects that are being striven for: abrupt transmutations from the graceful and susurrant to the piercing and eerie. When one clears one’s mind of the cultural associations it carries, Bell’s shakuhachi takes on the soulful quality of a disembodied voice, darting and ducking with the human voice alongside it through the sidereal gardens of “Gloominescence” and “Cosmos and Iridium Embrace”. The “idiom” the collective was aimed for evokes the whispers and interrogations of superreal phantoms, on Earth and elsewhere…

(New Album Review) Martijn Comes- Tradition Noise

Dutch sound artist Martijn Comes‘s striking Tradition Noise, off The Silent Howl, ventures to Mediterranean and returns with what sounds akin to a jet-lagged meeting between Stockhausen and Muslimgauze. Comes’s vision of the sonic other has a seductive languor, with “exotic” sounds from Middle Eastern vocalists and players riding wave after wave of pummeling electricity. Like Bryn Jones and Holger Czukay, he sees the connecting threads between spacious dance-music mixes, acousmatic modernity, and ancient idioms, and leaps from one way of doing things to the next from track to track, finding the logic to make things fit along the way. Wickedly intelligent rhythms and bracing noise abound, but what really burrowed into my brain was the spectral melody of “Preveli Beach”– the sort of stream-of-consciousness loop that manifests in the face of something as seemingly endless as the horizon, or the weight of history. This one’s a real tour-de-force from a guy who is without a doubt the real thing.

(New Album Review) Loren Chasse- The Animals and Their Shadows

Even when held up to the light with the rest of the Jewelled Antler collective (a group of musicians and sound artists who came together in 1999 in the Bay Area to help share and release each other’s work), field recordist, educator, and musician Loren Chasse is someone with a wholly distinct vision. Comrades Steven R. Smith and Glenn Donaldson have mostly stayed firmly on the pathway of mystic drone-folk, their sort of an American West Coast answer more to Florian Fricke than Robbie Basho, while Chasse, sometimes on his own (either under his birth name or under the on-hiatus moniker Of), sometimes collaborating with Christine Boeppele as Ov or sound artist Jim Haynes as Coelacanth, has always soldiered into realms even more free, dissolving the psychedelic free-improv approach seen on his albums with Thuja into unusual field recordings to create stuff less in the mode of music per se and more in that of purely imaginative soundscapes.

What is Loren Chasse’s art about? It’s not easy to explicate. In his own words, it’s about being a more observant listener to the world. And on a release like 2014’s wonderful Characters at the Water Margin (off Unfathomless), a series of field recordings made in Washington along the coastline of the Olympic Peninsula, one can see how strongly this philosophy relates to the sound art he’s putting out; on a surface level, the pieces on that album have a serene, passive ambience to them, since, on a surface level, the album is a series of only slightly manipulated recordings of a man playing with organic debris at the cusp of the Pacific Ocean. But what is the work as a whole truly about or for? Peer a little more deeply into it, regard the sounds as having a deliberative quality, and you begin to get the sense of a sonic storyteller, of sounds bringing vague characters and their histories to life. It’s abstract, but representational. Looking at Chasse’s work, I’m sometimes reminded of one of my favorite artists Morris Graves (another West Coast guy) and his weird, ghostly birds looking deep in thought within a void haloed with sticks, flowers, and thorns.

It’s a kind of psychedelic magic realist vibration that Chasse taps into, something of the past but not necessarily indebted to a musical idiom based in long-standing tradition. When it comes to sound art with a compelling narrative quality, Chasse is consistently one of the most imaginative and exploratory folks out there in the field. This year saw him put out two physical releases: The Sodden Floor on cassette from Notice Recordings and The Animals and Their Shadows  on CD from Semperflorens. Of the two, The Animals and Their Shadows is much less musical than the ultra lo-fi, less field-recording-based The Sodden Floor, and for those curious about what it is that makes Chasse’s work so special, this is honestly what ought to make it all the more welcome a place to drop in.

The sound of The Animals and Their Shadows is summed up best by the title of a piece featured on it: “Biomimicry”. Sounds obtained through unconventional means become the chatter of seabirds, the howls of grey whales, the patter of feet racing through the undergrowth, the whispering of leaves in the wind. Chasse aims for the extreme registers but keeps everything on a small scale, not using electric instruments or relying much on the processing kinds of sound manipulation but instead treating objects as instruments and plying acoustic instruments with objects to create collages of sawing, sighing, indistinct sounds that together form a living picture. One reflects that Chasse may be perfectly comfortable with the rough recording aesthetic hewing things together here and on many of his other releases perhaps because he wants to keep the origins of sounds obfuscated as much as possible, keep us seeing everything holistically. Even when one can eventually recognize in the midst of these collages a classroom of tittering young kids, you can’t help but reflect how similar this sound is to ones we may not normally associate with it, simply because of the context it’s been put in. On the albums two standout pieces, “When the Flower Throwers Wither” and the title piece, deep gonglike bellows, the soft rain of sand, and tactile clicks, creaks, and crumbling footfalls call to mind the communing of life. Chasse has expressed admiration for writers like Sherwood Anderson and Knut Hamsun, and in the diversity of these small yet not small voices he’s temporarily brought to life, one can surely see the effects that he’s going for as mirroring their empathic stream-of-consciousness style, in which ghosts live as visibly as we do alongside us. It’s among his best, and definitely one of the most strikingly original sound art releases of the year.


 

An excellent video-piece on Chasse that aired on San Francisco’s KQED Television in 2003:

Chasse’s blog.

The Animals and Their Shadows can be purchased from Aquarius Records’ catalog.

(New Album Review) Western Skies Motel- Buried and Resurfaced

Another engrossing voyage through the imaginary America, the America of the heart– this time our guide is Danish musician and sound artist Rene Gonzalez Schelbeck, otherwise known as Western Skies Motel, whose November CD-R release Buried and Resurfaced  was unfortunately the last we will see from Perth’s Twice Removed Records, closing up shop after four years of exploratory, organic ambient. Buried and Resurfaced, a collection of  improvisations on electric guitar manipulated via tape machines, is a fine way to bow out. The title Western Skies Motel denotes the vague concept behind Schelbeck’s project: ambient guitar soundscapes inspired by the Big Sky, one of those place seemingly meant to embody its literary analog so much that myth and reality become entangled. If you’ve been reading consistently and keeping tabs on how many times I’ve brought up Daniel Lanois as one of my all-time favorites, you have some idea of how in love I am with stuff in this vein.

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Ringing tones glide from bow or fingertips to string to the dust-choked air through this endless expanse as they slowly disintegrate, murmuring lullabies drowning in the red sky. The romantic abstraction that surfaces most in your mind is that of the America of the outsider, the America we will never truly possess. It’s hard not to be impressed with how mood pieces like “Passages” and “Black Sea” find epic feelings in their brief lifespans, as do the delicate melodies of “The Quiet Rust” and “Thaw”. At under a half-an-hour in length, if this one is not enough to sate you, rest assured that Schelbeck’s follow up to this quick preface, The Settlers, is due off Lost Tribe Sound early next year. Keep your eyes and ears peeled.

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(New Album Review) Stag Hare- Tapestry

In Tapestry, Stag Hare, Salt Lake City based musician and sound artist Zara Biggs-Garrick, offers a sonic, well, tapestry, that’s all at once intimate and expansive– four hours taken up by 16 commissioned pieces. For each piece, Biggs-Garrick had to devise a unique response to the commissioner’s emotional directions. You have to hand it to Inner Islands for being on board with such a mammoth undertaking.

The dream-travelogue finds a tone somewhere between Carl Hultgren and Hakobune, with long-form improvisations on guitar sending delay trails infinitely spiraling– rivulets of a cosmic emotionalism that is adrift but not aimless.You enter these zones and, really, it’s up to you to pick a favorite. I was particularly drawn in by the eighth piece, for Braden Mckenna, in which crystalline guitar drips gradually emerge from behind a hazy, ominously shifting bank of synths. Biggs-Garrick’s impressionist approach, which takes drone as its foundation, melody as the emotional core, has my attention and it most definitely deserves yours. It’s a lot to take, but take it in slowly– it’s an endlessly enveloping offering from a true sonic painter in the digital age.