Ujjaya (“victory”) is the moniker of Hery Randriambololona, a Malagasy multi-instrumentalist and sound artist based in Montigny le Bretonneux, France. Randriambololona’s overall style is an shamanic ambient primitivism that was strongly influenced by his careful study of North Indian classical music, though his choices in instrumentation have been borrowed liberally from a wide range of cultures. De Retour was unknown outside of Randriambololona’s closest circle of friends for sixteen years until the Spheredelic netlabel picked up what was originally a private issue cassette and gave it a much needed remastering in late 2014. This forgotten gem is available for free on the Spheredelic website.
Like his cornerstone influences Jorge Reyes and Jon Hassell, Randriambololona’s overall aesthetic and approach organically bring listeners into the animistic spiritual space of the ancients– the voices in these musical spaces take on the qualities of beings and elements, transcending the separation of humanity from the rest of nature. However, though Randriambololona utilizes unusual instrumentation hearkening back to ancient tradition in order to manifest this affect, his pieces are often mostly anchored by clear, melodic lines on electric guitar and richly textured, billowing synths. Like much of the work of Steve Roach, the sonic landscape of Ujjaya is a cosmic fusion of ancient tradition and electronic meditation– the lost howls and footsteps of ghosts find a special resonance here. A track like “3000 Ans” has an enfolding beauty as humble as a row of trees bowing slightly with the wind. This one comes highly recommended to all fans of deep ambient sounds.
“3000 Ans (3000 Years)” by Ujjaya
Agassiz Oscillation Ensemble are a Minnesotan collective that, like Hototogisu and Vibracathedral Orchestra, do not craft songs so much as living, breathing musical spaces. Their impressive debut Workplace Democracy recently came out on cassette from Chicago’s 1980 Records.
There is never any one focal point here, just a slowly contorting mass of clattering percussion and groaning acoustic strings swirling around the grave invective of sometimes-leader Allen-Killian Moore’s imagistic poetry. The album is one long form piece divided into two manageable chunks. To choose a blank canvas and then maximize the overtones with blunt force leaves so much room for the mind to manifest in unexpected ways. Indeed, bands such as these are “psychedelic” in the true sense for their confident, freely-flowing sonic unpredictability. Workplace Democracy is the sound of a haggard brain searching furtively through a thick undergrowth of abstractions. The intuitively-controlled chaos leads up from the roots into the ambiguous glimmer of a checkered daylight. This one comes highly recommended to all fans of psych-drone, free improvisation, and noise.
Helm is Luke Younger, an experimental musician from Britain whose work certainly follows in the footsteps of English pioneers of mind-manifesting electronic and electro-acoustic sounds such as David and Vikki Jackman, Gilbert and Lewis, and Andrew Chalk. The title of his new album of electronic music from PAN records, Olympic Mess, is fitting, given its baffling and admirable sonic scope. Even when held up against the light with the lo-fi outsider minimalism of Younger’s startlingly original 2011 release Cryptography, Olympic Mess doesn’t look too similar to anything else around.
Olympic Mess is inner-space cartography that’s been molded by long and weird days and nights spent trying to make sense of an increasingly atomized world. The spacious and chilly tone of Olympic Mess shows the influence of dub techno, and often gives the feeling of the individual drowned in an urban landscape. Moreover, only-superficially-inexplicable details like the uncomfortably intimate spoken-word piece “Strawberry Chapstick” and the numerous field recordings incorporated into the album continually thrust us back into awareness of the silence and strangeness of our place in reality. Where the hell have we ended up and why has the disconnect between mundane life and our cultural avatars become so heightened? Younger has taken us on a trip that should not be forgotten…
Gurun Gurun is a Czech group that has been deeply influenced by the extremely delicate, airy style of electro-acoustic music of Japanese artists like Minamo and Sawako. One person on a laptop, another gently caressing the string of a guitar, another hounding a feather with a condenser mic…you surely get the idea– this is an aesthetic that was pioneered in Japan. And they have been opened to this school with welcoming arms– Home Normal, the label on which their new album Kon B was released early in May, is in fact based in Tokyo. On Kon B, the quartet of Federsel, Jara Tarnovski, Ondrej Jezek, and Tomas Knoflicek are joined, in addition to some collaborators closer to their neck of the woods, by Japanese vocalists Cokiyu, Cuushe, and Miko, who wrote lyrics in Japanese for their features. The result is beautifully chaotic but not muddled.
Compositionally, the release is challenging– the pieces seem to swing rapidly from dissonance to consonance, from what sounds to be carefully planned and melodic to what sounds to be free improvisation. Gurun Gurun have crafted an album of mysterious electro-acoustic expedition, with the voices of their trans-cultural collaborators occasionally acting just as other textures in the atmosphere, and other times as the guides that define the musical direction of a section or entirety of a piece. Recommended.
Spazio Sacro, the new album from sound artist Giulio Aldinucci, is covered in a thick gauze of effects that make the slightest gestures reverberate endlessly, if only to amplify their relationship to the steadily beating heart beneath. Aldinucci, who began learning music as a child, writes music for acoustic instruments, but his fine last three albums Aer, Tarsia, and now Spazio Sacro, were synthesized more from field recordings and tones generated from digital and analog hardware. The pieces on Spazio Sacro were culled from childhood memories from rural Tuscany.
One could relate the timbres of Aldinucci’s pieces to those of Simon Scott and Marsen Jules, yet the almost disorienting flurry of dreamily altered scenes and fragments layered over the minimal composition forms an overall style that is hyper-evocative and more musically emotive than their work, almost demanding the listener to search for the secrets held within. The swelling chords and drones evoke the vastness of this landscape just as much as the mystic traditions that have coexisted with it– the album creates a conversation between the epic ambiance of this environment’s accumulated history and its author’s memories. Spazio Sacro is a musically affective and sonically imagistic electro-acoustic work, and certainly the best work that Aldinucci has done to date. This release comes highly recommended to fans of sound art and modern classical music.
Pondfire, the debut solo album of Blind Cave Salamander’s Paul Beauchamp, will be getting a much-deserved release to vinyl from Onga Boring Machines, Old Bicycle Records, and Neon Caffe Rimini. Beauchamp works out of Torino, Italy these days, but he grew up in Muddy Creek, North Carolina, on a farm owned by his grandfather. This album is, in fact, particularly personal because it is dedicated to the memory of Paul’s grandfather and the farm on which Paul and his brother worked and came of age. Pondfire is excellent stuff that breaks the mold of an often too-safe genre with analog techniques that hearken back to some important forebears who worked with effects perhaps cruder than those more in use today.
On Pondfire Beauchamp works with broad strokes– sweeping, watery synth textures and ringing drones often form an eerie call and response. There is a certain starry-eyed spookiness to the voices of analog synths, and Beauchamp knows this…furthermore, the deliberate unnaturalness of the “crying” voice of a singing saw on a track like “Old Philips Bridge” exemplifies perfectly what Beauchamp is going for. Kyle Bobby Dunn seems to take influence from the territory covered in Avec Laudenum…perhaps Beauchamp would be more interested in Encounter (A Journey in the Key of Space). The pieces on Pondfire are minimal, but they were fleshed out with a cold and metallic palette to give them an otherwordly timbre. The imagery that comes to mind time and time again is of a boy stargazing in a cool forest by a pond, in silence.
At the same time, though, Beauchamp’s choice in earthly subject matter distinguishes his work here from the cosmic spaciousness of an album by Michael Stearns, Phillip Wilkerson, or Pulse Emitter. As if to drive home this distinction, the final piece on the album is a brief and innocent duet of a fretted dulcimer and a tinny organ voice. I am reminded a little bit of one of my cult albums: Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, but brought far closer home. This one comes highly recommended to fans of deep ambient and electro-acoustic sounds.
In the Other House is the product of a collaboration that began two years ago between Cristiano Deison and Matteo Uggeri, two wildly prolific noise artists who have been active since the 90’s. The album is intended to be a auditory portrait of an imaginary house and the presences within it, room by room. This strangely beautiful work is easily one of my favorite dark-ambient themed releases of the year. What is truly remarkable is that the pair never actually physically met in the process of recording the album. In the Other House was published through Old Bicycle Records, which will begin shipping out a limited run of an LP June 1st — an offering made all the more attractive considering Francesca Mele’s bewitching album photography.
Deison and Uggeri have stumbled upon a style similar to the “acoustic doom” of Erik Skodvin’s Svarte Greiner, an approach to creating dark ambient sounds that organically stirs powerful emotions in the listener precisely because it is not static or weighed-down– rather, it is defined by the frenetic passage of acoustic details over a steadily ebbing electronic drone. Consquently, on this release, we intuit the spatial characteristics of these rooms in the whine of yielding floorboards and hinges and the presences within them in the superimposed textures from synths. As with much electro-acoustic music, the superrealist sonic clash at the heart of the work carries us deep into the realm of the psychological. Whichever room’s buried secrets recall the imagery of your dreams, In the Other House comes highly recommended to those on the lookout for highly imaginative and organically beautiful dark ambient.
If you are intrigued by this release, I recommend looking into Uggeri’s Sparkle in Grey, who recently put out a split album with Controlled Bleeding called Perversions of the Aging Savant… or better yet, Deison’s dark ambient project with Gianfranco Santoro, Cinise.