Sunday, 28 July 2013

Live - Aether Music: Saran Angliss + Time Attendant - Fri 19th July, The Horse Hospital, London

This live event, taking place in the lovely environs of The Horse Hospital, near London's Russell Square, was a double bill of music not so much inhabiting the uncanny valley as dynamiting deeper trenches within it. 

First act, Paul Snowdon's Time Attendant alias, stirred a cauldron of liquid beat driven electronic bloop 'n' hiss.  His set mapped a circuitous archipelago populated with a skewed and melted rhythmic logic.  Hunched over a table packed with wires, pedals, dials, and switches; Time Attendant whipped up trills of upper register wobble, bedded within clicks and shredded 8-bit beeps, deft sighs, shuddering fuzz, swipes of wah, bass drones, and garbled voices from the beyond.  It never felt too process-driven, the sound twisted and unfolded in an intuitive and seemingly improvised manner, full of possibility and wide open imaginative spaces.  Never a machine-dominant set, a sense of real struggle and human ingenuity was always evident, split and routed through wires and alien translation.  A perfomance that was alternately sweet and caustic, haunted and corporeal, structured and chaotic; Time Attendant was a stylophonic maestro, a wizard of wires.

Next, Sarah Angliss took to the stage, flanked by Wolfgang and Hugo, a pair of deeply eerie automatons.  The heat of the evening added a fever-dream element to the surreal proceedings, Angliss fearing that we were "almost at the melting point of plastic", which seemed to correspond with the melting point of my brain.  Her set was a miniature chamber-orchestra of bells, smeared voices, bowed saw, keyboard, and whirring ventriloquist head.  Fundamentally strange but enticingly so, like an inviting haunted house, Angliss presided over a series of sound pieces and subtle torch songs that included some wonderful moments.  Among them were: Wolfgang thumping drum pads, his "little heartbeat dispossed" over a mossy pot of rotting loops, decayed melody and human panting; a flexing, breathing handbag at the side of the stage, expanding and contracting in troubling unision with the music; a duet with sister, Jenny, her partner in Spacedog, for a song about the Lankin, a baby snatching mythical intruder: the sound of a squelching infant gargle, effortlessly disturbing and throught provoking.  My favourite part of the evening was a nautical love song with beautiful lyrics, addressed to a submariner , "I'll lick the minerals from your skin, if you'll lay upon this bed of mine"; the music encompassed washes of tide, sonar pings, and aquatic distortion; a magical, captivating electro-ballad.

Aether Music was entirely successful; it would be difficult to find an evening of more beguiling, fascinating music.  An evening that conjured folklore and monsters from machines and robots, with a full beating heart nestled within a barbed nest of wires, humming with electricity.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Ape Explorer - Family Hole (Auditory Field Theory)

The Auditory Field Theory label specialises in deep weirdness, a discombobulating window onto shining zones of oddness; each release distinct but tied to the general output by a commitment to exploring cracked states of reality. 

'Family Hole' by Ape Explorer fits neatly into this somewhat un-neat niche, but keeps a foot in the "real" of more easily comprehensible musical forms.  The creeping proto-dubstep of 'He Stabs Himself in the Eye with the Crystal to Gain Her Power' clashes a creeping tempo and crisp drum kicks up against rhythm shifting synth bubbles and a shivering high-end sparkle that drops in and out of the mix.  'Flashback (2044)' is smeared techno; the beats offering a solid grid into which tweaked voices repeat the word "naturally" in a perpetual hypnotic loop, the words chopped, stretched, and sometimes clipped into individual syllables.  'B04 Puh Guh Xplor' again employs a firm techno beat, but uses this as a framing device for an opiated fugue of sighs, melted crackle, clangs, and vocal mumblings.

The album also contains some properly unhinged material, in which no compromise is attempted.  The introductory track is a record of a voice recounting a story around a crackling fire, owls hooting and insects rustling in the background; the voice is blurred, the meaning of its words subverted.  'Flashback (Boredism)' is another voice recording, talking about "scouse birds" and "fuckin' bastard kiddies' rides",  interrupted by a twisting hip-hop instrumental, full of hiss and static.  'Flashback (Billy's Green)' is utterly bizarre, a concrete mash-up of voices, clopping percussion, and the sound of smashing glass filtered through dub effects; it all fades away into a faltering and collapsing beat; the music dying and bleeding away into nothing.

Ape Explorer's 'Family Hole' is a homeless drunk, mumbling the secrets of the universe in solitutude, secrets that can only be glimpsed and relayed through a fog of addled insensibility; obscure cosmic truths melted and corrupted into forms not meant to hold them.  Like a broken cassette holding an incomprehensible Ultimate Answer.

Purchase the album here.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Russell M. Harmon - We Are Failed (Rano)

Russell M. Harmon's 'We Are Failed' on Rano records is an alternately melancholy and violent album composed with piano and electronics; its ear pummelling harshness and heart pulling softness existing in a gripping balance.  The first half is Harmon's solo compositions; the second contains remixes and re-workings of the same tracks.

Opener 'Amidst Wolves' evokes the whispering taut wire harmonics of Richard Skelton, an aural vision of sighing tundral wastes; the piece flexes with gentle heaving, like someone softly crying; a beautiful scene-setter.  'Without You, I'd Cease' opens yawning gaps of silence between glitch clicks and clusters of deftly picked-out piano notes; structured with a layered progression, a slowly unfolding stairway; bursts of static mirror the melody, building steadily and unhurriedly to a crescendo of crashing drums, like a deluge of rain that suddenly stops.  'Like Blood off a Dove's Back' buries singly picked piano notes in a torrent of metallic noise, these sudden interruptions backlighting the stark melody.  'Tragedy Fractures' returns to languidly unfolding dynamics, a lonely satellite ping emphasises a feeling of isolation, the ringing piano chords hanging and humming in space.  'An End to Everything, The Ending Means Everything' closes the first half of the album perfectly; a deceptively simple melody unfolds beautifully with an aching sadness into something more complex, adorned with very little else but sighing electronics; a powerful and moving composition.

The latter half of the album contains remixes that alternately shatter, deconstruct, or underline elements buried within each track.  The highlight is Laica's remix of 'Tragedy Fractures': a whooshing foetus heartbeat sounding like a revolving fan underpinning washes of dub echo and a cropped piano refrain, it rolls on exquisitely. 

A sense of stifling gloom hangs over 'We Are Failed', its frequent noise outbursts offering a much needed cathartic release.  It feels close and still; the subtle arrangements and silence cause the listener to lean in and concentrate.  The electronics seem to duet in opposition to the piano rather than smear together with it; noise and clamour throwing the simple emotiveness of the melodies into sharp definition.

Purchase the album here.

Visit Russell M. Harmon's website here.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Hannah Marshall - Tulse Hill (Linear Obsessional Recordings)

This album from London improvising cellist Hannah Marshall contains a set of de-tuned cello instrumentals utilising rhythmic repetition and field recordings; the two elements imagined by Marshall as a series of meals with complimentary but contrasting ingredients.

The improvisations unfold naturally and organically, as simple repetitions branch out in small increments, like a suite of minimalist solo compositions.  String beats drop in and out, shifting the structure of each piece until they rarely resemble their beginnings.  Hannah Marshall really explores each avenue that opens up, a sense of openness throughout keeps the album bright and engaging.  The variety of sound created conceals the simple set-up; at times Marshall conjures what seems to be a small gamelan chamber group, or, on 'Near Coincidence', a duo of mountain folk players.  Field recordings and subtle electronics are closely weaved into the mix, rewarding close and repeated listening; 'Forge' unites scraping and squeaking bowed drones with the drumming of rain on a roof, and 'Too' embeds cyclical plucks and CD-skipping halts in a cloud of soft fog-horn moans.

As well as being an active member of various improvising ensembles, with 'Tulse Hill' Hannah Marshall has proven herself to be a solo player of imagination and intelligence; recording an album of deceptively simple but very rewarding and hypnotic music.  A series of small meals that combine in a feast for the ears and mind.

Purchase the album here.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Prada & Oregon - His Past of Heaven​-​Floor Permanents - Her Lufa (Auditory Field Theory)

“A light coating of dust covered the bodywork and seats, as if the car were already a distant memory of itself, the lapsed time condensing on it like dew.” – J.G. Ballard, The Drought
This project of Susan Balmer is apparently constructed from several tape loops that develop over time. As soon as side 1 of the tape begins with ‘Everything Turning Into a 5L Bottle of PVA’, her methods seem largely irrelevant; it quickly conjures a vivid aural illusion of field recordings, humming electronics, loops, machine gunk, brain flexing synthscapes, feedback and oddly processed noise.; it slides by like a dream, or a beautiful spectral transmission from a planet composed of audio fluff and sonic detritus.  Which is where the Ballard quote comes in; the whole piece sounds choked with dust and age but in no way decrepit, merely like something long lost but rediscovered; something from a time and place where music was made differently.  The temporal space it exists in is very odd, the piece as a whole seems to vanish all too soon but individual moments freeze and dissect the mind.  Like a dream-creature, it sits and gathers sounds around itself, creating a sonic fur of surreal lustrous brilliance.  A truly weird piece of music; otherworldly and inhuman but completely captivatingly intuitive; it seems so organic as to be almost sentient; perhaps listened to you while you listen to it, as confused and bewildered as you are.
The second side’Her Margin of the Great Mao Eastern Barrier’ is more easily comprehensible as noise music.  A drilling, violent intensity is eventually buried in cosmic drone and whirling smashed organ rumble before being eaten by some kind of crunching compacting software algorithm
Another great release from Auditory Field Theory, part  1 of ‘His Past of Heaven-Floor Permanents - Her Lufa’ is a minor-masterpiece of head wrecking psych madness; posted from a world who’s denizens are only capable of saying, over and over:  “What the hell is going on?”; these same six words forming an infinite mantra of enlightened confusion.
This is a tape with two sides but 13 dimensions.
Request entry to its sound-portal via pan-dimensional courier here.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Laica - Puls (Rano)

Music writer and producer Laica has come up with the goods on 'Puls', a tape containing two sides of reverberant cellar techno.

Side one contains ‘Puls (Complete)’ a brilliant piece of propulsive nocturnal electronica.  The sound design is excellent; drifting palls of fuzz, like smoke from a fire enshrouds everything in a thin sonic fog; there are also gaping drops into echoing dub chasms, and percussive snaps popping like bubbles, causing ripples to bounce up against beats and bass in a constant pattern of harmonious disruption.  The production is thick with detail, a feast for the ears, a parade of racing activity under an overcast sky and an ever-present drizzle of static; shards of garbled MCs, smeared guitars, gusts of brass, and a pulsing bass heartbeat.  Gripping throughout its twenty minute duration, it has a real dynamic flux and shift which at times recalls Wolfgang Voight's Gas, but with that project's doom-house aesthetic shot through with an urban noir bounce: music for wet streets and littered subways rather than history-soaked German forests.

The second side ‘Puls (2nd Step, 1st Link)’ is a more aggressive prospect; a rattling machine gun attack.  Beats slip like a violently tugged chain through an iron loop.  A burbling chemistry set of rancid semi-industrial electronics fill the track with turbulence and glitch.  This is an assault in stark contrast to the preceding track's seduction.  It eventually explores relatively more placid areas but even here a bulbous tension is evident, twitching beneath a deceptively still surface.

‘Puls’ is a fiercely engaging work, clashing techno up against ambient sound art in a gripping display of artistic and compositional skill.

Purchase the album here.

Read 'We Are Darkfloor' here.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Norah Lorway - Fade (Xylem Records)

‘Fade’ is a suite of software manipulated soundscapes from laptop performer and composer Norah Lorway.  The music derives from acoustic sources: field recordings, pianos and clarinets, which have been transformed into a diverse set of stunning ambient compositions.
‘Spheres’ recalls the work of Ligeti in its discordance and sustained alien rumbling.  ’Fade’ leaves weaving lines of clarinet unadorned in a bed of shivering glassy harmonics, a frosty background drone approaches and recedes in close unison with the deftly curling Debussy-like calm of the foreground elements.  ‘You Are Here’ is heart-stopping; a whispering, sighing, and graceful few minutes of aching stillness.  ‘Shimmer’ complements the previous track but with a subtle sub-bass wobble and ringing chopped piano notes.  Final track ‘Twitch’ pairs insectoid rattles with bubbling synth textures, like the opening build-up of Keith Fullerton Whitman’s ‘Lisbon’; here, Lorway invokes an occasional undertone of menace with falls into echoing silence, the sound sometimes almost dropping out entirely, returning in drizzling gusts of static.
‘Fade’ is a brilliantly accomplished album; the electronic and acoustic ingredients co-exist in perfect balance, each informing the other, blurring the boundaries between them.  Like the best ambient music, it will invade your surroundings during its all too brief duration.  It is a sophisticated work; but simple in its beauty.  'Fade' echoes around the mind long after it ends; like a melancholy dream, softly recalled, that colours your waking moments.
Purchase 'Fade' here.