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Matthijs Kouw * BJ Nilsen

Matthijs Kouw - Obscurum

Matthijs Kouw - Obscurum


Operating under his own name as well as MVK and Swerve, Matthijs Kouw (his second name is Vincent, hence the V) has released music since 2011. Solo work as well as collaborations, works for dance, film theater and installations. Most recently, he focuses on long-form drone pieces, often in collaboration with Radboud Mens (follow-up albums of 1 are about to be released).

Obscurum per obscurius is a latin phrase that can be translated as ‘(explaining) the obscure by means of the more obscure’. A well-chosen title for this collection of investigations of ‘obscure’ (or mysterious) drones. Drones that ‘were composed over an extended period of time through a laborious and intensive practice, in which moments of creative inspiration and creation, fraught with possibility, have ultimately become obscured in the final work presented here’.

Sometimes, a subtle rhythm seems to emerge from the depth: in Untitled 3 I can’t help to hear a pulse that sounds like an offbeat reggae rhythm guitar. But this is an exception (and hardly anything you will want to dance to): most of the material presents otherwordly gazes into deep alien sounds, found by Matthijs Kouw trying to explain ‘the riddles of matter involved the projection of yet another mystery, namely the alchemist’s own gaze and approach, into what was to be explained’.

BJ Nilsen Focus Intensity Power


Swedish (but now Amsterdam-based) sound artist BJ Nilsen may be primarily associated with his albums using impeccably recorded field-recordings, but his albums were always more than just ‘archival sounds’: by careful re-arranging and subtle manipulation he investigates ‘the sound of nature and its effect on humans.’
For Focus Intensity Power, however, the main sound sources are not exactly ‘natural’ but strictly electronic. Maybe the difference is not that great after all: electronic sources, hums, buzzes, clicks and radiation are an unavoidable part of our aural daily environment.

Nilsen recorded the album during a short residency at the Willem Twee Electronic Music Studio in Den Bosch, where he must have felt like a child in a candy store among all the anachronistic analog sound devices and vintage synthesizers (such as the legendary ARP 2500 modular synth pictured here). As the liner notes say: ‘he exchanged his wax rain coat for the white laboratory mantle.’

Focus Intensity Power reflects his improvised sessions using modular synths, tone generators and test and measure instruments collected in this studio. The album is filled with  a ‘red thread of analog pulse, droning waves and subtle and surprising noise interventions’.
According to Nilsen there is no underlying concept to the record, but for the listener it’s not very hard to find one. This is the sound of machines talking to us in a strange language, a language we can hear but barely understand. It is a sound to get lost in completely – if it weren’t for the fact that Nilsen accentuates the machines dependency by suddenly ending a track, cutting it off as if he flips a switch.

If you are remotely interested in the nature of electronic sound, in the very soul of electronic devices, this is an album to investigate.

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Unland; Elderbranch Campaign; Wouter van Veldhoven

Wouter van Veldhoven - A Head Stuck In Tapes

Unland - Die Ruhe

The quiet before the storm can be frightening, because you don’t know what’s to come. The quiet áfter the storm can be reassuring – depending on the fierceness of the storm – because you know the storm has passed.
Unland is a german trio consisting of Jonas Meyer (piano, effects), Christian Grothe (guitar, effects, sampler) and Shabnam Parvesh (clarinet). They create “improvised soundscapes between conventional composition and digital abstraction”.   Not too digital, since their core instruments are acoustic, and their sound is, too, although the instruments are manipulated in real-time.
This relatively short album (29 minutes) demonstrates their sound, which “defies any definition and is influenced by jazz, classical music, kraut-rock and ambient-meditations.”

Unland – Die Ruhe Nach Dem Sturm

Elderbranch Campaign

I must admit that I had not heard of The Elderbranch Campaign before, but it turns out this duo (G.M. Slater and Stephen Robert Rook Thompson) have already released quite a few titles since 2012: Sacred Songs of the Field is their 11th album.
It’s an homage to other albums dedicated to animals, such as The Residents’ “Animal Lover” and Pink Floyd‘s “Animals”.  It contains three long tracks that, in their own words ‘showcase their interpretation of how animals (in this case sheep, pigs and dogs) would express themselves musically’.
That was not exactly what I thought of when listening to The Lamentations of Sheep, The Sacrifice of Pigs and The Passion of Dogs, but it’s an interesting thought anyway. Not the happiest animals, apparently, because these dark ambient soundscapes are quite haunting and hardly leave room for light to enter.
But they are a fascinating set of sculptures created from synths, guitars, found objects, voices and processed field recordings.
‘Absolutely best experiences over headphones’.

Also on Spotify

Wouter van Veldhoven - A Head Stuck In Tapes

This is simply presented as a collection of unreleased works. The reason why they remained unreleased, even when there were enough labels interested in releasing his work, is Wouter Van Veldhoven‘s personal insecurity about the musical results:
“[I] have often delayed releases to a point where I didn’t want to release the material at all anymore. For now I am not going to release anything until I might accidentally might create something I would really like to release.”

His insecurity may be somewhat understandable if you’re familiar with his audio-visual performances, the complex contraptions of his reel-to-reel tape recorder performances. There is as much to see as there is to hear – there is definitely much more going on than “just” audio. But still, I think he underestimates the power of his music!
The proof of that is in this collection of almost 2 hours of unreleased material, which demonstrates Van Veldhoven’s unique (deteriorated) sound created by interplaying vintage (and often worn-out) tape-recorders.
Because he considers this as ‘unfinished’ music, not intended for official releases, this collection is presented as a Free/Name Your Price download!

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Rion – Fireflies


Ian Hawgood will probably be a familiar name to most: apart from making ambient music he’s also running the well-respected Home Normal label. Ryo Nakata’s name might not immediately ring a bell, but he may be better knows as Ryonkt.

With Fireflies“, released on the Hibernate label, the duo works together for the first time as Rion.

Fireflies is “inspired by the magic of low light periods and the quietude of a summer spent in the countryside.”

While this description may sound like an introduction to any average drone-ambient album, the result of this collaboration is remarkably different from most others.

Over a two year period, Ryo and Ian worked on this album, adding layers of drone guitar, field recordings (I guess you can actually hear the fireflies fly by at some point) and various other instruments recorded in different locations.

The different overall sound on this album is the result of their recording process, where each of the additional sound was recorded to a small multitrack cassette and then multilayered onto reels. This means no software or laptops were used!
Another result of this process is that the overall sound is somewhat more intrusive, unless you play it on a very low volume. When played on a higher volume, it definitely requires active listening.

Despite the introduction with ‘summer quietude in the countryside’, I felt that some parts also seemed to describe ‘low light city life’ – like the ‘decayed, urban environment’ captured on the cover photography (by Fabio Orsi).

Not everything may be quiet, peaceful and natural. But there’s beauty to be found everywhere you look – it just may depend on the eye of the beholder…

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Ken Camden; Sense; Purejunk; Seabat; 70 Years of Sunshine

Krank 180

‘Electronic music’ sound design is often searching for ‘new’ and (if possible) previously unheard sounds.
But others prefer to look back – back to the time when electronic music was a new frontier to be crossed, the time when the sounds of (analog) electronic music was automatically related to space travel.
Here’s a roundup of some new retro sounds.

Ken Camden - Space Mirror

On this second release for the Kranky label, Ken Camden “allows the listener to be suspended in a gravity free environment”.
You may not immediately recognise it, but his ‘vessel of choice’ is the guitar, electronically modified into pulsating loops and sequences that “could be a soundtrack to an epic 60’s science-fiction film, or a long forgotten grade school educational film strip explaining how humans would be living on Mars early in the 21st century”.
“Back to the Future” is simply the most appropriate description here!

Ken Camden – Antares

Sense - The Dream

The darker droning of the first first tracks do not immediately reveal it, but when the sequencer patterns slowly begin to surface it’s clear that Adam Raibeck also draws his inspiration from the rich history of electronic music. The view of the future is considerably darker here, yet for Adam “this album is about the constant realisation of ‘reality’ and the ‘dream’…”
At the time of writing, only 12 physical copies of this limited release are still available. But luckily the download version will remain after that.

Sense – Nonlineareally

Pure Junk - Dreamachine

(*) Release date – september 9, check Pedigree Cuts label website for details.
Including this album in a ‘retro overview’ like this particular post does not exactly do it justice, since it does not ‘just’ draws its inspiration from the past.
This album is as eclectic as the music of the artists that Tim ‘Purejunk’ Handels has shared the Crammed Disc label with in the past: artists like Hector Zazou, John Lurie, Fred Frith but also Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson and Juryman clearly left some of their inspiration for him to use.
Flowing from retro-style synth sequences to melancholic piano intermezzo’s and warm guitar tracks, this albums offers “Sixty minutes of pure, unadulterated daydreaming, a stream of consciousness, ranging from pure and awe inspiring musical imagery to dark and mysterious ethereal realities. The sounds are musical alpha waves and sensory soundtracks, each coming from a different emotion, from a different place”.

Purejunk – Aural Evolution (Mute)

Scattered Disc

With the opening sounds like a soundtrack from a Hollywood multi-million-dollar production, NYC ambient duo Seabat introduce their ‘full length space opus’, claiming your full attention.The cinematic reference is clear, since their inspiration comes from filmmakers Tarkoswsky and Kubrick and ‘cosmic synth pioneers Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and Cluster’.
Name-dropping is always dangerous, especially if you drop names like these, but Seabat live up to their claims, taking ‘the listener into the cold reaches of outer space – where the views are awe-inspiring and beautiful, but ultimately inhospitable to humanity’.

70 years of sunshine

From Outer Space right back to you Inner Conscience: celebrating the 70th anniversary of Dr. Albert Hoffman‘s accidental discovery of the effects of LSD in 1943.
70 YEARS OF SUNSHINE is the follow up of 1993’s remarkable 50 Years of Sunshine” compilation, once more compiled and curated by Kim Cascone.
Judging by the numbers alone, he probably should’ve wait another five years to make the jump from 75 on to 100, but listening to this album album I’m glad he didn’t.
To be honest I have no experience in using LSD (and no desire to do so), but these two albums (divided into ‘Ascent‘ and ‘Descent‘, obviously) clearly are an enjoyable auditory equivalent to a psychedelic acid trip.
Kim Cascone 
has managed to build an incredible line-up, with contemporary artists as well as some firmly rooted in the history of psychedelica. Too much to mention, so just a selection: Legendary Pink Dots, Andrew Liles, Makyo, Chihei Hatakeyama, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Rapoon, Mystical Sun, and a host of (for me) unfamiliar names.
“Consider ’70 years of Sunshine’ to be a much-anticipated software update. One that will hopefully make your auditory operating system run smoother and more colorfully.”

Legendary Pink Dots – Don’t Worry Dear, I’ll be Holding Your Hand

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Greg Haines – Where We Were


Where We Were

His past catalogue and  (maybe even more) his live performances have shown that Greg Haines manages to combine artistic consistency with surprising changes of directions.

One never knows what to expect, but one can always rest assured it will be good..

On a first listen, Where We Were, Haines’ new release on Denovali Records, sounds surprisingly different from what he has done before.

The sound on this album is heavily based on the use of “tape-worn synthesizers” – “any recordings of piano have been transformed and affected until their sound is at times barely recognizable”.

The overall sound is created with (analog) synths this time, more prominent than ever. But on a closer listen the compositions all clearly have the Greg Haines mark!

The way the compositions are calmly introduced but inevitably lead to sometimes ‘post-rockish’ eruptions may be directly linked to Digressions – the preceding album which was equally jaw-dropping – but they are entirely different in instrumentation. Check “So it Goes” to hear what I mean.

Gradually new elements are also introduced: heavy rhythmic percussive sequences, full of dub style effects inspired by the likes of King Tubby, Lee Perryand Rhythm & Sound.

Some other artists credited for inspiration are Tony Allen (famous Fela Kuti drummer known for his steady poly-rhythmic afrobeat) and ‘cosmic krautrockers’ Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze.

These are interesting names because they are not very obvious and maybe not even very clear, musically. But what all of these artists have in common is that they did not yet have the technical means that are currently available, digitally.
It was impossible for them to precisely aim every detail of their music to the perfect right spot, which gave their music a somewhat random, improvisational, but above all human feel.

And that may very well describe exactly what Greg Haines manages to do here: avoiding the pitfalls of perfectness, and keeping the instantaneous moments of wonder.
“It is all in there, or at least what’s left of it after the hiss, the dirt and the degradation of the tape machine destroyed it, reworked it, and spat it back out fully formed.”

Release date: May 24, 2013


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Frank Rothkamm – ALT


Frank Rothkamm is a composer as well as a conceptual artists. You can tell when visiting his website, but also when reading the promo text for this new CD: “He cultivates enigmas <…>In fact, Rothkamm is a magician, a prestidigitation theoretician, and a carny all in one”.

Wow. Big Words. Want more? Read [here]!

But luckily he’s not without humour. His discography boasts 21 releases – among which Opus Spongebobicum, a set of piano variations on the first ten notes from the “Spongebob Squarepants” theme song. (Don’t know it, but I’d love to hear it!)

His latest release, ALT is released on the Baskaru label. It is a collection of ‘analog computers & algorithms’, created between 1989 and 2009.

It’s a diverse collection of sounds. Sometimes based around the beautiful old-fashioned sounds of analog synths, like the opener AAA, but also featuring string loop tracks (GUI)  and choir samples reminiscent of some tracks by Biosphere (OOO , featured below).
All tracks explore a different starting point, and the result is a varied album full of quite accessible electronic music.

On ALT I have set up iterative procedures on physical machines (as opposed to a linear process in software). Once the process is in motion, no or minimal intervention takes place. Each piece on ALT has the same premise: to create an infinity machine, a deus ex machina, to experience an infinite process in a finite amount of time.”

The last statement is especially true, since most of the 10 tracks on ALT are fairly short – the full album finishes after just 40 minutes. So to ‘experience an infinite process’ you probably will have to put it on repeat. 

Though this album conceptually is quite different to most other ‘ambient/electronic’ albums, the result will obviously please anyone interested in electronic sounds.
So, to conclude with another quote from the promo text: “ALT makes an excellent introduction to the Rothkammian mystery.”

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