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Matthijs Kouw * BJ Nilsen

Matthijs Kouw - Obscurum

Matthijs Kouw - Obscurum

MATTHIJS KOUW – OBSCURUM PER OBSCURIUS  Also on Spotify

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

BJ NILSEN – FOCUS INTENSITY POWER  Also on Spotify

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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Michael Begg * BJ Nilsen

Michael Begg - Titan

Michael Begg - Titan

MICHAEL BEGG – TITAN – A CRANE IS A BRIDGE

If you know Michael Begg for his work with Fovea Hex only, his work as Human Greed or under his own name may come as a surprise: it is far more experimental – and often much darker in nature.

Titan – A Crane Is A Bride  is a great example of the way he merges experimental soundscapes with theatrical orchestrations.
It is the stereo version of the quadraphonic work commissioned by Cryptic for the 2017 Sonic-a Festival: a location project housed in the wheelhouse on top of the Clydebank Titan, 150 ft above the river Clyde.

The Aeolian Harps that were stationed at the top of the crane for the duration of the festival are the main performers here. The sound of the wind playing with the strings can be manipulated somewhat, but they will always stay incalculable by nature. Begg’s instrumentation (strings and electronics) leaves the song of the aeolian harps intact but adds a striking emotional dimension to it. It is as if the Titan Crane tells its tales – fierce, sad, contemplative –  struggling against the wind, and warns us about the state of the world we live in.

“In the face of a sociopolitical climate increasingly founded on fear, mistrust, closing borders, and the enforced alienation – geo-politically, economically, culturally and psychologically – of nation states and their populations, Titan stands, brazen and severe, as an articulation of the increasingly endangered idea that real strength, real character, real value, is in the realm of reaching out with all the skills at ones disposal – engineering, manufacture, imagination, collective endeavour, BUILDING – to connect with the world beyond our borders.”

Industrial field recordings are often just that: objective recordings of sounds. But with Michael Begg’s instrumentation, the Titan Crane feels like a living creature. One that tells us an important story.. if only we listen.

I personally hope the surround (quad) version will also become available in the future. But this stereo version definitely is immersive – and impressive – enough too!


BJ Nilsen - Massif Trophies

BJ NILSEN – MASSIF TROPHIES  Also on Spotify

While Michael Begg places his field recordings in a musical setting that alters its origins, BJ Nilsen often presents the sounds of nature as it – and in unmatched sound quality.
I assume there will still be a lot of editing and sound manipulation necessary to get to a sonic result like this, but still it feels as though you are actually standing at the original recording location.
Before listening to Massif Trophies, you might keep some extra clothes at hand – a hiking trip in the Gran Paradiso alpine mountains does not guarantee good weather.

It’s not ‘just’ the Sound of Nature, however – above all Massif Trophies is a, experimental, ‘musical’ album. Details like background drones and manipulations of the environmental recordings are added to tell the story of the tough trip through the mountains.
The album starts with the natural sounds of thunder (Alpe Djouan, Rough Grazing), but also presents a drone piece where the environmental sounds are moved to the background (Eaux Rousses).

“Drawn to the monotonous and physical effort that mountains and high altitudes contributes, this [hiking trip] became one of the main inspirations for the album, reflecting upon the perception of the landscape during several hours of physical difficulty, let alone rapid weather changes, horizontal thunderstorms and rock avalanches.”

Especially recommended for all of us that like adventurous armchair travelling!

Note: Bandcamp link only offers digital download. Click this link to get the vinyl version.

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