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Alapastel * Group Listening




Until now, James Murray is primarily known for his own impressive discography, released on his own Slowcraft label. He also released and produced beautiful albums with his wife Anne Garner as well as different collaborations, such as My Home, Sinking. (While on the subject, don’t forget to check out his beautiful performance at Fluister which can be found [here] and can be downloaded for free).

But it doesn’t stop here: he’s now also the proud owner of a brand new label series called Slowcraft Presents. The inspiration for starting this label came from the music of the Slovakian composer Lukáš ‘Alapastel‘ Bulko, whose Hidden For The Eyes is the first release of this promising label series.
As far as I know, this is also the debut release of Lukáš Bulko, who took his time (eight years) to come to this result.

There is something mysterious about this album: but it is quite hard to pinpoint what it exactly is.
The first association is that it present ‘modern classical’ music, but it is quite far removed from the contemporary classic albums that have defined the genre. It is as much ‘electronic’ as it is ‘classical’ even though the electronics are somewhat hidden in the overall sound. And then there’s the vocals in about half the tracks, performed by Alex Lukáčová and Marián Hrdina. Sung in a language you (or most of you) won’t understand (a link to the Slovakian folk roots), unmistakably present but not very prominently mixed so as a  result they feel very improvised and natural – not classically trained as you might expect in a setting like this .

To be short, this release is definitely something different.
And that probably is exáctly what triggered Murray to release Hidden For The Eyes as the first in a new series “of exceptional, unclassifiable music offered in carefully handcrafted limited editions for people who treasure beautiful audio artefacts.” A promising start for a label with an auspicious mission. The bar is set rather high from here!

I hope, that if we are able to uncover the profound beauty of things, that seem to be hidden, it is possible to become more humble and appreciative of life around us.
(Lukáš Bulko, 2018)


Group Listening


I don’t usually read the information that comes with promos before listening to the music a few times. This way I try to listen to each release without context, regardless of the artist’s history, try to hear it as if it was a debut album by an unknown artist.

When I listened to this Group Listening album, I definitely enjoyed the music but still decided it was not something for Ambientblog. Because it didn’t sound like ‘ambient’ in any way.
Covering the area somewhere between jazz, modern classical and light experimental music, there were vague references to Simon Jeffes’ Penguin Orchestra. Which is a recommendation in itself but not necessarily music for Ambientblog.

However – there was something strange about these arrangements. Some fragments seemed strangely familiar but I could not tell why.
I realised what it was when I got halfway and recognised the theme of Julie With…, a Brian Eno track from Before And After Science that I literally played to death ever since its release in 1977.
Only then it dawned on me, and I realised that I should have known right from the opening track called Wenn Der Südwind Weht – an equally archetypical Roedelius release from 1981: these were (almost unrecognisable) rearrangements of ambient/experimental tracks.
And, in fact, an amazing selection it is, too!

Group Listening is a project by Stephen Black and Paul Jones, who met at music college but since then went their own musical way: Stephen into pop and Paul into jazz. Meeting again after years, they shared their love of music – ambient music among many other genres. The main instruments on Clarinet & Piano: Selected Works Vol. 1 are piano and clarinet (duh, obviously), but while post-production and overdubs are kept to a minimum, their instruments are ‘passed through guitar stomp boxes and other analogue effects to enable processing and manipulation directly in performance, while mbira and drum machines are sparingly deployed amid enveloping folds of space echo..”

Apart from the Roedelius and Brian Eno tracks mentioned, the collection features tracks from Arthur Russell (A Little Lost), Robert Wyatt (Maryan), Euros Child (The Dog), Steve Roach (Snow Canon), Disasterpeace (Jay) and Raymond Scott (The Happy Whistler). You’ll probably only recognise them if you’re familiar enough with the original version, because these tracks are “shot through Group Listening’s electro-acoustic lens, these works evolve into something supremely calming, poignant and new.”

These ‘songs’ are a rewarding listen in their new arrangements – but it’s even more fun when you do some searching to compare these new arrangements to their original versions.

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Solo Collective * Hoshiko Yamane * Mike Lazarev

Solo Collective

Solo Collective


Solo Collective… the name is an interesting contradiction in itself. It is a trio consisting of musicians Alex Stolze (violin, member of Dictaphone)Anne Müller (cello, known for her own work but also for her collaborations with Agnes Obel and Nils Frahm) and Sebastian Reynolds (piano, producer, played sax with The War On Drugs as well as many other activities in the UK alternative music scene).

They operate and perform as a collective, but the ‘Solo’ comes from the fact that each takes a turn in the spotlight with the other two providing supporting roles. The result is a versatile album presenting quite different styles of contemporary chamber music. There is a world of different between the first two tracks: Solo Repeat introduces the album in a relatively conventional way,  while Ascension experiments with the use of strings to creates a literally ‘ascending’ effect. The tracks are followed by quite a different track: the vocal  track Don’t Try To Be.

These tree tracks, taken from a live performance, make up the first half of the album: Life.
The subsequent (studio-)tracks represent Death – closing the album with Holy Island, dedicated to Lindisfarne, Northumberland, the favourite and final resting place of Sebastian’s mother.
Despite presenting this many different styles, the album sound is quite consistent – ‘moving between sonorous string ensemble composition, abrasive electronic textures, processed vocals and atmospheric, evocative piano.’

SOLO COLLECTIVE – HOLY ISLANDAdrienne Hart – choreography

Digital editions can be found [here]; physical [here]


Solo Collective – Silbersee

Hoshiko Yamane


As an introduction it may be interesting to note that Hoshiko Yamane is a member of Tangerine Dream since 2011. But this is just meant to raise your interest, because the music on this album is nothing like the sequencer-based loops you may expect when hearing that reference. Hoshiko Yamane has a lot more to offer: she is a classically trained violinist/composer, started her classical training at the age of 4 and has worked on a multi-faceted career since she moved to Berlin.
In her solo-projects she focuses on minimal and ambient electronic music using the (acoustic) violin. Usually as Tukico, combining looped acoustic violin with techno music.

A Story Of A Man is a short (22 minute) but impressive mini-album released under her own name on the contemporary classical 1631 Recordings label. Five tracks with solo violin music, looped and multi-faceted – leaving out the ‘techno’ but focusing on pure classic minimal music. It’s a beauty – to be enjoyed as a digital download only (no physical release).



Some people seem to have 48 hours in a day instead of 24. Apart from having a full-time day job, Mike Lazarev also runs Headphone Commute – one of the (if not the) most active websites supporting modern classical, ambient and experimental music. And he also found the time to study piano and release his own solo albums since 2016! And that’s not even all the story: he also plays the cello part on Unhinged (Again)!

Dislodged is released on 1631 Recordings which means it is a digital download-only release. It is ‘intended to be listened to as the second half of the Unhinged – mini album’. 

With the close-miked, intimate sound of the piano, Mike Lazarev ‘explores the outer reaches of spatial and reductionist pianism, occasionally echoed by the song of a lonely cello, contributing to the detachment, displacement, and dislocation of a damper pedal, controlling the felt rail which muffles the hammers against the strings.’

(Obviously, Mike is an expert in describing music, so there’s no need for me to rephrase his own words)

Dislodged is a place of isolation, melancholy, and a bit of heartache.’  

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Max Richter – (From) Sleep

Max Richter - Sleep

From 7″-single, 12″-single, vinyl album to compact disc, the physical format has always limited the maximum length of an album. But with internet broadband availability this has stopped being a limiting factor: compositions can be as long as the composer wants them to be.
If you forget about download versions but focus on streaming audio, there is no limit in length at all: check for instance, a web stream of a thousand (!) year long  composition – and a nice one to listen to, too!

This does not mean that there were no long-form compositions ‘before the internet’: around 1985 John Cage (who else!) wrote ‘As SLow aS Possible’ (ASLSP) for organ – it’s performance in Halberstadt, Germany, ‘started in 2001 and is scheduled to have a duration of 639 years, ending in 2640’.

Long-form compositions are a challenge to a composer, because he (she) has to deal with the audience’s relatively short attention span: not many people will be able to focus and keep their concentration for 4 hours or even more.
For this reason, it is no surprise that several long-form experiments are found in the realm of ambient music, and are often written to be played during sleep.
Some examples from this blog alone: Robert Rich‘s Sleep projects Somnium” and Perpetual“, Stephan Mathieu‘s “Nachststücke” and Marsen Jules’ 24 hour version of The Endless Change of Colour“. And let’s not forget about Leif Inge‘s 24 hours stretched version of Beethoven’s Ninth (9Beet Stretch“)!

Enter Max Richter, who recently surprised the musical world with his latest project called SLEEP” an 8 hour (+ 24 minutes)  composition, intended to help you sleep.
It is not a drone piece, but a set of 31 ‘variations’ meant to be played in a continuous sequence. It is not a purely electronic piece either (although there is a significant role for synth and electronics). The main themes are performed by a real-life ensemble: the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, featuring the beautiful soprano voice of Grace Davidson and Max Richter himself playing piano, organ, synth and electronics.
Different sleep phases are represented with their own variations. The thematic parts – performed in various settings by the acoustic ensemble – representing the moments of lighter sleep, while phases of deep sleep are guided by less distinct synth drones and abstract soundscapes.

“It is a piece that is meant to be listened to at night.”

Its purpose is nót to be a full-fledged dramatic symphony with extreme dynamics. That would only keep you awake. The basic themes sound deceptively simple, and are often repeated in (slightly) different variations – resulting in a soothing effect, a vaguely familiar feeling.
But don’t underestimate the difficulty of playing relatively ‘simple’ themes like this – especially in a live setting!

“Somehow, in Europe, over the last century, as complexity and inaccessibility became equated with intelligence and the avant-garde, we lost something along the way. Modernism gave us so many stunning works, but we also lost our lullabies.”

But: lullabies had a specific purpose – they were sung to help you fall asleep. They were not sung continuously for the rest of the night until you woke up… So how is this different?

“It’s a set of questions. Is there a difference between ‘listening’ to music and ‘hearing’ it? Is there even such a thing as listening while you’re sleeping, because we don’t ascribe that sort of intentionality to sleep?”

To be honest: I have tried but could not sleep to it very well. Partly because I’m a light sleeper, but also because there are certain aspects in the work that do demand attention – it is not completely ‘ignorable’.
So I prefer playing it at daytime. It has the exact length of a working day, and proves to be a great accompaniment for a full days work, at home, alone.
I found out that the piece does not become boring or irritating for a single moment – and in fact that was a big surprise for me because I expected it to be almost impossible to listen to a work like this uninterrupted, while awake. The repeating themes effectively work their way into your subconscious; they are like a favourite hit-single on heavy radio rotation.
And, after the piece is ended and switched off, they won’t easily leave your mind.

Due to it’s length, SLEEP” can only be downloaded as MP3-album.
Unfortunately, Deutsche Grammophon has decided to offer it through iTunes only. A strange choice, since it should’ve been offered cross-platform of course, preferrably with the choice of lossless versions too. Many have asked that question so who knows what will happen in the near future.

From Sleep

Not everyone will have the patience to sit through a composition of this length.
For those (ánd for those that want physical copies), there is also a one hour edition, from SLEEP, released on vinyl and CD. This is a kind of ‘abstract’ from the larger work, containing different and shorter versions of the full-scale variations.
And, if that is still not enough for you, you may want to check Rough Trade, who made this their album of the month and include yet another 3-track (30 minute) bonus CD!

Also on Spotify

(from ‘from SLEEP’)

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Kenneth Kirschner – Compressions & Rarefactions

Kenneth Kirschner - Compressions

It is hard to find the right words for the music of Kenneth Kirschnerbecause it seems to defy all familiar concepts we have about music. If you’re not familiar to his name, you may want to check out the Imperfect Forms project, which offers a lot of music and a book filled with insightful articles about his work.
Or, you may head straight to his own website, offering an abundance of adventurous music free to download.
But be prepared to let go of all your preconceptions about musical composition and the notion of time!

With all that music available, most of it for free (or almost free), releasing a ‘traditional’ CD seems a bit risky from a commercial perspective.
But this is not ‘traditional’, and any ‘commercial perspective’ may be completely irrelevant in this case. So with releasing Compressions & Rarefactions – the fourth Kenneth Kirschner solo release for this label – 12K continues to show their indefatigable respect for this composer and his work.
And this offers us, the listeners, a chance to show gratitude for all the music that was previously given us for free – simply by buying this album!

With the average length of the compositions, a CD is not really a fitting physical format. This is why Compressions & Rarefactions comes in a unique combination: the CD features two tracks (the Compression part), 29:20 and 24:40, respectively, but it comes with an additional download of three pieces (the Rarefactions) bringing the total playing time to six hours and 42 minutes!
(Yes, read that again: two of the additional three pieces are over two hours in length, the third is 96 minutes!!)

The sheer length of the compositions requires a different mindset when listening to this music: it’s (virtually) impossible to listen concentrated throughout the entire piece.

It was Brian Eno who once described ambient music as ‘music that is as ignorable as it is interesting’ – and it may very well be Kenneth Kirschner taking this concept to the extreme (although I wouldn’t call this ambient music – post-classical chamber music would be a better description for some of the pieces).

Listen, for example, to the second track, April 16, 2013:  a Steve Reich-like composition based on repetition of a dense hi-speed pattern of tuned percussion (bells, glockenspiel, xlophones) that may get you nervous at the start but gradually seem to fall into place to a calming effect without losing their pace.
Or is it the listener that finds his spot in the composition and so ‘falls into place’ himself?

“The title, Compressions & Rarefactions, refers most directly to the physics of sound: the pressure waves in air that are the physical component underlying what we perceive as sound. this is music that alternates between extreme density and extreme sparsity, using those contrasts as a major expressive element as they alternate like waves of pressure and absence in air.”

July 17, 2010 is created entirely with sounds derived from everyday kitchen drinking glasses (with the effect of summer night crickets and windchime-like sounds).
Other pieces sound like they’re performed by small ensembles of classical acoustic instruments. Sometimes these are ‘electronically realized – thus allowing both subtle and radical alterations that aren’t possible with traditional instrumentation”.
On the final track, October 13, 2012, Tawny Popoff’s viola performance is heavily layered and processed “to create  sort of ‘polyphonic viola'”

The CD is packed in a foldout cover with artwork (undisgraced by any lettering, not even on the back spine) by Kysa Johnsonwhose ‘subatomic decay patterns’ are a perfect visualisation of the music.

“I think Kenneth and I think a lot about the same things. Time, space, repetition, pattern, the very very big and the very very small. There’s an effort to be a part of the continuum and to recognize it, to try to remove the self if possible in a recognition of the bigger things. Also, neither of us is afraid of the dark.”

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