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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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Siavash Amini * Amini & Umchunga

Amini - Umchunga

Foras

SIAVASH AMINI – FORAS  Also on Spotify

Foras (meaning ‘Outside’ in Latin) is Siavash Amini‘s sixth solo album in six years, and his second release for Hallow Ground. With four track covering 38 minutes it is a relatively short album, but Amini does not need more than that to express what he wants to.

The opener First Came Their Shadows warns us for what’s to come, with sonic outbursts as well as foreboding calm. The track titles reveal that the atmosphere will not get much ‘lighter’: Aporia (‘the expression of doubt’, definitely the noisiest track of the set), The Beclouding, Shadow of their Shadows.

Foras want to explore ‘how individual sorrow relates to and is triggered by space’, focusing on ‘how landscapes and buildings connect to and transform the inside world and thus the psychological experience’.
Using field recordings he made ‘in places over which a deep sense of darkness looms’, he blends ‘harsh electronic noise with lush granular synthesis and classical composition techniques.’ With four intense, deep soundscapes as a result, a ‘complex sound world that is haunted also by hope and compassion’.


Amini - Umchunga

SIAVASH AMINI & UMCHUNGA – THE BRIGHTEST WINTER SUN

The Brightest Winter Sun was released almost simultaneously with Foras, but on a different label (Flaming Pines). Here, Siavash Amini teams up with Umchunga (Nima Pourkarimi, also from Iran) who released his debut album Should Have Been Done By Now  on Hibernate in 2015.
The depth and emotional impact of these soundscapes are similar to those on Foras, but the ‘tone of voice’ is quite different: widely cinematic, more open perhaps, more optimistic even?

This may have something to do with the fact that this is a collaboration. But it may also have originated from the underlying concept: the ‘disoriented drunken drones’  are ‘drawn from the work of long dead composers.’
Amini and Umchunga reinterpret (piano) compositions of late 18th and 19th century composers in a way that renders them completely unrecognisable – ‘by depriving these compositions of one their most prominent characteristics namely thematic and tonal development and progression’.

For most tracks, you will have a hard time recognising the composers and their compositions. But the titles are a clue: each track points to the year in which the composer in question passed away. So Google is your friend here. You’ll probably be surprised (I was).

The Brightest Winter Sun is released on cassette and as a digital download.

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Machinefabriek Exclusive: Transform II * Michel Banabila

Machinefabriek - Transform II

Machinefabriek - Transform II

MACHINEFABRIEK – TRANSFORM II
[Ambientblog Exclusive!]

This track can be downloaded FOR FREE (in various formats) from the AMBIENTBLOG BANDCAMP PAGE

Ambientblog is very proud to present this new and until now unreleased Machinefabriek track called Transform II as an exclusive (and FREE) download. This 17:05 piece is created using samples from Michel Banabila‘s track Transform (from his latest album Everywhere Else Is Just Right Here, more info below).

Michel Banabila and Rutger ‘Machinefabriek’ Zuydervelt have collaborated for a long time now. They released result of their fruitful cooperation on four albums: Banabila & Machinefabriek (2012), Travelog (2013), Error Log (2015) and Macrocosms (2016). (Rumours are a new release may be in the making but no details about that are available yet).
The two clearly share an artistic musical vision, and their different approach and perspective merge very well and add an extra adventurous layer to the result.

Transform II is Machinefabriek‘s vision on the original (much shorter) Michel Banabila track. Rutger Zuydervelt takes the original and almost tearing it apart, then rearranging the details in a different way. The result clearly be recognised as a Machinefabriek work: Banabila hesitates to call it a ‘remix’ because it must be seen as a complete new work. But it also remains true and respectful to its Banabila roots.
It’s a deep dive into electronic abstraction, but near the end of the track Machinefabriek introduces a ‘signature Banabila sound ‘: the melodica. It makes you feel as if you’re coming up for air again after a fascinating exploration of an underwater world.

Editing, processing and additional sounds by Rutger Zuydervelt, September 2018
Source material by Michel Banabila

This track can be downloaded FOR FREE (in various formats) from the AMBIENTBLOG BANDCAMP PAGE


 

Banabila Everywhere Else

MICHEL BANABILA – EVERYWHERE ELSE IS JUST RIGHT HERE

Michel Banabila has released music since 1983 (that’s 35 years now, mind you!) and if you delve into his back catalogue you’ll discover an interesting development. Inspired by the explorations from Brian Eno/David Byrne, broadening his musical visions across many genres and borders, he created experimental music, music for theatre, dance and films, world music and sometimes music that could be classified as ‘new age’. Experimental but also accessible, balancing serious art with zany humor, comprehensible yet unorthodox. His strength – a diverse output across many genres – in fact became also a weakness in terms of marketing: unable to pinpoint him to their own preferred genre, ‘serious’ music lovers often ignored his musical genius. In my opinion Banabila never really got the recognition he deserved to get, especially in his ‘early years’.
But over time, and due to his untiring perseverance, that has changed.

Banabila’s music has changed too. His output became more experimental. His music slowly evolved (or dissolved – after al that’s just a matter of perspective) into ever more abstract electronics.
In recent years, his debut album Marilli was re-released in 2017 on Seance Centreother early works were compiled on Bureau B in 2016, and Voiznoiz recently saw a beautiful rerelease on Steamin’ SoundworksAt first, this renewed interest in his early material confused Banabila: this was music from the past, this is not what he stands for now, musically.

But possibly the renewed interest in his musical past also triggered something. On Everywhere Else Is Just Right Here Banabila revisits (and perhaps even re-animates) his own musical past, and connects it to his current musical vision. There are ‘abstract’ tracks, and these are arguably the ones that are mostly connected to his recent output. But there are also tracks that resemble his early work: rhythmic, filled with surprising (often found environmental) sounds, all presented in a wide-open production. Music with a very strong ‘theatrical’ quality.
The two closing tracks are not new but remasters from Des Traces Retrouvées II and III (1985/1987). They somehow complete the circle.

Banabila reinventing himself feels like coming home. But I guess we can safely assume that he won’t be staying ‘home’ too long: after all ‘change is the only constant’.

Everywhere Else Is Just Right Here is a digital-only release.
Note:
I ‘highlighted’ the Transform track below because it’s interesting to compare it to the Machinefabriek rework. But it may not be the most representative track from the album, so I strongly recommend to check out the rest too.

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Scanner * Mathieu St. Pierre

These Elephants

Mass Observation

SCANNER – MASS OBSERVATION (EXPANDED)  Also on Spotify

“There were three performers and one witness.”

Mass Observation was recorded 24 years ago, somewhere in a London appartment. The performers were Jim O’Rourke, Robert Hampson and Robin ‘Scanner‘ Rimbaud (the witness being Mike Harding from Touch). In that time in the mid-90’s, Scanner’s groundbreaking experiment with found sounds captured with radio scanners inspired many experimental artists: Björk, for example, sampled a fragment of Mass Observation on her Possible Maybe single.

In one way, this is some sort of re-release and at the same time it is not. One of the two recorded mixes – a 25 minute version – has been released in 1994 on Ash International. This new release is the other recording: ‘expanded’ to  over 53 minutes.

The way Scanner explored ‘the relationship between the public and private spheres’ is now – twenty years later – even more relevant than it was in the 90’s. Public surveillance, data collection, China’s ‘social score’ – we may all be concerned about that but we’ll have to acknowledge that it’s too late now. There are no secrets anymore, there is no privacy. Everything you say or do is being recorded somewhere. And not just by Mr. Rimbaud. Realising this adds a ‘deep sense of drama  to these found cellular conversations within a contextual electronic score’.

It’s also a very engaging listening experience. There’s something quite ironic about the thought that this will be played in rooms where Siri, Alexa, Google Home and whatever other devices are also listening in…

BTW – for completists and everyone else interested: Scanner has also published the Ash 1.7 (Remaster 2018) which includes remasters of the original 1994 release as well as four extra tracks.


These Elephants

MATHIEU ST. PIERRE – THESE ELEPHANTS

Canadian visual artist Mathieu St. Pierre, now living and working  in Seoul, Korea, specialises in ‘glitch art’. This mainly refers to his visual art, but glitches are also omnipresent in the soundscapes he presents on These Elephants. The stretched, slowly evolving soundscapes bear some resemblance to the work of Alva Noto on his Xerrox project.

On this debut album, St. Pierre ‘explores the relationship of ambient sounds with the medium of the internet’. This means the listener has to do some homework (or of course simply decide not to, but then you’re missing an interesting layer) by copying the track title into Google Maps and the use Street View to browse the location. This way, each of the tracks points to a specific place on the map, from which the individual track illustrations are taken. For example: the opening track is called -23.0785729, 143.9554413, which brings you to the heart of Bogota, Colombia.

This way, the eight tracks of the album bring you to remote and exotic locations on the planet. The relation of the music itself to those locations is a whole different matter; you’ll need to use your imagination for that. (Let’s just say that the Bogota street scene is not exactly accompanied by a blaring cumbia hit from a passing car…)
In the end, checking the coordinates for the different titles is an entertaining interactive element, but the music can very well be appreciated on its own too.
A striking combination of ‘digital glitches, generative art and net art.’

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Jana Irmert * Thomas Ankersmit

Jana Irmert - Flood

Jana Irmert - Flood

JANA IRMERT – FLOOD  Also on Spotify

It’s no use to try to find a better description of this music than that from Tobias Fischer on the liner notes for this album, so I’ll take the easy way and just quote him:

‘Inspired by Chyngyz Aitmatov‘s dystopian novel The Mark Of Cassandra, Jana Irmert has created a metaphoric world of billowing harmonic clouds, gently crackling sounds and abstracted field recordings. All three parts of the album are marked by perpetual subtle shifts, memory turning into an imperfect compass: you can walk through the music in all directions without ever passing the same point twice.
Inside this world of concrete sounds and pure abstractions, of organic timbres and alien noises, all sense of perspective is lost: what is far can seem close, tiny sounds suddenly appear enormous.’


Flood is Berlin-based sound and media artist Jana Irmert‘s second full album, following up 2016’s End of Absence. It is divided in three parts: Standing On Breaking Ice, Silence On A String and The Sound Of The Universe Spinning, but can in my opinion best be enjoyed in one continuous session.


Thomas Ankersmit

THOMAS ANKERSMIT – HOMAGE TO DICK RAAIJMAKERS  Also on Spotify

If you’re interested in the history of experimental electronic music (I add ‘experimental’ since nowadays the ‘electronic music’ genre seems to refer to a dance genre not particularly covered on this blog), sooner or later you’ll encounter the name and work of Dick Raaijmakers. He was an electro-acoustic researcher  working in the Philips Natlab research center (his Kid Baltan alias is in fact Dik Natlab reversed), producing some of the very first electronic (pop) music in the late 50’s and 60’s, and assisted Edgar Varèse in assembling the famous Poème Électronique for the 1958 Expo. He also co-founded STEIM: STudio for Electro-Instrumental Music. In his book The Method, he describes how motion, cause and effect and their perception are interrelated.

It is exactly thát which is clearly demonstrated in Thomas Ankersmit‘s Homage to Dick Raaijmakers: ‘With his homage Ankersmit re-contextualizes Raaijmakers’ ideas about electric sound, composition, and spatial experience’.

Ankersmit‘s advice is NOT to listen with earphones (which I ususally do), but on speakers, and relatively loud, because of the inner-ear phenomena triggered by the sinus waves from his Serge synthesizers. “With this phenomenon, the listener’s inner ears actively generate sounds that don’t exist in the recorded signal, and which can change with a small movement of the head.”

The effect (also explored in detail by Jacob Kirkegaard on his Labyrinthitisis indeed spectacular. The sound changes with every movement of the head or a change in position, and is partly dependent on the acoustics of the room it is played in.
I literally checked if (and why) there was sound coming from the back speakers of my surround set… but of course there was none: this is a stereo recording. Still it sounded to me like it was a full surround sound set!
Homage to Dick Raaijmakers feels like a physical experience. Which is also why this piece may not be to everyone’s liking: it requires a dedicated listening session and fully takes control of the environment. Not exactly your average ‘ignorable background ambient’ set, but a very rewarding and fascinating aural experience …

 

 

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Haarvöl * Preliminary Saturation * Ilia Belorukov

Haarvol - Peripherad Debris

Driven by Passion and Perseverance, Sietse van Erve has turned his Moving Furniture Records label into one of the most important experimental electronic music labels in Holland. A minimalist drone artist himself (his own music is released as Orphax), inspired by artists like Eliane Radigue, many of the releases on MFR are minimalist drone music. But not all of them are ‘minimal’, as demonstrated recently by the  two label overview mixes he created for Gonzo (Circus) magazine, one called Maximaal  and the other Minimaal.

But before you dive into the label’s back catalogue, check out these recent MFR batch of recent releases:

Haarvol - Peripherad Debris

HAARVÖL – PERIPHERAD DEBRIS  Also on Spotify

Haarvöl is a collective project from Portugal with three core members: Fernando José Pereira, João Faria and Rui Manuel Vieira. This time they’re collaborating with Bertrand Chavarria-Aldrete playing sirincho (a mexican string instrument) and 12 string guitar on the closing track Brumal. 

Peripherad Debris is the second part of a trilogy: the first part was Bombinatereleased a year ago.
While Bombinate focused on ‘low, vibrating, humming sounds’, the second part of the trilogy moves towards the periphery, ‘where the turbulence is bigger and more decisive, precisely because it is far from the center, it is also in these remains that are the most stimulating sonorities to be explored. […] Perhaps there, far from the center, the experiments are more free and possible.’
As a result, the music ranges from (again in their own words): ‘quasi-ambient stillness to a mass sound quasi-noise.’ Exploring the periphery is a fascinating sonic adventure!
The track titles does reflect Haarvöl‘s explorations – but there’s one especially intriguing title: ‘Folding Simple Minded Into A Tiny Cube.’ I have pondered about this while listening but I still haven’t figured out what that could possibly mean…


Preliminary Saturation

PRELIMINARY SATURATION – YOU ARE THE UNIVERSE  Also on Spotify

For many serious sound artists it is (or should be) a natural starting point to create their own sound sources. Never use your synth presets or just copy samples from a commercial collection – leave that to new age artists. An important part of the creative process lies in the creation of the basic sound material with which the complete work is created.

Preliminary Saturation (Steffan de Turck, a.k.a. Staplerfahrer, and Wouter Jaspers) are now breaking this unwritten rule with this album: their sound material is taken from a 2004 release by Jos Smolders: ‘Textures and Mobiles’, which was created with a limited set of sounds: dtmf and ccitt tones that were generated by telephones and pure sine waves that interfere with each other.’
The duo was very impressed with this release, and used samples of it years later for a live performance on Smolders’ birthday party. And now they use the same sources again to recycle and remix it (‘adding some of their own spices’) into this album. The original sound creator clearly approves of this, since he mastered You Are The Universe himself

I don’t know the original album, so I cannot compare these three tracks to their original sound sources and what Smolders did with it. But De Turck and Jaspers handle the original samples with all due respect, as if they were their own, and use the original material to create three long tracks (ranging from 10 to 16 minutes) opening up an amazing sonic world. A world opening up new possibilities with almost incomprehensible technology. It makes you feel like the couple on the cover, staring at the then futuristic looking computer setup.


Ilia Belorukov

ILIA BELORUKOV – NOBODY EVER ESCAPED FROM THERE  Also on Spotify

Perhaps the most minimal release of this set comes from Ilia Belorukovfrom St. Petersburg. Nobody Ever Escaped From There is the latest in his impressive discography, following up There Was Hardly Anybody There in 2016 (not counting the many collaboration releases, such as The Red Soul with René Aquarius and Rutger Zuydervelt earlier this year).
Belorukov is an improvising artist often playing saxophone, but for this release he uses the Variophone as developed by Evgeniy Sholpo in 1932.

It’s interesting to read some more information about the Variophone to understand its strange wobbly sound:

“The variophone is a photo-electrical instrument for which you works by means of rotating cut-out discs which are recorded on film as sound. Due to the instability of this instrument the sound has a very natural sound to it, as well as a rich sound colour palette.”
From these liner notes description I could not really imagine how this instrument works and sounds, so it may help to check this link to read some more about this instrument.

Belorukov does not use the Variophone as a solo instrument but adds field recordings and sounds of other devices. The result is a post-industrial soundscape ‘with a focus on the lower frequency spectrum’.

With titles like But Nobody Would Come, One Never Meets Anybody the atmosphere is as bleak and grey as the cover image. The dystopic landscape definitely gets under your skin – especially when played on a relatively low volume because the sounds merge with that of your own environment but drastically change the atmosphere. You tend to forget that there’s music playing but are still feeling that something’s not the same. And isn’t that about the purest definition of ‘ambient music’?

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Kajsa Lindgren * Manja Ristic

Womb - 1

Womb

KAJSA LINDGREN – WOMB  Also on Spotify

Swedish composer and sound artist Kajsa Lindgren presents “a musical narration for abstracted ears and bodies – engulfing a listener in subaquatic sonic environments”.
Womb
 is the perfect title for this collection of sounds that are somehow familiar yet also seem to come from a still unknown outside world. 

The original sound material – recordings of nature and body sounds, interviews and compositions – have been “re-recorded and re-amped underwater in a swimming pool”, and were “re-arranged partly by way of the impulse responses of the pool”.
While that sounds immensely intriguing to me, I cannot imagine how exactly this works (can you?).
So it’s best to I leave that up to the imagination. And thát is not too difficult with this “phonopoetic fiction that conjures its own surreal virtual ecology”. 

Kajsa Lindgren has studied electro-acoustic composition in Stockholm; this is her first full length record. Its release was celebrated in a fitting way with an underwater concert, with  the audience swimming and floating in the pool to experience the piece (!).
As a follow-up to this remarkable release there will also be a virtual reality online installation (haven’t found a link to that yet but will add it as soon as I find it), as well as a set of remixes of the original material. But that is about what is yet to come. For now, it’s best to enjoy what is here and now… enjoy the subaquatic retreat of Womb.

[Edit:]
There’s a beautiful Womb web installation to be enjoyed at https://inanimate.world/ – headphones recommended!
This site also features much more detailed background information on the project (on the About page).


MANJA RISTIC – THE NIGHTFALL  Also on Spotify

On The Nightfall, Serbo-Croatian sound artist Manja Ristic presents four compositions, each one representing a year’s season and inspired by a seasonal haiku.
The combination of haiku poetry and music – or more generally speaking the intersection of different art forms – is something Naviar Records specialises in, and this album is a perfect example of the power of the combinations.

Summer, for instance, opens with soft “guitar drops in suspended time”, illustrating the haiku by Peggy Willis Lyles:

city heat
a boy stirs oily rainbows
with his pocket knife

The other haikus are also written by different haiku poets: Inahata Teiko, Jean-Louis Kérouac and Michael Dylan Welch.

For each track, Manja Ristic chooses a different instrumentation, merging “instrumental improvisation with field recordings and electronics, developing concepts of creative listening”, focusing on “the exploration of synesthesia in AV performance, intuitive composition and sound ecology”.
She’s not afraid of including some confusing elements into the mix (such as the recording of a vocal Toru Takemitsu fragment from 1956) – after all there is beauty in random discoveries.

The Nightfall is released as a cassette (limited edition of 50) and also as a digital download from Naviar.
And there’s more good news: for about the price of one LP or CD you will get the full Naviar digital back catalogue, including this one (31 releases!).
Like I said: there’s beauty in random discoveries! (However, if that is too much for you, Amazon or iTunes do offer the single album download).

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DreamScenes – July 2018

DreamScenes CZ

An extra dreamy July edition.

With, apart from the usual new releases, a fragment of Robert Kroos‘ Brainwave Set as performed in june as part of RAAR (Rotterdam Art And Radio)/Varia.

Tracklist:

  • 00:00 DreamScenes – Intro (Susanna)
  • 00:05 Kajsa Lindgren – The Garden (fragment)
    Womb, 2018, Hyperdelia
  • 03:30 Snufmumriko – Drömmer I Juli
    Drömboken, 2018, Lagerstaette
  • 08:18 Les Horribles Travailleurs – Keizersrande 4 (ft. Anja Kreysing)
    Off Track, 2018, Esc.Rec
  • 11:15 Robert Kroos – Brainwave Set, Live at RAAR @Varia 2018 (fragment)
    Unreleased Live Recording, 2018, unreleased
  • 18:46 Memum – Illuminate (feat. Anna Marjamäki)
    Confidence, 2018, Unperceived Records
  • 24:00 Agnes Obel – Stretch Your Eyes (Ambient Acapella) (fragment)
    Late Night Tales: Agnes Obel, 2018, LateNightTales
  • 25:32 Julien Boulier – Accord Etendu
    A Film Not Yet Made, 2018, Time Released Sound
  • 27:03 J. Peter Schwalm – AUUA
    How We Fall, 2018, RareNoise
  • 32:00 Stephan Mathieu – In Them A Giant Diverted Himself
    Trace. Recordings Of Entropic Systems 1998-2018, 2018, self-released
  • 37:02 Gluid – Inbetween
    Off Track, 2018, Esc.Rec
  • 42:08 Eximia – Day One
    Visitors, 2018, Cryo Chamber
  • 47:40 Colin Stetson – Mothers & Daughters
    Hereditary Soundtrack, 2018, Milan
  • 50:23 Wolfgang Mitterer – Beethoven – Intermezzo
    Nine In One, 2018, Col Legno
  • 53:44 Bart van Dongen & Richard van Kruysdijk – One
    One, Two, Three, Four, Five, 2018, Opa Loka
  • 58:56 DreamScenes – Outro (Dean Hurley)

Play this edition on-demand from the Concertzender website.

OR:
stream it from Mixcloud:

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The Pitch * Ben Bertrand

Ben Bertrand

Pitch

THE PITCH – S/T [κασετα]

I’m afraid I cannot tell you much more about The Pitch than you can’t find out yourself (which may be the case in most of the ‘recommendations’ on this blog: they are merely suggestions about where to look for some new surprises). I only found out about this quartet (Boris Baltschun, Koen Nutters, Michael Thieke, Morten J. Olsen) myself recently, when the stunning Frozen Orchestra album (with the Splitter Orchestra) and this charming cassette (= κασετα) dropped in my mailbox. The cassette version is limited to 120 copies, but there is a digital download version too.

S/T [κασετα] presents two 12 minute tracks. From the sound of the first track you might have the impression that this sound is mainly created with electronic means, but it’s not. Or only partly: the instruments are an electric pump organ, upright bass, vibraphone, clarinet, and additional computer and cassette delay. Molecular Motions starts as a drone, but gradually the composition gets more complex, especially in the second half of the Pillars B-side: “Bowed and struck vibraphone tones resonate with bowed bass harmonics, doubled by clarinet and reinforced by organ and sine tones.”

In the way this composition evolves, I started to hear (or perhaps imagine) a striking similarity with De Tijd, a composition by Louis Andriessen from 1982 – especially in the second half of Pillars.
I’m sure this is a coincidence: De Tijd is not particularly widely known and furthermore it is 36 years old. But it’s fun to check out anyhow, so here’s a Spotify link to it here so you can compare yourself. This is an impressive performance by the Schönberg Ensemble and Netherlands Chamber Choir directed by Reinbert de Leeuw. Best played loud, by the way!
The similarity of these two may be in my mind only (tell me if I’m wrong), but still… it’s fun to compare the Pitch quartet piece Pillars with the full orchestra+choir composition of Andriessen’s De Tijd.
I like to imagine that this 1982 version could have been a full orchestral re-arrangement of the second half of Pillars.

But – enough about that. Even without this similarity, S/T [κασετα] is interesting enough in its own right. With their particular electro-acoustic setup The Pitch manages to create “an atmosphere where the listeners perception is slowed down to make the smallest sonic details move from background to foreground.”


Ben Bertrand

BEN BERTRAND – NGC 1999

Belgian bass clarinetist Ben Bertrand hooks up his instrument to a string of electronic effects effects to create a unique personal sound that is electronic and acoustic at the same time. His minimal compositions are dreamlike and warm and nicely wander off the beaten path, unhurried.

His work may be influenced by minimalists such as Steve Reich and Terry Riley, but Bertrand does not simply copy their composition techniques.
“He makes use of his clarinet – effects and loop pedals – to construct modal, hypnotic grooves, over which he plays microtonally-inflected clarinet phrases. The use of loops permits to phase patterns on which simple and audible processes let him explore musical concepts.”

NGC 1999 (the album and track titles refer to the ‘reflection nebula‘ in the Orion constellation, 1.500 light-years from Earth) is Bertrand‘s debut album, released on Les Ateliers (/Albums) Claus. But it is not his debut release: that was his 4-track EP Era/Area released in january 2017, which can still be found on Bandcamp

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Jon Hassell * J. Peter Schwalm

Hassell - Pentimento

JON HASSELL – LISTENING TO PICTURES (PENTIMENTO VOL. ONE)   Also on Spotify

I remember my first acquaintance with Jon Hassell‘s music very well. It was back in 1980, and I checked out Fourth World Vol. 1 – Possible Musics following the Brian Eno link (obviously). I was not yet familiar with his earlier work Earthquake Island and Vernal Equinox. I remember I was totally confused, listening in that small record shop. I could not understand this music at all! It seemed to come from another world, one I could not even begin to imagine. I did not buy the album.. it was way off.. too weird for me at that moment.
But upon going home, the strangeness music kept haunting me. What was it, this strange atmosphere, the whispering trumpet sound that resemble an elephant that caught a cold, the otherworldly rhythms?
Before I reached home I turned around and headed back to the shop. I decided that any music that could surprise me this way deserved to be bought.
I remember peddling my bike even harder because I was afraid that someone else would buy that single copy available.
Jon Hassell‘s music never left me since. And never disappointed me either (although naturally I prefer some of his projects more than others).

A part of this somewhat disorienting surprise came back to me again when listening to Pentimento, Vol. One. Not as strong as with this first encounter, of course: 38 years later I am quite familiar with his music. But still: Jon Hassell is not a man to simply repeat himself.

Pentimento is a noun meaning “Reappearance in a painting of ealier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and used as elements in a final composition”.
This suggests that parts and fragments of earlier work are re-used, de-constructed and re-arranged in new compositions. And of course there are many recognisable elements from Hassell‘s earlier work – the way he controls his insrument, the ‘spliced’ electronic layers it is embedded in – and yet Pentimento also feels like a new direction.
At first listen I found the overall atmosphere on this album more ‘nervous’ than I expected. I probably expected the lush and reassuring ambience of the Fourth World releases, and his previous (2009) album Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street – but Pentimento is more in the vein of City: Works of Fiction (1990) or the Bluescreen projects.
This took me some time to adjust to, but -as often- persistance proves to be rewarding.

This nervous tension in the music, alternated by moments of profound peacefulness, probably reflects Hassell‘s theory about ‘The north and south of you’:
A mind formatted by language and located in the head compared with the area of wildness and sensuality below the waist where dance and music and procreation reigns.”

Another way to enjoy these sounds is by what he calls “Vertical listening”, an exercise in ‘mindful listening’:
“Most of the world is listening to music in terms of forward flow – based on where the music is “going” and “what comes NEXT. ” But there’s another angle: Vertical listening is about listening to “what’s happening NOW ” – letting your inner ears scan up and down the sonic spectrum, asking what kind of “shapes” you’re seeing, then noticing how that picture morphs as the music moves through time.”

There is no way you can overestimate the work of this now 81 years old living legend, a man who studied under Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, played on the orginal recording of Terry Riley’s In C, worked with La Monte Young in his Theatre of Eternal Music, and studied singing with Pandit Pran Nath. And this, of course is only the foundation of his work, defining a personal genre that has inspired many artists.

And there’s more good news: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One) is the first release on Hassell‘s own brandnew Ndeya label, which promises to release new and unreleased music as well as archival releases.

As a somewhat related sidenote:
If, like me, you’re a devoted follower of Jon Hassell‘s work and contributions, I suggest you track down this album by Michael Fahres called The Tubes‘ – an album that may be one of Hassell’s most obscure collaboration projects. The environmental recordings of the ‘breathing rocks’ on El Hiero, combined with Hassell’s trumpet and Mark Atkins’ didgeridoo, is an ode to the breath of life itself – ánd a perfect exercise in ‘vertical listening’. I don’t know if this is still available from Cold Blue Music but – given its relative obscurity – it probably is. If not, it’s definitely worth tracking down on Discogs or similar.

 


How We Fall

J. PETER SCHWALM – HOW WE FALL  Also on Spotify

Of all the artists that came into view via a Brian Eno connection, J. Peter Schwalm is probably one that remained unknown to the larger public. Unfairly, because his music is most interesting and multidimensional. The two worked together on Music for On Myo Ji (2000), the soundtrack of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Fear X and even more intense on Drawn From Life (2001).
Since then, Schwalm released two solo albums (Musikain and The Beauty of Disaster), and an album with transformations of the music of Wagner.

How We Fall is his second release on the Italian Rarenoise label. Apart from additional guitars by Eivind Aarset and bass by Tim Harries, Schwalm performs all instruments himself, avoiding ‘popular or widespread plug-ins, instead using analog an digital outboard effects to achieve his characteristic sounds’ and the ‘multitrack composing’ technique he developed when performing at the Punkt Festival.
The result is a complex but highly detailed, ‘widescreen’ sound that perfectly matches his compositions.

Most of How We Fall has a deep sense of urgency, unrest, of hidden ‘angst’. This has everything to do with Schwalm‘s personal situation: in 2016 he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which proved impossible to remove during the operation. Definitely one of the most threatening personal verdicts one can imagine.
In the following year Schwalm “set to work under this impression, partly weakened by the inevitably following chemotherapy. Over the course of the year, pieces were created that reflect feelings such as restlessness, fear, despair and anger, but artistically process these emotions into abstract sounds.”
“During the process I realized that there are parallels between my personal experiences and emotions and the current social and political situation in the world,” Schwalm recalls. “The music represents a closed universe that reflects the moment and the circumstances in which it was created.”

Knowing about this background gives How We Fall an extra dimension, and forces respect for the way J. Peter Schwalm faces his deepest fears and still manages to let the rays of hope shine through. It deepens the appreciation of this album. But, as with all good music, it is not really necessary to know about this to receive the message of this music.

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