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Trondheim Voices + Asle Karlstad – Rooms & Rituals

Trondheim Voices

Trondheim Voices


Even though it’s located in the middle of Norway, not even in the upper north, I always associate Trondheim with a faraway distant city, somewhere beyond the end of the earth. A strange, almost imaginary place, one that you’re not very likely to visit soon but for that reason also has a strange attraction. That description somehow also fits the Trondheim Voices choir, a pool of (up to) 10 female singers performing choral works that seem to have originated from previously unknown parts of the world.

‘These voices are like no choir you ever heard. They can form pale clouds of sound, or pools of glowing light, or bright shafts of pure sound. Phrases can soar before suddenly reversing direction and travelling backwards, but along a different tangent.’

(While the ‘no choir you ever heard’ will probably be true for most listeners, it is only partly true: the music on this album somewhat reminded me of the work of Meredith Monkespecially her 1979 album Dolmen Music)


Most of Trondheim Voice‘s music is improvised, but their performances can also include composed or traditional material. Atmosphere can shift from soothing angelic to devilishly scary within a few seconds.
Their performances are often site-specific, with the singers walking around the area carrying Maccatrols: small wireless boxes, designed by sound designers Asle Karstad and Arnvid Lau Karstad, featuring controls that enable each one to modify her voice with various effects.
The voices are the Maccatrols’ only sound source and the manipulations are created in real-time – making the compositions even more otherworldly (or sometimes downright scarier) than they already are on their own.

Experiencing a Trondheim Voices & Asle Karstad performance in the right environment will probably be an unforgettable experience. That may be reason enough to travel to Trondheim somewhere in the future. But until that happens, this album will do fine as a substitute for a live performance: the pieces are taken from several different performances. It should be noted that all these pieces are recorded live without overdubs!
Definitely one of the most exciting and unexpected listening experiences I heard in a long time!

(Warning: some parts of the album, as well as the Live Impro #1 video above, may not be suitable to listen shortly before sleep time.)


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London Docks – Tangaroa

London Docks

London Docks is the alias Nikita Sorokin uses for his solo work.
He’s not from London, but from Los Angeles.
Also a member of Insects vs. Robots – but don’t let that count as an introduction, because the music he presents as London Docks is quite different from that of this particular “psychotropicturesque quasi-nomadic music tribe”.

Tangaróa is a collection of tracks merging Nikita Sorokin‘s solo violin improvisations with “fields recordings and electronica into sonic dreamscapes that are inspired as much by science fiction and mythology as they are by musical ideas”.

As his sources of inspiration Sorokin mentions “Steve Reich, Indian Carnatic violin music” as well as “the electronic experimentalism of Amon Tobin and Flying Lotus”. But dropping names always has the risk of fixing expectations.
Nikita Sorokin clearly found his own musical place, at the intersection of different styles – thus creating his own instead of just simply doing what others also do.

There are three short tracks that are possibly somewhat more ‘conventional’ (and lighter) in nature, but for the largest part of Tangaróa, Sorokin lets the tracks take their time to find their course.
The long tracks are introspective masterpieces varying from around 10 minutes to 18 or even 24. They are the true heart of this album, and written to let your mind drift off guided by Tangaróathe Mãori god of the sea.

The longest of tracks is called “Smoke Raga” – a raga for violin solo improvisation, accompanied by the sound of a guitar, a campfire, night creatures and a continuous drone. It’s one of those tracks that I can keep playing on continuous repeat!
Closest to this raga form is “Violin Improvisation – La Lluvia” – which also has a relatively sparse instrumentation to maximum effect.

“400 Clouds Pt.1” and “Submarine Canyon” have a more ‘electronic’ background, with the violin parts somewhat less prominent. The latter, the closing track of the album, has an interesting twist when the track suddenly changes into a fully electronic ambient track (around 10 minutes, with still 8 minutes to go) – as if the submarine suddenly dives deeper and deeper into the darkness of the ocean.
Which is the place where you suddenly find yourself on your own again…

“Stay up late. Listen to these instrumentals on big fat headphones. Think of shapeshifting clouds, electric ghosts that roam the foggy streets, smoke spirits singing in the forest by the cover of night.”

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Marsen Jules Trio – Présence Acousmatique


Marsen Jules Trio

Only short after the minimalistic generative soundscape presented on The Endless Change of Colour“, Marsen Jules displays a completely different musical approach with this album by the Marsen Jules Trio.

As the …Trio indicates, this album presents Marsen Jules’ atmospheric soundscapes with the addition of two other musicians: twin brothers Anwar Alam (piano) and Jan-Philipp Alam (violin), with whom Marsen Jules played tours and festivals across the USA, Canada and Europe.

Présence Acousmatiqueis a stunning synergy of ambient, avant-garde, modern classical and introspective jazz music. It is released on Jules’ own Oktaf label, but stylistically it would have also fitted the ECM (new) series.

Présence Acousmatique is the Marsen Jules Trio‘s first full album release, but this was preceded by the short 4-track album Les Fleurs Variations in 2011, which presented the trio’s variations on Jules’ own Les Fleurs (2006, City Center Offices).
“Œillet Parfait / Œillet Sauvage”, the album’s opener, is a new variation of two of the tracks of the 2011 EP.

According to Wikipedia, Acousmatic Music is “a form of electroacoustic music that is specifically composed for loudspeaker presentation. It stems from a compositional tradition that dates back to the introduction of musique concrète in the late 1940s. Unlike scored music, compositions that are purely acousmatic exist solely as audio recordings (as fixed media) and are often intended for concert reception via multiple loudspeakers.”

There’s an interesting contradiction in the title with the fact that this Trio originated from playing live performances. Apart from the opener, all tracks have grown from the trio playing together. The tracks feel as if they are played live, which is not exactly an ‘acousmatic‘ approach?
If acousmatic music is music that is created to be reproduced through loudspeakers only, what could acousmatic presence be?
Interesting questions maybe, but also hardly relevant when listening to the music (which sounds perfectly though loudspeakers, as expected).

On two tracks, the trio’s intimate performance is accompanied Roger Döring (Dictaphone) on saxophone. His sound and style is somewhat comparable to Jan Garbarek‘s style, although Döring plays more restrained and avoids ‘Garbarekesque’ eruptions). On these tracks especially, the sound is also reminiscent of Bohren & Der Club of Gore.

But comparisions like this always fail.

The Marsen Jules Trio definitely has its own identity and sound, and Présence Acousmatique definitely guarantuees their place in the ambient/jazz/experimental/modern classical Hall of Fame!


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Stephan Mathieu + David Sylvian – Wandermuede


Exactly 10 years after the original release of David Sylvian‘s “Blemish”, electroacoustic sound artist Stephan Mathieu reworks the original material into a fascinating new soundscape, presenting a different view still perfectly in line with the original material.

“Blemish” in itself was a fairly radical, experimental album, on which David Sylvian somehow broke with the past as well as combined all different things he had done before. The music soundtrack is mostly improvised drones created with Derek Bailey and Christian Fennesz, and Sylvian’s vocals are recorded so close they seem to resonate from within yourself.

Obviously, David Sylvian had planned doing a ‘Blemish’ remix himself, but invited Stephan Mathieu to do so after hearing him perform a live remix of the classic ‘Plight and Premonition’ at the Punkt Festival (Norway) in 2011.

Wandermüde(“tired of wandering”) presents a carefully balanced and detailed, (‘microscopic’) view of the ‘Blemish’ material (without the vocals). It is almost hard to believe that Stephan Mathieu does not use anything like multi-tracking and such – the result is created ‘live’, in a way that somehow resembles the original improvisational setting :

“My work with computers is always live. I’m feeding selected material into a software process and record the output, which I either take as is, or discard completely. I don’t multi-track, edit or re-arrange, I’m interested in self-evolving sound with all its rough and sometimes faulty qualities. I never use effects like artificial reverb in my music, so what you hear is rather a piling up of spaces that surround the individual inputs used for my processes.”

“With David’s recordings I melted them with my instruments, recorded several takes and picked the best ones. While I first processed the recordings quite heavily, it took me a while to notice that I come to better results when David’s performance shines through much more clearly. For instance with the original guitar from ‘Blemish’, I only applied a soft processing and made a room recording of playing this version back through two fender twin amps.”

As an interesting side-note it may be good to know that Sylvian is currently working on an app presenting his photography, backed by a ‘generative’ soundscape created from loops from this Blemish’/’Wandermüde’ material. Definitely looking forward to that of course… but even while waiting for that app, you definitely should not miss this beautiful release.

By the way: I found both albums gained another extra dimension when playing both of them together with the combined tracks in ‘shuffle’ mode.


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Nils Frahm – Felt


Although just under 30, self-taught pianist Nils Frahm has gained world-wide recognition for his delicate, yet fascinatingly dynamic, improvisational style of playing. He’s not afraid of starting with a brusque hammering of the piano keyboard and keeping that up for quite some time, until suddenly the underlying composition starts to show and may suddenly turn into an utterly moving, melancholic composition.

By recording his playing from the inside, the squeaking and groaning of the piano mechanism accompanying the bright piano notes has become one of his trademarks.

Felt“,  his latest release, is perfectly in line with its predecessors Wintermusik andThe Bells, but it’s balance is even more mature.

Why “Felt“? Well obviously:
“Originally I wanted to do my neighbours a favour by damping the sound of my piano. If I want to play piano during the quiet of the night, the only respectful way is by layering thick felt in front of the strings and using very gentle fingers. It was then that I discovered that my piano sounds beautiful with the damper.”

This may suggest that there’s only calm late-night compositions on this album, but that’s not quite the case…there’s also enough of the characteristic Frahm-hammering to keep you awake.

By staying away from traditional conventions and keeping true to his own original style, Nils Frahm has become one of the important musical icons of the current scene. Impressive.

Nils Frahm – Familiar

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