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Ljerke * Michel Banabila




The name Ljerke may not immediately ring a bell. But if you know that this is a multidisciplinary collaboration projects with and around the Kleefstra Brothers (Romke Kleefstra – guitar, Jan Kleefstra – poetry, voice), you know that the wind is blowing from the North. Not only from Friesland, the northern Dutch province where the Kleefstra’s live and which inspires most (if not all) of their work, but even farther north this time.

For this particular Artist-In-Residence project the Kleefstra’s invited Norwegian musicians Alexander Rishaug (electronics), Hilde Marie Holsen (trumpet, effects) and Michael Francis Duch (contrabass), Dutch percussionist Sytze Pruiksma, along with video artists Marco Douma (NL) and Haraldur Karlsson (Iceland).

In november 2016 these artists retreated to the Frisian countryside, improvising and studying for a series of live performances. They also booked a few days studio time to record their work, and those sessions were mixed and edited by Rutger ‘Machinefabriek’ Zuydervelt and are now presented on this set featuring a CD with six tracks and a DVD with the video version of the same tracks.
(Note: the DVD version is only available in the physical version, not with the digital download)

Jan en Romke Kleefstra are the nucleus of many collaborations, each with their own particular emphasis in sound depending on the contributing artists. In concept, this Ljerke is not unlike their previous projects Seeljocht and Skeylja. But the sound is more intense this time. There is more urgency to it.
And with a reason, because Ljerke deals with the serious concern about the decline of the Frysian landscape, the irreversible loss of biodiversity and the accompanying decline in cultural diversity.

Unlike many of their other releases, the poems are not included and translated this time. So, unless you can understand the Frysian language (which probably only natives can), you will not understand the words. But you will still feel what this is all about.
And the message is even stronger with the videos: layered landscape images that are carefully synced to the music.

The wind comes from the North, and it is a cold wind. This is a clear warning that we have to be careful, act, and take care to preserve the nature that we will miss when it is gone forever.

Just Above The Surface


Some artists have a release rate that almost exceeds my listening speed. Michel Banabila is one of those. His name appears so often on this blog that you might think that I recommend all of his releases. Which, in fact, I do! Because very few artists have such a high output rate while maintaining such a high quality level and musical versatility!

Just Above The Service, his latest release, is released almost casually, unannounced. It is a digital only release, which is an understandable choice at this time – but I feel a bit sorry for those that treasure all things physical… this music deserves to be available on a less ethereal level. Because of the music, but also because of the stunning cover artwork by Gerco de Ruijter.
(Writing this I realise that this sounds as if music that is released in digital format only is less ‘important’ than that on a physical release. Which of course is not the case or at least it shouldn’t be).

There are six long tracks (most around 9 minutes) and a (shorter) closing track which is taken from a Disquiet community release dedicated to Bassel Khartabil (coder and open-source advocate from Syria, imprisoned and executed). With the exception of the last track, the material for this album was created with parts and fragments made for a live performance.
Banabila’s flawless wide-screen production is created with the help of some friends he worked with before (Oene van Geel, viola, Salar Asid, violin). As far as I know it is the first time that Gareth Davis adds his bass clarinet sound to Banabila’s music: on the shuddering opener The Ripple Effect. Martin Barski adds tape sound on Tapes and Polaroids in the 21st Century (great title!)

It is fascinating how easily Banabila navigates between different kinds of styles and moods, even within the span of one single track. From emotional, melancholic to abstract experimental, from subdued calm to a threatening tribal rhythm that makes your palms sweat. And the transitions never sound forced.

Why is it that Banabila is honored by critics and connoisseurs, but after many years of hard work still has such a hard time reaching a larger audience?
What is wrong with the music business??

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Chris Dooks – 300 Square Miles of Upwards


300 Square Miles

Shortly after the release of The Eskdalemuir Harmonium”, Chris Dooks releases the second part of what will become a colourful Idioholism trilogy.

300 Square Miles of Upwards” is released in a stunning package (designed by Rutger ‘Machinefabriek’ Zuydervelt): a bright blue vinyl 12″ album that also comes with an (extended) digital download version including a video version of the opener track ‘Gardening As Astonomy’.

The brightly coloured trilogy is not only interesting artistically and musically. It is is also the result of Dook’s personal battle against his chronic fatigue syndrome:
“Wherever medicine has abandoned its caring role, or simply has no available cure, sufferers of incurable chronic illnesses frequently turn to experimental and experiential strategies. Such strategies can seem an outlandish or surreal response to illness; for example, working closely with an abandoned and decrepit harmonium in the Scottish borders or forging Twitter-length statements about the universe may not be on the medical map, but to artists, these processes are a way of life. Within three main inter-reliant art projects, this autoethnographic experiment is not just occupational therapy for the afflicted, but a path of discovery by first-person experience.”

The preceding release was a poetic investigation of the sounds of a forgotten and somewhat deteriorated harmonium.
On300 Square Miles of Upwards”, Dooks investigates the relation of astronomy with earthly phenomena:
“I read somewhere recently that one reason we know that the su’s solar energy peaks in 13 years ejections is because the trunks of felled trees have thicker bark around these periods”.

The tracks are created from vocal samples (most from Scotland, but also in Polish and Japanese) that are cut-up and looped and merged with the additional background of environmental field recordings, three pianos and a Korg Monotron. The way Dooks re-arranges the samples and builds an atmosphere with is almost visual, which should be no surprise regarding Chris’ experience in photography, film and TV.

With these selection of tracks, Dooks paints deeply emotional pictures that, at some moments, reminded me of the early (tape) works of Steve Reich or Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”.
Just listen to “Conversation with a Boy” (below) to hear what I mean.

Tracks featuring spoken word samples are different from instrumental ambient tracks in that they require a more dedicated, active listening – they can’t simply be played in the background and be ‘ignorable’.
But it’s rewarding to do so.
When you listen closely, your world will look different afterwards.


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Various Artists – Herfsttonen


As the musical part of the “Landtonen” festival in november 2009, “Herfsttonen(Autumn Sounds) celebrated the local district of “Okkenbroek“, near Deventer (in Holland).

This may sound as if it is interesting to local citizens only.
Not true! – That would mean the large part of the world would miss this great project!

The three compositions presented here are very different from each other, but they are linked by the theme, and by the environmental sounds of Okkenbroek. This album deserves to be heard out of the local context, too, because it is dedicated to preserving the kind of rural life that may disappear all too quickly.

Some sound samples include people speaking in the dutch northern dialect, but even if you don’t understand a word of what they say you’ll understand they achieve heavy tasks by working together closely, by not losing their humour…but you’ll also get a glimpse of some of their fears, too. (In the beginning of the Gluid track there’s a woman asking “Er is toch niks ernstigs gebeurd, valt nog mee hè?” (“It’s nothing serious, I hope? Is it?)

Paul de Jong‘s “Okkenblues” introduces Okkenbroek (“Groot hè?” – Big, isn’t it?) with a striking violin-cello-guitar composition Greg Haines – style. The middle part of it has a beautiful musical effect: it’s like the music slowly dozing off while the image of citizens accomplishing a heavy task becomes sharper slowly (they’re obviously putting something in place, maybe the big vase especially created for this Landtonen festival). When the work is done, the music kicks back in to return to the beautiful theme.

MiaMia is a poet combining her work with soundscapes and video projections. She walks through the Okkenbroek landscape as if in a dream (“We always tend to forget our dreams // There’s always the morning coming inbetween” ). Her murmuring voice in the soundscape turns Okkenbroek into a haunting abstract landscape.

…Which is quite different from the view presented by Gluid, a project by Bram van den Oever accompanied by Cello and Vibraphone for this occasion. This track starts with some dark undertones, but definitely ends optimistic and lighthearted. If comparisions are needed: this reminded me of some of the impressive music coming over from Iceland (like Mùm, Sigur Ross or Amina)

Unfortunately, the album is only slightly over 32 minutes long. But it’s enough to leave you with the feeling you have been to a peaceful place vaguely familiar. And you will probably not forget about your visit to Okkenbroek.

So here’s my advice to foreign visitors: next time, forget about Amsterdam’s Red Light District and take some time to visit Okkenbroek and its surroundings.
And if you’re not coming over to Holland, just visit Esc.Rec Records to a grab a copy of this album – which may prove to be one of the most adventurous dutch releases this year!

Okkenbroek - church

Okkenbroek – Short Walk

Note: this track only features some fragment from the three parts of Herfsttonen.
You can hear more on

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Mathon – Via Mala (The Remixes)


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Mathon” is a project (named after the same titled location in the Swiss Alps) where for one week a mobile studio is installed high up in the swiss mountains, ands guests are invited to join the Mathon core musicians (Thomas Augustiny, Roger Stucki and Pete Leuenberger) and to create music inspired by the beautiful landscape surrounding them.

The recent project called ‘Via Mala’, refers to “a trail along the Hinterrhein in Graubuenden. A canyon with cliffs carved by its torrents, falling threehundred meters into the depth. It seems as if the mountain is broken in two. Enormous floads of meltingwater, the consistent gnawing of the river created during centuries a natural spectacle of unique beauty.

I had not heard about this recording project until I found out about the Via Mala Remix Project, where music of the original Via Mala album is remixed by people like Matthias Grassow & Thomas Weiss, Emanuele Erante, Gunter Adler, Alexandre Navarro – among a range of other artists whose names were not familiar to me.

And I must say the music on this project music comes as a pleasant surprise to me.
It’s not field recordings, as you might have expected, but it’s VERY clear these recordings were landscape-inspired.

There is an occasional dark poetic rap (Fernando Lagreca’s another bridge mix), as well as some Biosphere-alike tracks like the ‘How to open a mountain’ – mix by Pe Lang. But also some bright, light-hearted electronics like the Veia Traversina remix by Jap Jap

This remix project is as adventurous as a trip through the Swiss Alp landscape itself: not always comfortable, sometimes downright freezing cold, but always fascinating and rewarding.

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