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James Murray * Michael Begg * Finglebone

Daubigny - Landscape by Moonlight

Eyes to the Height

JAMES MURRAY – EYES TO THE HEIGHT

James Murray is the label owner of Slowcraft RecordsHe is also the one that created the music of Anne Garner’s bewitching album Be Life, one of my personal favourite albums.

As a solo artists, his albums are always a surprise, because you’ll never know what to expect. Murray is always exploring different styles of electro-acoustic and experimental music: “switching things around when the time feels right.”

Eyes to the Height
, his seventh solo album, is “a ten chapter story reflecting the fragile beauty of life and loss, memory and function.”
It’s labeled ‘modern ambient’, but in fact it rises above a genre tag like that.
With the use of rhythms without losing the ‘ambient’ touch, this album manages to create a delicate balance of ‘pop’ and ‘ambient’ where many others have failed.

There’s a great attention to every detail: in sound production as well as in composition. The album is fully instrumental, but each of the ten pieces feels like a complete “song”.
Wouldn’t it be a nice experiment to create a vocal version of this album using these tracks? There are a lot of albums with instrumental versions of previously vocal tracks, but I’ve never seen that done the other way around.
It’s fun to think about where that would lead to. But let’s be clear: I don’t want to suggest that  something is ‘missing’ on this album. On the contrary!

There are only very few people capable of creating ‘quantum ambient’ music: music that is ambient and isn’t ambient at the same time.

Also on Spotify


A Moon That Lights Itself

MICHAEL BEGG – A MOON THAT LIGHTS ITSELF

In 2016, Michael Begg was commissioned to compose music based around the 19th century painter Charles François Daubignywho is considered an important precursor of Impressionism.
The music was performed in september at the Scotland National Gallery, by Michael Begg accompanied by cellist Clea Friend. After this performance, Begg completed the work in his studio.

A Moon that Lights Itself is dedicated to the work of Daubigny, who painted his nocturnal scenes from his  boat studio. It is conceptually linked to the invention of the phonautographthe earliest known device for recording sound, by Edouard-Lean Scott de Martinville in the same period (years before Edison’s phonograph!). The first ever recording of a human voice was Au Clair De La Lune.

That is a lot of conceptual background information, I know. But it helps to get the feel of this album, its atmospheres, and explains the reason for the ghostly Au Clair De La Lune theme in the track The Birth Of Modernism. 

You can trust Michael Begg to come up with a haunting album that matches this concept in every detail. Overall, the music is dark, like nocturnal music should be. But it’s not a darkness to be afraid of. It’s a darkness to dwell in… just imagine you’re drifting in a boat on a quiet lake, watching the night sky and the moon, and trying to capture that in painting.
Or in music.


Sunlit Plumes of Dust

FINGLEBONE – SUNLIT PLUMES OF DUST

Whitelabrecs (one of Harry Towell’s outlets of experimental electronic/acoustic music) rounds off its first year with this release by Finglebone, aka Adam VarneyAn album crossing the thin lines between folk/post-rock and electronic ambient. Adam’s finger-picking guitar adds a refreshingly bright sound to the imaginary landscapes, creating an “introspective world inhabited by the gosts of memories, the looming spectre of death and the passing of time.”

But it’s not a ‘dark’ album at all: the guitar strings, soundscapes and found sound mix is expressing “melancholy, reverie and the feeling of alienation.”
It’s a very personal album, “loosely based on Adam’s experience caring for his Grandfather during his final weeks. He witnessed how dementia would render him silent, lost in his own mind, but then release him back into reality.”

All but one of the eight tracks are instrumental pieces around 3-4 minutes in length. The exception to this is the 12 minute track Blazing Golden Sun, which features a poem by James E.M. Smith, “Grovely”, describing the local woods where Adam spent many hours as a child.

As usual for Whitelabrecs releases, the physical CDr edition has only 50 copies which will probably be gone soon.  

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Fovea Hex; Michael Begg; J. Peter Schwalm

J. Peter Schwalm

Salt Garden I

FOVEA HEX – THE SALT GARDEN I
Slowly but undeniably, Fovea Hex receives the recognition they deserve. One of contemporary music’s most fascinating ‘hidden secrets’ is slowly revealed to a greater public.
Being the first non-Steven-Wilson release on Steven Wilson‘s label Headphone Dust will probably help find a new audience, but Fovea Hex also stays true to their original home, Janet Records who co-release the album.

The music of Fovea Hex is unique because their work is unclassifiable. Firmly rooted in English/Irish traditional music, but nothing like ‘folk’ music, and not exactly ‘pop’ music either. Experimental music fundamentalists will probably back away at first, because the music sounds so ‘natural’ and ‘organic’, but in fact what Fovea Hex does is more experimental than most. They continue to redefine borders and create their very own musical landscape.

Core members of Fovea Hex are Clodagh Simonds, Laura Sheeran and Michael BeggFor each project, there’s quite a list of contributors: artists like Colin Potter (Nurse With Wound), Andrew McKenzie (Hafler Trio), Michael Begg, Brian Eno, Roger Doyle, William Basinski (and more).
There’s the unique combination of the poetic lyrics, sung with enchanting angelic voices, and the musical arrangements that can sometimes be stretched to surprising extremes, especially in the remixes that are usually added as a bonus with every album’s first edition.

Words fail to describe properly… if you want to have a ‘first impression’ you can probably best check out this mix I created back in 2008 from their first album set Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent (including parts of the Hafler Trio remixes that are now no longer available).

Or simply check The Salt Garden Itheir latest release.

True to their original form, this is the first of three EP’s that together will complete the full album.
This Part I presents three songs (or maybe we should call them recitals?) and an instrumental piece, Solace, dedicated to Oliver Sacks (including ‘cathedral interims’ by Brian Eno).
The traditional bonus (now unavailable, I’m afraid) is a remix version of Solace by Steven Wilson, who stretches the length to over three times the original and altering the timbre of the piece considerably, while at the same time staying close to the original composition.
That is a somewhat different approach from the way Hafler Trio, Colin Potter, William Basinski and Michael Begg remixed songs from the previous albums: extremely minimal ambient with a lot of silence in-between, where it could be hard to trace back to the originals.

The beauty of Fovea Hex may be unknown to many but it’s not thát big a secret: the bonus edition was sold out on pre-release. So you’ll have to do without the bonus now…
But not to worry: the 10″ vinyl version, or CD version, or digital version, are definitely worth your full attention!
And better luck next time, as far as bonuses are concerned!
Also on Spotify


Let the cold stove sing

MICHAEL BEGG / HUMAN GREED – LET THE COLD STOVE SING
One of the main (musical) contributors of Fovea Hex, Michael Beggalso releases music under his own name as well as Human Greed (and sometimes both at the same time).
Let the Cold Stove Sing is the follow-up to last year’s HivernantIt is a collection of works conceived for theatre, galleries and installation, which means there are quite some different kinds of soundscapes collected here. Some (rather dark and ominous) atmospheric electronic sets, interspersed with almost hesistant sounding piano pieces, but also environmental sound collages (Paris is Closing), symphonic themes (Cunny for Thine Fountain Penne), spooky string sections and frightening outburst of inescapable sound (Studies in Space and Density).
It’s a weird and fantastic world unfolding before your (inner) eye.

Compared to the refinement of the Fovea Hex release, the music on this album has a rougher edge to it, a much different overall sound too.
(The pieces..) ‘are informed by the great divorce of music and context occasioned by the birth of recording, and by the 20 year fermata occurring after the invention of recording and before the discovery of the means of affecting playback. This was, by definition, the period where we began to conceive of the need to listen repeatedly, in the way an archaeologist brushes repeatedly at the desert, for clues, details, and, possibly, reason.’


J. Peter Schwalm

J. PETER SCHWALM – THE BEAUTY OF DISASTER
It’s the Brian Eno-connection that loosely links this album to the others mentioned above. J.Peter Schwalm is a German composer probably best known for his collaboration with Eno on Music for Onmyi-Ji (2000) and Drawn from Life (2001). But to leave it at that would not do justice to his art and his other albums Musikain (2006) and Wagner Transformed (2013), as well as the many facets of his other works: the Slop Shop electro-jazz, the soundtrack for Nicholas Winding Refn’s Fear X (2003), his reworkings of Kraftwerk’s music for the Icebreaker Ensemble in Kraftwerk Uncovered: A Future Past,  his (live-)remixing (for example this Ben Frost set and this fascinatingly loud Heroes remix).
And also to his latest album: The Beauty of Disaster.

There are some impressive contributors (though no Eno this time): most notably Eivind Aarset on guitars and Neil Catchpole on violas. J. Peter Schwalm himself is contributing guitars, pianos, all kinds of electronic devices, sound modules and mixing desks.

As on all his work, Schwalm links electronic music to orchestral, and ignores borders between ‘classical’ and ‘popular’ music. His work is hard to define, it contains elements of all genres, combined – it is modern classical jazz music with rock influences and ambient atmospherics.
Some of the works are based on ‘live remixing’ principles, while other are rooted in multi-track composing – “Emotional depth is more important than technical detail”.
It is powerful, highly suggestive and sometimes rather abstract music,  inspired by contemporary images:
“I had been deeply impressed by satellite images of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico while composing new pieces for this album. These surprising photos, which so reminded me of paintings, seemed to embody the very same deep duality between the dark melancholia they depicted and a continuous, meshed sense of hope, an embedded ray of light,  as did the compositions I was working on.”



J. PETER SCHWALM – ZIRKELTRILOGIE

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Gideon Wolf; Michael Begg; Thomas Ragsdale; Variables;

Thomas Ragsdale - Bait

Gideon Wolf - Near DarkGIDEON WOLF – NEAR DARK
Fluid Audio  have built themselves some kind of cult empire. Not very surprising, considering the quality of their releases, and especially the way they are packaged. But the downside, of course, is that these releases are the kind that virtually sell-out on pre-ordering alone.
Here’s another one of those: if you’re interested in a letter-pressed CD including 20 prints, vintage photo slides, 1920’s explorer notes, dried leaves, scent, hand-typed messages – all hand numbered and sealed in oversized glassine bags….. you probably missed it because reading this sentence took you too long!
(To be exact: only 5 remaining at time of writing).
As long as there are copies available, there is no digital download counterpart. But there will be when they sell out – which won’t be long.
So we may better focus on the music, instead of its package.

To summarize: Near Dark is a baffling album.
The opener track, adressed to Mr. Controller, grabs the listener by the throats and from there it doesn’t let go. It is dark, but not completely dark: it presents a wide range of styles, vocal as well as instrumental.
There’s a haunting, heavy atmosphere, but it’s impossible to pin it down to a single genre.
I can’t really tell why, but this music definitely feels English, rooted in its mystifying forests and landscapes. I don’t think this could have been made anywhere else in the world.

Gideon Wolf takes the best of many influences and combines them to take it all a few steps further. The exuberant package is a fine thing for sure, but even when it was released in a simple white paper sleeve, this album would prove there may be an exciting future for ‘atmospheric experimentalism’.


Hivernant

MICHAEL BEGG/HUMAN GREED – HIVERNANT
A pre-summer release (June) that I missed, and which is definitely worth making up for!
Michael Begg is known for his contributions to Clodagh Simmonds’ Fovea Hex, his collaborations with Nurse With Wound’s Colin Potter, and for his own releases as Human Greed (which can be solo or a collaboration with Deryk Thomas).
Hivernant  
is a watercolour sketchbook inspired by the place where he lives: East Lothian in Scotland (bordering the city of Edinburgh). .

‘I sketched notes about silence, about space and place, music and recording. I took one step to the side and listened to the time rush by. I applied the same light touch to the studio. I sketched. It was enough. I somehow, briefly, removed ambition and purpose and found, in the winter, a moment of repose.’

Listening to the varied sound palette of these tracks – experimental ambient as well as contemporary classical, with references to Pärt and Schnittke – I would not use ‘sketches’  for a description myself.  The word ‘sketches’ feels like an understatement of this work, like something not really finished..while this feels like a full-grown album te me… But who am I to judge the artist’s own description?


Thomas Ragsdale - Bait

THOMAS RAGSDALE – BAIT
For this album, Thomas Ragsdale (one half of Worriedaboutsatan), re-worked his own score for Dominic Brunt’s thriller‘a modern day Faustian tale that examines the boundaries of humanity’s evil’.  The original score focuses more on background drones and atmospheres, but this version is re-created to be a stand-alone album, and not ‘just’ a soundtrack album.
On the other hand, ‘Bait’ was sequenced to take the listener down a similar path to the movie: at once beautiful as it is beguiling, intense as it is disturbing – shimmering drones give way to gnarled bass, refracting synth lines clatter over arctic atmospheres.’

And this it does very well; it’s an album with a very dark atmosphere, but also with a lot of beauty underneath. There’s no need to see the film to enjoy this music, though this version of the soundtrack definitely raises the interest to check it out too.
Bait is also released as a cassette which comes free with a CD-version and a package ‘that comes straight from the film’s brutal story.’


Variables

VARIOUS ARTISTS – VARIABLES
Here’s another fine example of what collaboration projects can bring us. This time, the concept is slightly different: bring together a bunch of artists (all Bigo & Twigetti related in this case),  let them jam and improvise with the objective to create a full release within seven days. From scratch, which means writing, arranging, performing, editing ánd mastering.

“I thought, what about creating an album in this way, but rather than just having two artists going back and forth, I thought it might be more interesting if the creators only got one chance each to add their input to the creative process. I also thought it would be more interesting to make this project very time limited, so that the creation had to be, to some extent, reactive/responsive/improvised, forcing composers to make quicker decisions and hopefully adding an energy and excitement to the music”.
(Jim Perkins at Completemusicupdate

Obviously, this was an inspiring task. Antonymes, Beatrice Chaume, Chris Perren (Nonsemble), Leah Kardos, Lucy Claire, Richard Talbot (Marconi Union) and Tiny Leaves did a great job in creating an album that sounds lively and sparkling, well balanced and also beautifully produced.
One would never guessed a thing like this could be accomplished in only seven days!


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