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Yann Novak * Noto/Sakamoto * Tonaliens

Yann Novak

Yann Novak


Before listening to this new Yann Novak album – his second title for Touch -, it’s good to reflect a bit on its somewhat enigmatic title.

The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past considers the relationships between memory, time and context. […] The album’s conceptual roots stem from ‘The Archaic Revival‘ by American ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terence McKenna. In it, McKenna theorizes that when a culture becomes dysfunctional it attempts to revert back to a saner moment in its own history. The text’s idealism was influential to Novak in the ‘90s, but today the theory bears a darkly-veiled resemblance to the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism. […] McKenna’s idea highlights our propensity for selective memory, seeing history through the lens of memory instead of fact.

The impact of Novak’s music is coloured by the context of this philosophical background. The overall atmosphere in these four parts (the album is best played in one continuous sequence) is dark and sombre – which may very well be my own personal association with ‘the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism’.
But at the same time you can listen in a completely different way, realising that Novak “looks back at his own older works though this (McKenna’s) lens as inspiration”.
Or, if you prefer, you can have your own associations with these timeless deep drone tracks combining sub-bass with subtly detailed distorted effects and some distant fieldrecordings – a sound that seems to originate from an immeasurable vast space too big to comprehend.

“The album is a study in perception and alteration, manipulation and awareness, effectively capturing Novak’s command of emotional texturing.

Noto - Sakamoto - Glass


Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s 2017 album Async got well-deserved raving reviews – it recently got a follow-up release Async – Remodels with reworks of the tracks by giants like Oneohtrix Point Never, Alva Noto, Fennesz, Johann Johannsson, Yves Tumor, Andy Stott and the likes. And there’s also the ASync International Short Film Competition, of which the winners will be included in the forthcoming BluRay edition of the album (most of them they can be viewed online already by the way).
But these are not the albums I want to present now: they’ll surely find their way to an interested audience easily.

With its single 37 minute drone-based soundscape, Glass is quite a different project. It’s the next in a series of Sakamoto/Noto collaborations that included the soundtrack of The Revenant, Summvs, and before that utp_, Insen and Vroon.

Glass is a recording of a live improvisation performance at the architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House, in New Canaan, Connecticut, a remarkable ‘pavilion for viewing the surrounding landscape’ and a perfect setting for a slow-paced soundscape like this. The ground plan of this pavilion is used as the album cover image, which gives an idea of its beautiful spaciousness.
Using contact mics they incorporated the glass house as an instrument along with other kinds of (mostly glass-related) instruments, capturing its original intention in sound. Though the changes are gradual there’s actually a lot happening in the recording.
There are many different kinds of sounds – organic, synthetic, electronic, acoustic – but each particle finds its own place in its surrounding environment.
Even if that environment is different from the Glass House it was originally created for.

(Below is a short sample fragment from the audio recording but I strongly recommend watching the 26-minute video of the performance to get an impression of the beauty of this piece).

Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto – site specific performance at the Glass House

Ryuichi Sakamoto/Alva Noto – Glass (preview sample)



This Berlin-bases group was formed in 2014, after the release of the Hayward Tuning Vine, “an interface for exploring microtonal tuning that allows for direct and intuitive interaction with the pitches normally hidden between the keys of the piano”. Or, in other words, the group investigate “the inner dimensions and outer limits of Just Intonation.”

For the uninitiated (like myself) that may sound as complex as it is. But as a listener we don’t need to truly understand the theory behind it to enjoy the musical result (or not to enjoy it, of course). We have our ears. And there definitely is a lot to be enjoyed on this release.

Tonaliens are Hilary Jeffery (trombone), Robin Hayward (microtonal tuba), Werner Durand (invented wind instruments), Ralf Meinz (live sound, electronics) and Amelia Cuni (voice on Vesta).

Vesta and Pallas are two long-form drone pieces, divided in four parts because of the release format: vinyl. I personally think that a release on CD or digital would’ve better suited music like this because the music can be played uninterrupted, but it’s a policy of the Edition Telemark label to release all their titles on vinyl only.

Both performances are recorded live in 2015: Vesta in Amsterdam during that year’s Sonic Acts festival, and Pallas in a somewhat smaller setting for the Labor Sonor series in Berlin. Amelia Cuni only performs on Vesta, her voice somewhat reminiscing an Indian raga performance. Pallas is fully instrumental.

The music and chord explorations are a fascinating interplay of acoustics and electronics. With the kind of timelessness that is induced by the prolonged chords it is easy to see why Hilary Jeffery referred to the Tuning Vine as a spaceship, and the Tonaliens as “explorers of parallel harmonic universes that have remained largely obscured for so long.”

How to end a performance that explores the spaces where time seems absent? Just a long fade, perhaps, to illustrate that the sound could go on for an indefinite time? Not this time… Surprisingly something strange seems to happen in the last minutes of Pallas: it’s as if one of the performers suddenly loses concentration and control over his instrument, and so the performance comes to an end. Somehow, it’s a funny kind of relief: the Tonaliens appear to be human beings after all.

TONALIENS – VESTA (fragments)

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Starting this drone edition with the two versions of Lineleh means we’re immediately diving deep into the most minimalist of drones. Richard Chartier and Eleh (personal information remains enigmatic, despite his/her impressive output… which was an inspiration for brainwashed as well as Noise Parkworked together in 2015 and 2016 to refine this drone celebrating their fascination for micro-nuances.

The micro-nuances best reveal themself with headphone listening, although quiet amplification is also recommended. This is deep listening material, not many people will listen to these long-form drone pieces with continued concentration. But that is not the issue: on ‘quiet amplification’ it is as ignorable as it is interesting – and isn’t that the original definition of ambient music? The kind of sounds that merge with the sounds of your own environment, altering the atmosphere to match with your own state of mind.

Lineleh is released in two separate versions: a 73 minute version and a 128 minute version. Though the first version would have fitted on a CD, both editions are digital-download only.

II is not simply a stretched version of Ithere’s a distinct difference in the two pieces – although they may use the same basic sound material.
is a drone piece in the truest, most minimal possible way, reminiscent of some of the work of Eliane Radigue.
 explores the micro-nuances, isolating some of its parts and zooming into it with microscopic detail.
In the first 30 minutes of II, there’s a faint yet distinctive whoop sound, something like the start of a loop sample, introducing a ‘rhythm’ to hold on to. A strange artefact, unusual to this kind of drone sounds, which does not seem to be present in the version. But when it finally disappears, the dive feels even deeper than before.

These two versions should definitely be regarded as pieces on one single album, even though they are available separately. It’s not either/or, but it’s a three-hour-and-twenty-one minute trip through “distinct floating durational interactions through slowly shifting waves.

Yann Novak Surroundings


Also released on the Line Imprint label is this 29 minute dronescape by Yann Novakoriginally created as a sound performance for the Soundwave Biennal in San Francisco. Is is a symbiotic mixture of field recordings captured in the Golden Gate Park and synthesized sounds representing the architecture of the de Young Museum.

As expected, you can leave it up to Yann Novak to come up with a beautiful, “deep and meditative listening environment” that has the same effect as a revitalizing power nap: a 30 minute dive into eternity.

Radboud Mens En Matthijs Kouw


The basic motto for this album is a quote from John Cage: “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”
This is especially true when listening to what we call drone music.
If you listen to drones at the wrong moment, for the wrong reasons, without the right mindset or intention, you might dismiss it as boring. And it may very well be boring – but it is intentionally so.
If you surrender yourself to the sound, immerse yourself it, can be receptive to its many details, it opens up a world of timeless wonders. Miraculous waves of sound interacting with your body, your location, your hearing, your perception.

Radboud Mens and Matthijs Kouw have previously worked together, exploring all kinds of experimental electronic music. Their collaboration for this album is the first of a two-part album, recorded live in the studio in December 2014. This edition presents two minimalistic electro-acoustic drones, created using software, recordings of acoustic instruments and a modular synth.
The tracks, each around 20 minutes, are effectively called “F” and “A”. The start of each piece is like adjusting to a tuning fork. Once you’re tuned to the basic sound you can simply wait for the variations to start happening.

The funny thing is: it never gets boring, not even after 2 x 20 minutes.
So, if you want to test Cage’s statement, you’ll have to put it on repeat!

David Fyans - Trübhand


David Fyans previously recorded as Erstlaub, but currently releases his work under his own name. The (German) title roughly translates to something like ‘cloudy hand’ –  a reminder of a period David (of Scottish origin) and his wife were living in Bad Zwischenahn, north Germany.
‘In exile at the time, as a result of untenable UK visa policy’.

“The absolute flatness of the area was further adding to my homesickness and feeling of isolation.”

The two tracks, called (Left Hand) and (Right Hand), were recorded as two separate live performances, using a relatively simple setup: a small case of eutorack modules, a mixer and a couple of guitar pedals. They re-create a foggy state of mind, “feelings of occluded emotion, dullness and slowness of mind…”

“At night, in the alien darkness, I would close my eyes and rend the landscape. I would summon great mountains, pulling up grassy slopes that gave way to jagged cliffs, dragging down the clouds to create negative space.”

Martijn Comes - Interrogation of the Crystalline Sublime


Martijn Comes is a Dutch composer specialising in new media, sound design and electro-acoustic composition. His hour-long deep-drone piece Interrogation of the Crystalline Sublime was published on the spectacular Drone Cinema 2015 Raspberry Pi (!) release – the kind of gem every dronehead will probably dream of, but with a price tag only few can afford.

So it’s a good thing that the Moving Furniture label decided to reissue this piece in a 2-CD version (ánd digital download of course): CD1 containing the hour-long Interrogation by Martijn Comes, and CD2 containing 8 remixes of that piece by Scant Intone, Mitchell Akiyama, Zeno van den Broek, Alberto Boccardi, Haarvöl, Juan Antonio Nieto, Giulio Aldinucci and Orphax. 

Comes describes his work as ‘livingroom music’ (possibly distinguishing itself slightly from Erik Satie’s ‘Musique d’Ameublement’ (Furniture Music), which was meant to be played by live performers).
He set out to “write a piece that is equally meditative as it is harmonious and melodic, or at least it would hint at large subtle progressions of harmony, in a way that is magnetic to the imaginations, while the body remains in a  meditative, relaxing state.”
It’s an immersive drone, with hints of a shore in the background, that gradually grows intense and inescapable in its first half and then gradually recedes again.

It is not often that drone material like this gets remix treatments by different artists, so it’s interesting to hear what other artists do with sonic material like this.
Some of the remixers focus on the drone aspect, emphasizing different frequencies thus altering the overall feel. Others filter out artefacts (which can hardly be heard in the original), or add their own material to create abstract electro-acoustic compositions that hardly seem related to the original. Some focus on emotional aspects, others take a more analytic approach. Most of them venture into sonic extremes, thus losing some of the ‘livingroom’ aspect of the original.
But each one of these remixes sound completely different – like if they were original compositions in the first place.

Orphax Dream Sequence #3


With the exception of Lineleh, all releases mentioned above are released on the Moving Furniture Records label, curated by Sietse van Erve alias OrphaxSo it’s only natural to include his own release here (which is not released on his own label but on Taâlem by the way).

Van Erve is a dedicated admirer of the music of Eliane Radigue and this shows in most of his music (as well as in a lot of the releases on his label).
Dream Sequence #3 is the third part (duh!) of a series of dreamy ambient drone pieces. Part 1 and Part 2 are available through Orphax‘s Bandcamp Shop.

Because of the limitations of the 3″ CD it is released on, it is relatively short (at least for a drone) with its 23 minutes. It’s the kind of drone that can isolate you from your surroundings (instead of enhancing it), which definitely helps to drift away into a short but refreshing dream.

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Yann Novak * Triac * Mytrip

Mytrip Filament



On his very first physical release on the Touch label, Yann Novak “continues his investigations of presence, stillness and mindfulness through the construction of immersive spaces, both literal and figurative.”

The title of this 49 minute soundscape refers to a 1913 manifesto of Adolf Loosarguing that “the proper and moral evolution of Western culture depends in part upon the removal of ornamentation from daily life”,  because “the desire to adorn architecture, the body, objects etc. is a primitive impulse.”
equated ornamentation with the degenerate – an interesting viewpoint to ignite a heated conversation in a contemporary tattoo-shop on a saturday afternoon, I guess.

For this composition, Novak carefully selected poor quality field recordings from his archive. “Difficult sounds”, low fidelity smartphone recordings, full of awkward interruptions and problematic frequencies.
This selection forced him to approach the material in an entirely different way: “the familiar, reductive approaches would fail to be useful and ultimately abandoned in favor of more dynamic, additive and laborious processes.”
The result is ‘an adornment of time itself: a meditation on beauty, labor and aesthetics’. 

Is this an ‘ornamented’ drone? Or are the original recordings stripped of their inherent ornamentations?
It’s impossible to say. One wonders what Adolf Loos would have to say about a recording like this .

Also on Spotify

Triac Here


Third Triac album by the trio consisting of Rossano Polidoro (ex Tu’M, laptop), Marco Seracini (piano, synth) and Augustus Tatone (electric bass), and their second release for Richard Chartier’s Line label: the follow-up of last year’s Days.

Though their music is constructed in an entirely different process, the result is reminiscent of that of William Basinski in its repetitive use of short melodic fragments with an almost hypnotic result.
Mysterious clouds of drifting sounds, where  the sound of piano and bass is hardly distinguishable but definitely add to the complete sound palette.

Mytrip Filament


There’s a remarkable lot of experimental electronic music coming from the Eastern part of Europe. Most of these albums were hard to find in the old days, but with Bandcamp becoming the main distribution channel for independent artists finding this music has become much easier.
While I’ve seen many acts from – for instance – Poland, there are no names from Bulgaria that I know of. With this exception: Angel Simitchiev aka Mytrip.

Filament is physically released as vinyl and cassette, and there’s a download version, but no CD release.
The album features six multi-layered, dubby soundscapes (and three additional remixes by Ivan Shopov, Evitceles and Conjecture on the cassette version only which is 20 minutes longer than the vinyl album release).

The music can be classified as “breathing on the thin borderline of ambient, drone and dub”, but with a discerning sound palette because Simitchiev is careful to keep some harshness in his sound palette to accentuate the ‘live’ feel of the album.

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Kissy Suzuki; Suisen; Darren McClure; Yann Novak; Hakobune
– shortlist –


In the Shortlist sections, I will mention the albums that I enjoyed listening to, but couldn’t find the time (or the right words) for a “full review” for. But still, these albums deserve your attention!


Kissy Suzuki is David Teboul a.k.a. Linear Bells. “Proposte Monochrome” is a tribute to the french painter Yves Kleinand is a perfect companion to some of his work – the Monochrome Works in particular. Core piece of this album is the 41 minute title track, followed by two (relatively) shorter pieces called “blue chambers” and “white chambers”. All long, immersive drone pieces.


Suisen is a collaboration between Tomotsugu Nakamura and Darren McClure.
Nakamura’s primary artistic practice is composing music by acoustic instruments and field recordings, while  McClure ‘folds together electronics, drones, and processed field recordings to create pieces of minimal, abstract ambience.”
“‘Suisen’ is the Japanese name for the Narcissist flower, a common sight that signals the first signs of spring. Our music tries to convey this feeling of renewal, enjoying the intangible aspects of a season’s transition.”

World is Made of Words

Contrary to the title statement, there are no words on this beautiful 20 minute drone piece that can be downloaded (for free!) from the Yugen Art netlabel.
“The real secret of Magic is that the World is made of Words. And that if you know the Words that the World is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish” (Terence McKenna)


“In Liminality the artists explore different states of ambiguity that occurs in the middle stage of the compositional process before its structure has comes to fruition. The piece inhabits the threshold between sonic discovery and and fully realized composition. Liminality explores a similar pallet of sounds, always on the verge of becoming something more, but never fully materializing.”
The recordings that this album is based on were originally recorded at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, in April 2013. So, among others, the spirit of Jim Morrison may be hovering around somewhere deep in there!

Vitex Negundo

Three gentle guitar improvisations/meditations, based on the memory of the movie “The Farewell to the Ark” by Shuji Terayama.
Hakobune (Takahiro Yorifuji) starts “throwing notes in the air”, and they all seem to fall at their right place.
“Sparse, let them have the time to drift and unfold to full impression. – Setting up the right mood to calm down.”

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