Pasvikdalen (2014) was commissioned by Dark Ecology/Sonic Acts/Hilde Methi, performed at the Muziekgebouw, Sonic Acts Festival, Amsterdam and at Kurant, Tromsø (for the Dark Ecology and Arctic Encounter Forum), at NIBIO Svanhovd and at SALT, Oslo
Jana Winderen first presented Pasvikdalen in 2015, at the Dark Ecology and Arctic Encounters forum at the University of Tromsø – Arctic University of Norway. Dark Ecology is also the title of a book by philosopher Timothy Morton, a speaker at the forum. After a cursory Google search, I feel confident in marking his Dark Ecology project as another exhausting, pointless addition to the lineage of white artists and philosophers exploring the “posthuman,” inventing new strands of thought that ignore the fundamental realities of the world or treat these realities as boring or outdated. To these people, the problems of the world—problems that kill, displace, blight people on a daily basis—are simply linguistic and aesthetic playgrounds, territories in which capitalism or climate catastrophe can be mitigated with the right poetic framework and zany pop culture references. I think this sums it up: an 8000-word interview with Morton about Dark Ecology—a book marketed as a radical reimagining of the ongoing climate catastrophe and how we can comprehend it—contains two instances of the word “capitalism,” and 33 instances of the word “weird.”
I begin with Morton’s Dark Ecology only because Winderen’s Pasvikdalen cuts through all the bullshit of Morton’s project, and in its 38 minutes manages to strike me in all the right emotional pressure points, summoning the feverish storm of anxieties I feel in the face of climate catastrophe while evoking the boundless beauty of our shared earth. Winderen has hinted in an interview that she sometimes manipulates her raw recordings, time-stretching and equalizing elements as she collages them together. Already, she breaks the unspoken rule of field recording, where practitioners often see themselves simply as archivists of various natural locales and phenomena. Winderen works on a deeper level, though the foundation of her work certainly lies in the crystalline purity of natural sounds, and she often goes to the furthest reaches of the earth in order to obtain them.
In this case: Nikel, Russia, near the Russian-Norwegian border, seemingly named after its Norilsk Nickel plant which spews so much sulfur dioxide that the Moscow Times described the area as “a moonscape of bald hills, barren of plant life for kilometers.” She still works as a musician interested in form and narrative, carefully sculpting waves of deep vibrations, respiring harmonics and clouds of blistering wind-noise that drift and collide like tectonic plates. This is not simply a documentary, but a totem, a living, breathing object imbued simultaneously with a sense of infinite scale and microscopic detail. When, twenty minutes in, the dogs start howling, it is easy to hear a lament—a cry for help from the earth. But this has no basis in reality. In occupying a middle ground between pure document and deliberate, artificial composition, Pasvikdalen does much more than vaguely “raise awareness” of climate catastrophe: its sonic form and construction directly reflect the immensity and complexity of the issue itself, targeting with laser focus all of the emotional vulnerabilities felt in the face of ecological collapse, unfolding with a logic of its own and never offering clear answers. There is no easy retreat to nature in a burning world. [Sunik Kim]
The double vinyl edition is now available to order
Sides 1 to 3: Solas
Solas and Wrangham were recorded by Iain Berryman at Union Chapel, London, 26-27th February 2016 on the organ built by Henry Willis in 1877
Mixed at Bennachie Studios, Aberdeen and EMS Goldsmiths, London
Violin extracts on Eilean from “Land of the Standing Stones” composed and performed by Paul Anderson
Eilean was commissioned by Aberdeenshire Council
Special thanks to Union Chapel, University of Aberdeen and Goldsmiths College
Side 4: Fairge
Recorded by Clare Gallagher at Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, 12th June 2017 on the transept organ built by Ahrend & Brunzema (1965)
Fairge was commissioned by Oude Kerk
Special thanks to Jacob Lekkerkerker and all at Oude Kerk
All tracks written & performed by Claire M Singer
Mastered by Denis Blackham @ Skye
Cut by Jason @ Transition April 2018
Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft
My AweSOMe Guest List – 2019’s Best Albums: Anthéne Toronto-based artist 2019’s best albums
“A collection of her Solas album and Fairge EP released as 2 LP’s. I loved both releases when they initially came out and was really happy to see Touch release them together on LP. Lovely organ and string works.”
The 19th Spire took place on 7th September 2019 at Chichester Cathedral, and was produced by Iklectik. These tracks, all performed by Charles Matthews, were recorded by Isa Ferri of Iklectik and mixed by Jeff Ardron (Saint Austral Sound), to whom grateful thanks are due.
2. J.S. Bach: “Pièce d’orgue” (Fantasia in G major)
3. Nicholas Scott-Burt: “Keep Silence”, from Paraphrases
4. Deszo Antallfy-Zsiross – “Sketches on Negro Spiritual Songs”
5. Muffat: “Ciacona”
6. Saint-Saëns (arranged for organ solo by David Briggs) – “Finale”, from Symphony no. 3
IKLECTIK presents Spire live
The full programme – 8 to 915pm:
*”Estampie”, from the Robertsbridge Codex
Claire M Singer – “Wrangham”
The Eternal Chord l
*J.S. Bach: “Pièce d’orgue” (Fantasia in G major)
Claire M Singer – “Diobaig”
Claire M Singer – “Dhachaigh” *World Premier*
The Eternal Chord ll
*Nicholas Scott-Burt: “Keep Silence”, from Paraphrases
*Deszo Antallfy-Zsiross – “Sketches on Negro Spiritual Songs”
Claire M Singer – “Solas”
The Eternal Chord lll
*Saint-Saëns (arranged for organ solo by David Briggs) – “Finale”, from Symphony no. 3
Recorded by Mike Harding, 3rd May 2019 at AB Salon, Brussels
Mastered by Simon Scott @ SPS Mastering
Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft
Eurorack modular: Make Noise René 2, Make Noise Tempi, Make Noise WoggleBug, Make Noise Morphagene, Make Noise QMMG, Make Noise tELHARMONIC, Make Noise Maths, Serge Resonant EQ, Mutable Instruments Shades, Mutable Instrument Clouds
Non-modular: Field recordings made using a Zoom H6 and LOM mikroUsi microphones, GE 35383 Micro Cassette Recorder
A lifelong expatriate, Bana Haffar was born in Saudi Arabia in 1987 and spent much of her childhood in the GCC. Through her switch from 10 years of electric bass, preceded by classical violin, to modular synthesizers in 2014, Bana is attempting to dismantle years of institutional conditioning in traditional systems of music theory and performance. She is interested in exploring sonic disintegration and coalescence into new forms and synthesized experiences. Bana lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
Very taken with Genera, Live at AB Salon Brussels (TOUCH TONE 71) by Bana Haffar, new CD on Touch and one which bears all the hallmarks that have made this label unique and distinctive, including on this occasion the not-overlong duration (32:43 mins of music, and not a wasted moment). I mean Touch have been a home to enigmatic and beautiful music that transcended its electronic mode of construction, as Bana Haffar does here with elegance and intuition, feeling her way around the contours of this work and sustaining interest right until the end.
She is Arabian born and now living in America, and may have found her way towards electronic music from a more traditional classical training base, including learning the violin and playing the electric bass for ten years. She indicates that her present way of working is an attempt to “unlearn” all of this, which she now regards as a sort of institutionalisation, the same way that intellectuals and free thinkers rebel against the confines of a traditional education. Everyone who picks up these synth instruments and related tools declares they are now going to start “exploring” and announce their interest in “new forms”, but Bana Haffar actually makes good on these promises. She lists a range of modular devices that sit in her rack, doing so with the kind of precision you normally get from a salesman in the showroom, as well as noting her use of cassette recorders, field recordings, and microphones; and then proceeds to instantly move beyond this array of equipment to produce beautiful and fascinating music. Her ideas never seem to dry up and she never settles for a commonplace sound.
If you want a few signposts, you might say she combines the best of imaginative Mego-glitch of the 1990s with Terry Riley’s arpeggiated sublimeness, juxtaposing these elements with her audio snapshots that inject grit, realism, and surprising angles on the world around us. As noted earlier, it feels to me like she does all of this on 90% pure instinct, shaping up the instant composition in both hands as it unfolds and proceeds. Unequivocal recommendation for this excellent release…now I want to hear her 12-incher Alif on the Vent label, and Matiere on Make Noise Records. From 15th June 2019. [Ed Pinsent]
Chain D.L.K. (USA):
“Genera” is a live performance in five pieces (labelled ‘zones’), 32 minutes in total. Haffar uses a large array of modular synthesizers and is compositionally very free with them- melodies are present but spontaneous, non-repetitive, and unpredictable. Into the mix are thrown field recordings of environmental atmospheres, and snippets of traditional music performances- some possibly related to Haffar’s Saudi Arabian heritage, others more rooted in her modern North Carolina life. The result is a collage of disparate elements, presented expressively and emotively.
The first zone draws heavily on flute-like sounds that are twisted and shifted hypnotically, while in the second zone the synths form an organ-like drone for a flatter and more mesmeric landscape. This then brightens up into brighter and breezier synth arpeggios in the third zone. Unexpectedly and quite suddenly, zone four is a hollow cavern- low rumbles, trickling water noises, distant echoes- while the final zone, of stuttering chords and mellow Tangerine Dream-esque arpeggiators, both creeps up and fades away gradually, with a final devolution into crisp walking atmospherics and wind-like noises to close. Throughout, digital clicks and textures decorate the top end, providing a linking consistency.
It’s a short but sweet performance that would have been fascinating to catch live back in May. Fresh-sounding, despite familiar ingredients, it’s a premium package that represents modern electronic music well, and which could also serve as a strong entry point for people new to the genres being touched on here. The only awkward thing about it is the reference to the division into ‘zones’, ‘zone’ being one of those words that, once over-used, starts sounding quite silly somehow.
Bana Haffar of Saudi origin is based in North Carolina, who with modular synthesizers and sequencers deconstructs the sounds giving them a new shape.
This album consists of a single piece that was a concert of Haffar in Brussels, recorded live by Mike Harding, boss of the Touch label and mastered by Simon Scott.
In this track of about 32 minutes long Haffar compresses the sounds turning them into noises with nods to the musique concrète. In some passages the sounds mutate into a liquid state, characteristic of Haffar’s processing with last generation devices and softwares.
Bana Haffar’s music has recognizable passages related to ambient, in others they are extremely complex and abstract. [Guillermo Escudero]
Impressive recording of Bana Haffar breaking down her classical music conditioning thru modular hardware and field recording strategies. Employing a big rack of modules as well as location recordings made on digital and analog devices, we hear Haffar start with tape filtered traces of traditional Arabic music, but the show ends up somewhere quite different.
Over the proceeding 30 minutes the sample struggles thru a maze of hardware channels and FX, decaying and changing state into icy marble drops and glowing chords that seem to move ever further upwards, away from the source material, creating crystalline canopies that shatter into deliquescent rivulets only to emerge as Autechrian scree and shrapnel in the final part.
“A lifelong expatriate, Bana Haffar was born in Saudi Arabia in 1987 and spent much of her childhood in the GCC. Through her switch from 10 years of electric bass, preceded by classical violin, to modular synthesizers in 2014, Bana is attempting to dismantle years of institutional conditioning in traditional systems of music theory and performance. She is interested in exploring sonic disintegration and coalescence into new forms and synthesized experiences. Bana lives in Asheville, North Carolina.”
Dass die Idee der Erzählstimme sehr gut gegen den Wortsinn verstanden werden kann, zeigt ebenso deutlich die epische Analogsynthesizererzählung Genera; Live at AB Salon, Brussels (Touch) der US-Amerikanischen Newcomerin Bana Haffar. Sie hat vor vier Jahren ihre klassische Musikausbildung an der Violine zugunsten einer Faszination mit den Eurorack-Modulen von Make Noise und Serge aufgegeben und erzählt seither von Spaziergängen auf und in realen und elektronischen Räumen und Pfaden. Spannende und informative Trips, die vielleicht ähnlich viel über den Zustand der Welt sagen können, wie Fishers explizit gemachte Gedanken.
Put on the album circuit via Touch on July 26th, 2k19 is Bana Haffar’s latest album effort “Genera (Live At AB Salon, Brussels)” which indeed was recorded as a nearly 33 minutes spanning live performance at named location on May 3rd, 2k19. Opening with what seem to be decayed, reprocessed Field Recordings from the Arab world the Saudi Arabian expat soon takes a turn towards a friendly, warm, organic and overall welcoming variation of Ambient with a slightly vintage and melancholia-infused twist. This twist is especially prevalent in the slowly evolving pads and somehow Pole’esque low frequency harmonies she builds from scratch on her extensive modular Eurorack set up whilst adding layers and layers of floating, lively and playful, later on more dramatic synth sequences on top of this foundation, steering into the realms of beatless IDM music and partly even evoking memories of a long gone genre once called Ambient Trance whilst the final turn takes the live performance into fully experimental territories, catering the needs for unsettling disturbance through employing sharp, echoing sounds of floating water (… or acids?), brooding, yet heavenly strings and loads of electrical buzzes and feedbacks before harking back to classic Ambient structures for a closing here.
Bana Haffar was born in the 1980s in Saudi Arabia. After years of study as a classical violinist she switched to the electric bass and in 2014 to modular electronic synthesizers. Some may see this journey as a planned “deprogramming” of traditional classical systems. Others find it to be a natural, if adventurous, progression. The five suites of Genera, released by Touch, should be taken as an exploration of imaginative zones. These pieces were captured at a live event in May 2019 by the co-head of the record label, Mark Harding. Haffar uses many modular synthetizers for her performances and in this show, as usual, gave space to exotisms, oriental harmonies and melodic passages. The composition’s structure is very instinctive, not far from her experimentations at NAMM on a new Moog synthesizer. The musician spends the right amount of time on low and deaf frequencies, tries different sequences of chords and modulations and experiments with the functions and the limits of her musical instruments. Genera overall lasts only 32 minutes. The first section includes some field recordings from traditional Arabic music, mixed with other elements such as synthetic audio emergencies, metallic drops and different deconstructions. As in an unstable radio syntony, these melodies come from afar, seemingly from another world. It seems like a variegated totality of elements might yet find the right place: something vanishes, the atmospheres can, all of a sudden, become ethereal and abstract, with ambient passages; at other times, distant and cerebral. Liquid constructions, whirlpools, whispered drones – it’s hard to understand if everything comes from the synthesizers or if anything is produced by software. But this doesn’t really matter. We preferred to let ourselves go with the music; probably the musician wished this too. [Aurelio Cianciotti]
Blow Up (Italy):
Bad Alchemy (DE):
Gonzo Circus (Belgium):
Από την Σαουδική Αραβία η BanaHaffar άφησε την καταπιεστική πατρίδα της για την Νότια Καρολίνα των ΗΠΑ όπου πλέον ζει και εργάζεται . Σπούδασε ηλεκτρικό μπάσο για να περάσει στο βιολί και από εκεί, πριν λίγα χρόνια, στους συνθετητές. Στο “Genera”, ζωντανά ηχογραφημένο στις Βρυξέλλες, χρησιμοποιεί μια σειρά από modular συνθεζάιζερς πλαισιωμένους με field recordings, κασετόφωνα ή μικρόφωνα. Η Haffar επιδιώκει την «διάλυση» παραδοσιακών μουσικών μορφών ενώ εξερευνά την επανασύνθεση τους, ούτως ώστε ανατολίτικες μελωδίες να επιπλέουν ως θραύσματα στον ωκεανό των ηλεκτρονικών ήχων.
Revealing a spectra of folk styles to the vast majority of us who have never visited the quinquennial folk festival, held in a castle overlooking the town of Gjirokastra in southern Albania, the set speaks to the remarkable breadth of unique instruments and styles native to the region since ancient Iliryrian times (pre-Roman).
It’s a truly enchanting collection presenting selections from six of the 26 participating districts – Vlora, Gjirokastra and Lorca from the south, and Shkodra, Debra and Tropoja from the north – and covering a gamut from spine-freezing, elegiac, layered vocal harmonies to bouzouki-sounding strings and flutes, and pinch-yourself scenes of pastoral bliss in the ‘Untitled Melody’ piece that is worth the price of entry alone.
Can’t afford a holiday this year? This LP will surely suffice.
Recorded live on Touch’s tour of California in May 2019, with dates at Zebulon, Los Angeles, The Battery, San Francisco and Land and Sea, Oakland.
1. Simon Scott – Live at The Battery, San Francisco
Mastered by SPS Mastering. Desk recording by Mike Harding.
2. Zachary Paul – Live at Land and Sea, Oakland 14:24
Mastered (mono) by Stephan Mathieu. Desk recording by Mike Harding.
3. Geneva Skeen – Live at Zebulon, Los Angeles 28:03
Room recording by Guy at Third Eye Memories. With thanks to Yann Novak.
With thanks to Jen & Charles Belleville, Chris Duncan, Kevin Corcoran, Stacy Horne, Colleen Curlin, Lara dela Cruz, Joce Soubiran and everyone who had a hand in making these events happen.
Side One [18:24]
1. For the Dark Planets
2. Into Burning Labyrinths (Fuse-Fire-Seed)
Side Two [20:44]
3. Stems of the Shadowmind
4. A Gulp of Moss, a Breath of Stone
Composed, recorded and produced by Stephen Thrower & David Knight
Mixed at Wolf Studios, Brixton, with Dominique Brethes
Cut by Jason @ Transition
Artwork & Photography: Jon Wozencroft
Has there ever been a better time to fuck off to the stars? Is a prison breakout ‘escapism’? Crisis carve some wound-space to let the dreams back in. In nights we turn to fire, in flight we burst into stone, where are the exits in this theatre of the damned? Strict luggage allocations – guitar (D. Knight), saxophone (S. Thrower) – and all the electronics your thoughts can carry. Headspin echoes, round and around, tilt wind-sails at a dark horizon, cut a stutter through the distance barrier. In to be out through the structure of the eye, encrusted with rotor-slime, pushing on through border erosions as everything melts into smoke, burning objects may be closer than they appear. Nebulae dazzle the shadows, tunnel through memories and the pulp-mass of neurons, forwards heading backwards, end of tether snapped, slide into the earth like ancient worms and breathe.
UnicaZürn’s core instrumentation blends analogue synthesiser, mellotron and electric piano with electric guitar and saxophone. Knight is reknowned for his pioneering multi-textured fretwork with Danielle Dax and Shock-Headed Peters, and his ambient guitar settings for Lydia Lunch, while Thrower’s reed playing provided rage and melancholy in Coil and turns to electro-acoustic texture in Cyclobe.
Sensudestricto is the latest full-length from UnicaZürn, a duo comprised of Stephen Thrower (Possession, Coil) and Dave Knight (Danielle Dax, Shock-Headed Peters). Together they make a delightfully ghoulish avant-racket, one that fuses drone, free music, industrial techniques and musique concrete. It’s a disorientating and heady brew, one that combines art music with a sort of fairground horror feeling. Sensudestricto brings to mind Einstürzende Neubauten doing battle with The Tiger Lillies.
Freq Magazine (UK):
What a gem of electro-acousticness David Knight and Stephen Thrower have created for their second UnicaZürn release on the Touch label.
The weeviling warmth of the orchestration on the first track is erased by a Steve Reichian slip, snipping signatures ripped through with corkscrewing curls, tapering manatees full of planetary perfume and starry savannahs. A layered weave which dances your head with discovery, the curious abstraction of the second track (“Into Burning Labyrinth”) roasted over an aviary of Islamic reeds. This insistent pulse stoking its centre as tethered circulars tendril off to a cacophony then tidal comedown.
The devil’s certainly in the detail as the visual vibrations of the inverted apple tree art linger to the album’s pencilled erosions, the bruised blush of harmonics leaking through the funnelling loopage of “Stems Of The Shadowmind”, nebulously needled in dilatory exhales. Beautiful vibes reminiscent of Transpandorem’s drifting contours lounging here in the slow and even recoils of the occasional bass chord, Thrower’s saxophone slipping sinuously into the creeping multiples and choral curves. These delectables are snatched away in an acidic outro of Temporal Bends-type mischief detaching the listener from complacency.
The mechanical rub texturing the infinite mirrored surface of “A Gulp of Moss, A Breath of Stone” is an oscillatory pleasure psychedelically shifting with dark seductive details that drag you within its transformative fibre. A helix skating accelerating as this ominous yarn cloisters, dirgeful, full of jewelled serpents slithering into the caw-caws of Avebury crows , an illusion generated by FX-blighted vocals that dissipate its eventual demise.
Now this is where Sensudestricto ends, but if you purchase your wax via the label, you are rewarded with an eight-minute download bonus, a chilled-out nugget called “Frozen Scars And Laudanum”, where the electrics nestle this gorgeous HenrykGórecki-esque slip’n’slide, as the bending verdigris of the Northern Lights are candled in its inky iridescence. [Michael Rodham-Heaps]
African Paper (Germany):
Das aus Stephen Thrower und David Knight bestehende und aus dem Improvisationskollektiv The Amal Gamal Ensemble hervorgegangene Duo veröffentlicht mit „Sensudistricto“ das inzwischen vierte Album. Es ist nach dem 2017 erschienenen „Transpandorem“ das zweite auf Touch (Jon Wozencraft hat dann auch wieder das Artwork gestaltet). Thrower und Knight kombinieren allerlei (analoge) Elektronik mit Gitarre und Blasinstrumenten, um eine Musik zu spielen, die in jederlei Wortsinn kosmisch ist.
Im Pressetext zum Album wird die Frage gestellt, ob es je eine bessere Zeit gegeben habe, diesen Planeten zu verlassen und sich zu den Sternen zu „verpissen“, und passenderwiese heißt das erste Stück „For The Dark Planets“. Dennoch klingt der Track von der Stimmung gar nicht so (ver)dunkel(t), wie es der Titel denken lassen mag. Man hört ein bearbeitetes Blasinstrument inmitten dronig-flächiger Passagen. Das Stück ist, wie auch der größte Teil des restlichen Albums, fortwährend in Bewegung und entwickelt eine ziemliche Dynamik. Auf „Into Burning Labyrinths (Fuse-Fire-Seed)“ hört man flirrende Sounds und Perkussion. Sucht man Vergleiche außerhalb des UnicaZürn-Kosmos könnte man vielleicht Coils „Tiny Golden Books“ als Referenzpunkt nennen. “Stems of The Shadowmind” ist für mich ein erster Höhepunkt: erneut nimmt man diese Dynamik, diese Bewegung innerhalb des Tracks wahr und dann setzt nach einer Weile Throwers Saxophonspiel ein. Vielleicht ist das Jazz für die Blade Runner-Bar. Auf „A Gulp Of Moss A Breath of Stone“ fluktuiert, oszilliert die Elektonik. Gegen Ende erklingen verfremdete, seltsame Stimmen. Der Bonustrack „Frozen Scars and Laudanum“ fällt etwas ruhiger aus als die anderen vier Tracks, die Bewegung wird zurückgenommen und das Stück hat durchaus Soundtrackqualitäten: in der Ferne flirrende Hochtöne, Pulsieren, ein Blasinstrument lässt sich erahnen.
Vor einiger Zeit sagte Thrower in einem Interview bezogen auf die Musik UnicaZürns: „We’re fond of long-form pieces, extended trips, and I see what we do as having strong psychedelic qualities, with underlying tension and a sense of the uncanny.” Das ist eine durchaus angemessene Beschreibung dessen, was man auf „Sensudistricto“ hören kann, denn „trip“ kann immer (auch) zweierlei meinen: Die (durch psychotrope Substanzen verursachte) Reinigung der „Pforten der Wahrnehmung“ (Huxley via Blake) und die daraus resultierenden Bewusstseinsverschiebungen (worauf der letzte Titel mit seinem Verweis auf flüssiges Opium hinweisen mag) und eine Reise im eigentlichen Sinne, die diese narrativen, ausufernden, psychedelischen Tracks durchaus evozieren können. [MG]
Dass man trotz viel Elektronik immer noch so natürlich klingen kann, das ist nicht ein Wunder der Technik, sondern das Talent von zwei Künstlern, welche ihre Ideen vielseitig und ohne falsche Zurückhaltung in die Welt lassen. UnicaZürn, das Projekt von Stephen Thrower und David Knight existiert seit 2009 und bietet auch zehn Jahre später immer noch wundersame Kompositionen, welche eigentlich gar nicht erklärt werden möchten.
Bereits die ersten Minuten von “Sensudestricto” sind so wundersam anders und entrückt, dass sie eher wie ein Märchen als ein experimentelles Album funktionieren. Mit Gitarre und Saxophon grundlegend eingespielt, mit Gerätschaften jeglicher Art zu neuen Möglichkeiten erweitert – das ist nicht klar elektronische, aber schon lange nicht mehr akustische Musik. Electronica mit improvisierten Jams, umgebaut zu organischen Theorien, voller Ambient-Wirkungen ohne Lähmung. “Stems of the Shadowmind” holt sich die Kraft in den Wurzeln, wie die Früchte auf dem Cover.
Vieles an “Sensudestricto” ist wie ein Gewächs, elaboriert von UnicaZürn in der Art, die es auch Klaus Schulze und andere Legenden des krautigen Electrostammes geehrt haben. Hypnotisch wandelnd, umhertreibend und doch immer wieder in der Form überraschend. So ist “Into Burning Labyrinths (Fuse-Fire-Seed)” ein moduliertes Vergnügen, das auch ein Herr Jarre gerne verköstigen würde, das Album ein Wagnis, welches immerzu belohnt. Ein Fiebertraum fast, eine Reise zu den Sternen und ein Abschied von den Ängsten. [Michael Bohli]
DAVID KNIGHT und STEVEN THROWER kommen ursprünglich aus der Improvisation und arbeiten bereits seit 2001 zusammen. Zu dieser Zeit traten sie noch als THE AMAL GAMAL ENSEMBLE auf, änderten dann jedoch Gangart und Namen. Seit 2009 nennen sie sich UNICAZÜRN. Kernbestandteil ihrer Musik ist jedoch bis heute das Freie der Improvisation.
Was Name und Beschäftigung miteinander verbindet, ist der vorgegebene Rahmen, innerhalb dessen weitgehend frei agiert werden kann. Die Improvisation passt da ausgezeichnet hinein. Sie kennt das Instrument, das – durch das Taktgefüge vorgegeben – die Führung nach einer gewissen Zeit und Taktanzahl an ein anderes abgibt. Ähnlich verhält es sich mit der Lyrik. Speziell mit der von UNICA ZÜRN. Sie hat nur eine gewisse Anzahl Buchstaben zu Verfügung, die äußerlich den Rahmen vorgeben, innerhalb dann allerdings frei vertauscht und so wieder zusammengesetzt werden können, dass ein neues Wort entsteht. Die Umstellung nennt sich ‘Permutation’. Den Vorgang des Umstellens nennt man ‘Anagrammieren’. Am Ende steht ein Anagramm, das zum Beispiel so aussieht:
Dieses Anagramm-Gedicht wurde 1960 von oben genannter UNICA ZÜRN geschrieben – der Dichterin und Zeichnerin, der Frau von HANS BELLMER, die 1970 Suizid beging. Also nicht von den hier zu besprechenden UNICAZÜRN, dem Musik-Projekt, das seinen Namen (möglicherweise aus rechtlichen Gründen) in einem Wort schreibt und sich musikalisch aus Analog-Synthies, einem Mellotron (die Urform des heutzutage als Sampler bekannten elektronischen Tasteninstruments, dem pro Taste eine Tonbandschleife zugeordnet ist…), einem elektrischen Piano, einer E-Gitarre und einem Saxofon zusammensetzt.
Hört man sich die Musik dieser UNICAZÜRN an, ist man einigermaßen erstaunt – klingt sie doch deutlich weniger nach dem, was man sich unter Improvisation so landläufig vorstellt. Gerade weil hier die Hauptinstrumente die Gitarre (KNIGHT) und das Saxofon (THROWER) sind, die Indizien also Richtung Jazzimprovisation weisen, klingt die Musik keineswegs nach Saxofon-Exzess, sondern eher nach Elektroakustik – wohl strukturiert und fließend. Und weil sie so fließt – der erste Höreindruck ist dementsprechend ambient – liegt die Vermutung nah, dass das Ganze komplett synthetisch produziert worden ist. Was allerdings eine Fehleinschätzung bleiben muss. Denn nach intensiverem Hinhören stellt man fest, dass da materiell vorhandene Musikinstrumente zum Einsatz kommen, denen eine besondere Spielweise und auch Klangfarben eigen sind, die zwar reproduzierbar wären, aber sicher nicht notwendigerweise genau so eingesetzt werden müssten, spielte man sie gleich original ein. Man bräuchte also keinesfalls den Umweg über das Sampling, hält man die Instrumente in seinen Händen. Doch ob das Resultat nun synthetisch oder analog daherkommt, wichtig ist, was stehenbleibt. Das sind auf “Sensudestricto” zwei Musiker, die bereits mit COIL oder LYDIA LUNCH spielten, deren eigene Musik nicht in allgemeine Genres passt, die trotz aller Zurückgenommenheit krachig und eher so strukturiert klingen, dass mehr von Tracks als von Stücken gesprochen werden muss.
Alle vier auf dem Album befindlichen Tracks setzen von ihrer Soundästhetik dann auch eher beim (klassischen) Industrial an, also als noch Gitarren und dergleichen alt eingespieltes Instrumentarium verwendet wurden. Deutlich hörbar auf dem ersten Stück “For the Dark Planets” (01). Aber auch so etwas wie Krautrock scheint durch. Etwa bei “Into Burning Labyrinths” (02). Dann auch noch Ambient, Elektroakustik…
Ein Album, das etwas Anlauf braucht, sich dann aber immer weiter entwickelt. Es ist organischen Ursprungs. Die Stücke darauf wurden per Hand aufgezogen. Man kann bei geschlossenen Augen zusehen wie es wächst.
David Knight era già stato turnista di Danielle Dax, oltre ad aver inciso qualche disco di musica industriale a nome Arkkon, quando incontra Stephen Thrower, altrettanto scafato in ambiti industriali (Coil, Posession, Cyclobe). I due, entrambi multistrumentisti, portano avanti il discorso intravisto con le loro origini tramite lunghe composizioni ambientali a nome UnicaZürn.
Nel primo Temporal Bends (2009) figurano anzitutto i 25 minuti del brano eponimo, suite in quattro movimenti che attacca con un sospiro elettronico, un pigro ma cosmico adagio orchestrale (Ship of Shadows), e si sfalda in flebili droni sopra un battito di macchina aliena (Tunnel); i riverberi allucinati del sax introducono il momento più straziante, un pigolare di cucciolo alieno in mezzo a frastuoni cacofonici che ne riproducono la mestizia galattica (Timefrieze); alla fine il sax si ritrova a ululare il suo ultimo enigmatico canto dissonante in un antro immane (Black Glass Mask). Six Fabulous Mutilations (15 minuti) nella prima metà è un delirio di elettronica progressiva degno dei Tangerine Dream, poi rimane sperso in un limbo di battiti techno-tribali, contrappunti altisonanti e fiondate di echi. Il disco è difettato da qualche riempitivo, che peraltro trova un seguito in un mini di brevi scarti, Temporal Lapse (2009).
Il loro capolavoro, Propeller Guru, 42 minuti in due parti raccolte nell’EP Propeller Guru (2010), propende per un suono più calmo e riflessivo, un lungo sfocato requiem al cosmo fatto di effluvi in controluce, scie di fotoni al rallentatore, smembramenti di corpi celesti ritradotti in lacrime, sfarfallii di cristalli stellari come versi poetici. Una sublime sospensione catalettica. Nella seconda parte le fonti sonore attingono alla vocalità umana (risate e risatine, voci e strilli), deformandola e distorcendola fino all’acuto cacofonico, fatta danzare a ritmo di presse, e infine fatta tornare al suo stadio originale.
Dark Earth Distillery (2013) registrato dal vivo e poi rimontato, ritorna alla narrazione articolata di Temporal Bends. In particolare Hard Dawn of the Atomic Ghost (18 minuti) si crogiola in effetti sonori tra valanga e fibrillazione elettromagnetica, trasportandosi poi in una dimensione di vagiti marziani, attorniandosi di un clima sempre più irreale e fatato (note fluttuanti di sax ne accentuano l’atmosfera). La prassi sembra più amatoriale e superficiale, ma il finale si riappropria nuovamente della loro arte di escavazione cosmica (richiama in parte la chiusa di Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road di Wyatt). La medesima contraddizione innerva Infernal Kernel (20 minuti), indeciso tra Vangelis e Ligeti, tra fumetto e pathos, esaltazione e devastazione.
Omegapavillion (2016) contiene Extract of Eternal Conumbra, ben 32 minuti solidamente piantati in territori (cioè in spazi siderali) Klaus Schulze-iani, e Heliomantra, 21 minuti, ancor più improntata al timbro delle tastiere elettroniche, qui con i tratti di un organo di cattedrale.
Breath the Snake e Pale Salt Seam, raccolti su Transpandorem (2017) riconnettono il duo al proprio peculiare incrocio genetico tra post-industriale e post-cosmico. Il primo, 18 minuti, all’inizio suona come un coacervo di fibrillazioni in perpetua espansione, da cui traspira un clima ecclesiale solenne e sinistro; da qui comincia la disintegrazione in sciami e nebulose, come pure rintocchi riverberati e un rumore di macchinari e sirene nucleari, una ipnosi subliminale ad alta tensione; infine, dopo un numero danzante di batacchi, quasi tribale, tutto si dissolve in un nulla panico. Il secondo, 20 minuti, è ancor più irreale e ancor meno categorizzabile: droni glaciali e spettrali si susseguono a impulsi secondo una segreta legge di armonia musicale, per poi assumere una qualità lirica d’inno frastagliato post-psichedelico, tra picchi e crepacci. La dimensione fatata infine dilaga annullando del tutto quel poco che rimaneva di ritmico.
Sensudestricto (2019) contiene poemi più brevi, relativamente più semplici e talvolta anche ammiccanti alle mode del revival sci-fi. Emerge con più coraggio il ritmo, un elemento che nei lavori passati non era che un ingrediente, tra i tanti, da rimettere in discussione. In Stems of the Shadowmind, finora il loro poema più breve, vi figura quello più originale, un battito fatto di spasmi afoni, sospiri di fantasmi e un canto di sassofono. A Gulp of Moss A Breath of Stone è invece una sorta di samba androide liquefatta e sfaldata da languori e sibili. Purtroppo vi sono anche declinazioni più lineari se non triviali, come per Into Burning Labyrinths, anche se l’inizio cita ottimamente il Saucerful of Secrets dei Pink Floyd, e nonostante la temperatura dell’intrico sonico venga mantenuta incandescente. Lo stesso avviene in For The Dark Planets, un tango vitreo di dubbio successo che però ha il merito di agitare un tramestio Terry Riley-iano di radiazioni con sax diffratto, una versione romantica delle loro apocalissi. Nonostante una maggiore riconoscibilità, la loro musica continua a essere creazione maestosa.
“Sensudestricto” is the new album release of English duo UnicaZürn, composed by former COIL Stephen Thrower and David Knight. Knight plays the guitar and synths and Stephen Thrower is on saxophone, reed and keyboards.
UnicaZürn emerged in 2009 from The Amal Gamal Ensemble, a live improvisation group.
Also in UnicaZürn there is improvisation, although finally the music goes into the studio where a very rigorous work is done.
UnicaZürn has a history dating back to 1980. Knight was guitarist and co-composer of the influential pop art band Danielle Dax and contributed with his guitar to the dark poetry of Karl Blake in Shock Headed Peters. He also works as Arkkon, a solo project that focuses on electro-minimalist music. The credits of Thrower include eight years in COIL, with whom he recorded the seminal albums “Scatology”, “Horse Rotorvator” and “Love’s Secret Domain”.
He is currently half of the electro-psychedelic duo Cyclobe with Ossian Brown. Alone, his credits include scores for the films “Hell’s Ground” (2007) and “Down Terrace” (2009).
Their latest album “Sensudestricto”, the duo’s fourth record and second album for Touch, released in April of this year, displays an intriguing atmosphere that moves through the ambient waters with a dark and organic nuance.
“Into Burning Labyrinths (Fuse-Fire-Seed)” with its enveloping and hypnotic organ makes its way through the shady labyrinths. While “Stems of the Shadowmind” has several layers, a mantle that covers the surface with ambient washes, the keyboards shapes a loop and the sinuous saxophone of Thrower puts the note of warmth to the penetrating atmosphere. In the depths, “A Gulp of Moss, a Breath of Stone” emerges with its abstract vignettes of synthesizers spirals. As this track advances, we go into a dark tunnel that resembles the soundtrack of an agonizing and intriguing film.
“Frozen Scars and Laudanum” with its epic character and its classic form unfolds a beauty without limits.
UnicaZürn with “Sensudestrict” shows its creative light and sensitivity which gives new horizons to advanced music. [Guillermo Escudero]
Das britische Duo aus Stephen Thrower und David Knight, das sich nach der Berliner Surrealistin UnicaZürn benannt hat, eskaliert die Situation rapide. Die beiden seit den frühen Achtzigern in diversen Postpunk- und Industrial-Zusammenhängen aktiven Multiinstrumentalisten beginnen ihre Tracks auf Sensudestricto (Touch) meist mit einer überschaubar flächigen oder geloopten Synthesizergrundierung, die als Dark Ambient oder stimmungsvolle Horror-Electronica durchgehen könnte, enden aber früher oder später (meist früher) in einem deftigen elektronischen Freakout, der von kreischendem Gitarrenfeedback bis zu einem dunkel schmeichelnden Saxophon-Solo nach Art von Bohren und der Club of Gore so ziemlich alles beinhalten kann, was gute schlechte Laune macht. Von einer Einschränkung der Sinne, wie der Titel andeutet kann also keine Rede sein. Ihr viertes Album ist in dieser Hinsicht ihr bisher freiestes und von Genrekonventionen befreitestes. Schönheit ist hier eine Überraschung, aber sie ist möglich. Der etwa eineinhalb bis zwei Generationen jüngere Italiener Alessio Dutto verfolgt eine ähnliche Logik der Anhäufung mit nachfolgenden Ausbruchsversuchen. Sein Debüt Blurred Boundaries (Midira) geriet so zu knusprigem, von Feedback verstörtem Noise-Ambient. Gerne laut und dramatisch, immer ordentlich verrauscht und darin immer sehr hübsch. Diese von Shoegaze vererbte, introvertierte aber an Lautstärke und Noise doch ordentlich austeilende Grundhaltung rückt Dutto in die Nähe des New Yorker Chefmelancholikers Rafael Anton Irisarri und der Drone-Szene Irans, beispielsweise an Siavash Amini oder Tegh, lässt aber hoffen, dass Dutto, wenn er etwas eigenwilliger agiert, vielleicht irgendwann mal selbst einen Sound definieren könnte. [Frank P. Eckert]
Premonition was recorded live at Desert Daze, Oct 12th 2018. With thanks to Cris Cichocki.
Slow Ascent was recorded by Mike Harding at Touch presents… Live at Human Resources, Feb 23rd 2018. Remastered by Simon Scott.
A Person with Feelings; a short film by Tanner Smith.
Zachary Paul (b. 1995) is a Los Angeles-based violinist and composer interested in perception, the transportive nature of long durations, and trance states… read more
Bandcamp ‘New & Notable’:
Emotion and intuition guide this experimental violinist as he creates beautiful textural sound-worlds from his instrument and pedals.
The Quietus (UK):
“For Touch, Zachary Paul proves one human being alone on stage with a violin can still conjure up a whole world” by Robert Barry:
In 1968, Bruce Nauman tuned his violin to D-E-A-D. Fifty years later, and somewhat less portentously, Zachary Paul, appearing on stage at last year’s Desert Daze Festival in California, tuned his to G-D-G-D. The results are hardly less minimal and hypnotic but certainly more sensitively played.
The Californian composer-improviser’s first solo album under his own name, for Touch, starts by erecting a dense fog of swirling harmonics, building up long loops of heady drones in uncertain, shifting layers. It’s just one man on a stage, a single violin and some electronics, but it conjures up a whole world in short order.
Fans of Tony Conrad’s Early Minimalism project and the Theatre of Eternal Music will recognise Paul’s penchant for long tones and the swell of tightly packed resonant frequencies. This is music to swim in and to feel oneself swum through by. That first track, ‘Premonition’, improvised live at Desert Daze, lasts a cool half hour and probably contains less information , in the strict Claude Shannon sense of the term, than most three minute pop songs. That’s hardly the point, of course. ‘Premonition’ could last three minutes or it could last three days or three weeks. It is not the journey but the landscape.
Something in the timbre of the second track ‘Slow Ascent’ feels almost old time-y to these ears. Speed it up a few hundred percent and it could almost be bluegrass. As it is, it would sit comfortably flitting amongst dappled light in one of the dreamier sequences in Andrew Dominik’s (2007) film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Final track, ‘A Person with Feelings’ actually is a film soundtrack, though not to anything so mainstream as a Brad Pitt movie. Paul himself describes it as a “modern trance” film and it’s here that the electronics take precedence over the violin, resulting in something a little gloopy for my taste. He’s generally a lot more inclined towards time-based effects like reverb and delay than his east coast forebears from the 50s and 60s, tending to smooth off his own rough edges and mellow his own twists and turns. This may disappoint the minimalist purists, but it certainly makes for a sweeter listening experience.
A Closer Listen (USA):
For his debut, Zachary Paul joins a relatively long history of radical dronesters and minimalists that aim not for you to experience music differently but to alter your very perception of reality. The first two tracks are tied to a place and time (“3:30 PM Lake Perris”, for the first, and “9:30 PM Downtown”, for the second) while the third one consists of a soundtrack to a short film about an actor’s inner life: sound is a bridge extending outwards from our skin and into the world. It is, of course, not a bridge made of concrete and steel, but one that has an emotional foundation, the kind of bricks and stones that lead more than a few to see sound and hear color, a mutability that shifts with every passing second.
Both “Premonition” and “Slow Ascent” are improvised, and each depicts an emotional soundscape of a story told in vast violin harmonies. The earlier reflects a warm and bright afternoon at the back of which loomed a deafening storm, Paul’s playing an entrancing daydream able to map every moment, from the quietude of sunrays to the dissonance of the clouds that would distort them. As the storm approaches, “Premonition” grows in intensity, its tones sweeping upward, a translation in which nothing is lost – the sky rumbles, announcing the fiery paths of lightning that will roar from the ground to strike above. The meditation lays down the bridge, a communion with nature in which the mind extends into the body as it also grasps everything around it in every sweep of the violin’s bow. The rain materializes in acute, indistinguishable drones upon which fast, short, indefinite sounds ring, eventually giving way to an uncertain mass both distant and immediate. Discord flows throughout the world, but instead of ending it, discord illuminates it.
As “Slow Ascent” begins, that extension into the world snaps back towards another kind of meditation, one that traces a path within. Performed as an “inverted guided group meditation” (which I suppose means that instead of one leading the many, the many lead the one in the journey), the drones are much warmer and longer, expressing no translation of fragmented exterior phenomena but one of unity, of a peaceful inner state that is constantly in movement, constantly harmonizing every contradiction, every instinct, every rational process. The performer himself becomes a communicating vessel, allowing the objective nature of sound frequencies become the primary site of an expression beyond words and chants; the communion here is between an audience and an instrument of their own shaping. Discord seems like an event, but it instead becomes the process without which there would be no harmony at the end.
The last track, “A Person With Feelings”, points the way towards another kind of meditation: as we identify with or reject a character on-screen, we step further outside or inside ourselves, and our inner lives grow paradoxical. The drones here are less oriented by the idea of a soundscape and instead attempt to clearly push emotions and images away/into the listener, ending with a dissonant screech that will leave no one unscathed. Discord here is an event, one so punishing it will either attract or repel, leaving nothing in between.
Paul’s debut is a powerful piece of drone, worthy of those who have seen music as a field of experience. It will hopefully change and challenge your perception, but only if you listen to it at full volume, allowing you to see it completely. (David Murrieta Flores)
Chain D.L.K. (USA):
Three solo works by Zachary Paul, performing violin with electronics, are gathered here for a fairly intensive and immersive bit of solitary performance in which lengthy violin notes and sparse moments of more impulsive playing are layered up, reverberated and droned until the single instrument source has transformed into a full environment you can bathe in.
First piece “Premonition” is an exemplary half-hour exercise in slow build and transformation, as the tension and texture grows and grows, almost imperceptibly slowly, resulting in an impressive self-contained journey where a relatively narrow range of sounds can hold your interest for far longer than ought to be possible.
Second piece “Slow Ascent” is almost inappropriately named then, as it’s got a similar sonic outlay to the first piece, but dynamically it’s more of a plateau, not featureless but devoid of any major changes.
Third piece “A Person With Feelings” was created as the score for a short abstract film that hasn’t been released yet, and reflects an emotional journey that perhaps may make more sense with its associated picture; on its own, it feels more like a compressed version of the opening piece, but reaching a destination that’s more tense and discordant in the end.
Since Ed Alleyne-Johnson’s experiments with electric violin processing in the early 90’s (before he side-stepped into weak crowd-pleasing cover versions), the idea of drawing grittier tones and electronic source elements out of a violin has seemed powerful to me, and these pieces explore the idea well. They may be steeped in anxiety but the result is a rewarding listen, and the fact it doesn’t overstay its welcome is an impressive feat. [Stuart Bruce]
I almost slept on this unexpectedly incendiary delight, as it deceptively seemed like just another solid drone album based on my initial and brief exposure to it. Then I noticed that Anna von Hausswolff had described it as “This is just…. wow.” Given that she does not seem at all like the sort to be floored easily, I revisited A Meditation of Discord for a proper listen. I found myself sharing her sentiment by the end of the opening “Premonition,” as Paul and his violin unleash a slow-burning and breathtaking one-man apocalypse in real time. To some degree, it is undeniably Paul’s masterful live loop manipulation that makes that piece such a beguiling and impressive feat, but even if he had a full band and a limitless studio budget at his disposal, its fiery crescendo could not be any more harrowing and visceral. While he regrettably tones down his more volcanic impulses for the album’s second half, the squirming and psychotically dissonant final moments of the closer beautifully reignite the album’s transcendently disturbing brilliance.
There are three different pieces on this album, recorded at three different times and in three different places. Two of the three pieces were improvised live performances and one is a film score, which I suppose makes Paul’s Touch debut more of a collection of orphaned pieces than a proper album. The unifying theme seems to be that all of these pieces diverge significantly from the aesthetic terrain of Paul’s Poppy Nogood project (which also explains why he chose to use his own name for this release). That said, it would be more accurate to view A Meditation on Discord solely as a document of Paul’s incandescent and darkly rapturous performance at the 2018 Desert Days festival with a couple of solid bonus tracks thrown in to flesh it out a bit.
Armed with just an open-tuned violin (G-D-G-D) and a small battery of effects pedals, Paul slowly and seamlessly constructed a complexly layered and endlessly transforming 30-minute tour de force in “Premonition.” Naturally, the piece’s hellishly explosive crescendo inspires the most awe, yet the greater achievement lies in how elegantly and fluidly Paul is able to make the slow journey from the lushly undulating drones of the opening to its ultimate destination (which resembles a deafening and bloodthirsty plague of demonic locusts). Every single one of the movements in “Premonition” could easily have been expanded into an excellent piece of its own, as even the gentlest, simplest drone passages are enlivened with unusually buzzing textures, vibrant harmonies, and an enveloping warmth. It only gets better from there, as that shimmering landscape blossoms into a vivid fantasia of fluttering, shivering strings and swelling chords. It is a sublimely gorgeous piece until it isn’t: almost imperceptibly, Paul starts curdling everything until it becomes an infernal, and gnarled grotesquerie of itself. By the end, the piece has seamlessly become a complexly layered masterpiece of pure screeching, squirming, and sickly cacophony, and it is absolutely glorious.
I feel truly sorry for the hapless act that had to take the stage after Paul, but a worthy successor eventually materialized in the form of an intense lightning storm that stopped the show later that night. Amusingly, even Zachary Paul himself has a tough time following the bracing intensity of that performance, as “Premonition” is followed here by the gently languorous drones of “Slow Ascent.” Unlike its predecessor, “Slow Ascent” does not sneakily evolve into anything deeper, as Paul contents himself with lingering in a dreamlike state of suspended animation. Given the context, however, that makes a lot of sense, as it was improvised as part of a guided meditation event in Los Angeles. Even at his most pastoral though, Paul finds a way to make his work feel fresh and distinctive, as unexpectedly sharp harmonics squeal and twinkle amidst the heavenly soft-focus languor. The album’s final piece, “A Person With Feelings,” is quite a bit different from the others, however, as it was composed for a currently unreleased short film. Initially, its departures from more conventional film score fare are quite subtle (mostly strange, passing dissonances), but the bottom drops out around the halfway point, and the piece becomes a sci-fi nightmare of throbbing machinery, crackling electronics, and sickly, hallucinatory jabbers and squiggles (all conjured from a violin, no doubt). That mindfuckery proves to be just the prelude to the main course though, as it gives way to a truly demented crescendo of nightmarishly skittering and gibbering lunacy that would not be out of place on one of Rashad Becker’s Notional Species albums.
After hearing Discord, I went back to investigate some of Paul’s work as Poppy Nogood and was somewhat surprised to find little hint of the darkness and intensity that was to come. That project lies at the curious intersection where warmly pastoral drone, subtly experimental neo-classical music a la Sean McCann, and melancholy film score overlap. Occasionally there is some bite, but the impact is blunted quite a bit by the more composed and produced aesthetic. It is likable in its own way at times, yet it is nowhere near as memorable as the work captured here. “Premonition” is a fearless, raw, and completely undiluted work where Paul’s vision is directly executed with wild-eyed intensity. It is not entirely raw, as the recording is clean and crowd-noise free, but none of the rough edges have been sanded away by production, and there is no homogenizing, fleshed-out arrangement to diffuse its focus. It is a simple, direct, and dazzling high-wire act that Paul pulls off with astonishing virtuosity and power. I am curious to see if Paul ever revisits this vein again or if this release captures the one perfect and glorious night in which he was unquestionably the Niccolò Paginini of loop architecture. The former would certainly be wonderful, but A Meditation of Discord captures one hell of a memorable performance either way.
Stunning debut by L.A.-based violinist Zachary Paul, of Touch’s mentorship scheme, yielding an elemental, time-bending suite of studies exploring the paradox of stasis/movement, and working in a rich vein of minimalism that reaches back thru Pauline Oliveros, Tony Conrad, and La Monte Young
In three durational parts ‘A Meditation On Discord’ introduces a promising and timeless new musical voice, showcasing an expressive range and style porous to nature and the elements. The opening, 30 minute live recording ‘Premonition’ starts anxiously jagged but beautifully warms up as he channels the sun beating down on the Desert Daze festival stage, opening out into the kind of curdled tunings that make our heads fizz, and which we imagine must have sounded incredible in open space. Another live piece ‘Slow Ascent’ follows, glacially coning from wide, lo lying into a peak of looped voice and strings, before the album’s single studio recording ‘A Person With Feelings’ plays to his full range, segueing from luxuriant to atonal with discernibly electronic designs cut to purpose as the soundtrack to a short film by Tamer Smith. Trust we’ll hear more from this bright star in future.
Contemporary violinist Zachary Paul appeared on Simon Scott’s recent album for Touch, and now releases his solo album (after a number on other labels as Poppy Nogood (Terry Riley tribute!)). There are two works for violin & electronics performed live, but this is a soundtrack to an experimental film. I love how the violin slowly emerges from the synthesized sounds – it’s impressive stuff.
Los Angeles-based violinist Zachary Paul is a modern addition to the line of minimalist composers such as Tony Conrad and Pauline Oliveros, whose work encapsulates the transcendent nature of sustained tones. His new album on the Touch label contains two live recordings and one original film score. The pair of live pieces here capture the artist’s expressive range perfectly, showcasing how just a single instrument put through a chain of effects can create something otherworldly and sublime. The first of the live sets is entitled “Premonition” and was recorded at the Desert Daze festival in the middle of a warm afternoon. Paul’s improvised, exploratory approach to his violin coaxes an ever-so dramatic drone, upon layers of which more tones are added and subtracted into a slow-shimmering heat haze of music. Resonant frequencies paint a picture of how that afternoon must have been like, sending the audience, and now the home listener, into a hypnotic reverie.
“Slow Ascent”, the second live recording, was captured at a Touch event in LA. The sound this time is less resonant than the preceding piece, warmer and lower in tone. Slow ebbing loops reverberate before other more discordant tones appear. So far, this is the first real evidence of discordance to my ears, as per the album title’s suggestion. But perhaps Paul’s gift is his weaving of these microscopic discordances so delicately into his improvisations. The long durations of his sustained drones are mind-altering, playing tricks on the listener’s sense of time and perception. On both of the live pieces, Paul seems to be instinctively reacting to his immediate surroundings, creating improvised sounds in response to the moment. There’s an emotional honesty here that is integral to his playing.
The final track is a composed piece, made for a short film. “A Person with Feelings” differs from the live recordings immediately as there is a sense of calm, like deep breathing before meditation. Smooth edges and vapour trail-long bows create a lush soundscape with only the slightest of discordant tones in the mix. This is until the mid-way mark, at which point everything collapses and breaks apart into jagged shards, and the effects processing really barges to the fore. Apparently the film that the music was composed for is an abstract piece that follows an actor’s internal journey, in which case I feel sorry for the character as this part of the track signals some serious psychosis!
This album clearly shows Zachary Paul as an important new member of the Touch roster. He’s an improviser whose sensitivity to both his chosen instrument and his immediate surroundings combine to deliver music that is transportive and transcendent. [Darren McClure]
A Meditation on Discord isn’t the first recording Zachary Paul’s released—the LA-based violinist has issued three albums under the Poppy Nogood alias and appeared on releases by Simon Scott, Sean McCann, and others—though it is his first on Touch. It’s also powerful, the incredible opening piece in particular, and very much a solo recording, its three single-movement settings birthed by Paul alone using violin and electronics. His bio identifies interests in long durations, trance states, and the tension between stasis and movement, all of which are borne out by the fifty-five-minute release (a 500-CD edition). That bio also draws a connecting line from Paul’s explorations to those of Tony Conrad, Pauline Oliveros, and La Monte Young, and again the connection’s very much supported by the material.
The opening two pieces are live, fully improvised recordings performed on his 1878 violin and augmented by pedals (Earthquaker Afterneath, Diamond Memory Lane Jr, Boss RC-30) and looped vocals. It’s the thirty-two-minute Premonition, recorded on Oct 12th, 2018 on the first day of the Desert Daze music festival, that is clearly the recording’s central work. Having tuned his violin in open G (G-D-G-D), Paul began, his improvisation reflecting the vibrations of the sun as he absorbed the scene around him. By his own reckoning, the moment he locked into these higher frequencies, “the instrument took control and painted the evening.” Though two parts are identified (“Rays” and “Clouds”), Premonition unfolds without pause as an immense, sprawling colossus. With layers multiplied into a towering mass, a mesmerizing swarm is generated whereby bowed strings of dramatically contrasting pitches swirl, shudder, and wail. The impact of the material when listened to at peak volume is stunning, as well as a little bit disorienting—the kind of staggering creation that can leave a performer wondering if such a moment can ever be duplicated. There are moments here where the mass ascends with such ferocity, it feels like your head’s about to be torn off, and those who witnessed the performance at the festival must have been in a state of total stupefaction by the time it reached its cataclysmic conclusion. Imagine layering Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack to The Birds a hundred times over and you’ll have some hint as to its colossal sound.
The other pieces can’t help but be overshadowed by the opener, but they’re still very much worth hearing. Recorded eight months earlier at Human Resources in LA for an event celebrating the release of Yann Novak’s second album, Slow Ascent (9:30PM Downtown) found Paul playing before his biggest audience to date. Though he was by his own admission nervous (the anxiety manifesting itself as physical tremors in his arm that are heard in the jagged bow stroke at the start of the piece), he turned that to his advantage by feeding off the audience’s energy, and the comfort level he gradually achieved is discernible in the patience and control administered during the twelve-minute performance. Even softer (at least initially) is the final piece, A Person with Feelings, which isn’t a live performance but instead a score Paul created for a short abstract film by Tanner Smith to be released in 2019. Pitched at a hush, the material wends its melancholy way for five minutes, Paul again showing himself to be an expert at sustaining flow and weaving texture, until a turn into quasi-industrial noise explorations is undertaken for its nightmarish second half. Largely meditative by design, these closing pieces are less intense than Premonition, though not objectionably so. It’s unquestionably the magnificent latter work, however, that is the recording’s major achievement. [Ron Schepper]
ambient blog (net):
Zachary Paul is a Los Angeles-based violinist and composer ”interested in perception, the transportive nature of long durations, and trance states. His work explores the contrasts between stasis and movement and questions the possibility of depicting both synchronously.”
This is important background information when listening to Zachary Paul‘s debut album for Touch because it describes exactly what he does. A Meditation on Discord presents two live recordings, 32-minute Premonition and 12 minute Slow Ascent, both fully improvised on his violin, an assortment of pedals and looped vocals.
The third track, A Person With Feelings, is a score for a short abstract film that is yet to be released.
Apart from Stasis and Movement there is another duality in this music: it is tense and relaxing at the same time. ‘Tense’ especially in the high frequencies at the conclusion of Premonition. And more relaxing in Slow Ascent, which was an ‘inverted guided group meditation’ at the event celebrating the release of Yann Novak’s second album on Touch. Compared to these two live performance recordings, A Person With Feelings is a lot more subdued, reflecting ‘the arc of the film and showcasing the textural range of my instrument’.
Sonic Seducer (Germany):
Against the Silence (Greece):
Η τοποθέτηση μιας μισάωρης σύνθεσης στην αρχή ενός ντεμπούτου σίγουρα είναι μια τολμηρή κίνηση, αλλά ο βιολιστής Zachary Paul τα καταφέρνει περίφημα στο να δώσει από την αρχή ένα στίγμα, χωρίς να χαντακώσει την όλη δουλειά του. Είναι σαν να τον οδηγεί ένα αόρατο χέρι με την βοήθεια του οποίου η δύναμη συναντά την τρυφερότητα της, ο χρόνος την σχετικότητα του και η μελωδία την αποδόμηση της σε κάτι άλλο, θα λέγαμε, ουράνιο! Όντως, υπάρχει μια αίσθηση παραφωνίας ολούθε, όπως δηλώνει και ο τίτλος του άλμπουμ, μόνο που αυτή ηχεί περίφημα, όχι λόγω της βιρτουοζιτέ του, αλλά ως απαύγασμα της καλλιτεχνικής σφραγίδας του. Έχοντας μάλιστα, ως κλείσιμο ένα μαγευτικό άσμα, όπως το “A Person With Feelings”, μπορούμε να μιλάμε για υψηλή τέχνη ακόμη κι αν είναι ο δημιουργός της στην αρχή μιας πολλά υποσχόμενης πορείας. [Μπάμπης Κολτράνης]
Released only recently via the 1982-founded Touch label is Zachary Paul’s latest album “A Meditation On Discord” which provides two live recorded compositions and an original score for a short film, stretched out over a combined playtime of approx. 54 minutes. Starting with the albums main piece, the 32 minutes “Premonition (3.30PM Lake Perris) I Rays II Clouds” we see Zachary Paul dive deep into the sonic realm of altered, reprocessed violin play sporting a droning, off-kilter yet still Ambient-related dissonant sharpness evolving into a minor crescendo of little buzzing, squealing spirits towards the end of the composition. The follow up “Slow Ascent (9:30PM Downtown)” brings forth a more melancholic approach towards an Ambient / (Neo)Classical fusion albeit still sticking to the slightly distorted, off-kilter tuning instead whereas the concluding original score “A Person With Feelings” turns out to be a contemplative arrangement of intertwined synths pads with a Cosmic perspective, paying homage to genre greats like Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream before giving way to a more experimental, unsettling and seemingly improvised second half of the composition. Defo a specialists release, this.
Violoniste déjà croisé sur Touch pour avoir officié sur un album de Simon Scott, Zachary Paul sort logiquement son premier album solo sur le label anglais. Constitué de trois longs morceaux (trente-et-une minutes pour le premier, entre dix et douze minutes pour les deux autres), A Meditation On Discord permet de retrouver le violon en majesté, tout juste auréolé de quelques apports électroniques. Afin de varier un peu le propos, le musicien californien officie évidemment par samples et strates superposées, mais module également l’accordage de son instrument.
C’est ainsi que, sur Premonition (3:30pm Lake Perris) I Rays II Clouds, il a baissé d’un ton les deux dernières cordes de son violon, de telle sorte que seules deux notes (sol et ré), à une octave d’écart, soient disponibles. Par suite, quand il appose ses doigts sur le manche de son instrument, il en résulte une forme de redondance qui apporte chaleur et profondeur aux mélodies, comme si plusieurs participants jouaient en même temps la même note. Plus loin, dans le même morceau, l’empilement des couches de violon favorise une double prise en charge : d’un tapis sonore plus uniforme et continu, d’une part, et de notes plus aigües, dévolues à une destinée plus mélodique, d’autre part. En bonne partie improvisée, cette demi-heure conduit l’auditeur à divaguer, au gré des flux et reflux des interventions même si, passées les vingt premières minutes, on se trouve presque face à une sorte de musique expérimentale, entre couinement et sifflement.
À cette aune, les deux morceaux suivants se font plus traditionnels, accueillant une nappe électronique en arrière-plan et un concours du violon partagé entre appuis longs et petits frémissements. Seule la seconde moitié d’A Person With Feelings (Original Score) se fait un peu différente, introduisant des triturations et percées perturbatrices, soit des composantes peu attendues pour une musique de film, fût-il court et abstrait. [François Bousquet]
Recorded at Kaiserstudios, Vienna, August, September 2018
Rainfall: Vocals Katharina Caecilia Fennesz
Agora: Field recordings Manfred Neuwirth, vocals Mira Waldmann
Mastered by Denis Blackham @ Skye
Photography & design by Jon Wozencroft
1. In My Room (12:28)
2. Rainfall (11:58)
3. Agora (12:09)
4. We Trigger the Sun (10:29)
You can hear a medley of the 4 tracks, which constitute a symphony*, here
* a work usually consisting of multiple distinct sections or movements, often four.
Agora is Christian Fennesz’s first solo album since ‘Mahler Remixed’ [Touch, 2014] and ‘Bécs’ [Editions Mego, 2014]. Fennesz writes: “Its a simple story. i had temporarily lost a proper studio workspace and had to move all my gear back to a small bedroom in my flat where I recorded this album. It was all done on headphones, which was rather a frustrating situation at first but later on it felt like back in the day when I produced my first records in the 1990s. In the end it was inspiring. I used very minimal equipment; I didn’t even have the courage to plug in all the gear and instruments which were at my disposal. I just used what was to hand.”
Fennesz uses guitar and computer to create shimmering, swirling electronic sound of enormous range and complex musicality. “Imagine the electric guitar severed from cliché and all of its physical limitations, shaping a bold new musical language.” – (City Newspaper, USA). His lush and luminant compositions are anything but sterile computer experiments. They resemble sensitive, telescopic recordings of rainforest insect life or natural atmospheric occurrences, an inherent naturalism permeating each piece. He lives and works in Vienna.
Using computers to turn sounds into alien shapes now feels like a given, but at the turn of the century, guitarist and producer Christian Fennesz’s audacious noise- and pop-smearing work suggested strange, glitchy new worlds. Two decades on, the Austrian ambient artist suddenly found himself without a studio space, so he resorted to doing what so many teens do, jamming away in his bedroom on headphones. But even in such homely environs, he operates like an old master, patiently layering guitars and electronics one downstroke at a time until it all accrues into a vast canvas of distorted bliss. Agora boasts both the most expansive and most finely detailed soundscapes of his career. Contemplative and visceral, blurred and acute, the album upholds Fennesz as the 21st century’s finest romantic futurist. [Andy Beta]
Pop Matters (USA):
Christian Fennesz is an ambient musician who jerks tears the way the best pop songwriters do: through striking chord changes and melodies and harmonies rather than the imagistic textures that often carry much of the load in ambient. His new record, Agora, made on compromised equipment following the loss of his studio, takes this to the extreme. Stripped-down, occasionally tinny and trebly, more clearly made with guitar than warped earlier works like Black Sea and Venice, Agora relies on composition more than anything else for its wallop, and at its best — the dying moments of “We Trigger the Sun,” the ’80s-spangled second half of “Rainfall” — it packs the same punch as some of the Beach Boys’ masterpieces he endlessly references.
These four tracks crackle with electricity and have a real sense of weight and power, but they don’t dream of being heavy metal like so many ambient albums on the noisier spectrum do. Rather, everything seems heard through a wall of thunderclouds, or perhaps the walls of his lonely bedroom. Is it any wonder one of these tracks is called “In My Room”? [Daniel Bromfield]
The manner in which Fennesz created Agora is rather different to the setup he used on Mahler Remix and Bécs, the pair of albums he released back in 2014. After losing his studio space Fennesz began to make music in his bedroom – just as he had done on his early records back in the 1990’s. Working with headphones rather than studio monitors has led to some of this record having an intimate, in-the-box feel. For instance, the opening half of ‘Rainfall’ is a gorgeously up-close blend of ambient tones and little curls of fuzz guitar. Agora’s title track is a watery thing that has shades of James Leyland Kirby to it, and the drones of closer ‘We Trigger The Sun’ end the record on a lovely wistful note.
Mind you, there are still plenty of awe-inspiring soundscapes to be found across Agora. ‘Rainfall’ may begin quietly, but by its climax the track has swelled to a stormy, distorted cacophony reminiscent of bvdub’s best work. ‘We Trigger The Sun’ has a similarly grand section as its middle third. Opener ‘In My Room’, a track built on a drone that ebbs and flows over the course of twelve minutes, is a masterful example of how to wring great emotion from minimal means.
On his new LP Agora, guitarist and composer Fennesz has expertly balanced silence and noise to create a beautiful ambient opus.
Austrian experimental guitarist Christian Fennesz returns with a new album Agora. Four long tracks recorded in “straightened circumstances” after Fennesz lost access to proper studio space and was forced to record in his bedroom on headphones with limited equipment. Guitar, voice, field recordings and a computer. These tracks sound like living things, breathing and swelling like an enormous dreaming cat. They tap into the alpha waves and circadian rhythms of life.
Gorgeous, meditative drones build and deepen. Surface ambiance atop propulsive rhythm, all bottom end, giving time and space to for listeners to immerse themselves in an amniotic warmth. Human elements of voice, of fingers squeaking over strings and fret board emerge from the depths. Computers are tools used here to express intelligence and emotion. Like all artists Fennesz shows rather than tells. Everything is there to feel if one allows the music to envelope.
“In My Room” builds slowly with restrained squalls over a deep heartbeat. Over 12 minutes, Fennesz layers treated guitar atop throbbing sub bass. As usual he takes his time and is not afraid of long, heavy notes. Yet this is never claustrophobic even as the walls seem to close in. The sense of space is palpable although there are no cracks through which to reach the outside world. Everything vital is in the room, protective, embracing.
“Rainfall” is likewise heavy, multi layered and detailed. Techno propulsion and rumbling bass tones, wordless vocals by Katharina Caecilia Fennesz, the guitarist’s touch across the strings. A subtle wave of static and ecstatic washes of sound with moments of quiet to contemplate the oncoming tempest that hits hard, urgent but not dread(ful).
“Agora” with field recordings courtesy of Manfred Neuwirth and vocals by Mira Waldman is a much straighter ambient piece. The energy levels drop here but there is space for quiet reflection after the storms of the album’s first half.
“We Trigger The Sun” opens like a chamber orchestra in Atlantis with submarine beeps, heavily treated strums, more sub bass. Underpinning this is an almost sacred melody that is subsumed by the weight and power of a glitch laden bass drum and crushing layers of guitars and synth crescendo.
Fennesz has produced a maximalist experience with apparently minimal equipment but this is not about the machines rather the human producing the sounds. Agora is another deep exploration of the boundaries of experimental guitar ambience in which to lose oneself. Grab your headphones, plug in and turn this up loud. [Andrew Forell]
The Wire (UK):
Even if you’ve never heard the name of Austrian electronic-music pioneer Christian Fennesz, you’ve likely heard the effect of the work he’s been releasing for two decades under his striking surname. An early advocate for using a laptop to splice, sample and otherwise subvert the sound of his guitar and field recordings — in the process forming crackling electric symphonies — Fennesz has long explored the shapes and colors taken on by clouds of static. On 2008’s Black Sea, shards of noise culminated in a crescendo as sun-streaked as the most radiant orchestral fanfare; on his early landmark, 2001’s Endless Summer, ravaged guitar chords funneled the chimes of a miniature gamelan ensemble into a chorus that felt like a surrealist hit.
Despite its core of accessible allure, though, Fennesz’s music remains somewhat esoteric, stuck between stations of electronic bombast and pop approachability. But his animating ideas — of sounds beautifully dissolving into the ether, like soft metals dropped into a vat of strong acid, only to resurface against all odds — have trickled toward the mainstream as if through a years-long game of telephone. That’s a trace of Fennesz you hear in the delicate architecture of Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, in the work of other Kanye West collaborators and acolytes, and even on Ariana Grande’s thank u, next. The work of experimental artists drifting toward the charts is not a phenomenon limited to Fennesz, of course. But his case remains peculiar because he’s the inarguable master of this strategy — that is, of damaging a signal not only until it’s destroyed, but until it sparkles anew.
On Agora, Fennesz’s first album in four years — and perhaps his best and most resonant since Endless Summer — he again finds harmony in hellish tones and exudes warmth by rubbing together cold sounds like kindling in a frigid clime. At a glance, Agora may seem slight, with only four tracks that each break the 10-minute mark. If not necessarily longer, his prior records sport at least twice the cuts, meaning there’s more sense of motion and transition during a similar span. But Agora is uncommonly generous, as each extended piece establishes and steadily works through its own sophisticated mood. Listening suggests shuffling from screen to screen in some aging arthouse, with a different compelling short film playing in every room. Each feeling is deep, each scene rich; by Agora’s end, when the jeweled synthesizers of “We Trigger the Sun” finally vanish at the horizon, it seems as if listeners have accompanied Fennesz on a particularly emotional odyssey.
These pieces are as open to interpretation as the underlying instruments that shape them. There’s the constantly cycling rhythm of “In My Room,” which spins with the weight of a canyon-sized washing machine. Thin, threatening fins of irradiated synths slice through the beat, countered by organ chords as gentle as deep breaths. A flash flood of sculpted noise eventually washes over everything, but its tone is somehow comforting, as if offering assurances of rebirth even as it obliterates. These 12 minutes feel like taking the time to watch a beautiful sunrise during a family emergency — or, just as easily, dreading the end of some blissful moment while it’s still happening. And, with its slowly unfurling drone and wind-like whispers of distortion, does the title track score a haunted nightmare or a perfect dream?
After briefly losing his studio, Fennesz recorded Agora in a bedroom in his apartment, jettisoning all the lavish equipment at his disposal for a simple setup of headphones and computer. You can trace that interior quality here; the sense that Fennesz is working through feelings and ideas in a fevered, extended monologue. “We Trigger the Sun” frames a real-time document of that process, with gently arcing guitar chords and intensely curdled electronics that push and pull against one another above the languid heartbeat of a tom-tom. Every time the track inches toward resolution, Fennesz plunges again into another strata of doubt, the sounds locked in perpetual conflict. It’s a very 2019 sort of unease — timely in its deliberation between wrong and right, fact and fiction, comfort and despair.
Given how Fennesz’s aesthetic has infiltrated more popular circles, it’s easy to imagine him clamoring for big-name collaborations, aiming to apply his touch to records by the famous people he’s influenced. But he seems content to respond to the world from a safe distance and in due time. He stakes out his continued relevance not through features, but by wordlessly articulating our collective tension and uncertainty. True to its name, the private conversations of Agora are his public reckonings.[Grayson Haver Currin]
Ho usato quanto avevo sottomano, a disposizione. Non sembra plausibile leggere queste righe mentre si ascolta il nuovo atteso album del sound artist viennese, tanto maestosa e immensa è l’esperienza d’ascolto che dona. Un ritorno a casa dopo cinque anni di silenzio e la riscoperta del piccolo mondo interiore che improvvisamente può trasformarsi nel più sconfinato dei luoghi, bastano un paio di cuffie e un minimo equipaggiamento tecnico. Esiste come una leggera brina rumorosa che ricopre tutte le tracce di questo lavoro, si sposta di brano in brano e va a ricoprire con il suo brusio tutta la potenza sonora che continuamente si sprigiona dalle macchine e dalla chitarra di un Fennesz trasformatosi nel giovane Christian alle prese con i suoi sogni sonici. Agorà è un album di distanze e tempo trascorso per coprirle, costruzioni e perdite che obbligano a riprendere nuovamente da quel poco salvato, del nucleo principale di un sogno che non può esaurirsi, neanche in assenza del controllo digitale costruito per tradurlo in romantico racconto sonoro. [Mirco Salvadori]
Drowned in Sound (UK):
Christian Fennesz is a hero to fans of minimal electronic music. Since 1997 he has crafted and created soundscapes that feel euphoric and melancholy at the same time. And it’s hard to know where to start in order to explain him. The same is true of this new album Agora. At times it is ethereally forlorn and at others defiantly joyful delivering some of the most uplifting pieces of music this year. But to understand the album, you have to understand how it was created.
Shortly before Agora was recorded, Fennesz lost his studio and had to move all his equipment back to a small bedroom in his flat. This meant recording on headphones, rather than letting the music roll and cascade around him. At first he found it frustrating, but as the sessions continued he started to get reminded how he used to record in the Nineties. ‘I used very minimal equipment; I didn’t even have the courage to plug in all the gear and instruments which were at my disposal,’ Fennesz said. ‘I just used what was to hand.’ This recording process works incredibly well as Agora feels like a distant cousin to his early recordings, but still exudes the skills and balance of his later work.
Fennesz is a master at his trade and like Gian Lorenzo Bernini who chipped, sanded and delicately removed layers of marble to create something awe inspiring and ultimately captivating, Fennesz does the same with dense swaths of static and feedback. He uses lighter tones to cut through this fug of noise, thus creating elegant melodies and hypnotic motifs. There is something beguiling about these compositions. At first they feel like they are made of obsidian and impenetrable. No matter how you look at them, they offer no way in to their complex maze of sounds and tones, but after a few listens they start to show entry points and sound warming. ‘In My Room’ is a prime example. From the opening tones it feels like its exploration is pointless, but after a few listens you find a hole and enter its murky maze, which reveal one of the most life-affirming moments of 2019 so far. Agora really comes alive with the title track though. It is 12 minutes of swirling synths and droney guitars. On the surface it feels like there isn’t much going in, but just below the deep drone there is a lot happening. Tones are tweaked, pitch is lowered, bass is momentary added to create something that is moving and feels alive, rather than just a collection of musical instruments that were close to hand. Songs like this demonstrate why he has been at the fore of minimal electronic music for the past 20 years.
As Agora was created using headphones, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the best way to experience it is by listening to it on headphones, especially when you are tired, but not sleepy. This might not seem like the best time to listen to an album, just before you go to sleep, but it really adds to the experience. As you aren’t fully awake you are more in tune with the lurid drone of its four tracks and much more malleable in being gently pulled this way and that. As the luscious waves of guitars and harsh synths wash over you, you are transported to a place where popular music is completely different to the world we live in. Pop never became the dominate force that it is, instead brooding instrumental workouts are the king. This is an album that is full of glorious melodies, harsh noise and field recordings. Agora is the strongest, and most cohesive, album that Fennesz has released in over a decade, and that is no mean feat. [Nick Roseblade]
The experimental musician’s sweeping, ambient album works in small, fascinating ways from moment to moment but has a cumulative force that is unlike anything he’s done in years.
Among the wave of experimental electronic music artists who came to prominence in the 1990s and early 2000s, Christian Fennesz was the scene’s great romantic. His laptop compositions were as formally rigorous as those of his peers, but his music always carried with it an element of grandeur and a touch of the sublime. Unlike many of the producers who were once gathered together under the umbrella of IDM, Fennesz’s work never had a strong connection to dance music. There were beats on early tracks like 1997’s “Blok M,” but these were the exception. Fennesz’s musical heart lay somewhere far from the dance floor.
Even in the exploratory world of electronic music, Fennesz was different. If Autechre’s music could be traced to the metallic thwack of early American electro, Aphex Twin to the machine-heart pulse techno proper, Tim Hecker to shoegaze and the high art world, Fennesz’s strongest aesthetic antecedent was the new romantic ’80s pop that followed in the wake of Roxy Music. This music flourished in an era in which productions were heavy with reverb and effects, where you weren’t sure when the synths ended and the guitars began. Fennesz’s link to the sound of this period was further affirmed by work he did with David Sylvian, the singer, songwriter, and former frontman of the ’80s band Japan, both on the latter’s album Blemish and via Sylvian’s guest spot on Fennesz’s album Venice. And then there was Fennesz’s version of A-Ha’s “Hunting High and Low,” put together for a covers comp in 2008, which showed how the lush twang of his processed guitar fits perfectly into a new wave context, its naked emotionalism worlds away from what first comes to mind when thinking of “computer music.”
This vision of the ’80s provides the thematic context for Fennesz’s new full-length, Agora, his first solo album in almost five years. These pieces are thick with luscious texture and assembled with a symphonic sweep, building from barely audible scrapes and clicks to epic climaxes large enough to blot out the sun. Each of the four tracks has its own dramatic arc, some subtle and some utterly titanic, and the record as a whole has a cumulative force only possible when those are stacked one atop the other. [Mark Richardson]
Séptimo larga duración como solista del investigador del sonido austriaco Christian Fennesz, uno de los importantes exponentes de la electrónica contemporánea, quien pronto en su carrera dejó atrás la abstracción tan propia del género en los 90, para volver a impregnarla del rostro humano que requería el ambient para nuevamente conectarse con lo espiritual, lo inasible, lo que está más allá del mundo físico. La música de Fennesz evoca los más altos sentimientos, específicamente en esta nueva placa, por medio de cuatro composiciones de entre 10 y 12 minutos de duración, que son verdaderos monolitos: campos de sonido poéticos, líricos y contemplativos, que reflejan hondas dimensiones de la condición humana.
Como es costumbre, el artista que estuvo en Chile en diciembre de 2018 –lean reseña aquí-, utiliza la mayor economía posible de elementos técnicos para generar su arte: guitarra procesada, laptop y algunos efectos. Una austeridad creativa doméstica, que se expresa en un disco en el que la intimidad es, paradójicamente, el mejor espacio para hallar lo inmenso, lo ilimitado. “La ubicación contribuyó al sonido despojado del álbum. Usé un equipo básico y ni siquiera tuve el valor de conectar todos los efectos e instrumentos que estaban a mi disposición”, señaló Fennesz al comentar sobre el disco, que destaca por ser uno de los más crudos de su catálogo.
Lo domésticos e íntimo que hacíamos alusión, se hace presente de inmediato con ‘In My Room’, la obra que abre el disco. Una composición del más puro ambient, que va creciendo exponencialmente en belleza y evocando melancolía a raudales. Fennesz combina melodías luminosas con experimentaciones oscuras, generando un diálogo de lucha entre el día y la noche, entre lo brillante y lo ominoso. Le sigue ‘Rainfall’, una pieza más densa y ruidosa, que se construye básicamente mediante tres capas de sonidos superpuestas, formando una tupida urdimbre de sonoridades que, por fragmentos, dejan lo más tenebroso en pos de paisajes más abiertos. Se trata de una lluvia que más parece un diluvio, que una tenue caída de gotas.
‘Agora’ es un constructo de atmósferas espaciales, en la que también hay un debate entre lo luminoso y lo tenebroso, que chocan y se encuentran en una eterna dialéctica musical. No se trata de un discurso sonoro fracturado y agresivo afín con artistas del IDM británico como Autechre o Aphex Twin, sino que Fennesz más bien se comunica con artistas de la electrónica como Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, Tim Hecker, Eluvium o William Basinski. Algo parecido a la anterior sucede en la última pista ‘We Trigger the Sun’, en la que sonidos que imitan vagamente instrumentos de viento y cuerdas clásicas, se mixturan con mantos electrónicos, que van mutando en intensidad e incorporando nuevas armonías y elementos sonoros a medida que avanza.
Fennesz firma un disco que en su método creativo es cerebral y pensado hasta en su más ínfimo detalle, pero que exhibe, una vez más, la gran sensibilidad del creador europeo, acrecentando el canon de su magnífica obra. [Héctor Aravena A.]
The 405 (USA):
Christian Fennesz puts you on a guitar-shaped raft and sends you out to sea, his ambient waves cresting with distortion and hypnotic melodies. It’s hard to grasp that his 7th studio album, Agora, was made by Fennesz in a bedroom at his flat after losing studio access, as this is the kind of album that doesn’t feel like it was recorded in a bedroom, or even a proper studio. It recalls waking up before your alarm and being transplanted into a lucid dream, conscious and unconscious all at once.
Typically seen in conjunction with a -phobia (or similar) suffix, “agora” originally referred to not the outdoors but to a multi-purpose forum in ancient Greece. Fennesz’s album consists of four tracks, the shortest clocking in at ten minutes. Their titles feel far less incidental than on most ambient/drone releases. They seem to form a narrative of an individual finding themselves emerging from their isolation to a point of no return. We begin with ‘In My Room,’ with waves of guitar quickly crashing receding in time with blasts of bass. As the strums of guitar echoes for miles and the hiss mixes with tranquility, it’s like entering a new world but realizing you’ve been there all along.
While Anthony Gonzalez might have (partial) ownership of the sky, Fennesz ends Agora by declaring ‘We Trigger the Sun.’ The track lengths are never a liability, as he always finds something for his sounds to do, like when he introduces a crackling drone and heightens the tension with percussion and potent layers of guitar. It all pays off emotionally, as a deep yearning is felt in the buried melody and it grows deeper as it moves out of the darkness into an ascension.
The album’s strengths aren’t limited to its bookends. ‘Rainfall’ would go down as the instrumental track of the year if not for the vocal contributions of Katharina Caecilia Fennesz, which blend so gracefully in the mix that you might not even realize they’re a human instrument. It also highlights Fennesz strength as an experimental guitar composer in that he never tries to smooth out his instrument of choice to the point that he hides what it is. His tones clatter and wear their fuzz proudly. At one point on ‘Rainfall,’ his tones are fuzzy to the point that they sound like he’s sucking distortion through a straw.
The title track is the most ambient and, by default, the one with the least activity. But his ability to refine his textures is masterful, with each moment being one you could stay with forever, but when it does shift, it’s a shift worth taking, with field recordings from Manfred Neuwirth and vocals from Mira Waldmann granting further refinement. It also helps to prepare for the closing behemoth that is the closer.
Reviewing ambient music leaves a lot up to the interpretation of the writer, particularly when the background is as minimal as it is with this album. The extent of what’s been shared is that Fennesz made it in a bedroom with little gear using headphones. But sometimes a limited amount of information is all we need, particularly when it lets us focus all the more on the absolute allure of the final product.
It has been roughly five years since Christian Fennesz last surfaced with a proper solo album (2014’s excellent Bécs), though he has certainly kept busy with other projects in the meantime. For this latest release, however, he found himself in unusual straits, as he lost his studio space and had to move all of his gear into his bedroom. In theory, that was not an optimal work environment and he never ended up setting up much of his usual arsenal, but new constraints can often lead to unexpected breakthroughs. That is arguably the case here: while Agora is not quite an Endless Summer-caliber bombshell or a groundbreaking reinvention of Fennesz’s aesthetic, it is definitely a modest masterpiece of sorts, as quietly recording in his room with minimal gear and omnipresent headphones paved the way for a quartet of truly lovely, nuanced, and absorbing soundscapes.
I wish there was a way to say this that does not sound like an ambiguously back-handed compliment, but it feels like Fennesz devoted an unusual amount of time and focused attention to this album. On previous masterpieces like Endless Summer and Venice, he had a strong, coherent vision and shaped variations upon each theme into an immersive and thoughtfully sequenced arc. Needless to say, that approach worked extremely well, so there was no real need to change it anytime soon, yet Agora takes quite a different shape than its illustrious predecessors. In fact, it almost feels like four self-contained mini-EPs: they certainly all feel like they belong together and complement one another beautifully, but each seems like it could have easily been the kernel of its own distinct album instead. While I suspect at least three of those hypothetical albums would have been absolutely wonderful, I do not have any nagging sense of missed opportunity with Agora, as each of these pieces (all clocking in just over ten minutes) feels like a perfect distillation rather than a tantalizing glimpse that begs to be expanded upon. In particular, the album’s two bookends stand as particularly striking examples of Agora’s divergent stylistic threads. Of those two poles, it is the aptly titled opener (“In My Room”) that best represents the beating heart at the core of the larger song suite.
There is almost an actual beating heart in the piece as well, as a subterranean throb slowly pulses beneath its warmly hissing and undulating reverie of dense, buzzing drones. While those slow-moving sustained tones are certainly the raw material, it would be a stretch to call “In My Room” a drone piece, as it feels more like a landscape of gently shifting tectonic plates bathed in the light of an ascending sunrise: subtly amassing streaks of warmth and color quietly start to eclipse the underlying drones as the piece inexorably moves towards a gorgeous crescendo. The two pieces that follow stick to roughly the same aesthetic of quietly lovely ambient drone that ultimately blossoms into something more structured and powerful, though “Agora” does not pull off that feat quite as well as its neighbors (primarily because it starts from a colder, more formless place). The title piece is still quite likable in its own right though, as its floating, slow-moving clouds of blurred and hiss-soaked chords are blissfully meditative–it just has the misfortune of being surrounded by three slow-burning epics of focused intensity.
In “Rainfall,” for example, Fennesz revisits the languorous drones of “In My Room” with unexpectedly vivid and visceral heft, launching an oft-brilliant and churning assault of shuddering, sizzling chords and cascading, overlapping motifs. It is essentially classic Fennesz writ large and it is absolutely wonderful. The closing “We Trigger the Sun,” on the other hand, is almost entirely unrecognizable as a Fennesz piece at first, resembling the sort of deep space ’70s synth music that would be perfectly at home in a cinematic mindfuck like Mandy. Gradually, however, the heavy cosmic vibes dissolve a bit to make room for more traditional Fennesz-esque touches like washes of hazy guitar chords. It is quite a wonderful convergence of unlikely threads, resembling something like a blurred, stretched, and deconstructed Popul Vuh without sacrificing any of the grandeur.
While I sincerely doubt anyone needs to be reminded of it, Agora beautifully reaffirms why Christian Fennesz remains one of the most vital and compelling figures in experimental music: his more challenging impulses and his formidable production genius are always grounded in a strong melodic sensibility. In an abstract way, he is a legitimately fine songwriter, despite the conspicuous lack of anything resembling conventional structures, hooks, melodies, or vocals (though the latter does exist in obscured form on a pair of pieces). As such, Agora would probably be an enjoyable album even if Fennesz were not a textural sorcerer and arch-deconstructionist. Happily, however, he is both of those things and he makes full use of those powers to transform the tender, fragile beauty of his central motifs into dazzling vistas of ragged, sizzling, and artfully corroded heaven. It is certainly fair to say that Agora continues Fennesz’s lengthy hot streak and is yet another great album from a master, but that actually undersells the true scope of his achievements a bit. Fennesz has not just made a string of excellent solo albums – he has managed to do so while continually reinventing himself and making each fresh release feel like a legitimate event that opens up fresh territory for others to explore in its wake. [Anthony D’Amico]
The agora has historically been an important physical, cultural, political and symbolic space. In ancient Greece it was a place of community assembly, a place where military, political and commercial activities would take place, alongside other events, whether recreational, religious, or otherwise. The agora is also necessarily an outdoor space, but on his new album of that title Christian Fennesz seems to suggest that this particular soundscape is neither inside nor outside (and it is perhaps interesting to note that the album was recorded on headphones in a bedroom at a time when Fennesz had lost access to what he called “proper studio workspace”). Rather, it occupies an imaginary area that refuses any spatial constraints, while acknowledging and insisting upon an acknowledgment of our own relationship to variations of temporality.
Fennesz’ Agora is neither urban nor pastoral/bucolic. It is of a world, but not necessarily this one, and as such it suggests a challenge to the boundaries of what we might normally think of as the “public sphere”. Furthermore then, the agora conjured by Fennesz in this context is by no means necessarily a communal space, and may indeed depict an entirely fractured and atomized social structure. In all of these respects, this work posits a reconsideration of what it means to interact with the world at this state of human history, far removed from ancient and established social and political structures, and yet at a time when we are all more deeply interconnected in many obvious and also insidious ways than we have ever been. It is also, perhaps more importantly for the purposes of the task before us, a really good album.
The mind games, if such they are, begin with the mischievously and counter-intuitively titled opening track, “In My Room”. We start, then, with an immediate retreat from the public forum, counter to what the album’s title might lead you to expect. The track opens with a rough pulse which gives way to an extended mid-range drone, as if we are travelling down a pipeline beneath the market square, away from any society, toward an unknown but almost surely metaphysical destination. Other drones join the originating one, and then chords are very discreetly introduced as the song enacts very subtle changes at its own moderate pace.
Once the opening pulse drops out there is no percussive rhythm to speak of, so we find ourselves in a realm without a hard beat, but nevertheless constantly aware of time passing, regardless of what kind of physical space we might be occupying, or Fennesz might be asking us to imagine. All of this unfolds over 12 rather luxurious minutes, as if one were in a significantly more pleasant version of an MRI chamber, lulled by inorganic aural materials and other sensory prompts into a place that is decidedly neither inside nor outside, although it nevertheless seems to have a certain structure, albeit one that is open-ended and unfussy. There is certainly no clutter here, so Fennesz appears, rather effortlessly, to have tidied his room according to the strictures of a state-of-the-art brand of personal feng shui.
The connection between agora and feng shui may not be inappropriately deployed here, because the notion of a public space tied both to conceptions of how we orient and organize our public spaces spiritually, and more colloquially how we organize our personal and private spaces for our own contentment and to harness certain energies, seems in its totality to resonate with the way the Fennesz conjures the symbolic space of his own aural imagination here. The balance of this album is immaculate, with each of the four songs lasting between ten and 12 minutes.
The internalized soundscape of “In My Room” gives way in turn to a more outward-facing perspective with the second track, “Rainfall”. Also almost 12 minutes in length, it is equally meditative, but takes a different reflective path from “In My Room”. Opening with a faint and delicate note, almost as of a subway train approaching from a long stretch of tunnel, the song resolves into something approaching conventionality with a very discreet rhythm track and chords that seem to blend something of the outro of Roxy Music’s “More Than This” with the burning and crackling of Sonic Youth’s “Providence” from the epic and elemental Daydream Nation. There is, by definition, something deeply elemental about “Rainfall” too, as evidenced by the more organic instrumentation at work. We even get something the resembles a gently strummed acoustic guitar chord here and there, albeit that it tends toward distortion, inevitably, and any sense of the bucolic gives way to something more post-industrial.
The title track, which is also the penultimate song on the album, compels us to consider what we might mean, at this point in the history of civilization, when we imagine a fully functioning and fully evolved public space, and what it might look and feel like, all while we feel as if we are simultaneously in retreat from it. The track opens in a way that seems to combine the modes of the two tracks that have preceded it, both with a rough pulse and a series of developing and resolving chords, as if these sounds are themselves the aural representation of an organic human and political culture, with entities interacting, coming together, separating and then coming together again, acting jointly and separately, individually and collectively, to form a constantly oscillating and evolving body politic.
The richer and more insistently sustained (and varied) chords of “Agora” seem to represent the apotheosis of the Fennesz vision for this particular sound space. It also feels, perhaps paradoxically, like the darkest of the four tracks on display here, all while it seems, on occasion, to be reaching toward the light, as morose chords open up into breezier ones, and we oscillate along with them, between poles of more and less hope, or more and less despair, depending on the fullness or emptiness of your particular spiritual glass.
On balance, the impetus of this title track seems ultimately then to tend more toward light than the darkness that appeared to be its signature, which may offer a clue as to the temperamental inclination of the album as a whole, although it is difficult to make any concrete conclusions as to the album’s disposition in such an abstract setting, particularly when it also seems to offer itself up as something rather like a mirror, if not a palimpsest, for us to see ourselves in, or inscribe ourselves upon.
As we appear to have been led toward the light on “Agora”, the full flowering of that trajectory appears to come to pass on the final track, “We Trigger the Sun”, which seems to be the closest we get to a version of the pastoral here. This song offers perhaps the richest and most expansive sound palette of the four presented to us. There is even a gesture toward melody in these closing moments even while a meditational drone continues to be the backdrop. And those might even be some kind of strings in there somewhere. “We Trigger the Sun” feels positively romantic in places, which we might not be able to say about what has preceded it, for better or for worse.
But aside from all this abstract thinking, it should be said that Agora is beautifully measured and evenly balanced, and as a result it is a very satisfying listening experience that appears to be almost hermetically sealed, as befitting an album that was made, as Fennesz himself said, “on headphones”. Part of that hermeticism, while also running counter to the idea of a practising and functioning community, also seems to resist any intertextuality or comparison with other artists, but it seems inevitable and necessary that one consider this piece of work alongside another recent release with a similar structure, that being the quite remarkable experience of After its own death/Walking in a spiral towards the house by one of Liz Harris’ many creative personae, Nivhek.
While the constitution of each album is entirely distinct, and distinctive, it is nevertheless difficult not to think of these two pieces, perhaps even instructively, as somehow analogous to each other, even if contrapuntally. One of the many quite beautiful things about this album is that, to put it in rather unsophisticated terms, it “makes you think” (for example of a comparison to Nivhek) while also allowing you not to, thereby establishing a delightful kind of utopian polity. [Rod Waterman]
Wiener Zeitung (Austria):
“Agora” ist das erste Soloalbum von Christian Fennesz seit fünf Jahren (“Bécs”, 2014), doch war der Musiker seitdem keineswegs untätig. Er spielte mit Jim O’Rourke “It’s Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry” (2016) ein und beteiligte sich 2017 am von Ryuichi Sakamoto kuratierten Glenn Gould Gathering, das in Zusammenarbeit mit der kanadischen Botschaft in Tokio anlässlich des 85. Geburtstag des Pianisten stattfand (und an dem auch Alva Noto und Francesco Tristano mitwirkten).
Das neue Album ist quasi aus einer Verlegenheit heraus entstanden. Wie Fennesz selbst schrieb, musste er seine Ausrüstung aus dem Arbeitsstudio ins Schlafzimmer transferieren, wo er “Agora” einspielte. Die Aufnahmebedingungen waren vielleicht nicht optimal, da alles mittels Kopfhörern zu geschehen hatte. Überdies nutzte der Österreicher – aus der Not eine Tugend machend – nicht einmal alle Instrumente, die ihm zur Verfügung standen, sondern er bediente sich dessen, was gerade zur Hand war. Das Ergebnis sind vier intensive Stücke von je zehn bis zwölf Minuten Spielzeit.
Mit der Konzentration auf Weniges wird Zeit entschleunigt. Fennesz zeichnet mit seinen langsam vorüberziehenden Gitarrenwolken intime Klangfarben, die zu einer Art Yogaminimalismus einladen. In diesem Ambiente bewegen sich die Melodien wie Seelenreisende zaghaft durchs labyrinthische Dickicht und preisen sich nicht so offen an wie etwa auf dem Vorgänger.
Alles wirkt verhalten, erkundend, fast neugierig tastend und wie ein Innehalten, das gleichzeitig fließt und immer wieder Assoziationen zum Wasser hervorruft, das sehnsuchtsvoll auf der Stelle wirbelt; ein Paradox aus Bewegung und Stillstand, das sich beim Regen (“Rainfall”) ebenso gut einstellt wie auch beim Wolkendurchbruch der Sonnenstrahlen (“We Trigger The Sun”). Ein Schlafzimmer ist, wie eine Agora, manchmal ein Multikommunikationsort, an dem sich unterschiedliche Stimmen im freien Spiel entfalten und symphonisch der Muße und Muse frönen.
Cyclic Defrost (Australia):
While the last couple of years have seen him collaborating with the likes of Alva Noto, Ryiuchi Sakamoto and Jim O’Rourke, it’s been a good five years since Christian Fennesz last released a solo album, his most recent one being 2014’s ‘Bécs’ on Editions Mego. Interestingly, the circumstances surrounding the writing and recording of this latest album ‘Agora’ involved Fennesz temporarily losing access to his usual studio and being forced to work in a small bedroom in his flat with minimal gear, a situation that he likens to producing his first records in the nineties.
Despite these comparative restrictions in production style however, there’s been no subsequent lessening in the characteristic textural breadth, depth and immersive atmosphere of the four expansive tracks collected here. If anything, opening track ‘In My Room’ displays the least obvious presence of guitar elements out of all of these tracks (though given Fennesz’s characteristic manipulation and processing of that source instrument into new sonic forms, it’s difficult to be certain).
Indeed, it spends its twelve and half minutes emerging from a rhythmic throb of bass sweeps that calls to mind background machinery before treated drones trail into the foreground, their waspy resonant edges buzzing and feeding back against what sounds like blurred out and pitched-down piano keys. While there’s certainly jagged edges to the synthetic processing, more than anything there’s a sense of wide-eyed wonder that’s generated, touched with a distinct undercurrent of melancholy as soft-focus synth melodies creep into the undergrowth towards the track’s second half that marks out post-rock / shoegaze as its most immediately obvious kin.
‘Rainfall’ sees a wash of ghostly background noise that almost sounds like a distant fading shortwave transmission giving way to a wall of overdriven guitar distortion that cloaks more delicate fretwork, the presence of virtually untreated guitar tones and wordless female vocal harmonies revealing the romantic heart that’s always lurked at the heart of a lot of Fennesz’s work, before things ascend into a wash of busy synth arpeggios and bustling rhythmic textures.
If the aforementioned track sees Fennesz concentrating on filling every last inch of space with constant motion, ‘Agora’ takes the opposite route, using a pared down palette of phased synth drones cavernous reverb to create a vast cold landscapes, the resonant echoes of what sound like vocal harmonies bleeding through like ghosts amidst what’s almost a church-like atmosphere. A welcome solo return from Fennesz that as ever sees him anchoring his vast soundscapes with a sense of emotional immediacy. [Chris Downton]
8/50 for 2019 – The details behind Agora make no sense but also make perfect sense. While Christian Fennesz never appears to be in a rush to release an album (his last LP, Bécs, came out five years prior), the Austrian producer scurried to record his seventh album in the midst of moving studios, relegating himself to his bedroom amongst limited equipment. But it’s almost as if the tracks on Agora simply refused to be birthed in a conventional workspace, as these four 10-plus minute ambient soundscapes come off remarkably adventurous while satisfyingly consumable. Agora stands as Fennesz’s flawless mistake — worth the wait and worth the rush. [Daniel Sylvester]
Pop Matters (USA):
Top Ten Experimental Music Albums of 2019:
A pivotal force of electronic composition, Christian Fennesz has had quite a journey through the years, reaching his peak with the monumental Endless Summer. Since, Fennesz seems to have stepped back, mostly opting for collaborations over solo work. Some might have thought the Austrian producer had nothing left to say, but the opposite was true. Agora is a breath of fresh air for Fennesz. It dives headfirst into the textural, awakening an elemental power with his sonic constructs. At times, he leaves behind form, losing himself, as with the drone waves of “In My Room”. The glacial progression and ever-changing colorings are trance-inducing, further illustrated by the title track. Other moments bring terrifying grandeur, placing us in the eye of a storm. That can be felt in the finale of “Rainfall” or the all-consuming supernova of “We Trigger the Sun”. Agora reveals Fennesz’s sustained power to transmit the forces of nature into waves of sound. [Spyros Stasis]
Brooklyn Vegan Top 50 2019 (USA):
One of the most consistently great ambient artists since the ’90s, Fennesz returned in 2019 with his first proper album in five years that was more than worth the wait. On an end-of-year list like this that doesn’t represent much of this year’s great ambient music, it’s hard to choose just one or two albums in that genre, but this one successfully transported us out of our bodies on many occasions in a way that just feels too special not to recognize. His use of treated guitar to create lush, ethereal soundscapes remains breathtaking, and Agora is a gorgeous listen. [Dave]
Top 50 of 2019 –
Christian Fennesz’s first solo LP in five years arrives via Touch.
The manner in which Fennesz created Agora is rather different to the setup he used on Mahler Remix and Bécs, the pair of albums he released back in 2014. After losing his studio space Fennesz began to make music in his bedroom – just as he had done on his early records back in the 1990’s. Working with headphones rather than studio monitors has led to some of this record having an intimate, in-the-box feel. For instance, the opening half of ‘Rainfall’ is a gorgeously up-close blend of ambient tones and little curls of fuzz guitar. Agora’s title track is a watery thing that has shades of James Leyland Kirby to it, and the drones of closer ‘We Trigger The Sun’ end the record on a lovely wistful note.
Mind you, there are still plenty of awe-inspiring soundscapes to be found across Agora. ‘Rainfall’ may begin quietly, but by its climax the track has swelled to a stormy, distorted cacophony reminiscent of bvdub’s best work. ‘We Trigger The Sun’ has a similarly grand section as its middle third. Opener ‘In My Room’, a track built on a drone that ebbs and flows over the course of twelve minutes, is a masterful example of how to wring great emotion from minimal means.
On his new LP Agora, guitarist and composer Fennesz has expertly balanced silence and noise to create a beautiful ambient opus.
Best of 2019 –
I haven’t heard from Christian in a while. At least from any of his solo albums as Fennesz. And now, returning to the monumental Touch, Fennesz is back with his Agora, first solo work since Mahler Remixed (Touch, 2014) and Bécs (Editions Mego, 2014). The four tracks on the release combine etherial ambient with both, distortion and soft textures all at once. The long stretches of a single-note drone remind me of a resonance that’s left behind the gong or singing bowl that’s left to surrender into silence. Organic sounding waves of meditative chords carry upon them filter sweeps of saw-toothed sounds. Fennesz writes: “It’s a simple story. I had temporarily lost a proper studio workspace and had to move all my gear back to a small bedroom in my flat where I recorded this album. It was all done on headphones, which was rather a frustrating situation at first but later on it felt like back in the day when I produced my first records in the 1990s. In the end, it was inspiring. I used very minimal equipment; I didn’t even have the courage to plug in all the gear and instruments which were at my disposal. I just used what was to hand.” I’ve played Agora many times already, of course as a soundtrack to my commute, and am extremely happy with the outcome, however minimal instrumentation and effects. It is a feat of this immense composer to generate a space with elements at hand. Recommended for fans of Rafael Anton Irisarri, William Basinski, Lawrence English, and Ben Frost. The album is out on March 29th, 2019.
*Additional 20 minute bonus track features a live recording from the Jazz Café in London in October 2018
Soundings, his debut studio album for Touch (he previously released the live album ‘Floodlines’ in 2016 and re-issued “Below Sea Level” in 2017), finds Simon Scott, the composer and sound ecologist, using field recordings from various cities around the globe; modular synthesizer treatments; live strings and laptop electronics to create an album of transition and shifting time zones. The recordings were edited and composed in hotels rooms across the world as Scott was constantly on tour as the drummer for Slowdive, who successfully reformed in 2014.
Hodos, the album opener, begins with 85 mph Storm Barney recordings, ending with the fading sounds of bellbirds and cicadas recorded in Brisbane 2018. “I took a home recording I made of Storm Barney in Cambridge, listening to it on repeat when I was flying from continent to continent. I wanted this to be the starting point of the process of musically documenting how much travelling I was doing”. This album was created from the US to Asia, South America to Europe and the Arctic Circle back to the UK via California. “Working in hotel rooms and on flights, listening to and editing the recordings I’d made from all of these distant cities formed the basis of the album. It’s the soundtrack to four years of my life in flux with constant change, jet lag, excitement and the seeming perpetual motion of travelling”.
The cassette version features an extended 60 minute version of the album remastered by Scott.
somewhere cold (net):
A prolific composer and consistently incredible sound-smith, Simon Scott has been putting out experimental music for a decade now. Yes, it is that Simon Scott, the rhythmic god who pounds the skins in the glittering progressive band Slowdive. Soundings is his newest album with 52 minutes of music combining field recordings, live strings, synthesizers, and soft synths created as he traveled across the globe touring with Slowdive. Recordings stretching over the course of four years, Scott records and produces a soundtrack to his meandering years on tour and all that means.
Soundings begins with field recordings on “Hodos” which give the album’s beginning an organic feel. Sting voices peer here and there among the shadowy and fuzzy tumult while more effulgent strings begin to hum, giving a floor to the piece. There is a patience to the opener, allowing the listener to soak in the subtleness of the moment. What sounds like birds punctuates, ever so slightly, the sonic landscape, giving this piece a living population. “Sakura” follows with an opening synthtone and bright, melodic notes. The dance of the synths becomes more intricate and then water flows as the centerpiece of that moment. As the water fades, the synths once again dance alone, sparkling in the foreground. “Santori” begins seamlessly as a subdued beat punctuates the air and deep, abiding strings ring out. A slight crackle fills the mix, giving a hint of aural texture. Vibrating electronic tones move and slide between speakers as they ungulate. There is an almost deep, beautiful mournfulness to this composition which moves the listener into a melancholic state.
“Mae” has whirling, looped synths that pour over and over one another as they circulate and then give way to more metallic and harsher tones. Birds re-appear here, grounding the track as strings take over and great a sonic river of aural light. As “Mae” fades, “Grace” arises and is textually quite different in its beginnings. Almost like the metallic rubbing of a vibrating guitar string, the tone is vibratory. It is accompanied by beautiful synth tones that feel like deep pools of refreshing water and the strings slide about, creating ease and contemplative moments. “Nigh” is meditative and hypnotic from the start. Dreamy synths and strings populate the piece as panning gives the sounds a glacial movement while deepening the textural choices.
“Baaval” is a more ephemeral piece with a deep core tone that reverberates out into a fuzzier texture. It begins a grouping of longer pieces at the end of the album. This piece is simple on the surface but increases in depth with every listen. Again, birds chirp, tying the track with former pieces. The synth work here is subtle but engaging. “Apricity” ends the studio tracks on the album and it begins with a deep, flowing tone. Textural accents flow in and out of the mix and incredibly subtle strings ebb and flow. This long form piece, clocking in at over 15 minutes, is a slow and radiant build, like high tide slowly moving in to meet the shore. The strings become fuller as the track progresses and the different variations move in and out of focus. The stings eventually fade or perhaps become a part of a larger, vibrating synth drone. The final track to the album is a live piece which is over 20 minutes long and was recorded at The Jazz Café. The piece is expertly executed and fits well with the tonality of the rest of the album. In fact, It is the perfect finale to the album, graceful and profoundly moving.
Simon Scott’s Soundings is a brilliant set of tracks that demonstrate his ability to mix subtlety with depth. This is over 52 minutes of engaging, ethereal ambience that evoke open spaces and the wandering of Scott’s last four years. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Soundings as well as diving into all of Simon Scott’s back catalog. [Jason]
Fluid Radio (UK):
The field recordings on Soundings light up the music and the world. Taken from cities around the globe, and using modular synths, strings, and laptop electronics, the recordings aid in creating music of transition and transience, shifting into many different time zones throughout its trek. Edited and composed in hotel rooms at a time when Simon Scott was on tour as the drummer for Slowdive, Soundings features 85mph winds, bellbirds, and cicadas in the first track alone, moving from its British beginnings (the winds of Storm Barney, which terrorized the UK and which unfortunately wasn’t named after a huge purple dinosaur) to Australia’s Brisbane. In the space of a single track, Scott’s music faces a long haul flight. Although it’s physically demanding, the recording offers an easy ride. Two sides of the world and two different continents are united in one recording, despite travelling a huge distance. As such, Soundings is a travel document and a sonic passport.
‘I took a home recording I made of Storm Barney in Cambridge, listening to it on repeat when I was flying from continent to continent. I wanted this to be the starting point of the process of musically documenting how much travelling I was doing. It’s the soundtrack to four years of my life in flux with constant change, jet lag, excitement and the seeming perpetual motion of travelling’.
Scott’s music lags without fatigue as it sails through the sky. From the USA to Asia, South America to Europe, the Arctic Circle to the UK (and with a stop in California on the way back), Soundings travels vast distances, picking up the flavors and the vibes of each place while infusing the entire album with a delicate understanding of many differing cultures and scents. Early-to-rise tones and sleepy, dusk-hidden melodies pepper the tracks, but they have an airy feel to them, high in their altitudes. The long drones never really touch down, but only vaguely circle and skirt the outlines of a city. Jet-lagged drones and darker tones gaze upon a midnight city, its glowing lights replacing the sun, its downtown twinkling like a cluster of fallen stars.
Scott’s brief stay offers an intermittent glimpse, a passing through; the music feels intentionally incomplete, or transient, in spite of it being a completed and refined work. Scott is able to bottle the journey within his tired ambient tones and electronic oscillations – which thrum against the drone and shudder like the dropping of a landing gear. The long drones of ‘Apricity’ cruise in the sky, its strings imperceptibly morphing into something more electronic as they make their way home. The exhaustion and euphoria of touring is here, but, as always, the journey is more important than the final destination. [James Catchpole]
A Closer Listen (USA):
Where were you when Slowdive was formed back in 1989? NOT BORN YET?!! Thanks a lot, you’ve just made Simon Scott and I feel old. But there’s a huge difference between old and irrelevant and old and vital, and Scott lands firmly on the latter side. Although he’s shifted styles a number of times, he’s never stopped composing or performing. Soundings was recorded during four years of touring with his re-formed band. The album is the product of “a life in flux … constant change and jet lag … hotel rooms, flights and distant cities.” As such, it feels disconnected with land, often touching down but with the knowledge it will not be able to stay too long.
The first field recording is the best, and most obvious: 85mph winds from Hurricane Barney, whipping up a storm expressed here in a morass of strings. These strings, played by Charlie Campagna & Zachary Paul, are a constant presence throughout the album, but in “Hodos” they sound foreboding, the cello unable to escape the churn. The bellbirds and cicadas that close the piece are not from the storm, but from the safety of Brisbane, many moons later and half a world away, offering evidence that we carry our memories with us and they blur in collision with other experiences. Scott would get as far as the Arctic Circle, an ironic mention given the fact that a famous explorer who shares his surname would perish while returning from Antarctica.
Scott’s wandering synth and electronics echo his own journey, providing few signposts along the way. The tracks drift together like sheets of polar ice. One would think the setup would preclude a single, but there’s actually one included here: the streaming edit of “Grace,” which Scott released in full as an 18-minute track back in August. In our opinion, the album’s only miscalculation is that at 52 minutes, the album had room to include the full composition. Scott opted instead to offer a 20-minute live track as a bonus cut, while extending the mix to 60 minutes for the cassette. But don’t despair, fans of long music; the album closes with its best track, the quarter-hour “Apricity.”
On “Apricity,” all the threads come together. The length of the piece allows one to surrender to the flow of time, an important nuance as the album references the challenge of traveling between different time zones. While listening to “Apricity,” one feels a sense of drifting, falling (to quote The Ocean Blue’s 1989 hit). More importantly, one also gets a feeling of coming home, of finally being able to rest, of knowing that one is safe, the ground firm and stable beneath one’s bed. This beautiful, archaic word is defined as “the warmth of the sun in winter,” which lends itself to a wider interpretation: we feel the warmth of home, even when we are away. Somewhere in Cambridge, world tour complete, Scott is enjoying this reassurance. [Richard Allen]
Described by the artist as a kind of travelogue, gathered, edited, composed and considered over a four-year period that included the reunion and tour of his ’90s band, Slowdive, Simon Scott delivers an appropriately dislocated collection of soundscapes that are dizzying in their swings between blurred acceleration and detailed stillness.
Opener “Hodos” serves as introduction and précis key to the album, with a field recording of 140 km winds from a storm in Cambridge that eventually cedes to cicadas recorded much later in Brisbane. The piece is laced together by a drift of strings from Charlie Campagna and Zachary Paul, who reappear throughout the album.
One of Scott’s gifts is combining layers of tone, noise and faint melody into loops whose duration and repetition invite contemplation, but with a slight uneasiness that subtly dislodges any such attempt — kind of anti-meditative meditation music.
Both “Baaval,” and “Apricity,” the two longer pieces that close the album, have a blend of grace and self-doubt, the former especially in its slightly off-centre drone that gives way to an open window onto nature and out of claustrophobia.
All in all, this is a masterful summary of the far withouts and deep withins from Scott’s period of perpetual motion. [Eric Hill]
Sonic Seducer (Germany):
Dietro la leggenda shoegaze degli Slowdive sembrano celarsi pulsioni espressive parecchio lontane dalla fragorosa e sognante corrente novantiana: da un lato abbiamo Neil Halstead, avvezzo a intimismi folk contemporanei, più imparentati col fingerpicking che col tradizionale cantautorato albionico; dall’altro il batterista Simon Scott, affascinato dalle dilatazioni melodiche dell’ambient music e dalle sue recenti confluenze nella sfera neoclassica.
Dopo varie incursioni con etichette tra cui Miasmah e 12k, Scott rientra nella produzione a marchio Touch, che tre anni fa ne incluse una registrazione live al Cafe Oto nella serie “Tone” (“Floodlines”, 2016). Il recente ingresso delle emergenti Bethan Kellough e Claire M Singer ha aperto ulteriormente la strada a una poetica come quella di “Soundings”, che come si evince sin dai primi istanti è “cucito” intorno a field recordings raccolti in giro per il mondo. È il diario in forma astratta di quattro anni in costante movimento, a motivo della fortunata reunion della band, e di fatto una collezione di quiete parentesi ritagliate in stanze d’albergo sparse tra i continenti.
Si direbbe il tentativo di ristabilire un contatto con la schietta tangibilità del reale, benché tale anelito vada di pari passo con rimaneggiamenti al synth modulare e con un’armonizzazione strumentale affidata agli archi di Charlie Campagna e Zachary Paul, le cui traiettorie ondeggiano attorno al bordone portante con la stessa imperturbabile cadenza.
A tratti dimessa e malinconica, in altri trasognata e confortante, la fusione tra elettronica e acustica di “Soundings” evoca le produzioni finali degli Stars Of The Lid e le estasi cameristiche del compianto Jóhann Jóhannsson, invitando la mente a un viaggio che, anche a motivo di passaggi decisamente bruschi, ha come condizione la nostra presenza mentale ed emotiva affinché non diventi un ennesimo sottofondo funzionale alla concentrazione su altre e più trascurabili faccende quotidiane. [Michele Palozzo]
This is as if I have really begun to hear the work of Simon Scott for the very first time – even after listening to his work over a good part of the 2010’s, since Below Sea Level(12K, 2012). Soundings (out on 2/22) is a different approach to flash-fusing field recordings and electronic music, both sensitive and flowy, without bearing into invisibility. For many an artist who creates layered ambient work, such is the problem of allowing work to wither away and far from memory. Soundings is deeply developed collection of nine shorter pieces that all folds into a nearly hour-long work of emotionally fatigued harmonies, the cassette version runs for nearly eight minutes longer for those with decks. The work materializes into something moody and narrative with drones and strings, electronics and sounds from his surroundings as he traveled.
While Hodos, Sakura and Santori all blended so aqueously together, Mae takes off in a slightly different path, one that has an unveiled industrial side. Scott recounted “I took a home recording I made of Storm Barney in Cambridge, listening to it on repeat when I was flying from continent to continent. I wanted this to be the starting point of the process of musically documenting how much traveling I was doing.” The listener will be grateful for his lengthy journeys given the stealthy result that offer both the tender and the vacillating psyche, documenting the experience in the US to Asia, South America to Europe and the Arctic Circle and back to the UK. Travel, in and of itself, can be draining to us all, and he’s managed to capture the passage, the road and the physical wear/tear to an extent.
There are purely harmonic moments of splendor throughout both Grace and Nigh, where Scott looks upwards toward the heavens, or perhaps recalls the act of dangling in the sky between destinations. It’s all warm and free. On Baaval the paler shades begin to darken at the edges and start to run rings. A sense of apprehension is palpable in this watery mix of bass drone and minimal harmonic mutation. From this bloated vibration comes the vague chirping of exotic birds at more than twenty paces.
This was the perfect staging for the daunting outcomes via Apricity, the final track here. The bass is super low, muted, almost white-noise like, however with each cycle Scott manages to add the lightest hint of stringed harmony, exquisitely played by Charlie Campagna & Zachary Paul. This fifteen-minute plus closer has ample time to indulge in the previously foreshadowed travelogue of foibles and faultlines, and does so in a way you might imagine to delivered by a full orchestra. There is a relentless spirit moving forward on this record, and though it uncovers some fairly expected sweet spots here and there, the man behind it manages to come from behind its many layers to demonstrate a realized vision. [TJ Norris]
Das Filter (Germany):
Simon Scott ist weit mehr als der Schlagzeuger von Slowdive. Filter-Menschen wissen das sowieso, spätestens aber seit dem vergangenen Sommer, als ich hier schon mal seine Musik feierte. Nun hat er ein Album für Touch aufgenommen, sein erstes richtiges, also jenseits von Live-Aufnahmen und Re-issues. Die Geschichte ist wieder mit Slowdive verknüpft – irgendwie zumindest. Denn Scott nahm diese Platte (gibt es auch auf Tape! – mit Bonus-Material!) rund um den Globus auf, meist im Flugzeug oder im Hotel. So verdichteten sich Schritt für Schritt die Ideen zu fertigen Tracks, während er von A nach B flog, auf den Soundcheck wartete oder erschöpft an einem freien Tag im Hotel langsam wieder runterkam. Man kann dieses Album als eine Art Reise-Tagebuch hören – einen Einblick in vier Jahre Simon Scott. Denn genau so lange hat er an den Stücken gearbeitet. Vielleicht ist das genau die richtige Brille, denn so fügen sich die oft skizzenhaft wirkenden Arbeiten zu einem starken Bild der Seele eines Musikers zusammen, der rastlos durch die Welt geschickt wird, ein zwar wichtiges, aber eben nur ein Rädchen einer größeren Maschinerie ist, die, wenn sie einmal rollt, nicht aufzuhalten ist. Die Stücke sind eine Art Gegenentwurf zu dieser Schnelligkeit. Manchmal fast schon flüchtig, manchmal umso stärker und fordernder. [Thaddeus]
Von der Überwältigungsästhetik des Indie-Rockkonzerts zur gesteigerten individuellen Hörwahrnehmung in der Stille muss der Weg gar nicht weit sein. Manchmal kommen sie sogar in einer Person oder einer Gruppe zusammen. Eine Shoegaze-Band wie Slowdive verkörpert deftige Lautstärke ebenso wie Subtilität und Detailreichtum in der klanglichen Textur. Simon Scott, Drummer der mit Unterbrechungen seit den späten achtziger Jahren aktiven Band, ist als Solokünstler zum enthusiastischen Parteigänger der Sound-Ökologie geworden, einer Leidenschaft für das tiefen Hören von Räumen, Orten und Situationen, dem auslegen und verfolgen subtiler akustischer Spuren. Below Sea Level, Scotts erstes Album mit bearbeiteten Naturaufnahmen von 2012, war in dieser Hinsicht wegweisend. Ultraleise und intensiv, fast nichts zu hören und doch Dokument eines ganzen Universums. Schon bei dieser Arbeit wurde klar, dass Scott die Sound-Ökologie nicht orthodox interpretiert. Seine Feldaufnahmen aus einer sehr stillen Natur waren digital manipuliert zu leisest möglichem Ambient geworden. Scotts neues Album Soundings (Touch) geht in der modernen Auslegung der klanglichen Ökosysteme noch weiter. Die Tracks fußen zwar alle in Field Recordings, haben aber eher urbanen Charakter, sind von Hotelzimmerkaustik und Musikreproduktion geprägt. Umspielt von Modularsynthesizerklängen und Streichern sind sie zu etwas geworden, dass sich perfekt in den engen Zwischenraum von dynamisch gespieltem Song und statisch arrangiertem Track schmiegt. Mit diesem Album könnte Scott vielleicht sogar den Erfolg seiner Band einholen, ihre Qualität hat er schon lange.
Blow Up (Italy):
This is Simon Scott’s formal debut for Touch and it is such a quintessential example of the label’s aesthetic that it almost feels like a homecoming. It is similar to a homecoming in another way as well, as Scott composed these pieces from field recordings taken during Slowdive’s extensive touring over the last few years, diligently editing and shaping them in hotel rooms during his idle hours. Upon returning, he teamed up with cellist Charlie Campagna and violinist Zachary Paul to transform his impressionistic audio diaries into a lushly beautiful and bittersweet ambient travelogue of sorts. In some ways, this side of Scott’s work is less distinctive than his more dub-inflected albums, but he has a remarkably great ear for striking the perfect balance between vibrant textures and blurred, dreamlike elegance.
Slowdive’s reunion touring led them to a lot of interesting and far-flung locales, but the most striking field recordings that made it onto this album originate from Brisbane, where Scott captured the sounds of a furious wind storm. Those crashing waves and fleeing birds appear prominently in the opening “Hodos,” which is Soundings‘ most striking and evocative marriage of nature and artifice. That is not say that it is necessarily the album’s strongest piece, but it is quite a beautiful one, as blossoming dark clouds of brooding strings slowly move across a battered shoreline. The way the spraying whitecaps and the languorously moaning strings interact feels quite organic, natural, and seamlessly intuitive, yet Scott’s light touch works so beautifully because he was handed such a wonderful gift: the vibrant and visceral crash of the surf does a hell of a lot of the heavy lifting on its own. On the album’s other pieces, the focus is necessarily more on Scott’s own contributions (apocalyptic storms were apparently not a common occurrence on the tour).
Most of my favorite pieces fall near the end of the album, but not quite all of them, as the success of “Hodos” is followed by another gem in “Sakura.” I am guessing that the gently babbling stream that surfaces in the piece was located somewhere in Japan, but Scott is quite sparing with the background details, largely limiting his contextual clues to the one-word song titles alone. There is a certain logic to that decision, as “Hodos” is the only piece on Soundingswhere nature has truly earned equal billing. With “Sakura,” the beauty originates almost entirely from Scott himself, as the piece unfolds as a flickering and dreamlike reverie of processed guitar sheen. The album’s second (and more sustained) hot streak starts to cohere a few songs later with “Mae,” a lazily churning and sizzling drone piece that gradually gives way to a quiet coda of happily chirping birds. Once that avian chorus takes their leave, the album blossoms into a thing of truly sublime beauty with the two pieces that follow: “Grace” and “Nigh.” On “Grace,” a warm and gently undulating haze of strings twists and drifts across a landscape of shivering and shuddering chord swells. It is an absolutely rapturous piece of music, but “Nigh” is even better still, cohering into a sun-dappled and lovely procession of chord swells mingled with swooning violin melodies and a dreamlike nimbus of subdued flutter and hiss.
For me, those two pieces are the true beating heart and emotional core of the album, but Scott saves a couple of other strong ideas for the album’s final act. I am guessing that “Baaval” originated in either Moscow or the Arctic Circle, as both were among Scott’s stated recording locations and it is initially a very dark and cold-sounding piece, evoking a windswept expanse of frozen wasteland. By the end, however, it warms into something approaching a sort of precarious radiance, like a faint sunrise chasing away some of the more menacing shadows. That piece gives way to the album’s slow-burning closing epic, the 15-minute “Apricity.” For the most part, it marks a warm and lushly beautiful return the terrain of “Nigh,” as rich, slow-moving chord swells surge beneath a lovely and lyrical violin melody. As a result, “Apricity” initially seems poised to be the album’s crown jewel, but it takes a curious detour around the nine-minute mark and rides out its final third as kind of a locked-groove of gently pulsing, pastoral ambient music.
I am admittedly a bit perplexed as to why Scott chose to dilute one of his strongest pieces in that fashion, as well as end the album on such a comparatively forgettable note. Artists sure can be inscrutable sometimes. Still, it is not nearly enough of a wobble to derail an otherwise excellent album. Soundings is a curious sort of excellent album, however, wonderfully exceeding my expectations some moments and leaving me scratching my head during others. For example, the very restrained and subtle use of field recordings for much of the album feels like an exasperating missed opportunity to me, as Scott could probably have gotten all of the same recognizable sounds without ever leaving southern California. There is nothing among the bird and water recordings that distinctively call to mind Peru, Tokyo, or Moscow, even though Scott recorded in all those places. On another level, however, that decision is actually kind of cool, as Scott eschewed the easy and obvious path to make something considerably more elusive and abstract: a record of his own impressions during a sometimes beautiful, sometimes lonely, sometimes disorienting adventure through many of the great cities of the world. As such, Soundings is a dreamlike procession of elusive individual moments brought to vivid life. Granted, it is easy to imagine a more evocative, richly textured, and immersive album that might have resulted if Scott had taken a more straightforward path, but that album does not exist. This album, however, does exist and it is often an achingly lovely and poignant one. [Anthony d’amici]
Artista sonoro, compositor, multi-instrumentista y baterista de la reformada banda Slowdive, Simon Scott saca su nuevo álbum de estudio, después de “Floodlines” (grabación en vivo, 2016) y la reedición de “Below Sea Level” (2017).
“Soundings” incluye arreglos con sintetizadores modulares, laptop, secciones de cuerda en vivo y grabaciones de campo que compuso y editó en las habitaciones de hoteles en distintas partes del mundo, mientras Slowdive se encontraba de gira por Estados Unidos, Sudamérica, Europa, el Círculo Ártico y en el Reino Unido.
Este álbum según Scott es la banda sonora de cuatros años de su vida, en un flujo constante de cambios, de horarios y el vertiginoso movimiento de los viajes.
“Soundings” son ocho composiciones ambient cuyas líneas de sintetizador atmósféricas y los bellos acordes de las cuerdas, le dan un carácter expansivo que invitan a dejarse llevar por la imaginación. Las grabaciones de campo de tormenta, pájaros e insectos le ponen la nota de realidad que remite al medio ambiente de alguna parte del mundo.
Por un lado están las composiciones con acercamientos a lo clásico (“Santori”, Grace” y Nigh) y por otro, a la experimentación electrónica como en “Hodos”, “Mae” y “Baaval”.
Cierra este álbum “Apricity”, del que emergen lentamente líneas nostágicas de pura fragilidad y belleza.
Scott realiza un disco de gran factura con cuidadosos arreglos que muestran su incuestionable sensibilidad. [Guillermo Escudero]
Art Noir (Switzerland):
Es beginnt mit dem Meeresrauschen, so weit so klischeehaft. Denn die Geräusche, denen man bei Feldaufnahmen am meisten in der Musik begegnet, sind bestimmt die See, Vogelgezwitscher und das Knistern des Lagerfeuers. Simon Scott, welcher während eines Grossteiles seiner Zeit als Schlagzeuger von Slowdive durch die Welt reist, tappt aber nicht in die Fallen der plakativen Ewigkeit, sondern vermengt auf “Soundings” seine eigenen Ambient-Drones mit Klangaufnahmen aus aller Welt zu hübschen Neufindungen.
Ja, bei “Mae” hört man Vögel, und auch die menschliche Stimme sucht sich ab und zu ihren Weg auf “Soundings”. Doch alles wird von Simon Scott geschickt abgewogen, mit melancholischen Streichern versehen, von dröhnenden Synthesizern unterwandert. Das Album ist ein Versuch, aus dem rastlosen Tourleben einen Sinn zu destillieren, aus den unsäglichen Wechseln eine Konstante zu produzieren. Mit viel Geduld, Konzentration und dem Fokus auf einzelne Details. Ein Reisetagebuch der anderen Form also, persönlich und doch global.
Und wie geschickt Simon Scott dabei vorgegangen ist, das merkt man, wenn man erfährt, dass “Hodos” nicht am schönen Strand, sondern mitten in einem Sturm in Cambridge aufgenommen wurde. “Soundings” ist ein Werk, das mit der Wahrnehmung spielt und viele Überraschungen in sich trägt. Bis am Ende mit dem langen “Apricity” die Erhabenheit überwiegt und nicht nur die Seele des Künstlers beruhigt. Das Ziel ist erreicht. [Michael Bohli]
Installé chez Touch depuis 2016 (ces pages s’étaient fait l’écho de FloodLines, album livesuivi d’une ressortie de Below Sea Level), Simon Scott semble s’y trouver à la bonne place puisque l’Anglais y propose, avec Soundings, un disque entre ambient et field recordings. En effet, profitant d’une sorte de tour du monde réalisé avec Slowdive (dont il tient la batterie) en 2014 lors de la reformation du groupe, le musicien a capté des sons et des enregistrements un peu partout avant d’y ajouter quelques instruments réels.
C’est ainsi qu’une guitare électrique saturée vient placer ses traits sur les nappes extérieures (Mae) ou que, dans un registre nettement moins éclatant, les cordes de Charlie Campagna et Zachary Paul enrobent avec suavité les textures du Britannique (Nigh). Alors qu’on craignait un peu (et les premières minutes ne font rien pour écarter ce léger scepticisme) que Simon Scott limite un peu son intervention à un simple pressage de la fonction « rec » de ses machines, ses apports instrumentaux viennent conférer une dimension toute autre, nettement plus riche.
Au surplus, plus le disque avance, plus la longueur des morceaux s’allonge, partant d’environ quatre minutes pour terminer au-delà du quart d’heure. Comme souvent avec pareil registre, le musicien trouve évidemment matière à déployer son propos avec cette durée étendue. Quelques bruissements et crépitations continuent de s’entendre, reflets des captations réalisées de par le monde, mais l’adjonction des cordes, des accords de synthé, de rythmiques un peu lointaines et autres traitements permettent d’aller vers des contrées plus riches encore. [Francois Bousguet]
Dark Entries (Belgium):
Naast drummer voor de in 2014 herrezen shoegaze cultband Slowdive (eerder actief van 1989 tot 1995) is Simon Scott een multi-instrumentalist en geluidskunstenaar. Inspiratie en interesses haalt hij uit klankecologie, digitale media, compositie, geluidskunst en muziektechnologie. Hij bracht eerder al een aantal albums uit waaronder zijn debuut ‘Navigare’ (2009), ‘Below Sea Level’ (2012) en in 2015 ‘Insomni’. Vanuit zijn woonplaats Cambridge vertrok hij dan op wereldreis. Een tocht die hem van Australië naar de Verenigde Staten bracht, dan via Azië en Zuid-Amerika naar Europa, om na een ommetje naar de poolcirkel terug te reizen naar het Verenigd Koninkrijk. De componist in hem zorgde ervoor dat hij naast opnames van thuis, zijn reizen van continent naar continent wist te documenteren met allerlei veldopnames. In hotelkamers en in vliegtuigen nam hij de tijd om naar alles te luisteren en die registraties naderhand ook te bewerken. Het is de soundtrack geworden van vier jaar uit het leven van Simon. De composities met als vertrekpunt omgevings- en natuurlijke geluiden zijn zowel blootgesteld aan modulair bewerkte synthesizer handelingen als digitaal gemanipuleerd. Scott maakte ook gebruik van organische, akoestische texturen en strijkinstrumenten. ‘Soundings’ is een verzameling van zeer minimalistisch opgevatte miniaturen die een beeld schetsen van de natuurlijke wereld wiens geluiden door middel van moderne technieken worden omgezet in een bezielende en belangwekkende muzikale beleving. [Paul Van de gehuchte]
Chain D.L.K. (USA):
This new release from Simon Scott, already known as Slowdive drummer, is presented as a collection of tracks composed in a four years time span so the field recordings are not a sound make up to give a sense of reality to electronic music, but a temporal tag which link the track to the place, and time, where it was conceived.
The recordings of Storm Barney open “Hodos” and introduce the listener towards a concept of music where field recordings and electronic music, mostly drone based, merge in a cohesive whole. “Sakura” is a melancholic track based on resonances upon the sound of flowing water. “Santori” has an almost dramatic tension while “Mae” has moments with impressive sound masses. “Grace” and “Nigh” borders modern classical territories with their catchy melodies on strings.
“Baaval” is instead a drone interlude to “Apricity”, the longest track of this release, where the long tones on strings evolves until they obtain a lyrical force which could be a little too sentimental but of great impact.
An example or organic ambient music which could not have those elements of originality that could charm the listener at first sight but whose impressive craft for harmony and variety will give a lasting place below the laser lens of the player. A really nice release.
Bad Alchemy (Germany):
A Closer Listen (USA):
Top ten drone albums 2019
In Western cultures, people who are calm can get a bad name: if they’re one step away from serene one moment, some reason, they may be two steps from erupting the next. Soundings, Slowdive drummer Simon Scott’s debut studio album for Touch, has a monk-like pulse with no signs of snapping. Gone is the drum kit and 4/4 beats of his mainstay band. Instead, Simon’s electro-acoustic suite mulches field recordings from his global travels alongsidedustings of live strings and modular synths. It all lingers calmly in a jetlag haze—a traveler’s sleepy wonderment. [Todd B. Gruel]
03. Synthi AKS waves
06. A chime of psalters
08. The psaltery sea
09. A likely outcome
10. Arithmetic in the dark
I like to imagine a time and place where arithmetic is done in a natural way by simply experiencing the unique possibility offered by sound, that of distinguishing simultaneous differences; the non-displacing waves of either AND both. Despite the observations of cool cats like Bill Sethares on the subjective nature of the octave´s perception, one fact remains unfailingly true. An octave is a doubling of frequency – the higher octave has exactly twice the number of vibrations per second than the lower. I am imagining a planet without the invention of writing, even of symbols and scratchings in the sand where, on hearing the sound of a child and an adult singing together, a listener is doing a multiplication by two in a mathematics without signs; arithmetic in the dark.
The album consists of a set of 10 works which focus on repetition and change. The pieces evolve mostly through the active perception of the listener. Saccades and oto-acoustic emissions are evidence that perception is far from passive reception. The transmitting ear determines much about what it takes in. [Anthony Moore, Arles, November 2018]
In December 2017, Howlround (Robin the Fog) was invited to perform at “The Winter Solstice Soundscapes” event for the recently opened record store “Vinyl Café” in his home town of Carlisle, Cumbria. Inspired by the reception to his first ever performance in the great border city, he covered his parent’s dining room table with the same equipment, stretched loops of tape around his mum’s seasonal candlesticks when she wasn’t looking… and this LP is the result. The only equipment used on the album is two 1/4” reel-to-reel tape machines and one microphone. The sounds created are entirely at the discretion of the machines (much of them derived from ‘closed-input’ recordings) and all tracks were produced in a single take. There are no edits, no overdubs and no additional effects.
This marks a new, heavier direction for Howlround, a project better known for more ambient work. Described as ‘Tapeloop Techno’, thick knotty tangles of dense, pulsating bass are an echo of Robin’s early days making bad dance music, while the abrasive snarls of feedback swirling around these tracks point to his more recent embrace of indeterminacy and chance composition. Previous vinyl releases on Psyché Tropes, The Wormhole, A Year in the Country and Front & Follow as well as his own label The Fog Signals have shown a deep understanding of the possibilities of tape manipulation. On The Debatable Lands Howlround eschews the usual field recordings in favour of exploring the interior world of the machines themselves.
Cut by Jason @ Transition
Mastered by Stephan Mathieu
Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft
Reviews and features:
[The Present Continuous]
Profile: Modern Trends In Tape Music and Contemporary Artists in The Field
The Debatable Lands were where Northernmost England meets Scotland but situated in neither while local clans resisted English and Scottish authorities for over 300 years until their defeat around 1530. Broadcasting from this region in modern day Cumbria, Howlround channels its historic autonomy using two reel-to-reel tape machines to produce sounds that are “entirely at the discretion of the machines (much of them derived from ‘closed-input’ recordings) … in a single take [with] no edits, no overdubs and no additional effects”.
Radiophonic sounds framed by rural scenes often engender a sense of the occult and, with The Debatable Lands, Howlround’s aleatory process reminds of The Stone Tape, Nigel Kneale’s 1972 tale of a residual haunting recorded by a mansion’s stone walls. The results have thick streaks of analogue energies roaming the air, fluttering and pulsing, forming rhythms that palpitate and regurgitate before ultimately crumbling under an unstable tape delay. Like the cairns – burial monuments – that thread through the region, The Debatable Lands feels like unearthly audio monoliths with hidden, ancient properties. [Russell Cuzner]
Robin The Fog’s Howlround project takes a noisier, visceral direction in ‘The Debatable Lands’, his spikily psychoactive debut for Touch
Under a title referring to the historic tracts of land between northern England and southern Scotland, which includes his hometown of Carlisle, where the LP was recorded on his parents’ kitchen table, ‘The Debatable Lands’ also acts a metaphor for the abstract no-mans-land of noise he conjures with two 1/4” tape recorders and a microphone.
Allowing the tape recorders as much agency as possible, Robin acts as an improvising conduit or medium in the mode of a gonzo Tony Conrad or Eliane Radigue, with a modicum of Yvette Fielding and The Hafler Trio. He presents four durational pieces ranging from tremulous, plasmic immersion in ‘Threip’, to something like a pummelling, underwater Masami Akita workout in the rhythmic noise of ‘The Black Path’, while ‘Talking Tarn’ invokes imagery of animist pagans worshipping lone, lofty bodies of freezing water, and ‘Moat’ resembles some kind of EVP interception, perhaps from Roman times, or maybe the ancient spirits of Mu, located in the stone circle-littered realms to the north of Carlisle.
The Wire (UK):
Howlround has made tape-based noise experiments in one fashion or another for nearly a decade. Their first release, The Ghosts of Bush released in 2012 on Howlround’s own Fog Signals label, was an homage the BBC Workshop. It was composed using only recordings of the natural acoustic sounds of the Bush House, home of the BBC World Services for seven decades until it’s final broadcast in 2012, captured in the tucked away corners of the building in the wee hours of the night and then dubbed in the basement studio, using the last of the Workshop’s reel-to-reels. The album itself is a montage of articulated noise movements, with veiled meanings. Much of Howlround’s material since has latched onto this approach, providing a tenable foreground for the nuanced, interpretive noise that follows.
Howlround started out as the duo of Chris Weaver and Robin the Fog. Both members compiled field recordings and other sounds and moved them to reel-to-reel tapes which Robin would drape across and around various things and over long distances to increase the chance for inconsistent playback, and Chris, behind the controls of the output, tweaked levels and added drabs to the iridescent loops. But since 2015, when Weaver took on a residency in Dubai, Robin has taken the title on solo.
The Debatable Lands was inspired by Robin’s first performance in his hometown of Carlisle, Cumbria. The four tracks were made with two ¼” reel-to-reel tape machines and a microphone, with no overdubs, edits, or added effects, Draping elongated tape loops around his mom’s candlesticks on his parent’s dining room table, Robin’s set-up for the record was nearly identical to the performance in Carlisle, accumulating a mass of straight-forward sharpened sounds from a closed-input system, something Robin himself accurately calls “tapeloop techno.”
It’s notably harsher than the rest of Howlround’s output in large part due to the minimal set-up, but there’s little conceptual foregrounding for a listener to latch onto as well. Robin succeeds in plumbing depths of his closed-input system, its range and limitations feeling apparent and inhibiting, yet somehow a capable venue for creative variations. The four insulated tracks almost sound like they’re missing a dimension as Robin funnels inward. He leaves nothing to get lost in other than the contours he mines within the lone microphone and two tape machines. [Ian Forsythe]
Grace begins with a 12 string acoustic guitar fed into a modular synthesiser that spits out beautiful grains of sound that rise and fall like the sun. Textures build up and then slip away leaving a pipe organ playing and the church room recordings sonically revealing passing cyclists, rainfall and Cambridge bus station. It shimmers like an oscillating river until the strings fade and the final third section slips in and a deep organ tone leads the tapestry of sound into field recordings, strings and processed instruments. The contact mics on the organ pipes are heard, floorboards and unidentified human sounds appear and the alarm call of a blackbird seeps into the piece.
Simon Scott’s forthcoming new album, “Soundings” will be out later this year on Touch.
Written recorded, mixed and mastered by Simon Scott at SPS in Cambridge. Strings performed and recorded in Glendale, California by Charlie Campagna (‘cello) and Zachary Paul (viola and violin). Pipe organ recorded at The Unitarian Church, Cambridge, UK.
Thanks to Charlie Campagna, Zachary Paul, Andrew Brown and Jeannie Witty.
Published by Touch Music/Fairwood Music UK Ltd
Photography by Jon Wozencroft
Up to Speed (UK):
Simon Scott has released a single track EP. The EP, Grace, which came Friday (August 10), was released via Touch on their Bandcamp page. It also features the expertise of Charlie Campagna and Zachary Paul.
The Cambridge sound ecologist and multi-instrumentalist has combined electronic ambience with more conventional instrumentation to create soundscapes truly unique, hence the necessity of reviewing this EP. He already has albums Floodlines (Touch), Insomni (Ash International) and Below Sea Level (Kesh/TouchLine) under his belt.
“His work explores the creative process of actively listening, the implications of recording the natural world using technology and the manipulation of natural sounds used for musical composition,” explains his website biography.
He also plays the drums in Slowdive and has recently collaborated with artists James Blackshaw, ‘Spire’, Taylor Deupree (Between), Isan and many more. Simon Scott’s forthcoming new album, Soundings, will be out early next year on Touch.
Sole track, “Grace”, rings in powerful and cyclical. Like an overhead fan big enough to cut you in two. Strings lend a certain graveness to proceedings. The ringing sensation is almost overpowering, a sonic assault that makes you sit up and take notice, inspiring deep thought and contemplation. Pulsing, futuristic and maybe even dystopic. What seems chugging helicopter blades gives way to grumbles, earthy and organic. Ascending to the air, only to have your feet back in the dirt.
A prolonged ringing with grave strings propping it makes itself known. The latter build in majesty but are too proud to embellish their tearful strains. By this time, it honestly gets to the point where it feels like a spiritual experience, evocative of Eastern influences. Glass effects are imbued with the strength of cutting diamond, the shattering sounds strangely cathartic. A rousing change in proceedings, now more alert and grave than ever. A conflict, it seems, has come about and needs resolution.
It rings foreboding, an occasional squeak making you feel as if you’re not alone. Not in a particularly benevolent way, neither. The ringing pitch increases, the tension is building and you feel something of utmost importance is about to unfold. A carousel of sound spins, sometimes sounding far and distant and sometimes sounding too close to home. Is that massive, chugging fan closing in to cut? It seems like the drum of a washing machine has been launched into space, its churning of clothes high pitched as it propels into oblivion. It becomes distant as the song fades out.
This was a very ambitious release. Some people genuinely try to get away with releasing single and double track length EPs, sometimes barely deviating from the approximate three minute structure. This, however, is bold and could open Scott to far more criticism than, say, splitting this piece into three to six separate parts. It’s because of this that he’s definitely bold putting it out as one. It was definitely worthwhile not splitting the whole narrative into separate parts.
Following his gut arguably saved the EP from sounding very disjointed if split in say the conventional way that, daresay, concept pieces are put together. This is almost besides the point to what the music actually achieves. Whether split into one, three or six this EP is a journey into sound, and different listeners will interpret differently depending on the power of their varying imaginations as everyone is unique.
Ecce Homo explores the lighter and darker shades of the human psyche, behaviour and existence, and humanity’s ability to create beauty and destruction. What lies in the essence of such complexity has become a core idea for the album, while Gorgun seeks to figure out if there is a true meaning to being human, and human being.
Starting with “Neroli” as a human fascination with nature and finalising with “To Cross Great Rivers”; the album reflects the contemplations of a spectator being exposed to the human civilization, and witnessing human activity, including his/her own.
Trying to acquire a glimpse of the various layers of human flesh and bones, the sound of the album aims to present a diversity of the sonic spectrum, with tracks varying between ambient and noisy landscapes.
1. Neroli – you can hear this track here
3. Tserin Dopchut
4. Le Sacre l
5. Le Sacre ll
6. Bohemian Grove
8. Knightscope K5
11. To Cross Great Rivers
All tracks recorded and mixed by Ipek Gorgun, Istanbul 2016 – 2018
Mastered by Denis Blackham @ Skye
Photography & design by Jon Wozencroft
Ipek Gorgun is an electronic music composer currently enrolled in the doctoral program of Sonic Arts at Istanbul Technical University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Music. After graduating from Bilkent University with a degree in Political Science, she completed her Master’s studies in Philosophy at Galatasaray University.
As one of the participants of the Red Bull Music Academy in 2014, she performed in Tokyo as an opening artist for Ryoji Ikeda’s “Test Pattern No: 6” and joined Otomo Yoshidide for a collective improvisation project.
As a bass player and vocalist for projects and bands such as Bedroomdrunk and Vector Hugo between 2001-2013, she also performed in an opening gig for Jennifer Finch from L7 and Simon Scott from Slowdive, as well as performing live with David Brown from Brazzaville. She has released two EPs with Bedroomdrunk, entitled “This is What Happened (2003)” and “Raw (2007)”.
Besides group projects and solo performances, she also composed the soundtrack for the documentary ‘Yok Anasinin Soyadi (Mrs. His Name) directed by Hande Cayir in 2012, portraying Turkish women’s struggle for keeping their original surnames after marriage.
Her debut album Aphelion was self-released in February, 2016 and is reissued by Touch in December, under the TOUCHLINE catalogue. In 2017 she released a collaborative album from Halocline Trance, with Canadian producer Ceramic TL (aka Egyptrixx) entitled “Perfect Lung”, and a mini-album with the Italian electroacoustic duo, Alberi.
Aside from many performances following these albums, she also performed in Sonar Istanbul (2017), BBC Radio 3’s “Open Ear” at LSO St. Luke’s (2018) and opened for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Oggimusica Acousmonium with an electronic rework of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” (2018).
Ipek Gorgun also practices performance, street and abstract photography. She won the IPA honorable mention award in 2013-14 with her work entitled “Bubblegun Daydreamer” and in 2013, she worked as the advertisement photographer for Contemporary Istanbul Art fair.
Highly impressive new full-length from Ipek Gorgun. Eschewing any notions of easy-to-consume ambient music, Ipek instead orcestrates an ambitious mass of sound indebeted to musique concrète but also taking in field recordings and a documentary style that lends the album its winding narrative structure. If you’re into anything from Lenka Clayton’s collage work to Ilhan Mimaroglu’s pioneering electronic works – we wager this one will rule your world.
“Ecce Homo explores the lighter and darker shades of the human psyche, behaviour and existence, and humanity’s ability to create beauty and destruction. What lies in the essence of such complexity has become a core idea for the album, while Gorgun seeks to figure out if there is a true meaning to being human, and human being.
Starting with “Neroli” as a human fascination with nature and finalising with “To Cross Great Rivers”; a never ending hopeless dream of the mankind to conquer and control the world, the album reflects the contemplations of a spectator being exposed to the human civilization, and witnessing human activity, including his/her own.
Trying to acquire a glimpse of the multiple layers of such narrative, the sound of the album aims to present a diversity of the sonic spectrum, with tracks varying between ambient and noisy landscapes.”
The Wire (UK):
Beach Sloth (blog):
Wild, weird, and whimsical, Ipek Gorgun goes for a disorienting experience with “Ecce Homo”. Time becomes indiscernible for the way shifts in tempo and texture changes means no track has a recognizable center. Rather, the whole of the work goes for something that becomes truly all-consuming, possessing its own peculiar logic. Close analogues to this particular approach might be Oneothrix Point Never’s equally befuddling style, yet Ipek Gorgun’s take feels rather fresh. Everything about it radiates with a sense of life. Compositions have a sun-soaked disposition to them while they carefully amble about.
By far the most beautiful and optimistic piece comes first with the opener “Neroli” which conveys a mysticism of sorts. Far harsher thought still somehow giddy with anticipation “Afterburner” conveys a different sort of light, one of intense heat as the piece virtually melts into “Tserin Dopchut”. Gentle fragile structures return on the duo of “Le Sacre I” and “Le Sacre II” which at times recall Tim Hecker’s delicate take on ambience. Totally unclassifiable “Bohemian Grove” serves as the very confusing maze of it all while samples skitter through revealing a sort of paranoia that seems to permeate so much of the news lately, the conspiracy theory fringes that have moved closer to the center. Unhinged to its core “Knightscope K5” at times feels akin to similar sonic explorer Madalyn Merkey, with the vocals becoming their own melodies humming to themselves. Ending things on a surreal note is the impossible to place tones of “To Cross Great Rivers”.
A truly unusual and downright beautiful intersection of the experimental and emotional, Ipek Gorgun’s “Ecce Homo” is a true triumph.
On her third record (released this week), her second with Touch, Turkish electronic/electroacoustic composer Ipek Gorgun explores humanity on Ecce Homofrom the inside-out. Currently she’s a doctoral student at the Istanbul Technical University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Music, and I find that making your studies public in this fashion just may be one of the greatest tests of all, especially in our virtual times. She’s been working on this particular recording for the last two years, so the blooms of late Summer (like Jon Wozencroft’s lovely coverart) are about to arrive (along with the early Monarch migration here in TX). Though the Bandcamp page is not active until the release I managed to locate a few postable soundclips for your ears, so please take my words for it, and anticipate the delivery of something quite special come this Friday. If you cannot wait that long you can listen to the album’s opener, Neroli, here.
The track immediately dazzles the ears with a magical uplifting melody, a tangle of bright punchy synths. Neroli is the natural essence of bitter orange, its oil. And the piece comes off like a mystical fusion, a floral pasture as seen through a kaleidoscope. In the second half of the piece the atmosphere shifts into a more subdued affair, more still with a luminous drone like a long note played on a church organ, into a gray fade out. With all the unrest in her home country there’s no escaping the current environment, both physical and/or political, cannot be diverted from her creative voice, however restrained. And this rises in Afterburner, a cascading and course atonal work of ambient/industrial quiet fervor. The muffled roar and partially erased voices speak of our challenging times. It’s a fiery reminder of the human condition and it’s fragility. This leads into the layered, spacey distortions on Tserin Dopchut which are bathed in reverb.
Le Sacre I + II are both two short extractions, up next and filled with a whole range of sound effects, and atmosphere, looped and de-constructed bird whistles. Though these sort of act as intermediate music in the context here, they are worth noting for the complex structure and balance between the natural and the plugged in. Bohemian Grove edits soundclips from a ‘religious’ radio program which is twisted into a windy drone peppered with all sorts of wry effects. If you’ve ever heard the sound collage work of Ultra-Red or Mark Van Hoen you’ll be in a similar ballpark here. Expertly edited.
Seneca can only be described as abstract edgy ambient with its queasy and emotive tone, all wound down, forlorn. But it’s on Reverance that I hear her passion play for the first time. Gorgun delights with an imbalanced, discordant core, but takes the liberties the take mystery to bed with an eerie dalliance on the piano. It’s as gorgeous as it is idiosyncratic, and that hybrid is rare.
On Mileva an impassioned drone has this essence of inner light burning through, one that goes from quiet to racket in a bit more than sixty seconds, though manages to keep the chaos finely quarantined. The white noise sears on through in this short but sweet noise work.
And finally, on To Cross Great Rivers the atmosphere once again shifts darkly to an ambiguous clang, muffled and dragged. Though after a few minutes the tone softens with the partial light we heard in the beginning. A whirring vortex of sci-fi synth creates an audio/visual scope, breathy with a bit of a hovering sensibility in its defined warble. As a whole these eleven parts are a patchwork of short stories, and I can only want to imagine them being overlaid and mixed into one long-playing work with a light show set in a planetarium, or some such spherical space. Take the trip. [TJ Norris]
The Turkish sound artist balances technical precision, emotional potency, and trenchant cultural critique on an album whose individual sounds are as compelling as their widescreen narratives.
In the work of Ipek Gorgun, small moves and grand gestures are equally important. Before she molds her instrumental electronic music into massive shapes, the Turkish sound artist infuses it with precise detail. “I work with milliseconds in the beginning, then I switch to seconds, then to minutes,” she once explained. “At the end, I think about the whole arrangement of the structure… So I zoom in, zoom out, and try to find a way to fit everything in place.” As a result, her compositions connect on the micro level of individual sounds as well as on the macro level of widescreen narrative.
On first listen, Ecce Homo, her second solo album, seems more about the micro. It opens with the tactile chimes of “Neroli,” a track that gets progressively denser but never loses sight of the sonic molecules that comprise it. Gorgun has a talent for spinning fine-tuned sounds that stay resistant to blur no matter how thick her mix becomes. It’s easy to get lost in those textures, the shiny whirrs and low rumbles and drilling noise. But as the album moves forward, Gorgun’s ever-deepening forests prove to be just as compelling as the trees they encompass.
As technical as all of this may sound, Ecce Homo can be quite moving. On pieces like the creeping, piano-echoed “Reverance” and the expansive, atmospheric “To Cross Great Rivers,” Gorgun uses both natural sounds and utterances that feel alien to create habitable worlds. She can sustain these attention-commanding arcs over long stretches, too; on the consecutive tracks “Le Sacre I” and “Le Sacre II,” extended tones and pointillist stabs seem to echo the cycle of calm and nerves that so often characterizes the mood of a momentous occasion. The emotion in Gorgun’s music is sneaky, though. Her technique is so fascinating that you might not notice, at first, that the music is working on your mood as much as on your intellect.
What makes Ecce Homo even more compelling is that, though her music is generally pretty abstract, Gorgun doesn’t shy away from pointed statements. This is most apparent in her use of vocal samples, which ground her open-ended sounds. The most stunning example is “Bohemian Grove” (a reference to the California campground that hosts an annual retreat for an all-male cabal of political elites and the ultra-wealthy), which blends quotes from fearmonger Alex Jones into a hellscape of metallic horror sounds. It’s a risky move; trying to make meaningful art out of cartoonish grandstanding could easily result in a simplistic critique. But by applying the same techniques she uses throughout Ecce Homo, Gorgun creates a work complex enough that it can take multiple listens to fully appreciate.
Most of Ecce Homo is not that literal, however, as Gorgun proves adept at making music that feels universal while retaining her very specific signature. This talent helped make Perfect Lung, the collaborative album she released with Toronto producer Ceramic TL last year, sound unique without throwing out any compositional rulebooks. But it’s when she’s patiently stitching together whole sonic universes on her own that Gorgun’s musical identity is at its most potent. On Ecce Homo, each tiny step reveals the will to run a marathon. [Marc Masters]
Cyclic Defrost (Australia):
Istanbul-based electronic composer Ipek Gorgun last made an appearance with her collaborative album alongside Ceramic TL ‘Perfect Lung’ earlier this year, and now a few months on, this latest collection ‘Ecce Homo’ on Touch offers up her second solo album. Recorded over a period spanning two years, Gorgun describes the eleven tracks here as “exploring the lighter and darker shades of the human psyche, behaviour and existence, and humanity’s ability to create beauty and destruction.”
As with ‘Perfect Lung’, there’s an emphasis on maximalism and total sensory immersion here, with many of the tracks here shifting between serene ambience and intense noisy textures. It’s certainly an apt sonic metaphor for the full spectrum of human nature being explored by Gorgun. ‘Neroli’ opens this album with a sparkling ambient wash of melodic notes, the tones seemingly to hang suspended in mid-air as they wash back and forth between the speakers, phasing and glistening like chimes, before more brooding bass chords bass chords arrive during the second half, taking things out into a void of droning harmonics.
‘Afterburner’ meanwhile lives up to its title as layers of what sounds like reversed vocals in different languages give way to rushing walls of noise, the phased frequencies seemingly to intertwine into a thundering vortex before suddenly dropping down into ominous dark ambience as eerie noise sweeps whisper against chattering contorted vocal samples.
Elsewhere, ‘Bohemian Grove’ sees samples of a US televangelist getting cut up into surreal non sequiturs (“they are coming”) against icy washes of bass ambience, pitched up cartoon vocals and glitchy bursts of digitally treated noise, before ‘Reverence’ takes a completely different turn as delicate minimalist piano arrangements get reshaped into howling harmonics and ping-ponging ricochets.
Personally though, I found that closing track ‘To Cross Great Rivers’ was easily one of this album’s biggest highlights as glowing walls of ambience trail like an aurora against glittering keys and vaporous textures, the entire blend of lush, immersive textures offering up perhaps this album’s most fully realised work. A gorgeously sensual album, ‘Ecce Homo’ continually reveals more with each subsequent listen. [Chris Downton]
Istanbul sound artist Ipek Gorgun knows our search for meaning manifests in all we do
FACT Rated is our series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists around right now. This week Adam Badí Donoval speaks to Turkish sound artist Ipek Gorgun about her new album Ecce Homo.
The title, Ecce Homo, of the latest solo endeavor from Turkish sound artist and producer Ipek Gorgun translates to “Behold The Man(kind).” Gorgun wants to shine a light on our individual and collective search for meaning, on whether there is “anything meaningful beyond flesh and bones.” Her music, full of abstraction, looks to reflect human civilization and its ability to create both beauty and destruction, its tendency to progress and to then decline. “I didn’t focus on one specific aspect of the human,” she says. “There are so many layers to human behavior and human nature to be explored and discovered.”
Gorgun took up solo production after playing bass and singing in bands like Bedroomdrunk and Vector Hugo for over a decade. In 2016, she self-released her debut, Aphelion. Her latest follows a collaborative LP Perfect Lung with Ceramic TL fka Egyptrixx, performances at Sonar Istanbul and BBC Radio 3’s Open Ear and opening for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Oggimusica Acousmonium with an electronic rework of Igor Stravinsky’s ‘The Firebird’.
This outward quality of Ipek Gorgun’s music is new, and especially stark when compared to her “more introverted” debut which she says she wrote only in the solitude of night. Ecce Homo isn’t a nocturnal noise album, but rather a deeply insightful observation, and a reflection of our collective reality. Full of contrasts – bright and dark, heavy and light, glistening and dim, gentle and harsh – the album sounds holistic, open to many interpretations, and aware of its context and purpose. The glistening chimes of ‘Neroli’ tackles our fascination with nature; closer, the ominous ‘To Cross Great Rivers’, she says is an ode to mankind’s “never ending hopeless dream to conquer and control the world.” In between, she explores everything from capitalism to royalty and religious practice.
These contrasts are certainly also connected to Gorgun’s instruments and sound sources. “In our lifetime we are exposed to millions of sound events, so why restrict ourselves by choosing a few components and stick to it in every single album?” she says. On Ecce Homo, Gorgun worked with guitars, piano, field recordings, samples, pedals, Ableton Live and MAX environments. The results play with our expectations of what is loud and harsh as opposed to gentle when it comes to sound. “We can still hear a mockingbird sing when the neighbors go crazy with the hammer and the drill,” she says.
And similarly, while the past few years in Gorgun’s homeland have been very dark she regularly reminds herself of “what a blessing it is to be alive and to be able to perform.” In the next few months, she will perform in Istanbul alongside Christian Fennesz for the Red Bull Music Festival, contribute to Berlin’s Dystopie Sound Art Festival with a multichannel audio installation, write a piece based on some of the landmark sounds of Istanbul and work on a photography project to be exhibited sometime by late 2019 or mid-2020. And if that weren’t enough, she has a Ph.D. thesis to complete, “hopefully before becoming a very old woman.”
Ecce Homo has the feel of a grand statement about sound, for Ipek Gorgun it is the first of very many. “It’s been 200 thousand years, and we are still looking for that which could explain the reason we are here,” she says. “This search of meaning seems to manifest itself in everything that we are doing.” [Adam Badl Donoval]
Twittering Machines (blog):
****Album of the Week (in September 2018)****
Ecce homo, “behold the man”, are the words spoken by Pontius Pilate as he presented a bound and crowned Jesus Christ to the angry masses before the Crucifixion. It has been referenced throughout history by painters, writers, poets, and philosophers. I owned a copy of the work by Nietzsche, a first printing from 1908 with decorations by Henry van de Velde, so you could say Ecce homo and I have some history.
“Carnicvale” Ipek Gorgun. Beyond music and photography, Gorgun is currently enrolled in the doctoral program of Sonic Arts at Istanbul Technical University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Music. She holds a Masters in Philosophy.
Turkish electronic music composer and sound artist Ipek Gorgun takes on this weighty theme in her new album for Touch.
Ecce Homo explores the lighter and darker shades of the human psyche, behaviour and existence, and humanity’s ability to create beauty and destruction. What lies in the essence of such complexity has become a core idea for the album, while Gorgun seeks to figure out if there is a true meaning to being human, and human being.
Sound art makes sense to me as the music contained in Ecce Homo is cinematic in scale, richly textured, and chiaroscuro-like in its handling of light and dark. As such, there’s great beauty to be found here, both super-micro and mega-macro, coupled with real horror. On “Bohemian Grove”, Gorgun samples the dangerously unbalanced fearmongering self-serving preacher-of-hate Alex Jones, allowing his words to set off a cacophony of madness. I don’t know about you, but I need artists to take up the good cause and Gorgun does so deftly.
This is a record that takes repeated plays to take in—the sound-world Gorgun creates is as rich, dense, lovely, light and dark just as, you know, life. Highly recommended.
The New Noise (Italy):
Dopo aver preso parte alla Red Bull Music Academy del 2014 e una volta dato alle stampe l’autoprodotto Aphelion (2016, poi ristampato da Touch), lo scorso anno la musicista e fotografa turca Ipek Gorgun ha collaborato con Ceramic TL, meglio noto come Egyptrixx, alimentando l’elettronica in alta definizione del canadese con un appropriato lavoro di sound-design: il risultato si apprezza nelle otto tracce che compongono Perfect Lung, un disco che, a partire dall’ironia pungente e amara del titolo, affronta temi contemporanei nell’ambito di narrazioni oramai consolidate, che vanno dalla dark ecology alle distopie bene introiettate dalla produzione culturale di questi anni.
Oggi la Gorgun, intenta ad ultimare il dottorato in Sonic Arts presso l’Istanbul Technical University’s Center, sposta l’asse concettuale verso un quesito parallelo – ma questa volta di estrazione ontologica, diremmo – alla riflessione eco-politica manifestata in Perfect Lung. Con Ecce Homo, edito ancora da Touch, Gorgun interroga sé stessa sui diversi aspetti della psiche, sul comportamento dell’Uomo e sulla sua esistenza, facendo leva sulla tendenza umana a oscillare tra bellezza e distruzione, progresso e declino, Bene e Male. È questo l’universo concettuale che innerva l’intero Ecce Homo e lo rende spiazzante, vagante, sospeso tra abrasioni avvelenate (“Afterburner”, “Tserin Dopchut”, “Knightscope K5”), illusorie stasi ambientali piene d’inquietudine (“Neroli”, “Seneca”) e registrazioni trasfigurate (il cinguettio sotto aggressione nel doppio atto di “Le Sacre” oppure l’audio-meme di “Bohemian Grove”, che distorce la voce del complottista Alex Jones). Menzione a parte va fatta per la conclusiva “To Cross Great Rivers”, un drone che congiunge e disgiunge le sue componenti; ma anche, nelle parole dell’autrice confidate alla rivista Fact, un’ode all’infinito sogno umano di controllare, capire il mondo e agirvi dentro.
Ora astratto come un esperimento di musica concreta, ora definito al dettaglio, traslucido quasi fosse una variazione sul tema dell’elettronica high-tech dei giorni nostri, Ecce Homo è un album dispersivo e disorientante, tanto che sarebbe lecito intravedere in Ipek Gorgun, e in questo suo ultimo parto, un’eccessiva incertezza tra i vari poli su illustrati. Di certo, che sia o meno un punto a favore, non è il solito disco marchiato Touch. [Davide Ingrosso]
Originaria di Ankara, Ipek Gorgun si è sempre interessata alla musica, tanto che le sue prime apparizioni risalgono addirittura ad una decina di anni fa in alcune band della scena locale: Ecce Homo è invece il suo secondo disco solista e arriva mentre la producer e compositrice completa il proprio dottorato in Sonic Arts alla Istanbul Technical University’s Center. Sviluppato nel corso degli ultimi due anni questo sophomore-album esce per Touch dopo che l’esordio del 2016, l’autoprodotto Aphelion, aveva acceso i riflettori sull’artista turca, portandola anche a collaborare con il canadese Ceramic TL (meglio noto come Egyptrixx) per l’oscura psichedelia elettronica ispirata ai cambiamenti climatici dell’acclamato Perfect Lung.
Questa volta però Ipek Gorgun si concentra non sull’ambiente ma sull’uomo, sui diversi aspetti della sua psiche, sulla sua capacità creativa, per cercare di scoprire cosa si nasconda all’interno oltre alla mera anatomia: un’impresa non semplice, ma anche il pretesto per addentrarsi nelle più diverse soluzioni soniche. È infatti Ecce Homo un album che, pur muovendosi sempre tra ambient elettronica, field-recordings e diverse intuizioni dell’avanguardia novecentesca (su tutte il lavoro coi nastri di Pauline Oliveros, omaggiato chiaramente nella vorticosa Afterburner e in una Bohemian Grove che rielabora, distorce e moltiplica addirittura un discorso del complottista americano Alex Jones), si dimostra decisamente vario: l’iniziale Neroliesplicita sin dal titolo l’omaggio all’Eno più placido, mentre Tserin Dopchut e la pulsante Knightscope K5 si avvicinano più al noise elettronico del luminare Carlos Giffoni; ma sono le due brevi parti di Le Sacre (dove registrazioni del cinguettare di volatili sono progressivamente infettati da striduli fischi elettronici) e soprattutto la conclusiva e profondissima To Cross Great Rivers a rappresentare i momenti più alti dell’opera.
C’è un leggero slittamento percettivo in Ecce Homo: dall’inchiesta sull’umanità dichiarata inizialmente, l’opera muta in un viaggio di scoperta, un percorso anche tormentato, ma che sorprendentemente si conclude con note di speranza. [Nicolò Arpinati]
Ipek Gorgun has featured here before, so there’s little need to go deep into her history. In brief, she has played in rock bands, taken part in the Red Bull Music Academy, made music with Ceramic TL and completed a PhD in Sonic Arts. Very brief. She recently released her second album, Ecce Homo, and it’s a crystallisation of her efforts to date. Opener “Neroli” – named either for the essential oil of the bitter orange tree or a 1993 Brian Eno album (or both, or neither) – flourishes like a bright organ song on a spring morning, somehow both joyful and insidious in how it offers its welcome. Looped glistening harp notes feed terror and uncertainty, forward and reverse, like the time-lapsed opening and closing of the flowers that appear on the album’s cover.
Tracks feature strange vocals in unknown languages, unknown to this writer at least. “Afterburner” moves from pitched-up male sounds into the building drone of the titular flight. “Tserin Dropchut” (more unknown words/languages?) features beautiful sounds that are undermined by distorted clipping, as well as throbbing bass that kicks down into your chest. Like being at a show where the levels are off in every direction, but in a good way. “Bohemian Grove” features the voice of right wing-fantasist Alex Jones, speaking about the supposed occultist tendencies of the eponymous campground. His words are repeated and looped over dark and muted bass tones. The word “Satan” is played over and over, Jones’s voice stretched and squeezed in tape-like format. It’s darkly comical, his paranoia rendered parodic. His almost prurient interest in this “twisted behaviour” becomes twisted itself, any demon worship rendered seductive and intriguing opposed to his conservative finger-wagging. This is an art piece, and his voice sounds many decades old, when in fact the recording is from 2000. It’s a heightened take on puritanism, reminiscent of Mylo’s “Destroy Rock & Roll”, only less danceable.
“Seneca” features muted melodies that could be built from old-timey jazz records, while “Reverance” pits beautiful electronic bells against unsettling piano themes. “Mileva” – potentially named for Mileva Marić, a Serbian mathematician who studied under Einstein and later married him – continues the thread of dark tones, strange distortion, deep bass and overall dread. Gorgun’s work is fascinating in that it can leave a startling impression without lodging specific memories in your head. It’s a feeling. Bar the opening notes of “Neroli” and Jones’s deranged ranting in “Bohemian Grove”, it’s hard to think of single elements once the music stops playing. Whether that means the work is successful – in that it forces you to return and pay attention – or not – because it’s not memorable – is a question of perspective. Ours is that it works.
The Turkish artist opens new temporal and textural dimensions on this immersive ambient LP.
We’re often drawn to ambient music for its fluidity. Compositional guidelines can be broken down to create soundscapes in which the listener is able to detach from ordinary understandings of space and time. As a Ph.D student in Sonic Arts at Istanbul Technical University, Ipek Gorgun is intimately familiar with this phenomenon. “I enjoy hearing sonic components that open up to new temporal dimensions,” the sound artist, poet, and photographer once said. “And I’m still obsessed with the idea of a never-ending present tense that we keep chasing while making music. No matter how hard we try to hold on to a musical gesture, it always ends up being past.”
On her second album, Ecce Homo, Gorgun explores sonic and theoretical motifs she’s only touched upon before, to striking effect. 2016’s Aphelion was comprised mostly of ominous tones. Last year’s collaboration with Ceramic TL, Perfect Lung, was a maximalist full-length that riffed on environmental degradation. Ecce Homo falls somewhere between the two LPs. Its electroacoustic compositions drill deep into your brain, always with a creeping sense of physical and existential pressure.
Ecce Homo is tense and dynamic, changing from the micro (clicks, brief samples, single notes) to the macro (organs, concentrated filters, tenuous changes in melody) at a moment’s notice. But the macro moments are where Gorgun really thrives. The grating strings and chaotic vocal ambience of “Afterburner” are terrifying in their intensity. The subtler “Tserin Dopchut” feels like a windstorm, moving suddenly from piercing frequencies to heavy static chaos. “Bohemian Grove” samples an Alex Jones film from 2000, in which the right-wing conspiracy theorist tries to sneak into an elite Northern California gentlemen’s club to prove the existence of occult happenings. The track gradually becomes more glitchy and unhinged, to the point where Jones transforms into the satanic demon he’s warning us about.
The LP’s calmer moments are still heady. “Seneca” drifts with a glacial beauty. “To Cross Great Rivers” re-contextualizes the brightness from “Tserin Dopchut” and “Le Sacre I” into music that soothes and surrounds. Throughout the course of Ecce Homo, no sound consistently holds the same space, mood, or tone. Gorgun asserts this as her method from the outset—the album opener, “Neroli,” refracts multiple facets of sound, like a slowly rotating crystal catching the light. Throughout the record, there are gestures toward what has already passed and what will eventually come. With its constant shifts in energy, Ecce Homo succeeds in opening up new temporal and textural dimensions. [Nina Posner]
In the Christian New Testament, when Pontius Pilate presents Jesus Christ to a mocking crowd just prior to his crucifixion, he utters the words “Ecce homo” (“Behold the man”). Throughout the ages, an endless list of artists and intellectuals have turned to the scene and Pilate’s words to interpret its complicated depiction of human judgment and understanding, and on her sophomore follow-up to 2016’s Aphelion, Istanbul composer Ipek Gorgun invokes the phrase as a means to plumb “the lighter and darker shades of the human psyche, behaviour and existence, and humanity’s ability to create beauty and destruction.”
It’s a uniquely anthropological pursuit, but as with Gorgun’s debut and last year’s collaborative release with Toronto’s Ceramic TL, the subject of this record is an ontological one, with Gorgun endeavouring to “figure out if there is a true meaning to being human, and human being.” Answering those questions with an expressionistic palette that oscillates gently between noise and ambient music, Gorgun plugs into the landscape while harking back to philosophy, science, mathematics, and current events to place these consuming compositions in a variety of emotional contexts.
After taking a sound bath in the lapping, glowing tones of album opener “Neroli” — think Eno’s iconic Windows startup sound struggling to assert itself through the fragmented lens of the pastiche digital present — “Afterburner” thrusts the action into overdrive, a subtle grinding noise growing to overcome a series of voices to manifest in an awesome, supersonic crescendo, the sheer spectacle of its force implying the jet fuel injectors for which the track is named.
That display of man’s brazen dominion over nature is sharply contrasted with the anxious searching of “Tserin Dopchut,” where what sounds like it could be a field recording of a nature scene turns dark as chirps and croaks are abruptly manipulated into something menacing and violent, blurry squalls of snowy noise flooding your ears. It’s a reminder of the essentially tenuous position we occupy in the world, but with the track’s reference to a Siberian toddler that grabbed local headlines when they wandered coatless into the frigid, wolf-filled taiga, subsisting for three days only on a small supply of chocolate and the protection of a dog and two puppies before — amongst search parties of hundreds — his uncle found him and brought him home, there’s a nod to the persistence of the human will.
For Gorgun, being human is to hurtle headlong into conditions we cannot control, but with a propensity to adapt, affecting and incurring external trauma along the way.
The juxtaposition of these tracks with a collection of pieces addressing the corroded coexistence of humanity in the album’s latter half provides a compelling look at how we define ourselves in relation to others through class, ritual and technology, reducing the inflammatory conspiracy mongering of Alex Jones into a brain-melting collage on “Bohemian Grove,” while “Knightscope K5” — named for a Silicon Valley security droid — paints an increasingly hostile portrait of regulation, surveillance and data collection with oppressive blasts of noise.
A challenging listen full of shifting, ephemeral environs marked by harsh, disrupting events, it’s a deeply unsettling record about our ongoing becoming, and perhaps the science fiction soundtrack our brave new world deserves. [Tom Beedham]
Héritière des expérimentations microambient foisonnantes de Cindytalk chez Editions Mego dont on retrouve ici le goût pour les stridences oniriques et radiantes (Neroli), la musicienne d’Istanbul s’intéresse aux rapports entre musicalité et chaos, humanité et destruction sur ce deuxième album dont la beauté semble se désintégrer à même nos tympans, comme sur Tserin Dropchut aux sonorités cristallines phagocytées par une noise analogique vorace ou Le Sacre II avec ses réminiscences bucoliques en déréliction. Incorporant des field recordings, notamment sur l’étrange Afterburner qui en fait une cacophonie de fin de monde ou le dystopique Bohemian Grove aux monologues triturés, Ecce Homo impressionne par un sens du contraste qui culmine sur Knightscope K5 dont les nappes éthérées sont comme assaillies par des tourbillons bruitistes et bourdonnants, tandis que sur Reverance l’électronique déstructurée laisse soudain place à un piano néo-classique atonal et hanté.
OZMOTIC is a multidisciplinary artistic project, deeply fascinated by the dynamics of contemporary society, by architecture, cities and vast uncontaminated spaces.
OZMOTIC creates world sounds characterized by an intense tonal variety and a refined rhythmic research. The interaction between electronic music and digital visual art in
real time is an essential trait of OZMOTIC’s aesthetic.
Having previously collaborated with Fennesz, Murcof, Bretschnider and Senking, “Elusive Balance” is their third album, following “AirEffect” in 2015, and “Liquid Times” in 2016 (both for FolkWisdom). OZMOTIC now release their debut album for Touch.
Mastered by Denis Blackham
Artwork & photography: Jon Wozencroft
“Elusive Balance” explores the relationship between humans and nature, as well as the search for balance between these two great entities.
The theme of equilibrium and its precariousness, and its natural tendency to achieve relative stability connects all living things. Equilibrium is also a junction point and evolutionary engine – unstable and elusive, ready to deteriorate and to start a new reaction mechanism bringing organisms to a new harmony.
“Beauty is a rare and fleeting thing; it oftencorresponds to those phases where we can grasp that unstable equilibrium which exists between us and the world at large.”
Musically the album seeks resolution of sound contrasts, in a continuous search for an emotional component that gives simultaneously a feeling of tension and stillness.
There is a duality between the ‘organic’components (represented by soprano sax and percussion) and their interaction with machinesand computers.
In “Elusive Balance”, OZMOTIC investigate the essence of their sound to expand its emotional and compositional potential. Each track contains a search for a synthesis between sound elements apparently distant from each other, but in reality create a new balance – as poetic as it is musical.
The album’s seven tracks draw a sonic flow in which the melodic aspects are countered by glitchesand angular sounds, and the ambient passages are subjected to heavy rains of rhythm, leaving space for dreamlike moments.
On their new album Elusive Balance, the Italian duo of Riccardo Giovinetto & Simone Bosco (known for collaborations with Fennesz and Murcof) explore the dividing line between human and nature, with ambient sounds colliding with frenetic stuttery beats, high-pitched electronic interjections and melodic saxophone… Elusive indeed, but utterly compelling.
After several collaborations, Italian duo OZmotic is perched to release their sophomore effort, Elusive Balance (Touch; CD/DL) on July 6. The recording is comprised of seven tracks, all under eight minutes which they describe: “explores the relationship between humans and nature, as well as the search for balance between these two great entities.” This being the great balance in so many soundworks and contemporary art of late, the call for change and understanding is internationally broad. The album’s title track begins in total silence, and begins with a synthetic drone, minimal hiss and small electronic bleeps and flutters. The atmosphere is cool and detached, until a sweeping soprano sax enters. It’s voice is silky and clean, yet effuses an emotive consternation.
Moving into the next track, Hum, the space is vast with sweeping, drawn out synths and barely audible bright tones that are cordoned to the edges. They are capturing a sketch, an audio version of our changing Earth, hoping to define a kind of collective metamorphosis that occurs almost unconsciously. Operatic voices elusively emerge from the background and this recording finds its sweet spot early on in a seamless transition between contemporary electronics, to opera, to the field recording of birds charmingly chirping away. They explore the contradictions between the virtual and the real. And just as the transitions within the track are impressive, as is the passage into Pulsing. It’s moody and transparent until becoming something plot-like. The meandering sax, micro percussion and other effects make this a neon-lit all-nighter. Some may call it space jazz – not at all to be confused with the leanings of say, Sun Ra. It’s got it’s own flavor, blended with the smoother side of jazz razzmatazz.
Elusive Balance is endlessly listenable, and doesn’t go too dark or light, kind of coasts in this glossier space of electronic music that just stays neatly under the radar of categorization. Lymph is one of those transitional tracks that gets slightly lost in the mix. It’s a midpoint in this exploration, and as such reads as a view from the scenic long road trip. When they roll out the dusty Whisper the atmosphere is pin-drop, slow and low. It’s a gorgeously twisted ambient work in many shades of gray. The nebulous drone is quite breathtaking, as they briefly augment with those remote disembodied voices once again – it’s by far the highlight of the album, and separately could effortlessly be woven into a piece of cinema.
And then Being shape-shifts the sound/space on the recording, with starts and stops and the pitter-patter of microelectronica atop a sweeping sax line. The overtones of classical, jazz, and contemporary digital music are a bit odd at first, but the deeper they go, with timing and editing, the combination just makes a new kind of sense. Finally, wrapping things up on Insecting, when a low rumble is met with variegated drone and other flash glitch tones that are quite potent. The buzzes continue, like an alarm set on a bank vault. Something is hatching, something is breaking – it’s a very exciting, dramatic conclusion. Grab some additional details about the record here. [TJ Norris]
Riccardo Giovinetto e Simone Bosco ovvero Ozmotic, un duo che coglie l’essenza del suono e la traduce con un liguaggio personalissimo che crea una sorta di osmosi – è il caso di dirlo – tra i suond artists/musicisti e l’ascoltatore. La ricerca dell’equilibrio tra il nostro mondo sempre più artefatto rispetto all’altro da cui proveniamo, la possibilità di rialacciare un rapporto con la natura abbandonata, sette tentativi di contatto che riescono a stordire e trasportare chi ascolta in luoghi altri, lontani ma stranamente familiari. Una miscela sonora che sorprende, ambient, minime tessiture glitch appena accennate, drumming programmato, la voce narrante di un sax soprano che commuove e rende viva, umana questa esperienza sul confine tra poesia e lampo digitale. Questo è il terzo Ozmotic e il primo stampato sulla prestigiosa etichetta Touch; solo i migliori esploratori possono permettersi tali imprese.
Electronic and instrumental duo OZMOTIC have announced their upcoming album “Elusive Balance” which is set to drop on July 13 (USA) via TOUCH. Comprised of Simone Bosco and Riccardo Giovinetto, the duo has received support by notable publications Resident Advisor, Fact Mag, UNCUT, Noisey as well as radio play from BBC Radio 3. Bosco and Giovinetto have collaborated individually and as a collective with the likes of Christian Fennesz, Murcof, Senking, Bretschneider, William Parker, Mary Halvorson and Murcof, just to name a few. As individuals, they represented Italy in the International Biennial of Sarajevo, won the “Movin ‘up” award of the Italian Ministry of Culture and conducted 80 percussionists in the opening ceremony of the XX Olympic Games at Teatro Regio di Parma, Turin, broadcast worldwide, a popular theatre which has hosted extraordinary performances by legendary artists such as famed opera-star Luciano Pavarotti.OZMOTIC are an innovative duo with extensive musical affiliations. Also having performed at festivals such as Todays Festival, State-X Festival, also at the prestigious Army Theater in Sarajevo, Petrozavodsk Theater and Corner Exchange in Turin.Inspired by ambient to techno and instrumental music, the duo was established in Italy and have been experimenting with electronic sounds that can be characterized by intense rhythmic research, tonal variety as well as visual art. Using their extensive musical techniques to work with actors, performers and digital artists to integrate visual art and audio video concepts to give their performances a deeper dimension.Drawing influences from artists such as Bjork, Miles Davis, Steve Lacy, Pan Sonic, Chris Watson amongst others, OZMOTIC’s style could be compared to artists like Alva Noto, Boards of Canada and even hints of Jon Hopkins, or rather a cohesive blend of all three. With an impressive list of skills the duo have also collaborated with Fennesz (“Air Effect”) – Senking (remix in ‘Liquid Times’) and Frank Bretschneider (remix in ‘Liquid Times’) and have hypnotized fans with their artistry of cinematic layering and electro infused ambient sounds. Their use of an array of electronic equipment paired with mixing different genres like IDM, noise and jazz create a unique sound that expresses OZMOTIC’s true form.OZMOTIC give insight into their upcoming LP, commenting, “‘Elusive Balance’ explores the relationship between humans and nature, as well as the search for balance. Equilibrium is a junction point and evolutionary engine – unstable and elusive. Musically the album seeks of resolution of sound contrast, in a continuous search for an emotional component that gives simultaneously a feeling of tension and stillness.” [Daphne Gilden]
Production duo Ozmotic create small but wide-ranging incisions in electronic music. Continually probing for fresh ideas, the pair have stumbled across a sound that is both immediate and penetrating. Currently working on a full length album (order LINK), the duo – Simone Bosco and Riccardo Giovinetto – apply years of experience to each project they undertake. Languid new piece ‘Elusive Balance’ opens with minimalist electronics, the stuttering, at times almost chaotic, approach linked to modern developments in classical music. The pair explain: “‘Elusive Balance’ explores the relationship between humans and nature, as well as the search for balance. Equilibrium is a junction point and evolutionary engine – unstable and elusive. Musically the album seeks of resolution of sound contrast, in a continuous search for an emotional component that gives simultaneously a feeling of tension and stillness.” An engrossing and highly moving piece. [Robin Murray]
Blow Up (Italy):
Bad Alchemy (Germany):
Chain D.L.K. (USA):
The balance of “Elusive Balance” lies in blending bold, slow soprano sax playing and some percussive elements against rapid electronic glitches, cold sci-fi synth atmospherics and drone pads in a way that works and doesn’t just sound like two styles of music trying to occupy a single space. And by and large, it’s a balance well struck.
At times, it’s very familiar synth-ambient material. “Hum”, with its cool choral-vocal ahhh sounds, muted melodic strings, and digital clicks like distant radio signals in deep space, is well-worn territory, but handled very smoothly. “Pulsing” has shades of moody sci-fi gameplay soundtrack, especially when the subbass pulsing in question comes in after three minutes and adds an irregular-heartbeat-ish sense of mild tension. “Lymph” adopts a warmer mellower ambient flavour which then throws the spontaneous drum hits of its second half into a different style of relief.
Final two tracks “Being” and “Insecting” are both strong track and slight anachronisms, driven by some more rapid pulsing that catches you unawares just as you’ve begun to think of this as a going-to-sleep listen, as though creeping- slightly- towards the finale of a sci-fi horror affair- bht the dramatic denouement isn’t included here.
It’s a nicely packaged short album of sci-fi, soundtrack-y electronica with a great deal of polish and atmosphere. It maybe likes the unique elements (or the game tie-in licensing deal) that would bring it a great deal of attention, but nevertheless it’s very strong. [Stuart Bruce]
Auf Glitch folgt Richard Wright. Und dann wird „Wirkungsgleichheit“ erzielt. Was ist das denn?! Das neue Album des italienischen Electro-Duos Ozmotic, das auf seinem neuen Album Elusive Balance (Touch/Membran) noch mehr auffährt (Chöre etwa), als ihre ohnehin berückenden Klanglandschaften benötigen würden, um sich der ungeteilten Wahrnehmung eines auf emotional wirksame Feinheiten erpichtes Publikums zu erfreuen.
Ob und inwiefern diese Freude von Dauer sein wird, lässt sich indes noch nicht prognostizieren. Doch die gekonnt unmodisch gewahrte Balance aus in leibhaftig ins Leben gerufener Bläsertätigkeit und auf Unaufdringlichkeit gepolter Digitalität lässt Überdauerung erhoffen.
Besonders gelungen erscheint der ans Nachtlicht gebrachte Impetus von Riccardo Giovinetto und Simone Bosco seine proaktive Ungezwungenheit und sachte Dezenz. Ohne dabei ins Seichte zu geraten. Nein, man hört gerne auf und reibt sich die Birne, wenn Ozmotic ihre liebenswerten Stiche setzen.
„Beauty is a rare and fleeting thing; it often correspondons to those phases where we can grasp that unstable equillibrium which exists between us and the world at large“, meinen die Macher. Der Hörer sollte sich Elusive Balance für entsprechende Momente aufbewahren. So sie sich auch unverhofft einstellen, ändert dies nichts an der Güte eines traumhaft gültigen Albums. [Stephan Wolf]
Der Wendepunkt, an sich dem Wohlklang in Noise und Schönheit in Schmerz umkehren, hat eine ganz eigene Faszination, die besonders Künstler*innen aus dem Dark Ambient-Genre magisch anzieht. Das Duo Ozmotic aus der norditalienischen Motorcity Turin spielt besonders gerne auf dieser Kippe. Ihr drittes Album Elusive Balance (Touch, VÖ 13. Juli) verwebt elegische Klänge, dunkelblaue Note aus dem Sopransaxofon, nach GAS– oder Celer-Rezept verwehte Klassiksamples und gewittrige Abstrakt-Beats mit mysteriösem Krach. Das Ergebnis ist wunderschön, aber nie zu schön. Es verbleibt immer ein Stachel, etwa Trommelfell wie Lautsprecher strapazierende hochfrequente Glitches und dunkel knuspernde Störgeräusche. Auf der Ebene von Sound und Produktion ist das wohl eines der besten (Dark) Ambient-Electronica Alben die je gemacht wurden. In all seiner nie vollständig befreit aufspielenden Schönheit wirkt das Album als Ganzes aber auch ziemlich ausdrucklos und inhaltlich beliebig. Eine Aneinanderreihung toller Sounds. Leidenschaft ohne Liebe.
For their third album, the duo of Stanislao Lesnoj (saxophone, electronics) and SmZ (drums, electronics) work effortlessly to achieve the state described by the album title: a precarious mix of vastly differing instrumentation and genres that end up complementing one another quite effectively. The final product largely straddles that unlikely line between jazz and abstract electronica, but in a way that comes across as unique and fresh.
There might be two organic instruments listed in the credits—saxophone and drums—but the former is utilized much more alongside the electronic performances, which vary drastically from conventional synth work to dissonant, noisy textures. The title piece that opens the album exemplifies this: a bit of captured electrical interference sets the stage as the duo later meld their work into a skittering electronic sound, all of which remains rather non-organic for the most part. However, Lesnoj’s saxophone soon glides into the mix, with an unabashedly jazzy tone to it, and also an organic addition The performance is a restrained one, more restrained than I would have anticipated from a horn/electronic combination arrangement, but it works well.
The sax performance on “Pulsing” is even calmer, at times leading the song into a cyber-smooth jazz hybrid that stays on the right side of tasteful with the inclusion of lush synth strings and light metallic percussion. Similarly, “Whisper” is built largely on traditionally jazz influenced horns and what best resembles a digital vibraphone, with a bit of static-heavy, distorted production to ensure a unique final product. Electronic detritus and sax also figure heavily into the rather stripped down “Being”, but the limited amount of instrumentation is produced so well as to bring out every detail of what is going on.
Ozmotic do not simply stay in this specific framework of jazz and electronics, however. For “Hum” the duo work within a nicely spacious mix, blending a mixture of twinkling synths, naturally captured bird songs and other less specific organic elements. The elongated strings and treated choirs that appear later flesh out the song even more, bolstering the organic side of the elusive balance. At first, “Lymph” has a similarly open space that leads to a lighter, more chilled out mood, but that shifts as the duo adds in multiple layers of twittering electronics and even some erratic, distorted drum beats (which could be organic or synthetic) come stammering through to give an added dimension to an already complex work. The album closer “Insecting” has the pair pushing their sound into even more distorted and slightly harsh territory. Shimmering sounds and a minimalist arrangement set the stage at the piece’s opening. Soon crackling passages and disjointed electronics blend in, giving a more chaotic and roughened edge to the composition. Eventually rich synth pads are added to the equation, contrasting the dissonant stuff with a bit more pleasant tone before ending the piece abruptly.
Elusive Balance is a fitting name for this record, because that is exactly what Ozmotic manages to strike within its seven songs. Their sound is all about equilibrium, with clean tone and distortion, organic and digital, and chaos and order all appearing equally throughout the album, sometimes all within the same single piece. Those combinations are just what makes the album so great and memorable though, because while it is a beautiful work from first listen, there are so many more facets to it that can be heard with each subsequent spin.
Gonzo Circus (Belgium):
Het Italiaanse duo OZMOTIC wilde voor hun derde album, ‘Elusive Balance’, de complexe relatie tussen mens en de natuur onderzoeken. OZMOTIC beweert, en ik haal aan, ‘dat de stabiliteit die we als vanzelfsprekend beschouwen in de wereld om ons heen in feite een onstabiel evenwicht is’. Misschien dat het leven zonniger is in Italië –ik betwijfel het– maar ik ken helemaal niemand die van mening is dat de wereld om ons heen stabiel is, hoe je het woord ‘wereld’ ook wil lezen. De natuurlijke wereld, waar het OZMOTIC om te doen lijkt, is in het anthropoceen een in rap tempo veranderend systeem dat de tijd niet krijgt om een nieuw equilibrium te vinden. Hoe dan ook, OZMOTICs concept vindt uiting in de combinatie van de natuurlijke flow van echte instrumenten –klarinet, percussie, gesampeld koor– met de extreme, niet-menselijke precisie van glitch. Ook spelen uitgesproken technologische geluiden als ruis, microtonale blips en digitale synthesizers een belangrijke rol –al denk ik dat de ijzige, melancholische pads van de synths juist bedoeld zijn om de wijdheid van de natuur uit te drukken. Meer dan die elementen naast elkaar zetten doet het duo eigenlijk niet, ik neem aan in de hoop dat er vanzelf een spanning ontstaat. Van wederzijdse beïnvloeding lijkt nauwelijks sprake, en met name de klarinet lijkt onafhankelijk van de rest te bestaan. Ook proberen ze nergens wankelen of schuiven van dat voornoemde onstabiele evenwicht voelbaar te maken. Het blijft bij het spanningsveld, dat meer bestaat binnen de puur elektronische ruimte, dan tussen organisch en synthetisch. Dat neemt niet weg dat ‘Elusive Balance’ op zich een mooie plaat is, zij het niet erg uitgesproken of bijzonder; en zeker de nummers zonder de blazer zijn het proberen waard voor liefhebbers van ambient in de stijl van labels als 12K of Glacial Movements.
Dark Entries (Belgium):
De subtiele balans tussen mens en natuur is volgens mij persoonlijk al lang geleden definitief om zeep geholpen. OZMOTIC lijkt daar een andere mening op na te houden en probeert dit precaire evenwicht muzikaal vorm te geven. Concepten zijn vaak een recept voor oeverloze saaiheid, maar OZMOTIC werkt dit gegeven op een zeer mooie manier uit.
Zien we een industriegebied na de oorlog dat opnieuw is overgenomen door de natuur? Of is het veeleer de zelfverklaarde ecologische meerwaardezoeker die in zijn pokkedure trekkerskleren bacteriën gaat achterlaten op onontgonnen grond? Of hebben we effectief leren samenleven met de natuur en zijn onze hoogtechnologische huizen ook een integraal deel van het ecosysteem? Eén ding is zeker, OZMOTIC schept beelden die beklijven.
Het duo maakt gebruik van heel wat contrasten in zijn muziek: die tussen rust en drukte, die tussen akoestische instrumenten en zeer aanwezige elektronische geluiden, tussen detail en grove schets. Wie enigszins vertrouwd is met atmosferische idm zoals Beefcake, Architect, µ-Ziq enzovoort zal geen vooruitstrevende geluiden horen in dit album. De glitchy geluiden en de pads zijn vrij typisch voor het genre maar wel enorm knap gedaan. Ze weten echt te beroeren en je mee te nemen in een dromerige wereld. Prachtige koorsamples en vooral de saxofoon maken het effect zelf nog sterker en zorgen ervoor dat OZMOTIC uitsteekt boven de rest van het genre.
Als we dit album vergelijken met bijvoorbeeld Liquid Times, valt wel op dat het duo een pak braver is geworden. Bij de eerste beluisteringen stoorde ons dit echt. Dit album hapt misschien net iets te gemakkelijk weg. We moeten echter toegeven dat we het toch telkens opnieuw in de lade van de cd-speler schuiven en het steeds weer zalig genieten is. Net dankzij het gebrek aan weerhaken, is het makkelijker om diep in de sfeer te zakken en even te ontsnappen uit deze wereld. Misschien moeten we dus even onze drang onderdrukken om telkens weer vernieuwing en experiment te willen horen.
Dit is mooi!
Je zou ‘Elusive Balance’ van OZMOTIC, dat vorig jaar verscheen bij Touch zo maar actueel kunnen noemen. Het verkent de relatie tussen de mens en de natuur, alsook de balans tussen die twee entiteiten, aldus het begeleidend schrijven voor de pers. Dat die verhouding flink onder druk staat is inmiddels voor vrijwel niemand meer een verrassing en dus komen musici die hier op deze wijze aandacht aan geven als geroepen.
‘Elusive Balance’ is het derde album van het uit Turijn afkomstige duo, bestaand uit Stanislao Lesnoj en SmZ, na ‘AirE ect’ uit 2015 en ‘Liquid Times’ uit 2016. Op hun website zijn ze uitgesproken over hun inspiratie: “OZMOTIC is a multidisciplinary artistic project, deeply fascinated by the dynamics of contemporary society, by architecture, cities and vast uncontaminated spaces.” In dit licht moeten we dus ook dit ‘Elusive Balance zien.
De muziek van deze twee Italianen is een combinatie van akoestische instrumenten en elektronica. Een intieme melodie op sopraansax van Lesnoj verrast ons direct in het titelstuk, ‘Elusive Balance’, te midden van elektronisch geknisper waar waarschijnlijk SmZ voor tekent. Hiermee is het zoeken naar balans eigenlijk al verklankt: het diepmenselijke, natuurlijke versus alles wat wij als ‘verbeteringen’ hebben doorgevoerd. In ‘Hum’ trekt het duo lange ambient lijnen; subtiele, gelaagde klanknevels. Aan het eind worden we bovendien nog getrakteerd met een kort koormoment.
In ‘Pusling’ is de stemming melancholisch. De elektronische klankwolken worden hier vermengd met natuurgeluiden en hebben over het geheel genomen een vrij duistere ondertoon. Het kan ook bijna niet anders als je de verhouding van de mens tot de natuur wil verklanken. Dan priemt ineens de sopraansax van Lesnoj door het wolkendek, een straaltje licht. In ‘Lymph’ weet het duo eveneens te overtuigen met een fijnzinnig klankpatroon, waar gaandeweg het ritme van SmZ doorheen breekt, er een zekere spanning aan geeft. ‘Being’ is een wat vreemde eend in de bijt. Hier krijgen we ineens een soort van dansritme, al valt het wel telkens in brokjes uiteen, dat Lesnoj’s sopraansax ondersteunt.
Toeval kan het niet zijn. ‘Whisper’, we zijn bijna aan het einde van het album’ heeft zo waar iets hoopvols. Alsof die nieuwe balans is gevonden, waar we al de hele tijd naar op zoek zijn. Deze tonen smaken in ieder geval naar meer. Op ‘Insecting’ trekt het duo deze lijn echter niet door. Daarvoor is de sfeer te veel beladen, de stemming te mistroostig. Eén zwaluw maakt dan ook nog geen lente. [Ben Taffijn]
Recorded live at Iklectik, London on March 23rd 2018. Also playing that night were Yann Novak and Simon Scott.
Artwork & photography: Jon Wozencroft
Bad Press (web):
“Philip Jeck works with old records and record players salvaged from junk shops turning them to his own purposes.” For those of us who can’t imagine a more engaging biographical note, Jeck’s new 33-minute epic Arcade is a pure delight.
Recorded live at London’s celebrated Iklectik space in March, the piece features contributions from Yann Novak and Simon Scott. This is turntablism of the highest order.
Jeck has been making music with vinyl and electronics since the early 1980s. He started out (and continues to work) as a visual artist, studying at the Dartington College of Arts.
That southwest England institute has turned out an impressive list of graduates that includes Sonja Klaus, a set decorator, film art director and production designer, composer and political activist Lindsay Cooper, who also played oboe, bassoon and was a member of Henry Cow and composer/educator Patrick Nunn.
Jeck has 11 solo albums to his credit. He’s collaborated with Jah Wobble, Steve Lacy, Gavin Bryars, Jaki Liebezeit, David Sylvian, Sidsel Endresen, Bernhard Lang and Fennesz.
Each of this new work’s elements – and there are too many of them to count – evokes a time, place, feeling or a combination thereof. The work can be enjoyed equally en masse or as an audio mining exercise. Take it all in or pick it apart.
Its density is a significant part of its appeal. Arcade never overwhelms, but there is so much going on here. His application of surface noise may be most impressive.
Jeck uses the device more centrally than others. It’s not just louder that you may be used to, it sits at (or at other times near) the centre of the piece.
It’s a cliché to say that artists like Jeck use the turntable as an instrument. But there really isn’t any other way to put it. The fact that he plays these record players so imaginatively and with such a fine sense of their potential has a lot to do with why he’s such an important artist.
Don’t let this be the only Jeck title in your collection. [Kevin Press]
Fennesz: Station One
Philip Jeck: Arcade
One mark of a true artist is a singular and instantly recognizable voice. By that measure, Christian Fennesz and Philip Jeck both qualify—no more than seconds of their respective material needs to be played for identification to be made—and if the world can be split into innovators and imitators, the Touch artists undoubtedly belong in the first group.
Though the single totals but seven minutes, Fennesz’s Station One indelibly captures the guitarist’s style in its two tracks, the first of which, “Tom,” first appeared on a 2014 Modeselektor compilation, and the second, “Silk Road,” (previously “Silk Lane”) was part of a 2016 installation in New York City. For the new release, both were remodeled, remixed, and remastered in Vienna earlier this year. A thing of luminous beauty, “Tom” sweeps in surreptitiously, its guitar strums shimmering within a drifting, synthetic mass before morphing into a fuzz-enshrouded swirl of guitar and electric piano radiance. The more aggressive of the two pieces, “Silk Road,” which apparently was played once in a loop for a whole day, buzzes and roars with machine-like insistence, alternating as it does with a loud, rippling thrum. Much like Fennesz’s work in general, neither of the pieces adheres to a rigid structure; instead, the two unfold like living organisms whose movements seem unpredictable yet nevertheless natural.
A long-form piece recorded live in London in early 2018, Arcade is quintessential Jeck. Using old vinyl discs and record players salvaged from junk shops, he crafts woozy soundscapes where ghostly loops push their way to the surface through thick fields of crackle, static, and vinyl surface noise. One might liken the experience of listening to a Jeck piece to drifting lazily on a barge and viewing the rusty ships and decaying industrial buildings ashore as they appear during the half-hour trip.
Strings figure prominently in this case, with the first violin flourish arising three minutes in and others swarming to the surface thereafter. As expected, nothing so conventional as a recognizable string quartet melody appears; instead, groans, corroded phrases, and high-pitched squeals ebb and flow within the slow-moving, undulating mass, while guitars twang insistently amidst clattering noise at the twenty-five-minute mark. As emphatic as Arcade is in such moments, it also includes passages so gentle and subdued they could induce sleep, and, in fact, midway through, breathing-like sounds emerge that could be mistaken for signs of light slumber. The setting never stays in one place for too long but rather shape-shifts with almost clockwork regularity, and consequently one’s attention never lapses during the thirty-three-minute presentation.
Anyone seeing Jack’s methodology and gear choice as gimmicky would be wise to attend more carefully; Arcade is as transfixing as anything else in his catalogue and attests to the singularity of his vision. [Ron Schepper]
Following Touch: Isolation which covered the first lockdown period in the UK, Touch: Displacing is a new subscription project where the focus falls on longer-form compositions, to be released on a monthly basis over the coming year and featuring artists for whom duration is a key feature of their work. Commences 2nd October 2020...
Full album now avilable - 28 exclusive tracks recorded by Touch artists, with the final track delivered on 25th May 2020. A photographic counterpoint by Jon Wozencroft, the view from Hampstead Heath during the London lockdown.
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Heitor Alvelos Robert Crouch Fennesz Soliman Gamil Hildur Gudnadottir Jacaszek (+ Kwartludium) Bethan Kellough Lustmord Yann Novak Anna von Hausswolff and others…
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