Catalogue

TO:6D Strafe Für Rebellion – “Santa Maria”

Reissued 3rd April 2020

DL – 2 tracks (sides A & B from the original vinyl) – 44:29

Track listing:

Side A
1. For Mao, Folk And Religion
Bass – Ka Marion Wedrich
Violin [Cambodia Violin] – Hans Josef
2. In Egypt In The Month Of May
Bass – Axel Grube
Flute – Delia Gee
Voice – Moira Kirstin Boyd
3. Luna
Guitar [Spanish], Castanets [Castañetas] – Ka Marion Wedrich
Voice – Moira Kirstin Boyd

Side B
1. Dien Bien Phu
Guitar – Ka Marion Wedrich
2. Not For Radio
Bass – Alex Grube
3. Niet Voor Blanckes — Afrikaans
Flute – Delia Gee
4. Santa Maria
Arranged by Strafe Für Rebellion
Flute – Delia Gee
Voice – Laureen Chambers
(Traditional)

Recorded and mixed at Grundfunk Studio by Michael Grund
Art direction by Jon Wozencroft
Photography By E. Weston, Paco
Producer – Franklin Berger
Typography – Glembotzki & Wozencroft

Notes:
Dank an folgende Gastmusiker:
Ka Marion Wedrich – Moira Kirstin Boyd
Laureen Chambers – Axel Grube
Hans Josef – Delia Gee

Tone 65 Jana Winderen – “Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone”

Reissued 28th February 2020

CD – 3 tracks – 77:49

Track listing:

1. Interview with Carlos Duarte 5:48
2. Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone – Headphones mix 37:00
3. Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone – Speakers mix 35:00

You can listen an extract here

The marginal ice zone is the dynamic border between the open sea and the sea ice, which is ecologically extremely vulnerable. The phytoplankton present in the sea produces half of the oxygen on the planet. During spring, this zone is the most important CO2 sink in our biosphere. In Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone the sounds of the living creatures become a voice in the current political debate concerning the official definition of the location of the ice edge.

The listener experiences the bloom of plankton, the shifting and crackling sea ice in the Barents Sea around Spitsbergen, towards the North Pole, and the underwater sounds made by bearded seals, migrating species such as humpbacks and orcas, and the sound made by hunting saithe, crustaceans and spawning cod, all depending on the spring bloom.

Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone is a Sonic Acts and Dark Ecology commission first shown as a 7 channel installation at the Sonic Acts festival (Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam, 2017). It was supported by Art & Technology – Arts Council Norway, Fond for lyd og bilde, Tono stipendet, ARCEx research cruise on R/V Helmer Hanssen, UiT The Arctic University of Norway. Thanks to Paul Wassmann, Ingrid Wiedmann, Britt Kramvig, Berit Kristoffersen, Hilde Methi, Annette Wolfsberger, North Sailing, Arctic Encounters, Mamont Foundation & TBA21 Academy.

CARLOS M. DUARTE is Professor of Marine Science, Tarek Ahmed Juffali Research Chair in Red Sea Ecology, Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division, and is a world-wide leader in multiple branches of biological oceanography and marine ecology.

PHILIPP ASSMY is a researcher at The Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø, Norway. Current activities include species-specific studies of planktonic and sympagic communities and primary productivity in the Arctic Ocean north of Svalbard. He is also studying the impact of changing sea ice conditions and associated effects (e.g. changes in light climate and surface stratification) on phytoplankton and ice algal communities.

Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft
Booklet photography by Philipp Assmy
Mastered by Denis Blackham, Skye

Reviews

Rockerilla (Italy):

Ancora un esempio di soundscaping, essenziale e importante opera divulgativa. Jana Winderen è diplomata in Belle Arti con conoscenze approfondite in matematica, chimica ed ecologia marina. In questo lavoro si è occupata del fragile equilibrio cheesiste lungo la linea di confine che divide il mare aperto e ledistese di ghiaccio, un luogo che permette la creazione del vitale serbatoio di ossigeno della biosfera. Spring Bloom é un rilevante lavoro che unisce cultura ecologica ed espressività artistica grazie a due lunghi episodi immersivi nei quali è stata utilizzata tuttal’intensità e la drammaticità del field recording. NECESSARIO. [Mirco Salvadori]

Chain DLK (USA):

Layering high-latitude field recordings of the border between sea ice and the open sea into one found sound composition, this is an elegant work with a lot of fascinating detail. While there’s underwater seal and whale sounds (mostly faint), it’s never in danger of becoming a relaxation cliché, mainly thanks to the crisp and almost electronica-like noises of the ice itself, which are gentle but still slightly alienating, and which ebb alternatively with windier, quite barren sounds.

There’s a 37-minute “headphones mix” and a 35-minute “speakers mix”. I didn’t compare or side-by-side them, instead being perfectly happy with a 72-minute listening experience that didn’t overstay its welcome.

It’s framed in terms of marine science and ecology rather than art, nevertheless it’s a beautiful thing to listen to, toeing an unusual line between emptiness and grandeur that really draws you in.

Toneshift (Italy):

With this record the acclaimed biologist (Really? – ed.) and sound artist Jana Winderen adds another valuable work to the continuum of her personal research. Differently enough from her previous output, Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone engages with the political aspects of climate change in a much stronger and direct way. A strong bond from both a scientific and an sensitive link to the catastrophic effects of global warming becoming everyday much more evident (I’m now sitting in my kitchen in Oslo, it’s mid-November and the temperature of 9°C is just insane for this period of the year). While on the other side new capitalism-led far right movements getting into power worldwide pretend nothing happens, Winderen frames out a specific picture, a well-defined endangered natural phenomenon that becomes an example of the possible consequences for our society’s behaviour.

Part of her statement comes from the first document contained in the record: an interview with the professor Carlos Duarte that explains in great detail how marine spring bloom in the marginal ice zone happens and how it is fundamental for the life cycle, not only of the creatures inhabiting the polar sea, but for the entire world.

The Marginal Ice zone is that belt in which the transition between the ocean and the sea ice happens — and where the algae that in the months right after the polar night accomplish their life cycle, not only represent the main food resource for plankton and other small sea creatures, which become food for other species in their turn, but also act as the biggest sink for carbon dioxide in our biosphere.

From a visual perspective this photosynthetic blast appears like a green wave that moves between spring and summer from the lowest latitudes to the highest ones.
 The album contains then two different renders of the same track, a headphone mix and a speaker mix. This was for me a very nice surprise that I considered a natural aesthetic consequence for a sound specialist, aware of the fact that more and more people around the world listen to music mainly over headphones. The sense of presence and immersiveness we gain from the binaural mix is a feature not to be overlooked. It contributes a lot to the experience of this ever-changing perfect orchestra that nature is.

No digital granulation process could possibly ever match the beauty and the richness of the granular sounds happening in nature. The sound materials in the record, all coming from field recordings of the environment and the species inhabiting the area around Spitsbergen in the Barents Sea, provide the feeling of being part of the ecosystem that we can’t then perceive as something away from us anymore. [Giuseppe Pisano]

Touching Extremes (Italy):

Jana Winderen belongs in my mnemonic list of trustworthy researchers. Spring Bloom In The Marginal Ice Zone confirms that the Norwegian is second to none as far as releasing materials of acoustic and learning relevance is concerned. That Winderen mostly focuses her investigations on the usually disguised characteristics of marine biology is a major plus for a person – yours truly – who considers the sea as his one and only teacher. What happens in there, and in the immediate surroundings, can’t possibly be rendered by words; perhaps not even by a detailed recording like this. Nevertheless, identifying the essence of our animateness in the absence of mind-poisoning “explanations” is a motivation. All it takes is listening, leaving the narrative to the evolved segments of creation.

I didn’t pick the “evolved” adjective casually. The two versions of this piece, originally born as a 7-channel installation for the 2017 edition of the Sonic Arts festival in Amsterdam, indicate the voices of whales, seals, crustaceans, pollock and whatever is imaginable underwater as the closest thing to a technically advanced, and inevitably efficient human instrument. In this case, “human” means that – at the same time – we are kept responsive in spite of today’s sickening depreciation of anything which is really important, while remaining pitifully insufficient in regard to a multitude of bottomless meanings appearing to these ears as organic variations on hypothetical themes. The latter have to do with the inscrutable aspects of perception that, in the past, were brought out by the intuitions of genuine visionaries such as Tod Dockstader and Roland Kayn. The impact of this experience on the innermost self is often equivalent: just standing in quietness, surrounded by inexpressible beauty without dull-witted interrogatives about why, when, what comes after. Harmonic auroras speckled by a myriad of invisible lives, forever more consequential than the arid loquaciousness of many a deleterious nonsense huckster.

The music’s therapeutic effects are striking, especially in “full immersion” mode (no pun intended). A brief explanatory interview with Professor Carlos Duarte, a renowned luminary of biological oceanography, represents a fitting preamble. However, what Winderen managed once again to extrapolate from the apparent obscurity is a current of awareness that defeats any activist’s speech. We keep witnessing natural disasters on a daily basis, but the energy of those creatures remains. Mute choirs that still sound marvellous, thanks to a woman who keeps reminding us of their lessons. The real ones. [Massimo Ricci]

Czech National Radio:

Hudební abstrakce může být někdy úzce spjatá s konkrétním a naléhavým tématem doby. Můžeme tomu říkat hudba, nebo zvukové umění, nebo jakkoli jinak: Na každý pád novou nahrávkou Norky Jany Winderen pokračuje její dlouhodobý průzkum podmořských zvuků. Album Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone (Jarní květ v marginální ledové zóně) lze zároveň poslouchat jako komentář k diskusi o budoucnu Země.

Posluchač tu vnímá zvuk kvetoucího planktonu, vlny a praskot ker v ledovém Barentsově moři kolem Špicberků směrem k severnímu pólu, a také podvodní zvuky tuleňů vousatých, migrujících keporkaků a kosatek, stejně jako zvuk táhnoucího hejna tresek. Všechno tohle dění podle Jany Winderen souvisí s jarem v moři, oním kvetoucím planktonem. Marginální ledová zóna je termín pro pohyblivou hranici mezi otevřeným a zmrzlým mořem, což je ekologicky velmi zranitelná zóna. Fytoplankton přítomný v moři produkuje polovinu, celou polovinu zemského kyslíku. A na jaře je tato sféra nejvýznamnějším likvidátorem oxidu uhličitého v naší biosféře. Takže zase: odposlech skutečného světa jako svědectví o prostředí, na kterém budoucnost země závisí těsněji, než si připouštíme. Jana Winderen píše: “Na nahrávce Jarní květ v marginální ledové zóně se stává zvuk živočichů hlasem v aktuální politické debatě na téma oficiální definice této zóny na pokraji ledovce.” [Pavel Klusak]

Music Map (Italy):

“There’s no way we can stop that”. Queste sono le drammatiche parole di Carlos Duarte, ecologista esperto di vita marina e di biologia oceanografica, riferendosi allo scioglimento dei ghiacciai nell’Artico. Estratte da un’intervista, dove si parla di diossido di carbonio, ecosistema, neve che scompare, Duarte ci avverte che il processo del riscaldamento globale è ormai irreversibile, e quello che possiamo fare oggi è solo imparare a convivere con l’imminente cambiamento climatico. Questo si sposa con la filosofia della Dark Ecology, un movimento ecologista “decadentista” fondato da Timothy Morton. Il suo approccio, più che razionale, vuole portare i propri lettori e seguaci ad una partecipazione emotiva, nell’affrontare il punto di vista ecologista. E fa qualcosa che va oltre (o accanto) l’attivismo concreto. Per questo scopo emozionale, la Dark Ecology assieme a Sonic Acts hanno commissionato questo lavoro di sound art a Jana Winderen, intitolato “Spring bloom in the marginal ice zone” ed appena uscito per Touch. La quale, già esperta di ambienti freddi (vedasi “Interrupting the surface” del 2014), si è diretta nel mare di Barents, che sta fra Norvegia e Russia, appena sotto il Polo Nord. Ha posizionato i suoi microfoni sott’acqua, facendoci scoprire un mondo di suoni a noi sconosciuti. Per noi l’oceano è silenzioso, poiché percepiamo i suoni spostati dall’aria. Ma sott’acqua, gli animali comunicano con vibrazioni che ricevono nelle ossa. E così, grazie alla tecnologia acustica si apre un mondo di rumori sconosciuti, racchiusi in “Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone”, che è costituito da tre tracce. La prima è la sopracitata intervista a Carlos Duarte. Il succo sta nell’unica titletrack, sdoppiata per far sentire due differenti mix: “Headphone”, e “Speakers”. In totale si tratta di quasi 72 minuti in apnea, immersi nel mare, dove ascoltare il ghiaccio che gradualmente si rompe, l’acqua che gocciola o che trasporta i rimbombi, e le comunicazioni fra merluzzi, crostacei, balene ed orche. I pesci non arrivano a intervalli regolari, non c’è struttura musicale. Quando passano vicino ce ne accorgiamo, altrimenti restiamo soli fra le onde. Se finora i “canti delle balene” potevano essere una battuta ironica rivolta a certa “musica per installazioni”, ascoltando questa ci si può ricredere, e scoprire che gli oceani sono molto più rumorosi di quel che avessimo potuto pensare. E Jana, con il lavoro in post produzione, non snatura le peculiarità naturalistiche delle registrazioni, ma gioca con i rumori di fondo per renderli come fossero inquietanti drones. E così, rendendoli una sorta di minaccia verso questo vivace mondo blu, ci fa riflettere. [Gilberto Ongaro]

Bad Alchemy (Germany):

The Wire (UK):

CLOT Magazine (UK):

The marginal ice zone is the dynamic border between the open sea and the sea ice, which is ecologically extremely vulnerable. The phytoplankton present in the sea produces half of the oxygen on the planet. During spring, this zone is the most important CO2 sink in our biosphere. An algal bloom or algae bloom is a rapid increase or accumulation in the population of algae in freshwater or marine water systems and is recognized by the discolouration in the water from their pigments. The proliferation of algal blooms likely result from a combination of environmental factors and the rise of temperatures in spring is one of the driving force.

Field recorder  Jana Winderen has been documenting the sounds of underwater life in our seas and oceans – from the warm waters in the Caribbean to the cold and nourishing waters around Greenland, Norway and Iceland-, creating the most beautiful compositions out of them. She researches the hidden depths with the latest technology with her work revealing the complexity and strangeness of the unseen world beneath.

Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone is Winderen’s latest instalment in the series of works exploring these underwater sounds. A commission by Sonic Acts and Dark Ecology it resulted in an installation for the Sonic Acts festival in 2017.  The listener or viewer experiences the bloom of plankton, the shifting and crackling sea ice in the Barents Sea around Spitsbergen, towards the North Pole, and the underwater sounds made by bearded seals, migrating species such as humpbacks and orcas, and the sound made by hunting seithe and spawning cod, all depending on the spring bloom.

The work was produced with help of  Carlos M. Duarte, a Professor of Marine Science, and a worldwide leader in multiple branches of biological oceanography and marine ecology. And Philipp Assmy is a researcher at The Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø, Norway. Currently studying the impact of changing sea ice conditions and associated effects on phytoplankton and ice algal communities.

And in November 2018, an edit of the recordings was released in Touch. The album starts with an introductory interview with Carlos Duarte, where he explains with some scientific details the occurrence of the algae blooms in the region. The  2 other tracks are long meditative pieces, with the chirps, drips and squeaks of marine life and the shoosh of waves and wind. In this piece of work, a most timely release in view of the recent UN Climate Change report, Winderen is offering another compelling reflection on the fragility of these delicate marine ecosystems and somehow as well, the sounds of the living creatures become a voice in the current political debate concerning the official definition of the location of the ice edge.

Rockdelux (Spain):

Gonzo Circus (Belgium):

Nordische Musik (Norway):

Neural (Italy):

Neural (Italy):

The recordings Jana Winderen made here for Touch powerfully arrest the listener’s attention. They are an accurate sound reportage of plankton growth, of the waves refracting on the iced sea and its crackles. We are in Spitsbergen (Norway), the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago on the way to the North Pole, between bearded seals and other weird migratory species like humpback whales and killer whales. Most of what happens in that delicate geographical area depends on the results of the Spring growth. The definition of marginal zone, where the dynamic boundary is limited within the open sea and the sea ice, clearly explains how this land is ecologically vulnerable. The specialists explain that the phytoplankton in the sea produces more or less half of the oxygen of the planet and, during the Spring, this zone is the most important source of CO2 in our biosphere. In Spring Bloom In The Marginal Ice Zone, these sounds, including the few ones the creatures who live there make, ideally become a warning for whoever focuses on these ecological themes. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that the first track is an interview with Carlos Duarte, Professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a world renowned figure in many branches of oceanography and sea ecology. It is not the first time Jana Winderen has evoked the charm of underwater life. This is just the latest release in a series of works focusing on sea environments and ecosystems, a broad range of far-flung locations from the Caribbean to Greenland, from Norway to Iceland. The artist activist commitment is clear here, but the work also shows the artist’s engagement in the immateriality of sound and how her projects are focused on exploring hidden and unusual sources. These are places and sound landscapes that are hard to access and mostly unknown, but they hide a great variety of audio inspirations the artist uses as source material for live ambient compositions and to create immersive installations. Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone is a project commissioned by Sonic Acts and Dark Ecology, supported by Art & Technology – Arts Council Norway, Fond for lyd og bilde, Tono stipendet, ARCEx R / V Helmer Hanssen, by Tromsø Univesity and by Foundation Mamont. The elegant, colourful artwork and the interesting photo booklet are made by Jon Wozencroft. [Aurelio Cianciotta]

TO:114V ELEH – “Living Space”

Vinyl Release date: 28th February 2020
CD Release date: 11th October 2019

DLP/CD – 5 tracks – 64 minutes

Track listing:

1. Living Space
2. Lo, Fr Ega
3. Collect Yourself/Well Arranged
4. Overt Too
5. Lighter Touch

Following ‘Slow Fade for Hard Sync’ (2009) and Location Momentum (2010), Living Space is Eleh’s third physical release for Touch. Seven years in the making, this new release consolidates the artist’s parallel narrative between a series of vinyl and CD releases for Important Records – where the emphasis is on a minimalist aesthetic – to a visual counterpoint that hints at the cinematic and painterly qualities of the music.

Sound, as a healing force, is an idea as old as the medium itself.  Inspired by the legacy and above all the spirit of John Coltrane, Living Space features 5 new compositions that seek to express the beauty of slow change, not only through the microtonal shifts in sound that Eleh navigates but moving with the atmospheric and shape–shifting conditions that the music creates as it interacts with the listening space, whether bedroom or concert hall, each one of them unique.

If the ambition of Living Space is to reflect both personal and collective growth cycles, the experience of its audition has the effect of stopping time. Melodic and harmonic progressions are implied and not stated obviously, to enable listeners to apply their own emotions and feelings to the music.

Using modular and analogue synthesisers, piano, organ, bass and symphonic chimes, Living Space stresses the promise of the CD’s final track – ‘Lighter Touch’ – forsaking the forceful hand for an approach that mirrors the slower and softer exposures of plant life and leaf formations, slow moving waters, not flash floods nor forest fires.

In counterpoint to the music, the 64 minute album is presented with a gatefold sleeve with Jon Wozencroft’s water photography extending the meditational pull of these new compositions. The Touch bandcamp page, which will be up later in the month, presents a fuller documentation of this photo–shoot (from Crete, 2018), with a 20pp PDF free for download.

For those for whom Eleh needs no introduction, see if you agree. Anyone who has yet to experience the artist’s sonic alchemy, Living Space is the perfect starting point.

Reviews:

Toneshift (USA):

Housed in a gorgeous jewel of square packaging that opens to various aquatic shades, this is the latest from Eleh with his first new output on Touch in nine years, though his work has been represented by other fine labels (Important, Line…) over the course of the intervening years. And for good reason, the sound is indicative of how advanced and central tone itself has become to his work in the past dozen plus years, coursing through this with considerable fluid nuance.

The tonal bent and assorted reverb has a narcotic effect, not unlike going into a dreamstate under the scope of anaesthesia or a strange drug trip. This is subtly massaged into the barrier of unconsciousness on the incredible Collect Yourself/Well Arranged. If one were to try and take apart it’s title as a construct, the ‘living space’ inferred here could be supplanted for that of an inward stare at the human body as a host in and of itself. The pulsations used here easily auscultate to those electric signals of internal organs resembling sci-fi transmissions on the surface.

His oscillations, gentle over these passages, elongate and compress over time, like blood pressure and heartbeat (as well as a futuristic pressure chamber protected by indestructible laser beams). But the record doesn’t play on the parenthetical, the melodramatic or on the obvious, instead making you relax and think simultaneously. Living Space is a collection of five tracks that coax dynamic wonderment. It’s mystery is its majesty. With each benevolently ascending modulation the listener may be imagining themselves either suspended or rotating ever-so sluggishly into the abyss, into oblivion.

Eleh’s work, especially here, is progressive ambient sans any hard borders. This would serve well to watch cloud formations by, drift off into a sublime sleep concert, or simply open to the chimera in your immediate surroundings.

The Sound Projector (UK):

Living Space (TOUCH TO:114) is the excellent new record from Eleh, the mysterious London electronic musician who works very hard to maintain his low profile and generally won’t be drawn out about his work. We can only applaud this attitude, and I find that in the majority of cases I warm to creators who eschew the limelight and shrink from attention-seeking.

We heard from Eleh in 2010 with the very fine Location Momentum record, his second for Touch (this is his third), and noted then as we do now that the majority of his output can be found on Important Records in the USA, often in print runs of about 200 copies or so, and usually available by mail order only. Eleh could well be the kind of entity that inspires a devoted following, much like that other reclusive and highly prolific creator of hermetic drone music, Organum. Living Space could be characterised as “minimal analogue drone” for sure, but there are a number of nuances and special aspects that one must be attentive towards.

One of these, and it ought to impact you as soon as you play the record at appropriate volumes, is the judicious use of bass tones, These will produce physical reactions in your body that you won’t regret; sound as a physical force, which seems to be doing more than just entering through your ears. There’s also the interest in occupying the dimensions of the room where the record is played back, something Eleh seems to do with such focus and determination that it’s almost scary; it’s not an invasive force, but it’s certainly not taking no for an answer. I’ve never seen a live Eleh performance, but I would hope he could fill any given venue with his benign tones which, in no time at all, appear to have volume, shape, and weight. I read in the press release that there are also claims made for “healing music” and “the effect of stopping time”, both of which are plausible at some level; less convinced me by the notion of “applying your own emotions to the music”, which is something you could say about virtually all music; but it does reflect on the “blank canvas” dimension of this Eleh record, which apparently is not unintentional.

There will be a vinyl edition of this release, but the label say they’re only producing it to cater to the fetishists; the CD edition is how Eleh prefers to present it. Superb package, and probably not cheap to produce; good quality cardstock, six panels, the interiors used to present Jon Wozencroft’s colour photographs of water. Very good. From 20th September 2019. [Ed Pinsent]

The Wire (UK):

Blow Up (Italy):

Impatto Sonoro (Italy):

Questo è il terzo album per Touch da parte di Eleh. Ci sono voluti sette lunghi anni per produrre questa uscita che possiede, oltre all’enfasi minimalista, una controparte visiva che si confa al sound altamente impressionista. Sembra difatti impossibile che l’ispirazione per “Living Space” sia proprio John Coltrane. “Living Space” è costituito da cinque composizioni che cercano di esprimere la bellezza della trasformazione lenta, non soltanto gli slittamenti microtonali, ma modificando proprio l’atmosfera, la forma, le condizioni con cui la musica interagisce nello spazio d’ascolto (che sia una camera, o una sala da concerto, ogni situazione è unica).

Come noto, si trova spesso uno iato tra i meccanismi di composizione e quelli di ascolto che normalmente possono essere considerati “sinottici”, piuttosto li troviamo sempre come opposizione: se l’ambizione del disco è di riflettere i cicli di crescita personali e collettivi, in fase di ascolto il tempo si ferma, senza ciclicità o dinamica compositiva. Le progressioni armoniche e melodiche sono implicate per poter applicare le emozioni dell’ascoltatore.

Usando modulari e sintetizzatori analogici, pianoforte, organo, basso e campane sinfoniche per seguire le lenti trasformazione e specchiarsi con le condizioni di vita delle piante, e le formazioni della foglia. In sostanza, come per il racconto di Borges, Memoria di Funes, sembra che Eleh abbia voluto seguire questo quasi-movimento costituito da una così alta pletora di dettagli, da sembrare statico. Anzi, per meglio dire e-statico, stando al di fuori di un fenomeno pur rimanendone all’interno.

Alchimia sonora, la definiscono alcuni, ma qui siamo oltre la magia, ed entriamo nella zona della memoria, quella in grado di contrastare la coscienza o di costituirla a tal punto da mettere esperienza e memoria sullo stesso piano, senza distinzioni. []

Silence & Sound (France):

On ne sait rien de l’artiste ELEH, qui n’a jamais divulgué d’information à son propos. La seule chose qu’il nous offre, est sa musique. Et quelle musique ! Faite d’infra-basses et d’ondes enrobantes, d’électricité statique et d’espace magnétique.

Living Space est une oeuvre immersive. Un objet fascinant qui accapare nos sens pour les attirer vers des profondeurs froides et obscures, chargées de vibrations contraires aux attractions inversées.

Les synthés modulaires vibrent sur des cordes tendues au dessus de précipices sans fond, reflets d’univers aux mouvements internes stabilisés.

Le temps semble s’éteindre pour laisser la place au défilement de gouttes quantiques, prises dans des maillons nucléaires à l’ADN hacké. Un album aux équilibres éphémères. Superbe. [Roland Torres]

Ambientblog (net):

Eleh‘s discography boasts no less than 32 albums since 2006 – solo works as well as collaborations with artists like Pauline Oliveros, Ellen Fullman, Christina Kubisch, Caterina Barbieri and Richard Chartier. And until now he managed to remain completely anonymous: no one (well almost no one) knows who he is.

Living Space is the third Eleh release for the Touch label. It’s a perfect title: the sound of these tracks seems to come from everywhere but the speakers. It moves inside your head and moves around in the room it is played in, thus making the space come alive.

It is released on CD, which is the format ‘how the artist wants it to sound’, but nevertheless Touch promises a vinyl edition”for fetishists” to follow in the new year. Let’s hope ‘the artist’ is OK with that, because I’m afraid the extreme low frequencies in this music probably won’t behave very well on vinyl. This music is, indeed, created for optimal reproduction via digital media.

Apart from one shorter track, all tracks are from 10 to 15 minutes in length. Eleh uses modular and analogue synthesizers, piano, organ, bass, and symphonic chimes to create his compositions.
Music that “seeks to express the beauty of slow change, not only through the microtonal shifts in sound that Eleh navigates but moving with the atmospheric and shape-shifting conditions that the music creates as it interacts with the listening space, whether bedroom or concert hall, each one of them unique.”

I would call this ‘minimalist drone music’, but that ‘minimalist’ only refers to the musical aspect, not the sound itself. With all those different frequencies bouncing around before they reach you, we might as well call it ‘maximalist’. Trying to describe music can be só confusing…

The CD-release comes in a 6-panel digifile with beautiful photography by Jon Wozencraft [sic].

Electronic Sound (UK):

Dark Entries (Belgium):

Drone maar dan heel minimaal en eigenlijk té minimaal om me lang te kunnen boeien. Dit album bevat 5 composities (60 minuten speelduur) en begint met de bijna een kwartier durende titeltrack. Minimale drone dus met subtiele veranderingen. Je moet wat geduld hebben. Tegen de vierde track (“Overt Too”, weer een kwartier en meer van hetzelfde) begin ik mezelf wat te beklagen dat ik deze promo heb meegenomen want wat schrijf je over zoiets buiten dat het als monotone, minimale drone klinkt met veel gezoem en erg traag variërende tonen? Er gebeurt hier toch echt te weinig om me een uur geboeid te kunnen houden. Ik maak in mijn hoofd een korte recensie en twijfel tussen de review posten en het album een quotering van 6 geven of anders het album meenemen naar volgende Dark Entries vergadering en het doorschuiven naar een andere recensent.

Eleh is een Brits elektronisch project dat in 1999 werd opgericht met als doel de exploratie van minimale analoge synthesizers. In 2010 schreef collega Jan Denolet een review over het album “Location Momentum” van Eleh. Dit album verscheen in 2010 op het Touch label en was de opvolger van “Slow Fade For Hard Sync” dat een jaar eerder (2009 voor wie kan tellen) bij hetzelfde label verscheen. Hij scheen dit erg te kunnen appreciëren getuige de lang niet misse quotering van zowaar een 8. Maar spijtig genoeg schrijft deze collega momenteel geen reviews meer en hetzelfde geldt voor collega Peter De Koning. Wat nu gedaan? Proberen dit derde album voor Touch in collega Dimi Brands zijn nek te duwen? Tenslotte bespreekt die wel meer muziekjes op de rand van het onbeluisterbare en bevat dit geen doedelzakken.

Maar intussen zijn we bij de laatste track aangekomen: “Lighter Touch”. Weer een kwartier. Maar hier verandert gaandeweg de aard en de geest en het ganse karakter van de muziek (nou ja, ‘muziek’?, zeg liever soundscape) tot een beklemmende en behoorlijk creepy dark ambient luisterervaring. Minimaal is het nog steeds maar de toevoeging van een soort akelig spooky ritmische geluiden sleurt me helemaal mee en laat me deze keer niet meer los. De artiest werkte bewust naar deze apotheose toe, zo lijkt het wel. Maar ik moest wel wat geduld oefenen. Omwille van deze sinistere laatste track, verhoog ik prompt mijn score van 6 naar 7 en besluit ik om de review toch zelf te schrijven alsook deze laatste track in de playlist op te nemen van mijn radioprogramma The Horny Hour (op Radio Centraal, Antwerpen).

Het schijfje zit vervat in een 6 panel digipack met intrigerende waterfotografie en op een van de panels staat een citaat afgedrukt van jazzsaxofonist John Coltrane (1926-1967): ‘Music is an instrument. It can create the initial thought patterns that can change the thinking of people’.

Het gaat hier over geluid als helende kracht. Daarvoor werd gebruik gemaakt van modulaire en analoge synthesizers, piano, orgel, bass en klokkenspel (niet dat je ook maar een instrument in de zwaar vervormde drones kunt herkennen). Ze moeten de schoonheid van trage verandering tot expressie laten komen, subtiele veranderingen door de microtone shift in het geluid. Spijtig genoeg bloeit heel dit concept naar mijn ervaring pas in de laatste track helemaal open.

Revue et Corrrigé (France):

V33.30 Fennesz/Rosy Parlane – “Live 2000”

Recorded live in Melbourne, Australia 20 years ago on the release date… originally released on mini CD by Australian label, Synaesthesia. With thanks to Mark Harwood.

Mastered by Simon Scott at SPS Mastering
Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft

Track listing:

1. Live 2000 1
2. Live 2000 2

Available from Bandcamp

V33.20 Simon Scott – “Emergency Exit”

‘Emergency Exit’ was composed by Simon Scott from field recordings of flood water and burning embers captured during 2019 in the Fens near Cambridge, where he is based. They are a microcosm of a much bigger global crisis – ‘Climate Change’.

Track listing:

1. Emergency 10:01
2. Exit 9:00

Available from Bandcamp

Tone 68 Strafe F.R. – “Shadow Position”

Vinyl + DL – 4 tracks

Release date: 22nd November 2019

The vinyl edition is now available to order

Track listing:

A1: Nachtmaschine
A2: Every Day XXL
B1: Shadow Position
B2: Isabella B.

Videos available on our youtube channel

There are 4 tracks, 4 different windows to look out from our studio in Düsseldorf into the street and their different layers of sound.

4 horizons, 4 spy holes in the door, 4 eyes and 4 shopping windows. 4 landscapes.

Witness the electric city and the power house. Strafe F.R. is sitting inside the fuse box. The electric chirp of the night. The socket in which we sleep. The dog comes, in order to devour Strafe F.R. First he eats the rebellion and next he bites the Strafe.

The house and the body, both are earthed and the veins are vibrating. Between the 3rd and the 4th hour of the morning we enter the realm of insomnia. You fly by not using an airplane.

An old woman is cleaning the door bells with her own spittle. The old man is distilling schnaps in his back garden. The swimmers are gliding through the day on top of a greasy film. The reception is a flare into seconds until it fades away into noise again. The kettle drum gives the rhythm of breathing, the bass determines the time. You stumble forward, forward into the next day.

From our window we see a public building where there exists a toilet, its porcelain shows the most beautiful craquele fissures. There is an historic poster of Lenin. It is fixed on a garden fence in the landscape and the stinging nettles grow over it softly swinging in the wind.

There are shadows but there is also brightness, this means there are complementary colours and contrasts, movements and reflection until there is stillness. We see the back-breeding of cattle in the Neanderthal age and at the same time we look into the large heating room of an art museum, where we observe tubes and their upstream pressure regulators.

All sounds and music instruments recorded by Strafe F.R. – Bernd Kastner, Siegfried M. Syniuga. “Shadow Position” was mixed by Rasmus Zschoch. “Nachtmaschine”, “Every Day XXL” and “Isabella B.” were mixed by Strafe F.R. at Strafe studio in 2019 / Düsseldorf. Thanks to Detlef Klepsch for additional technical support. Female vocal by Anna Nettra.

strafefr.bandcamp.com

All tracks written & performed by Strafe F.R.
Cut by Jason @ Transition
Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft

Reviews:

Loop:

Strafe F.R. was founded by Bernd Kastner and Siegfried M. Syniuga in Düsseldorf in 1979. Since then they have released thirteen albums that are in the field of avant-garde music and conceptual music. The full name of this formation is Strafe Für Rebellion which means something like “Punishment for rebellion.”

In November 2029 Touch released “Shadow Position” album that consist in four tracks that in words of Strafe F.R. member there are “4 different windows to look out from our studio in Düsseldorf into the street and their different layers of sound.”

Four tracks with four stories that conjure me up to dark cyberpunk movies. “Witness the electric city and the power house. Strafe F.R. is sitting inside the fuse box. The electric chirp of the night. The socket in which we sleep.”, is what this formation writes in the press release.

As a backdrop we have a post-industrial sound with rhythmic beats and heavy bass drums. Along with electric lashes and abrasive chips that synthesizers reproduce. All this under a blanket of dark atmospheres and bleeps that circulate like spirals. In a line where the beats prevail with glimpses to dance is what brings the track that gives this LP its title and which comes to be the exception to the experimental character of the rest of the album. [Guillermo Escudero]

CODEX 2 Joséphine Michel & Mika Vainio – “The Heat Equation”

Now  available to order here

The Heat Equation

Book + CD – 100pp linen cover with foil blocking

Release date: 1st November 2019

Book contents:
69 photos and a portrait of Mika Vainio by Joséphine Michel, and an introductory essay by Jeremy Millar

CD Track listing:

1. Mika Vainio – Live at Contra Pop, Ramsgate 56:38

Lyric Intangibility and the Objects of Science: On The Heat Equation, Museum & Society, 2019: You can read a feature by Sophie Thomas here

Reviews:

Artnoir (Germany):

artnoir.ch/josephine-michel-mika-vainio-the-heat-equation/

Transistora (Spain):

transistora.com.es/josephine-michel-mika-vainio-the-heat-equation-book-cd/

Ondarock (Italy):

www.ondarock.it/recensioni/2019-mikavainio-theheatequation.htm

Documentary Evidence (UK):

429harrowroad.wordpress.com/2019/10/30/josephine-michel-mika-vainio-the-heat-equation

Impatto Sonoro (Italy):

Joséphine Michel & Mika Vainio – The Heat Equation

Blow Up (Italy):

Dark Entries (Belgium):

Het mag al eens iets speciaals zijn, zoals de uitgave van The Heat Equation, een samenwerking tussen muzikant Mika Vaino en fotografe Joséphine Michel, die hier voor onze neus ligt te blinken. Vergezeld van een warme aanbeveling (“een diepgaand meesterwerk”) door niemand minder dan componist Carl Michael von Hauswolff, wiens bekendste productie tot op heden zijn dochter Anna is.

The Heat Equation is dus een 100 pagina’s tellend boek met nieuw fotomateriaal van deze in Brussel wonende fotografe vergezeld van een live opname met daarop Mika Vainio’s laatste optreden in het Verenigd Koninkrijk, waar hij het nieuwe materiaal bracht dat in 2017 op een solo-album bij Touch zou verschijnen.

Wanneer zijn naam niet meteen een belletje doet rinkelen, brengen we even in herinnering dat deze Fin in 1993 een van de oprichters van Pan Sonic was.

Eerder werkte hij al samen met Michel aan een soortgelijk project (Halfway To White (2015, eveneens uit bij Touch) en een tweede productie stond op de planning. Maart 2017 trok Michel richting Oslo om Vainio de eerste voorbeelden van de foto’s te laten zien die ze reeds had genomen voor dit doeleinde. Tijdens deze ontmoeting schoot Michel een teder portret van Vainio, dat uiteindelijk als ingevoegde postkaart te vinden is bij The Heat Equation.

Kort voor Vainio’s vroegtijdige dood in april 2017 nam het project een onverwachte wending. De opnames voor het nieuwe album voor Touch waren bijna voltooid, maar zijn sequencer ging kapot en het project moest opnieuw worden gestart. De samenwerking veranderde in een complementaire verkenning tussen Michels zowel quasi-wetenschappelijke als lyrische foto’s, een perceptie van een wereld op het punt van ontdekking -of het nu fysica, geneeskunde of ruimtevaart betreft- en de erfenis van Vainio’s muzikale visie, met zijn enorme imaginaire uitstraling van materie, en zijn spanning tussen gloeiende hitte en ijzige precisie.

De foto’s en de muziek werken samen doorheen verschillende klimaten, waar de micro- en macrokosmos, het levende en het levenloze, het tellurische en het kosmische naast elkaar bestaan, en soms versmelten.

In augustus 2016 voerde Vainio een verbluffende set uit op het Contra Pop festival op het strand van Ramsgate, die vanaf het mengpaneel opgenomen werd. De organisatoren wisten te melden dat het bestand beschadigd was en het voorgestelde contrapunt voor het werk van Michel werd als verloren beschouwd.

Wonderbaarlijk ontdekte Contra Pop 18 maanden later een back-up opname. Mede dankzij de puike remastering door Russell Haswell klinkt deze nieuwe muziek kwalitatief even sterk als we van hem gewoon waren bij leven en welzijn.

Een mooi eerbetoon, zowel letterlijk als figuurlijk. [Dimi Brands]

Le Son du Grisli (France):

TO:114 ELEH – “Living Space”

CD Release date: 11th October 2019
Vinyl Release date: 28th February 2020

DLP/CD – 5 tracks – 64 minutes

Track listing:

1. Living Space
2. Lo, Fr Ega
3. Collect Yourself/Well Arranged
4. Overt Too
5. Lighter Touch

Following ‘Slow Fade for Hard Sync’ (2009) and Location Momentum (2010), Living Space is Eleh’s third physical release for Touch. Seven years in the making, this new release consolidates the artist’s parallel narrative between a series of vinyl and CD releases for Important Records – where the emphasis is on a minimalist aesthetic – to a visual counterpoint that hints at the cinematic and painterly qualities of the music.

Sound, as a healing force, is an idea as old as the medium itself.  Inspired by the legacy and above all the spirit of John Coltrane, Living Space features 5 new compositions that seek to express the beauty of slow change, not only through the microtonal shifts in sound that Eleh navigates but moving with the atmospheric and shape–shifting conditions that the music creates as it interacts with the listening space, whether bedroom or concert hall, each one of them unique.

If the ambition of Living Space is to reflect both personal and collective growth cycles, the experience of its audition has the effect of stopping time. Melodic and harmonic progressions are implied and not stated obviously, to enable listeners to apply their own emotions and feelings to the music.

Using modular and analogue synthesisers, piano, organ, bass and symphonic chimes, Living Space stresses the promise of the CD’s final track – ‘Lighter Touch’ – forsaking the forceful hand for an approach that mirrors the slower and softer exposures of plant life and leaf formations, slow moving waters, not flash floods nor forest fires.

In counterpoint to the music, the 60 minute CD is presented with a 6-panel digifile with Jon Wozencroft’s water photography extending the meditational pull of these new compositions. The Touch bandcamp page, which will be up later in the month, presents a fuller documentation of this photo–shoot (from Crete, 2018), with a 20pp PDF free for download.

For those for whom Eleh needs no introduction, see if you agree. Anyone who has yet to experience the artist’s sonic alchemy, Living Space is the perfect starting point.

Reviews:

The Sound Projector (UK):

Living Space (TOUCH TO:114) is the excellent new record from Eleh, the mysterious London electronic musician who works very hard to maintain his low profile and generally won’t be drawn out about his work. We can only applaud this attitude, and I find that in the majority of cases I warm to creators who eschew the limelight and shrink from attention-seeking.

We heard from Eleh in 2010 with the very fine Location Momentum record, his second for Touch (this is his third), and noted then as we do now that the majority of his output can be found on Important Records in the USA, often in print runs of about 200 copies or so, and usually available by mail order only. Eleh could well be the kind of entity that inspires a devoted following, much like that other reclusive and highly prolific creator of hermetic drone music, Organum. Living Space could be characterised as “minimal analogue drone” for sure, but there are a number of nuances and special aspects that one must be attentive towards.

One of these, and it ought to impact you as soon as you play the record at appropriate volumes, is the judicious use of bass tones, These will produce physical reactions in your body that you won’t regret; sound as a physical force, which seems to be doing more than just entering through your ears. There’s also the interest in occupying the dimensions of the room where the record is played back, something Eleh seems to do with such focus and determination that it’s almost scary; it’s not an invasive force, but it’s certainly not taking no for an answer. I’ve never seen a live Eleh performance, but I would hope he could fill any given venue with his benign tones which, in no time at all, appear to have volume, shape, and weight. I read in the press release that there are also claims made for “healing music” and “the effect of stopping time”, both of which are plausible at some level; less convinced me by the notion of “applying your own emotions to the music”, which is something you could say about virtually all music; but it does reflect on the “blank canvas” dimension of this Eleh record, which apparently is not unintentional.

There will be a vinyl edition of this release, but the label say they’re only producing it to cater to the fetishists; the CD edition is how Eleh prefers to present it. Superb package, and probably not cheap to produce; good quality cardstock, six panels, the interiors used to present Jon Wozencroft’s colour photographs of water. Very good. From 20th September 2019. [Ed Pinsent]

Toneshift (USA):

Housed in a gorgeous jewel of square packaging that opens to various aquatic shades, this is the latest from Eleh with his first new output on Touch in nine years, though his work has been represented by other fine labels (Important, Line…) over the course of the intervening years. And for good reason, the sound is indicative of how advanced and central tone itself has become to his work in the past dozen plus years, coursing through this with considerable fluid nuance.

The tonal bent and assorted reverb has a narcotic effect, not unlike going into a dreamstate under the scope of anaesthesia or a strange drug trip. This is subtly massaged into the barrier of unconsciousness on the incredible Collect Yourself/Well Arranged. If one were to try and take apart it’s title as a construct, the ‘living space’ inferred here could be supplanted for that of an inward stare at the human body as a host in and of itself. The pulsations used here easily auscultate to those electric signals of internal organs resembling sci-fi transmissions on the surface.

His oscillations, gentle over these passages, elongate and compress over time, like blood pressure and heartbeat (as well as a futuristic pressure chamber protected by indestructible laser beams). But the record doesn’t play on the parenthetical, the melodramatic or on the obvious, instead making you relax and think simultaneously. Living Space is a collection of five tracks that coax dynamic wonderment. It’s mystery is its majesty. With each benevolently ascending modulation the listener may be imagining themselves either suspended or rotating ever-so sluggishly into the abyss, into oblivion.

Eleh’s work, especially here, is progressive ambient sans any hard borders. This would serve well to watch cloud formations by, drift off into a sublime sleep concert, or simply open to the chimera in your immediate surroundings.

The Wire (UK):

Blow Up (Italy):

Impatto Sonoro (Italy):

Questo è il terzo album per Touch da parte di Eleh. Ci sono voluti sette lunghi anni per produrre questa uscita che possiede, oltre all’enfasi minimalista, una controparte visiva che si confa al sound altamente impressionista. Sembra difatti impossibile che l’ispirazione per “Living Space” sia proprio John Coltrane. “Living Space” è costituito da cinque composizioni che cercano di esprimere la bellezza della trasformazione lenta, non soltanto gli slittamenti microtonali, ma modificando proprio l’atmosfera, la forma, le condizioni con cui la musica interagisce nello spazio d’ascolto (che sia una camera, o una sala da concerto, ogni situazione è unica).

Come noto, si trova spesso uno iato tra i meccanismi di composizione e quelli di ascolto che normalmente possono essere considerati “sinottici”, piuttosto li troviamo sempre come opposizione: se l’ambizione del disco è di riflettere i cicli di crescita personali e collettivi, in fase di ascolto il tempo si ferma, senza ciclicità o dinamica compositiva. Le progressioni armoniche e melodiche sono implicate per poter applicare le emozioni dell’ascoltatore.

Usando modulari e sintetizzatori analogici, pianoforte, organo, basso e campane sinfoniche per seguire le lenti trasformazione e specchiarsi con le condizioni di vita delle piante, e le formazioni della foglia. In sostanza, come per il racconto di Borges, Memoria di Funes, sembra che Eleh abbia voluto seguire questo quasi-movimento costituito da una così alta pletora di dettagli, da sembrare statico. Anzi, per meglio dire e-statico, stando al di fuori di un fenomeno pur rimanendone all’interno.

Alchimia sonora, la definiscono alcuni, ma qui siamo oltre la magia, ed entriamo nella zona della memoria, quella in grado di contrastare la coscienza o di costituirla a tal punto da mettere esperienza e memoria sullo stesso piano, senza distinzioni. []

Silence & Sound (France):

On ne sait rien de l’artiste ELEH, qui n’a jamais divulgué d’information à son propos. La seule chose qu’il nous offre, est sa musique. Et quelle musique ! Faite d’infra-basses et d’ondes enrobantes, d’électricité statique et d’espace magnétique.

Living Space est une oeuvre immersive. Un objet fascinant qui accapare nos sens pour les attirer vers des profondeurs froides et obscures, chargées de vibrations contraires aux attractions inversées.

Les synthés modulaires vibrent sur des cordes tendues au dessus de précipices sans fond, reflets d’univers aux mouvements internes stabilisés.

Le temps semble s’éteindre pour laisser la place au défilement de gouttes quantiques, prises dans des maillons nucléaires à l’ADN hacké. Un album aux équilibres éphémères. Superbe. [Roland Torres]

Ambientblog (net):

Eleh‘s discography boasts no less than 32 albums since 2006 – solo works as well as collaborations with artists like Pauline Oliveros, Ellen Fullman, Christina Kubisch, Caterina Barbieri and Richard Chartier. And until now he managed to remain completely anonymous: no one (well almost no one) knows who he is.

Living Space is the third Eleh release for the Touch label. It’s a perfect title: the sound of these tracks seems to come from everywhere but the speakers. It moves inside your head and moves around in the room it is played in, thus making the space come alive.

It is released on CD, which is the format ‘how the artist wants it to sound’, but nevertheless Touch promises a vinyl edition”for fetishists” to follow in the new year. Let’s hope ‘the artist’ is OK with that, because I’m afraid the extreme low frequencies in this music probably won’t behave very well on vinyl. This music is, indeed, created for optimal reproduction via digital media.

Apart from one shorter track, all tracks are from 10 to 15 minutes in length. Eleh uses modular and analogue synthesizers, piano, organ, bass, and symphonic chimes to create his compositions.
Music that “seeks to express the beauty of slow change, not only through the microtonal shifts in sound that Eleh navigates but moving with the atmospheric and shape-shifting conditions that the music creates as it interacts with the listening space, whether bedroom or concert hall, each one of them unique.”

I would call this ‘minimalist drone music’, but that ‘minimalist’ only refers to the musical aspect, not the sound itself. With all those different frequencies bouncing around before they reach you, we might as well call it ‘maximalist’. Trying to describe music can be só confusing…

The CD-release comes in a 6-panel digifile with beautiful photography by Jon Wozencraft [sic].

Electronic Sound (UK):

Dark Entries (Belgium):

Drone maar dan heel minimaal en eigenlijk té minimaal om me lang te kunnen boeien. Dit album bevat 5 composities (60 minuten speelduur) en begint met de bijna een kwartier durende titeltrack. Minimale drone dus met subtiele veranderingen. Je moet wat geduld hebben. Tegen de vierde track (“Overt Too”, weer een kwartier en meer van hetzelfde) begin ik mezelf wat te beklagen dat ik deze promo heb meegenomen want wat schrijf je over zoiets buiten dat het als monotone, minimale drone klinkt met veel gezoem en erg traag variërende tonen? Er gebeurt hier toch echt te weinig om me een uur geboeid te kunnen houden. Ik maak in mijn hoofd een korte recensie en twijfel tussen de review posten en het album een quotering van 6 geven of anders het album meenemen naar volgende Dark Entries vergadering en het doorschuiven naar een andere recensent.

Eleh is een Brits elektronisch project dat in 1999 werd opgericht met als doel de exploratie van minimale analoge synthesizers. In 2010 schreef collega Jan Denolet een review over het album “Location Momentum” van Eleh. Dit album verscheen in 2010 op het Touch label en was de opvolger van “Slow Fade For Hard Sync” dat een jaar eerder (2009 voor wie kan tellen) bij hetzelfde label verscheen. Hij scheen dit erg te kunnen appreciëren getuige de lang niet misse quotering van zowaar een 8. Maar spijtig genoeg schrijft deze collega momenteel geen reviews meer en hetzelfde geldt voor collega Peter De Koning. Wat nu gedaan? Proberen dit derde album voor Touch in collega Dimi Brands zijn nek te duwen? Tenslotte bespreekt die wel meer muziekjes op de rand van het onbeluisterbare en bevat dit geen doedelzakken.

Maar intussen zijn we bij de laatste track aangekomen: “Lighter Touch”. Weer een kwartier. Maar hier verandert gaandeweg de aard en de geest en het ganse karakter van de muziek (nou ja, ‘muziek’?, zeg liever soundscape) tot een beklemmende en behoorlijk creepy dark ambient luisterervaring. Minimaal is het nog steeds maar de toevoeging van een soort akelig spooky ritmische geluiden sleurt me helemaal mee en laat me deze keer niet meer los. De artiest werkte bewust naar deze apotheose toe, zo lijkt het wel. Maar ik moest wel wat geduld oefenen. Omwille van deze sinistere laatste track, verhoog ik prompt mijn score van 6 naar 7 en besluit ik om de review toch zelf te schrijven alsook deze laatste track in de playlist op te nemen van mijn radioprogramma The Horny Hour (op Radio Centraal, Antwerpen).

Het schijfje zit vervat in een 6 panel digipack met intrigerende waterfotografie en op een van de panels staat een citaat afgedrukt van jazzsaxofonist John Coltrane (1926-1967): ‘Music is an instrument. It can create the initial thought patterns that can change the thinking of people’.

Het gaat hier over geluid als helende kracht. Daarvoor werd gebruik gemaakt van modulaire en analoge synthesizers, piano, orgel, bass en klokkenspel (niet dat je ook maar een instrument in de zwaar vervormde drones kunt herkennen). Ze moeten de schoonheid van trage verandering tot expressie laten komen, subtiele veranderingen door de microtone shift in het geluid. Spijtig genoeg bloeit heel dit concept naar mijn ervaring pas in de laatste track helemaal open.

Revue et Corrrigé (France):

Gonzo Circus (Belgium):

V33.10 Jana Winderen – “Pavikdalen”

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

Photo by Jana Winderen

Full programme here | the 2014 related field trip to Nikel, Russia

A stereo version was also played at Svanhovd, Norway, curated for Dark Ecology by Hilde Methi

Track listing:

1. Pasvikdalen 37:58

Available here

Reviews:

Tone Glow (net):

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]

TO:111V Claire M Singer – “Trian”

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

clairemsinger.bandcamp.com/album/trian

All tracks written & performed by Claire M Singer
Mastered by Denis Blackham @ Skye
Cut by Jason @ Transition April 2018
Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft

Reviews:

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.”

Spire 8 Charles Matthews – “Live at Chichester Cathedral”

DL only – 6 tracks

Release date: 4th October 2019

Photo: Jon Wozencroft

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.

theeternalchord.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-chichester-cathedral

Track listing:

1. Estampie
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
*Muffat: “Ciacona”
*Saint-Saëns (arranged for organ solo by David Briggs) – “Finale”, from Symphony no. 3

*played by Charles Matthews

Tone 74 Daniel Menche – “Transformer: Live at Iklectik 220619”

Release date: 30th August 2019

DL – 1 track – 26:01

Recorded by Daniel Menche as part of Touch presents… live at iklectik, London on 22nd June 2019, which also featured People Like Us

Tone 71 Bana Haffar – “Genera; Live at AB Salon, Brussels”

Release date: 26th July 2019

CD + DL – 1 track – 32:45
+ bonus track, Bird’s Eye

Recorded by Mike Harding, 3rd May 2019 at AB Salon, Brussels
Mastered by Simon Scott @ SPS Mastering
Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft

Instruments used
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

Track listing:

1. Genera

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.

Reviews:

You can read an interview in Perfect Circuit with Bana here

and 15 Questions here

The Sound Projector (UK):

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.

Loop (CH):

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]

Boomkat (UK):

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.”

Groove (Germany):

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.

Nitestylez (Germany):

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.

Neural (Italy):

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):

Rockerilla (Italy):

Toperiodiko (Greece):

Από την Σαουδική Αραβία η Bana Haffar 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.

T33.11v Various Artists – “There Where the Avalanche Stops”

Vinyl + DL only – 15  tracks
Limited edition of 300 – white sleeve + sticker – white labels

Artwork by Jon Wozencroft
Mastered & cut by Jason @ Transition

For track listing and further information, please visit the release page here

Reviews:

Boomkat (UK):

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.

Tone 72 Scott | Paul | Skeen – “Touch Live in California 2019”

DL – 3 tracks – 61:36

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.

Track listing:

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.

Tone 73 Chris Watson – “Glastonbury Ocean Soundscape”

DL – 1 track – 5:28

Ocean Soundscape, as played on the main stage at The Glastonbury Festival on 30th June 2019 immediately prior to Sir David Attenborough’s address, describes a journey from the Antactic to the Arctic…

Songs of marine mammals, including bearded and weddell seals, recorded and composed by Chris Watson, who also took the photo.

Track listing:

1. Glastonbury Ocean Soundscape 5:28

TO:115c Fennesz – “Live at The Jazz Cafe”

Limited edition of 200 cassettes

Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft
Recorded by David Ros in London, 12th March 2019
Mastered by Simon Scott @ SPS Mastering

TO:113 UnicaZürn – “Sensudestricto”

Release date: 26th April 2019

LP – 4 tracks – 39:08

Track listing:

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.

Reviews:

Bleep (UK):

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 Henryk Górecki-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]

Artnoir (Germany):

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]

NONPOP (Germany):

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.

Eulogy (Italy):

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.

Loop (Chile):

“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]

Groove (Germany):

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]

Blow Up (Italy):

Electronic Sound Mag (UK):

Rockerilla (Italy):

Tone 67 Zachary Paul – “A Meditation on Discord”

Release date: 12th April 2019

CD – 3 tracks – 54:20

All tracks written by Zachary Paul (violin & electronics)
Photography & design by Jon Wozencroft
Mastered by Simon Scott @ SPS Mastering

Track listing:

1. Premonition (3:30PM Lake Perris) [31:50]
i Rays ii Clouds
2. Slow Ascent (9:30PM Downtown) [12:06]
3. A Person with Feelings (Original score) [10:24]

You can listen to an extract here and order on bandcamp here

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

Reviews:

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]

Brainwashed (USA):

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.

Boomkat (UK):

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.

FBIRadio,Sydney (Australia):

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.

Toneshift (USA):
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]

textura (Canada):

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’.

Rockerilla (Italy):

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]

Nitestylez (Germany):

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.

Etherreal (France):

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]

Blow Up (Italy):

Gonzo Circus (Belgium):

TO:115 Fennesz – “Agora”

Release date: 29th March 2019

CD – 4 tracks – 47:04

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

Track listing:

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.

And you can read an interview in cycling 74 here

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.

Reviews:

Pitchfork (USA)

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]

Bleep (UK):

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.

Dusted (USA):

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):

NPR (USA):

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.

Fennesz, Agora
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]

El Periodico (Spain):

An interview with Fennesz here

Sherwood (Italy):

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]

Pitchfork (USA):

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]

Rockaxis (Italy):

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.

Rating: 8.5/10

Brainwashed (USA):

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]

popmatters (USA):

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]

Exclaim (CA):

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]

ROCKDELUX (Spain):

All-focus

Bleep (UK):

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.

headphonecommute (UK):

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.