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CONTRASTATE - THE ILLUSION OF POWER (CD by Black Rose Recordings) *
RLW - AGNOSTIC DIARIES (CD by Black Rose Recordings) *
ALVIN LUCIER/QUATUOR BOZZINI - NAVIGATIONS (CD by Ambiences Magnetiques) *
RANDI PONTOPPIDAN & THOMAS BUCKNER – VOICESCAPES (CD by Chant Records) *
ANDREAS WILLERS – HAERAE (CD by Evil Rabbitt) *
PALO ALTO – DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION (CD by Sub Rosa) *
HIMUKALT - KNIFE THROUGH THE SPINE (CD by Cold Spring) *
WHISPER ROOM - LUNOKHOD (CD by Midira Records) *
TROUM - DA-PU-RI-TO-JO (THE SINGLES 2004-2016) (CD by Zoharum) *
YASNAÏA – ONIRO (2CD by Zoharum) *
SYNTA [XE] RROR - [ . ] DOT (CD by Zoharum) *
JAMES CALDWELL - POCKET MUSIC (CD by Neuma Records) *
JUAN J.G. ESCUDERO - SHAPES OF INNER TIMESCAPES (CDR by Neuma Records) *
OVENS VAN ONDANK (LP by Old Mans Favourite) *
EQUINE - AMERICA IS MELTING (LP, private)
JONATHAN DEASY - A STRANGE PLACE (CDR by Minimal Resource Recordings) *
MUSTER - _AM_ (CDR by The Slightly Off Kilter Label) *
ROBIN BARNICK - SINUSOIDAL FREQUENCY MODULATIONS (cassette by Superpolar Taips) *
I WAS LISTENING TO TAPES IN TOKYO - WINDOWED (cassette by Superpolar Taips) *
DANIEL SAYLOR - GALAXIES (cassette by Superpolar Taips) *
EFKTS - YEESAN (cassette by Expert Sleepers) *
GUILHEM ALL - MORBIG (cassette by Complex Holiday) *
PETER SANT - THE INTERIOR (cassette by Complex Holiday) *
KURT BUTTIGIEG - UNFOLDING (cassette by Complex Holiday) *
CONTRASTATE - THE ILLUSION OF POWER (CD by Black Rose Recordings)
RLW - AGNOSTIC DIARIES (CD by Black Rose Recordings)
It was quiet for a long time, as far I was concerned, with music from Contrastate, but now there is another new one, following 'Recorded Evidence II', reviewed in Vital Weekly 1258. I recounted back then my love/hate relationship with this band and that is mainly when it comes to their use of vocals, which is not my cup of tea. This new album is indeed a new album, whereas the previous was a collection of older and more difficult to obtain pieces of music. Here, the five pieces are all new, I should think, and it shows us various sides of Contrastate. Their love for all things synthesizer, ambient/drone-like, their love of wacky, concrete sounds, sampled and otherwise, the traces of melodies, the orchestral approach, the deep, dark voice and their political messages. 'English Pastoral' is the opening piece, 'this throne of blood, this sceptic's isle / obsessed with majesty, this land of war' and you realize that the name Contrastate is a real thing. That voice, which is very characteristic of Contrastate (which is a good thing, by the way), is not present in every track, which I guess is a good thing for somebody such as me. It surely adds to the variety of music. I would say that 'variety' is also very much a Contrastate trademark for them. All right, so no heavy metal banging or dubs, but within this whole construction of experimental music, Contrastate certainly has a sound of its own. Nobody sounds like them, and that is a great thing. All of this music is like a coherent narration (and with the voice, it is more a narration at times), almost a radio-play, taking the listener to the English pastoral, full of blood, decay and power to the wrong people, with a strong political message; 'national identity / is the enemy of social democracy. National sovereignty / is the enemy of social democracy'. That message isn't hidden in the cracks of this release, but out in the open. I could understand if some of that is a bit too much for some, but then, there is also much great music to be enjoyed. Just skip some lyrics and don't look at the cover, if the message of 'Liberte, egalite, fraternite' shocks you.
There was a time when Ralf Wehowsky was very active when it came to releases under the alias of RLW. In the last decade that seems to have slowed down. The last new one I heard was his LP with Paak (Vital Weekly 1047). Wehowsky was, in the 1980s, one of the main people behind P16.D4, a highly influential group coming from the world of 'industrial music' but crossing over to musique concrète. Since the early 90s, he works solo as RLW, using the computer to work and rework sounds and collaborating with many others, such as SRMeinxner (his label boss here), Paak, Das Synthetische Mischgewebe and others. The music on 'Agnostic Diaries' was recorded in 2016 and 2017 but started back in 2005; it is an album to complete things that were not yet completed. Among those who delivered sounds for this, we find Anla Courtis, Ovary Lodge, GX Jupitter-Larsen, Marc Baron and Dylan Nyoukis. Throughout these six pieces, voices seem to play one role or another. The music of RLW is best explained as organized sound. You load everything you have, basic material, processed versions (analogue, digital) thereof, onto the computer and through a lengthy process of editing and erasing, filtering and cutting, adding effects and so on, until there is a narrative, a composition. It is not easy to say why something works, and something else, perhaps, doesn't work. I guess that is part of being great at what you do and RLW is among the best in this field. With the excellent variation between pure electronic sounds, acoustic sounds and voices (which are, of course, also acoustic) a fine, delicate interplay emerges that makes up these six pieces. In the opening piece, 'Le Ballet' (which relies on George Antheil's 'Ballet Mecanique'), there are some very high and piercing tones, which made me reach for my remote control, but in his other pieces that don’t happen. The dynamics between 'loud' and 'quiet' is something that RLW plays with, along with hard cuts in the music. Yet, it seems as if all the sounds come naturally out of the previous, a logical extension if you will and that makes up for some great music. Upon repeated listening, there is every time something new to be found in this. (FdW)
––– Address: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
ALVIN LUCIER/QUATUOR BOZZINI - NAVIGATIONS (CD by Ambiences Magnetiques)
While listening to this new performance of 'Navigations', I was thinking about the earlier performance I heard, but somehow I don't seem to be able to find that CD by Wergo. The actual title is 'Navigations For Strings', and this work composed by Alvin Lucier in 1991 and the closing piece of a five-part CD, as performed by Quatuor Bozzini. Lucier also composed the other four pieces and even while I have a considerable hefty book on my shelves from him, these compositions are not mentioned, so I am not entirely sure how they 'work'. As with many of Lucier's compositions, there is usually conceptual reasoning behind it, a plan that is executed. It is interesting to know this, but is it essential for enjoying the music? Perhaps not. The title piece is the longest here and the opening 'Disappearances' follows that in length; it also follows it in musical direction. In both of these pieces, the string quartet plays long, sustaining tones, with 'Disappearances' being more 'in your face' and 'Navigations For Strings' more like an easy flow. There are two versions of 'Group Tapper', which is the group version of 'Tapper', for solo violin, but I assume now performed by the players of Quatuor Bozzini. Much to my surprise, this is a rhythmic piece, and I assume by using the bow as a mallet upon the surfaces of the violins, alto violin and cello. The longer of the two seems to be spacing out the intervals between the various 'hits', and over its eleven minutes gradually be dying out. In the middle is 'Unamuno', "for four equal voices (1994)" and this is an eerie piece of music. With the strings singing like ghostly voices, this is like the soundtrack for a haunted mystery flick. There are three pieces here that are 'textbook' Lucier pieces, sustaining, sine wave-like but entirely along with the sounds of real instruments, closely knit together and beautiful, plus two pieces that were quite the surprise, but of course, there then I reminded 'Silver Streetcar For The Orchestra', played on an amplified triangle and it all made sense. I just need to brush up my knowledge on Lucier again, I thought. This excellent CD is a perfect reminder to do so! (FdW)
––– Address: https://ambiances-magnetiques.bandcamp.com/
RANDI PONTOPPIDAN & THOMAS BUCKNER – VOICESCAPES (CD by Chant Records)
It is a surprise to have a new release of veteran baritone vocalist Thomas Buckner who has a long career as an improvising vocalist with a very distinct and recognizable style. He performed modern classical music but I only know of his activity as a vocal improviser. It must be several years ago since I last heard from him through releases on his own Mutable Music-label. This was not his first label by the way. He also ran 1750 Arch Recordings in the 70s, specialized in avant-garde music. Over the years he worked with Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier, Wadada Leo Smith, Muhal Richard Abrams, Christian Wolff, Claudio Parodi and many others. His career spans five decades! He didn’t record many (if any?) duo vocal albums, so it is great to have this release available; Buckner in collaboration with Randi Pontopppidan. She is a Danish vocalist, improviser and composer working in the fields of improvisation, jazz, performance art, electroacoustic composition and sound poetry’. She studied jazz vocal technique and classical singing at The Hague's Royal Music Conservatory. Nowadays she is teaching herself at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen. As a performer, she is specialized in extended techniques often in combination with live electronic processing. She worked with Greg Cohen, Joëlle Léandre, a.o. Also, she is a member of Theatre of Voices, the vocal ensemble led by Paul Hiller with a focus on early and new music. In 2017 Buckner was invited to Denmark for a concert and was introduced to Randi Pontoppiddan. This spontaneous meeting inspired both to plan a recording date shortly. So one year later they met again in a studio on the island of Møn, Denmark. They started from point zero, without any preparatory exchange of ideas. The shortest piece on the album, ‘Let it out’ (0:33) is a solo piece by Pontoppiddan. All others are duo efforts. Just pure non-verbal vocals, in four tracks with live electronic processing of Pontoppiddan’s voice. Everything is heard as performed in this spontaneous. The characteristic voice of Buckner and of Pontoppidan pair very well together and make the impression that both are well accustomed to one other. Buckner is not a vocalist demonstrating lots of vocal extravaganzas. Nor does Pontoppiddan. Both excel in this communicative and poetic meeting. Released by the Chant Record, a young label that earlier released two albums by Randi Pontopiddan (‘Rooms’ and ‘Space Geode’) (DM)
––– Address: https://chantrecords.com/
ANDREAS WILLERS – HAERAE (CD by Evil Rabbitt)
This is a great work of solo acoustic guitar music by German improviser Andreas Willers. So far, I was only aware of the work by Hans Reichel, another interesting German improviser on acoustic guitar. Willers is of the same generation and started his work at the end of the 70s. His first album was a solo album, released in 1981 for the famous German FMP-label. Over the years he worked in the fields of improvisation and jazz as well as new music, taking inspiration from blues, rock and noise. After a career of over 40 years, his collaborations are too many to mention. Occasionally he recorded a solo album what makes ‘Haerae’ one in e series of solo albums he recorded over the years. The title sounds Latin, but I’m not sure… He presents eight improvisations that were self-recorded in April last year and underwent only minor editing. He plays on two different acoustic steel string guitars and uses some small objects. Willers has a baffling technique using many extended techniques. This does not make however his improvisations of a highly abstract calibre only, nor is it just a showcase of his technique. His improvisations remain very accessible and also poetic in a curious way. The sounds, the gestures and motives he creates lead up to music that is very imaginative and personal, imprinted by a story he wants to tell. ‘Both Single’ consists of two very different parts. The first part investigates sound and vibration, whereas the second part is far more conventional with melodic elements. Because both are parts of the same ‘piece’ one tries to find a connection. But the differences prevail. Well, the title gives a clue I suppose: ‘Both single’. This is only one example of how Willers plays with contrasts. There are sections with allusions to jazz and blues using melodic elements on the one hand, like ‘Langh’s arm 3-5’. On the other hand, an improvisation like ‘Mnema’ is an example of his interest in exploring sounds, starting with bouncing motives, followed by percussive sounds, playing the guitar body, very noisy sounds, etc. A very tasteful recording of diverse improvisations. (DM)
––– Address: https://evilrabbitrecords.eu/
PALO ALTO – DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION (CD by Sub Rosa)
French band Palo Alto started around 1989. Although I know of their existence for a long time our paths never crossed so far. Over the years they released several albums and this new album subtitles ‘A Musical Evocation of Gilles Deleuze’ is their tenth. Original band members were Jacques Barbéri, Denis Frajerman, Philippe Masson and Philippe Perreaudin. Nowadays it is a trio of Barbéri, Perreaudin and Laurent Pernice (Collectif Nox). For their new project, they invited veterans Richard Pinhas (Heldon), Thierry Zaboitzeff (Art Zoyd), Rhys Chatham and Alain Damassio, a French writer of sci-fi and fantasy literature just like Jacques Barbéri. They took two years to record this album that contains four lengthy compositions, each one in collaboration with a special guest. Their album is a tribute to postmodern French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. The title refers to an important book by this philosopher carrying the same title. Also, they had Soft Machine’s double album ‘Third’ in mind while producing this album. The opening track ‘Tears of Nietzsche’ features Richard Pinhas (Heldon) on electric guitar, and the beginning of the track strongly reminds of the 70s music of Heldon. Pinhas who has a background in philosophy himself also made references to Nietzsche and Deleuze in his Heldon-days. ‘Rhizome’ is a heavy hypnotic electronic beat-driven piece, with sparse but effective solo playing by Zaboitzeff on electric cello, sounding like a lonesome voice in a dark and sinister world. It is the most satisfying track on the album if you ask me. ‘Triptych’ is a work in three parts. It has Alain Damassio reciting self-written texts – on the death of Gilles Deleuze – in the centre embedded in spacy soundscapes of electronics and modified saxophone. The closing piece ‘Difference et Repetition’ is a pulsating drone-like ‘rock’ piece, and confirms my impression that their music is in continuity with electronic prog rock from the old days. Although their music may impress due to the heavy electric and electronic wall of sounds they create it is not all, neither complicated nor demanding. Their synthetic and heavily treated soundscapes sound very produced. Appealing on the one side, but not radical or offering new perspectives. (DM)
––– Address: https://www.subrosa.net/
HIMUKALT - KNIFE THROUGH THE SPINE (CD by Cold Spring)
Since 2016 Ester Kärkkäinen has been releasing music under the guise of Himukalt. Her fifth album, ‘Knife Through the Spine’, was the one that really started to set her apart from her peers. In its wake, Kärkkäinen has released six forward-thinking albums that not only push her to creative limits but the listener too. So, it is fitting that Cold Spring is re-releasing, this long out of print album, on CD.
Kärkkäinen’s brand of power electronics on ‘Knife Through the Spine’ was refreshing. It featured all the troupes we love about the genre, but it also added something else that stopped it all merging into one. The cascading abstract motifs were punctuated by a delightful pulsating pneumatic drone and explosions of aggressive electronics. All of this was peppered with anxiety and a feeling that things should be better but aren’t.
Despite being originally released in 2018 ‘Knife Through the Spine’ feels like it is a product of lockdown living. Both of the ‘Social Anxiety’ tracks perfectly sum the feeling of living in isolation. Only speaking to people in your household and constantly wearing a mask when outside. The vocals are again undecipherable, but this adds to the charm. It mirrors trying to talk to someone at a checkout through a mask, plexiglass and, if the weather permits, a bobble hat. The last is the most telling as ‘Social Anxiety #1 and #2’ have a woolly quality to them. You can pick out the broad brushstrokes, but the finer detail is lost due to everything being covered in glorious, muffled noise. These were the standout tracks at the time of release, and nothing has changed in the three years since.
Ultimately ‘Knife Through the Spine’ is an exercise in restraint and balance. A main personal bugbear is how power electronics album doesn’t feature many variations. They tend to feature the same unrelenting, blistering, noise throughout, with slight deviations from the main theme. On ‘Knife Through the Spine’ Kärkkäinen gracefully takes us through portions of unrelenting aggression followed but ‘Be Sure of Your Diagnosis (Version)’ has the masterstroke of taking the xxx back to just a few static sounds before ramping the sound up again. This see-sawing gives ‘Be Sure of Your Diagnosis (Version)’ a wonderful feeling of movement without constantly ripping our heads off. It also makes the louder section more powerful as they are proceeded by quieter phrases. (NR)
––– Address: https://coldspring.co.uk/
WHISPER ROOM - LUNOKHOD (CD by Midira Records)
My assumption about Midira Records turned out to be wrong, but in my defence, I haven't heard a lot of their releases. From the ones I did hear, I gathered they were mostly interested in all the variations one can attach to the words 'guitar' and 'drone'. Whisper Room is what Midira calls an 'electro-ambient space rock trio', and we have here Aidan Baker on guitar/effects, Jakob Thiesen on drums/electronics, and Neil Wiernik on bass and electronics. There are also two guests, Robin Buckley (percussion) and Scott Deathe (pedal processing/treatments). I had not heard of this work from Baker before; there were four previous releases. Normally, they operate out of Toronto, but due to the 2020 circumstances, band members were separated in Toronto and Berlin and the music here was made through file sharing, with Baker taking the lead, with Thiesen adding drums later on and finally Wiernik. Buckley added his percussion in between, and the final step was by Deathe who did some 'pedal processing', which, apparently, is what the band does during concerts. 'Lunokhod' is named "after a series of Soviet robotic lunar rovers" and the album contains seven pieces of highly spacious music. In that regard, this album is very well at home in the catalogue of Midira Records. Baker's multi-layered and multi-coloured guitar shines through all these pieces but with the addition of the driving rhythm section, the ambient gets the backing of a fine krautrock sensibility, but not entirely the same motorik ones that we remind from the 70s. The percussion here is varied and lively, without rattling around too much. Each of the pieces fades right into the next, thus keeping the flow alive and uninterrupted. The 'electro' part of the description is a bit lost on me, as I thought this trio is more a sort of space rock trio and a good one at that. Some great cosmic textured music floating about here, and this hour-long trip went on repeat straight away. (FdW)
––– Address: http://midirarecords.bandcamp.com
TROUM - DA-PU-RI-TO-JO (THE SINGLES 2004-2016) (CD by Zoharum)
YASNAÏA – ONIRO (2CD by Zoharum)
SYNTA [XE] RROR - [ . ] DOT (CD by Zoharum)
When Troum was Maeror Tri I kept up with most of their releases, but as Troum that waned. Maybe the fact that I was no longer working in music distribution played a role, or that I realize I am not a collector of all sorts of things (or my flat getting too crowded with music?). So I may have missed out on a few releases here and there, and this collection of 7" releases contains a few things I heard before, but the majority seems new to me. More likely, all of it sounds new, as the 7"s that I heard were released quite some time ago. In case you forgot, Troum is a duo from Germany, playing the guitars, accordion, drums, keyboards, voices, 'sounds' and effects, lots of the latter. These effects are used to (pun intended) to great effect and what makes Troum the band they are. They play drone music; dark, atmospheric drone music, but none of that really quiet variety. What we used to call 'ambient industrial' in the late 80s, early 90s, is what also sums up the sound of Troum. Their music has that rough edge that I enjoy very much. Lots of space is suggested by their use of reverb, echo, chorus, phasing and flanging and whatever rings and sings. There is a psychedelic edge to their music that goes right into the brain, creating a massive headspace. At least for me, that is. All of these pieces do not sound like excerpts of longer pieces, trimmed down for the sake of the 7''s length, but truly formed pieces, created for the format. I understand all of them limited, and I can imagine new fans will happy to fill the gaps in their collection.
Also, a re-issue is the double CD by Yasnaia, which is the name, used by Leen Smets, who was a vocalist for Belgium's Hybryds, until she left the group in 2000. Zoharum already did an extensive re-issue program for that group. 'Oniro' was released in 1996 by World Serpent and even when I was dealing with them in my then capacity of the aforementioned music distribution, I definitely don't remember this album at all. We may not have carried this one. The re-issue comes with a bonus CD with seven pieces recorded like at 'Wolfsmond', a festival organized by Pagan Muzak and a piece each from vinyl releases by Ant-Zen and Spectre and an unreleased piece. Although I couldn't say that this is entirely up to my street, I enjoyed it to some extent. Whereas I expected a lot of esoteric singing and chanting, as perhaps indicated by the opening piece 'La Fusion d'Angoisse Et De Curiosite', I found her use of synthesizers, sampling and sparse rhythm quite entertaining. The voice plays, obviously a big role in the pieces, but what's good is that is part of the music and not on top of the music. There is, no doubt, lots of stuff that I miss out on here, the "dark rites and ethereal psychedelica" and "sexual energy channelled in rhythm-driven magical tribalism", but maybe it's that I think I am immune to that (or too old, too sceptical, or...). The concert recording is pretty interesting too, and looking on Discogs this is her only album, so whatever made her lose interest in doing music, I don't know, but it could have delivered a few more good albums.
And we then arrive in the present with Synta(xe)rror, a duo of Bartosz 'Kostia' Jakubichi and Artur 'Blcha' Blaszczyk from Wroclaw. They started in the late 90s and released two albums, in 2006 and 2007 and '(.) /Dot' is their latest album. I have no idea why there is this long gap. They play electronic machines and their music owes to the world of dance music, but it doesn't always translate to regular dance music. It reminded me of the old school intelligent dance music, but a bit darker, a bit colder and distant. The rhythms are a bit more complex than your straight forward 4/4 rhythms, and synthesizers are attacked with vigour and style; there is some fine stabbing going on here. Most enjoyable coldness actually. This is some fine music to do some homework to, accounting or vacuum cleaning. I am not sure what else there is to say about it? Maybe that it is all a bit distant and anonymous. (FdW)
––– Address: https://zoharum.bandcamp.com/
JAMES CALDWELL - POCKET MUSIC (CD by Neuma Records)
JUAN J.G. ESCUDERO - SHAPES OF INNER TIMESCAPES (CDR by Neuma Records)
Here we have two new releases by the US label Neuma Records and both deal with musique concrète. I had not heard of both musicians before. As I understand it, 'Pocket Music' is the first album by James Caldwell, who works as a composer and visual artist at the Western Illinois University. For his first releases, he stays close to home, digging through his pockets for little objects to use as sound material. He finds coins, keys, plastic pill bottle, comb, paperback book, rubber band and such on (lots more if we are to believe the text on the cover, with some surprising mentions) and creates music with that. He does, so he says, in the rich tradition of musique concrète, with influences from Xenakis, Westerkamp, Mimaroglu, Hugh LeCaine but also takes a cue from Bach's 'Inventions' or Bartok's 'Mikrokosmos': his pieces are short. That is to say, not if you look at the tracks on the CD. There are seven pieces, in total forty-five minutes. If you look at the cover, you'll see that each of those seven pieces is divided into smaller pieces, and if I counted correctly, there are some thirty-five pieces on this CD. When you play the CD you don't notice this fragmentation at all. I just thought of them as variations of the material, and sometimes these variations are quite radical, but within the compositions, these movements make perfect sense. Reading the long list of sources on the cover makes it quite a 'game' to see if you can recognize these sources in the music. 'Is that comb', 'is that crystal M&Ms bowl' and so on? I am inclined to think I did recognize a few of those, but I wouldn't stake my pocket money on it. While this seemed all a very traditional approach to musique concrète, albeit, with the use of computers rather than good ol' analogue means, I very much enjoyed Caldwell's approach. There were a very fine delicacy and vibrancy to the music, which seemed in an everlasting motion. Sounds are moving upwards, onwards, backwards, and such and while all of this is so brief and to the point, it keeps moving at a high speed. An excellent release of good sturdy electronic music.
Juan J.G. Escudero is called a Spanish imagineer, "an artist as familiar with theoretical physics as he is with a laptop or a piano". He was born in 1958, lives in Madrid and studied composition, gets his works performed around the world and sometimes is a visual artist, "generated from his research on aperiodic tiling and algebraic hypersurfaces". The rest is about his work in terms of imaginary spaces, complex algorithms, surfaces, colours and shapes. The cover details each of the five pieces (of which the last is about half the CD, split into four different pieces), in which Escudero details the process and technology behind the music. Not the easiest reading material, especially if you are not a physicist or a mathematician, and I am neither of those. Sometimes he uses pre-recorded sounds, sometimes not at all, and his music is a bit different from that of Caldwell. Whereas Caldwell thrives on the liveliness of the music, Escudero is more about setting moods and textures with music. Changes are taking place on a gradual basis, slow and making sure, the various sounds intertwine naturally. I believe to have recognized the piano (and I easily admit I was guided there) in "Variations on the Bird and the Snow" and feedback in 'Estudio del Tiempo Iluminado II', which I thought was an excellent piece on this CD; shimmering with intense sounds, almost the soundtrack to a horror flick. Throughout I had the impression that the music of Escudero is quite serious and contemplative, in fine contrast with the more playful approach by Caldwell (whom, so I am sure, is also a serious composer, let there be no mistake about it). Two examples of new music from a long tradition! (FdW)
––– Address: http://neumarecords.org
OVENS VAN ONDANK (LP by Old Mans Favourite)
While I certainly don't perceive things in that way, some people regard me as someone extremely knowledgeable when it comes to the ancient history of Dutch independent cassette releases. I did some booklets on that subject in my late teens, which were just a bunch of lists. When blogosphere opened up in 2007, cupboards were cleaned, cassettes freely available for downloads and a hunt started for the old members of some of the best in that field. Labels as Vinyl On Demand, Dark Entries and Minimal Wave build a strong catalogue with re-issues from those days. I have been contacted on a few occasions inquiring about the whereabouts of musicians, such as Saskia (see Vital Weekly 1263) and Das Ding. Also, a few people asked me about Ovens Van Ondank ("furnaces of ingratitude"), who released just one cassette, '1', on Burp Cassettes in 1983. Even in those days, this was not a band that people knew about. They were, to the best of my knowledge, in the slipstream of Utrecht based Coitus Int (whose work already made it to CD (Vital Weekly 759). Through old contacts, I learned that Ovens Van Ondank were a band around singer Makz, who died in a car accident in 1988. Other band members were less easy to find and none ever seemed to work. But, low and behold, here is an LP by Ovens Van Ondank, and it's not, I repeat not the '1' cassette. This LP contains a live recorded, undated, from Ekko, in Utrecht and it is released by the drummer, who wasn't part of '1' (but, in the event, this album is a success, that will be released next). Not that it makes a lot of difference, they sound live the same way as they do on '1' (which is referred to as a 'demo') and it sounds great. The bass is very much upfront, the guitar plays all the right post-punk moves, and the vocals are drenched with a bit of reverb for that graveyard sound. The lyrics are part Dutch, part English and showcase all the things we worried about in the 80s; madness, truth, fear, isolation and all those lovely grim pastimes that were de rigueur. Ovens Van Ondank owe a lot to Joy Division in the vocal/lyric division, but also music-wise, and they sound rough yet great and there is, I would think, also a great influence from PIL in this music, especially on their use of bass. However cleaned up these recordings did a great job, everything is crispy clear and it is a most powerful statement. This was an excellent band. I knew that already, still have a copy of '1' but now, some almost forty years with this great live record. Wonders never cease and this is, indeed, an old man's favourite. (FdW)
––– Address: http://www.oldmansfavourite.com
EQUINE - AMERICA IS MELTING (LP, private)
There was a small note with this album, I am sure of that, but like so many small notes that probably say 'please review', it was lost and by the time I turned my attention to it, I couldn't find anything on the cover. From the etching, I understood the album is called 'America Is Melting', but even then I had a bit of trouble finding it. Luckily I had the mailer lying around and on it said 'Equine', which helped me locate the record and I can also correct an error. In Vital Weekly 1244, I reviewed a CDR of which I thought the title was 'Equine', performed by Light Wa/orship. It was vice versa. I understand this is a private release, in an edition of 100 copies, and on this album, there are three untitled pieces, all by Kevin Michael Richards on the guitar and a bunch of pedals. The outcome is quite diverse here. In the first piece, Equine seems to go for something heavy and distorted, yet Equine doesn't strive for the all noise party. It is a form of blues music, as it was, heartfelt and desolate with the reverb playing quite a role here. In 'II', however, he plays single notes through loop and delay pedals and it takes a while before arriving at his now-signature wall of sound, but it all remains quite open here. "III' is the longest piece, taking up the entire second side of the record, and this is Equine at it his loudest and meanest; an endless, slow soloing of various guitars on the threshold of pain and a blistering feast of shrieking high-frequency guitars. America may be melting, but so do these guitars! This was a harsh blast and a thoroughly fine affair. A bit more text on the cover wouldn't hurt, but otherwise: excellent stuff. (FdW)
––– Address: https://equine.bandcamp.com/
JONATHAN DEASY - A STRANGE PLACE (CDR by Minimal Resource Recordings)
So far I was under the impression that UK's Minimal Resource Recordings was a home for the recorded output by Matt Atkins and his various collaborative projects, and looking at their Bandcamp page again today, my assumption proved right, safe for the fact that the latest two are not by him. I only got the one from Jonathan Deasy, of whom I never heard and who hasn't (probably) done a lot of releases. He gets credit for 'modular synthesizer' and has three pieces here, from thirteen to twenty minutes. Those are the basic facts about this release, the rest is up to us. The thing with modular synthesizers as I see it, is that the possibilities are endless, but just as with the laptop twenty years ago, it is not easy to move beyond fiddling with a few buttons and actually start composing with the sounds; put everything into a perspective that has depth and moves beyond the more improvisational lines that one sees a lot in this field. It seems to me that Deasy is aware of such things and in the three pieces he limits his sound palette, records a few events and then mixes these together. At least, that's what I think. In the title piece, opening up the release here, he plays with the notion of 'loud' versus 'quiet' and movement versus standstill. Sounds are repeated and played around but always seem to return to where they started. In the end, this turned out to be the loudest of the three pieces, as the other two are much more mellow affairs, in which the play is with the slow movement of sustaining tones into and out of a dialogue with each other. In 'Curves' he just does that, playing curves, while in 'Nancarrow' it is all about longer tones, in various lengths and pitches. I like the noise opening, but the other two were even better. Here we have a very intelligent interaction of sound leading to some excellent results. It all made me curious to hear some more from him. (FdW)
––– Address: https://mrmrecordings.bandcamp.com/
MUSTER - _AM_ (CDR by The Slightly Off Kilter Label)
Here's the follow-up to their first album, 'To Find A City To Live In' (see Vital Weekly 1202), by Muster, the duo of. Dan Powell from Brighton on electronics and James O'Sullivan from South London on electric guitar. The funny line in their bio is, of course, they "formed accidentally on 2nd November 2016, in the Catford Constitutional Club" and that was the day they met as part of a 12-hour concert, involving eight musicians, of which this particular combination endured. There are three tracks here recorded as a long-distance collaboration and one live recording, from when such things happened, June 2019. The three long-distance pieces are short and to the point. In total little over eleven minutes, there is a fine call and response between both players, in which one starts the improvisation and the other responding. In the end, it is not easy to say who starts and who responds and in all three pieces, there is something that keeps these together like pieces of improvised music. In the lengthy live recording this is, of course, also the case, but now spread out over twenty-four minutes and this leaves more space between the players and some of that quieter ground is much needed between some of the more frantic moments they also create. That adds tension to the music that makes it intenser and livelier perhaps. As I was playing this, I was thinking that long-distance work for this kind of music works, they prove it does, the real fire is ultimately in sharing a stage together. Ranging from chaotic to quiet, from sparse to dense, and from noise to intimate, Muster is easy in crossing over, in all directions and sometimes in different directions in the same moment. (FdW)
––– Address: https://slightlyoffkilter.bandcamp.com/
ROBIN BARNICK - SINUSOIDAL FREQUENCY MODULATIONS (cassette by Superpolar Taips)
I WAS LISTENING TO TAPES IN TOKYO - WINDOWED (cassette by Superpolar Taips)
DANIEL SAYLOR - GALAXIES (cassette by Superpolar Taips)
From Niederkassel-Külsdorf-Ranzel (what's in a name?) hails Robin Barnick, of whom I had not heard before, with a recording he made in 2001 on a Yamaha DX7. He started to experiment with "emagic's SoundDiver" and accidentally deleted all the presets, and started to play around with what is left, onto a mini disc. In mono! He believed that Minidisc was lost (that happens when you remember something great from the past), but he found it again and edited the material, added some effects and kept the mono side of it all. I have no idea about other work by Barnick, and that makes it difficult for me to say something about the development of his work. How does this 2001 work relate to his later/current work, would, for instance, be a good question? There are two pieces (twenty-six minutes altogether), one-piece per each side, I would think, but they might easily be edited together from various bits and pieces. This is atmospheric music, I am sure of that, but some of it is also quite unsettling and shifting towards a more noisy end of the spectrum on at least two occasions on both sides. I prefer it when Barnick keeps things under control a bit more when there is room to breathe and there is a dark spacious cosmic ring to the music. That is of course a strictly personal observation. There is also something to say for the fact that Barnick crosses a wider spectrum of musical styles and succeeds quite well.
The other two new Superpolar Taips releases are part of their ongoing cassette series. First, there is a duo that goes by the name I Was Listening To Tapes In Tokyo. Here we find Francesco Ameglio (also known as Guybrush, see Vital Weekly 1235, and founder of the SØVN label) and Matteo Giai. They are inspired by Japanese pop culture, as shown by the use of Japanese voices in 'Dad', on the A-side. Furthermore, there are tapes loops of instruments, in both pieces, basically string instruments (violins on 'Gaia Scienza') and keyboards on 'Dad'. With the use of the spoken word on 'Dad', the whole thing gets a fine narrative character and with the slightly dramatic music, you can easily believe there is a lot of suspense, whereas maybe it's someone (dad?) reading a shopping list. The instrumental B-side has a moody character with those minor string loops and techno pads being started but never finished. Nice one!
Daniel Saylor is also a new name for me. He is from Orlando, Florida and his music consists of saxophone (on the A-side), drum machine and synth bass (on both sides). Oddly enough the saxophone is by one Steven Grant Jr. You can think of this as electronic jazz music, and leave out the word 'free' that Superpolair Taips attached to it. The title piece has the saxophone all over the place and the drum machine runs over time with the hi-hat, while there are also some keyboards. There is a fine fucked-up club noir atmosphere to this if you are into that sort of thing (I am not so much). 'Nevada' leans towards rock music with a slightly distorted melodic phrase repeated on the keyboard, a rhythm machine hammering away and a constant synth bass below the surface. Now, that is more up my street! (FdW)
––– Address: https://superpolar.bandcamp.com/
EFKTS - YEESAN (cassette by Expert Sleepers)
Behind EFKTS we find Rob Vonderheide, a name that a curious Dutch/German ring to it, but he's from New York. For the eight pieces of music on his cassette, he uses 'Expert Sleepers General CV & Disting EX', which is stuff the label puts out as well; modular components for your set-up. Along with that he uses "Mutable Instruments, Make Noise Music, Noise Engineering, Qu Bit Electronix, WMD Devices and Instruo", which might mean a lot to the insider, but I am not one of them. The music produced by EFKTS (not sure what that stands for) is very ambient and very mellow. The name of Brian Eno is not very far away here. Lengthy sustaining sounds on those instruments and shorter attacks on synthesizers to create piano and bell-like sounds. Bells that sound like the snowflakes outside that have fallen this week. It is more the Brian Eno style music of the nineties and beyond than before that. The weather, cold and grey, and inside this ancient house, just on the cold side, makes me long for some warm music, and this is perhaps the right sort of thing to play. Soothing tones in wild times, sociological and climatological. But I was thinking that in more 'normal' (what is that?) times, I may think this as too soft, too mellow with a tendency towards a new age. What I miss out here is that extra bite, that little rough edge, a bit of added drama perhaps. That is for later. For now, I close the curtains and try and keep the warmth inside and play this music again, while I hurdle up under a blanket with a book. (FdW)
––– Address: https://expertsleepersltd.bandcamp.com/artists
GUILHEM ALL - MORBIG (cassette by Complex Holiday)
PETER SANT - THE INTERIOR (cassette by Complex Holiday)
KURT BUTTIGIEG - UNFOLDING (cassette by Complex Holiday)
One of the saving graces of lockdown is that people are at home. They have time on their hands, and they are getting creative. This is resulting in an explosion of new releases and labels. One new label that is really exciting to me is Complex Holiday. Run by Kurt Buttigieg and Robert Farrugia they have so far put out four cassettes and a 12” since June 2020. The first two releases were strong. Ayn II Widen’s ‘How to Remain in Perpetual Contact with Your Surroundings’ was a piece of wonderful ambient electroacoustic experimental pop and Robert Farrugia’s ‘Worn’ was filled with a glorious drone after drone. While all the releases created independently of each other, they all exhibit similar motifs and themes. Their forays into sound collage, drone and musique concrete and help to create the labels voice.
While listening to Complex Holiday’s recent releases I am taken away to worlds with lurid landscapes. There is a wonderful woozy sway to ‘Confiance en Toi’, on Kurt Buttigieg’s ‘Unfolding’. The outro feels like a mixture of feedback, static and white noise. It is a fitting end to a song that is brought to mind what Woking looks like after the red weed has taken over in HG Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’. It is utterly enchanting but there is a feeling of unease that creeps up your neck from the moment it starts and never quite leaves you. It’s wonderful.
If ‘Unfolding’ was about taking you out of reality, then ‘Morbig’ by Guilhem All and ‘The Interior’ by Peter Sant are all about keeping you grounded with sounds you know but can’t quite place. The opening of ‘Gimmie Amen’ sounds like vinyl crackling. Or is that a fire burning, clock cogs moving, or plastic being crunched up, either way, it gets your attention from the offset. As ‘Gimmie Amen’ progresses rhythmic beats, for want of a better term, appear. As they become more pronounced the song moves into a techno loop. We’re not talking a big room banger here, more of minimal lo-fi fare. It works incredibly well. There are massive choral sounding pieces that come from nowhere and vanish almost as soon as they’ve begun, this gives the song a strangely religious vibe, but given the name, this isn’t that surprising. What is surprising is how playable ‘Gimmie Amen’ is. It flies joyously out of the speakers. Two-thirds of the way through the motifs from the opening is repeated. This gives the song the feeling of a never-ending round. ‘The Interior’ opens with a hiss of the faint sound of traffic. A slowly the sound of birds starts to appear. Pigeons, chickens, parrots, and other avian noises start to fly from the speakers. As ‘Scene One’ progresses the birdsong gets more frantic and reaches a crescendo before gently fading out. ‘Dust on the Ivories’ is effectively one elegant drone. It starts of serene but as it goes on it becomes more aggressive until a minute from the end it reaches a peak and just stays there.
What makes these releases, and the previous two, so exciting is the mystery to them. What are these field recordings of? Where were they recorded and why? As there are no defined answers it is let to us, the listener, to try and piece it all together. This is where the enjoyment comes from. You hear a noise, and it reminds you of an old flat you lived in around 2006. A moment later there is a deep bassline that skews into an operatic section that reminds you of going to church as a child. But the soundscapes are abstract and it’s hard to come to conclusions that justify their brilliance. These releases show that Complex Holiday has a very bright future as long as it continues to release forward-thinking music like this. The complexity of the compositions is fantastic, as is the musician’s ability to make them incredibly captivating and playable. (NR)
––– Address: https://comphol.bandcamp.com/