Liminal Reviews: Liminal Minimals, April 2013 (April 30th, 2013)

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Ensemble Skalectrik – Trainwrekz (Editions Mego)

Ekoplekz’s Nick Edwards has found a nice home for himself on Editions Mego, and this is another offering of saturated, noise-inflected electronica from the Briton, this time under the Ensemble Skalectrik moniker. Trainwrekz, as its title suggests, contains some of Edwards’s most abrasive and vicious work to date: six concise and moody vignettes dominated by twisted synths, untethered found sounds and unsettling industrial noises. ‘Wrektoo’, for example, is dominated by sampled gunshots and bubbling, watery found sounds alongside metallic clangs and thuds that sound like they were recorded in a disused factory. ‘Wrekfore’, meanwhile, juxtaposes repetitive electronic mini-drones with swirling futuristic textures that could have been lifted from the archives of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The influence of industrial pioneers like SPK and Throbbing Gristle is clear, but Edwards’s scope is broader than that, and subtle injections of humour and hauntology, along with his use of the letters ‘W’ and ‘Z’ and a clear experimental bent, make me think of the late, great artist Jeff Keen, whose sonic creations recently appeared on a recent compilation by Trunk Records. Good company indeed!

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Jacob Kirkegaard – Conversion (Touch)

Conversion sees Danish sound artist and composer Jacob Kirkegaard re-interpret two of his more experimental sound creations as instrumental compositions, performed by his fellow countrymen Scenatet. The first, ‘Labyrinthitis’, was initially produced using sounds created by the composer’s own ears (!), a form dubbed “oto-acoustic music”. Here, these vibrations are reinterpreted as overlapping, ever-evolving string drones, starting off in a fragile high register, before more insistent, extended lower tones shimmer out of the omnipresent haze. While the original may be more surprising, ‘Labyrinthitis’ is steeped in the tradition of slow-burning minimalism, and the way Scenatet recalibrate Kirkegaard’s organic source as stirring, increasingly present micro-tones that is deeply affecting. ‘Church’, meanwhile, initially started out as field recordings captured in an abandoned church near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. On Conversion, Scenatet recreate the ambiance of emptiness and vastness suggested by the piece’s origin, again creating a work of music that evolves gradually in and out of near-silence, to deeply dramatic effect.

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Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou – The Skeletal Essences of Voodoo Funk (Analog Africa)

Analog Africa deserve a medal for the way they’ve gone about digging out some of the most obscure -and best- music from that continent currently available in a market that keeps growing and growing. Benin has proved a particularly fruitful hunting ground for the label. Given its geographic location, sandwiched between Nigeria and Togo, with Ghana close by, it’s unsurprising that many tracks on this compilation seem infused with afrobeat and highlife influences, but it also stands apart from those more famous genres, not least due to the French lyrics that pop up on a couple of the numbers. The term “skeletal”, used in the title feels appropriate, because there is a brittle, stripped-down quality to the orchestra’s polyrhythms, while horns are used sparingly, like flashes of colour splattered on a canvas, bringing to mind a more stripped-down take on early Osibisa rather than, say, Fela Kuti’s high-energy funk. One of the standout tracks is ‘N’Goua’, which moves at a sensual, languid pace, with loping bass, drums and percussion serving as a solid foundation for the vocals, sax spurts and twisty, winding guitar solos. On ‘Vi E Lo’, meanwhile, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou turn their gaze across the Atlantic to take in Latino influences, further fleshing out their musical palette. The band produces music that straddles genre, but which is always haunting in its melodic and rhythmic grace.

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Charlemagne Palestine and Z’ev – Rubhitbangklanghear Rubhitbangklangear (Sub Rosa)

Charlemagne Palestine first started playing bells in the sixties, during his student days, and there’s always been a trace of their chiming overtones in his music for other instruments, notably in the way he repeats piano notes and in his use of glass. Here, he teams up with enigmatic American percussionist Z’ev for three pieces that juxtapose Palestine’s see-sawing carillon with quiet rhythmic patterns. The drums are pitched low in the mix, at times barely audible, but Z’ev follows Palestine’s every temporal shift with dogged determination. Rubhitbangklanghear Rubhitbangklangear is a minimalist affair, driven by the Palestine’s patient repetitions, which instantly recall his Strumming Music triple-album, also released on Sub Rosa. On the second piece, these hypnotic harmonics are countered by moody drones that pull Palestine into Z’ev’s orbit, leaving tense moments of expectant quietness. This tension forms the bedrock of Rubhitbangklanghear Rubhitbangklangear, with both musicians clearly keeping a keen ear on what the other is playing at all times. As such, the album bears little of the natural spirituality and reflectiveness induced by a lot of minimalism, with Palestine and Z’ev refusing to lapse into blissful contemplation. It closes with a dissonant 8-minute duel where Z’ev’s industrial clatters are (naturally?) reverbed to the max, a jarring conclusion – and all the better for it.

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A Liminal Review: Four Years Older by Alan Licht (March 19th, 2013)

licht_coverThe typical riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, Alan Licht has effortlessly straddled genre and musical tropes across a career spanning the best part of three decades, to the point where I’m not even sure how to describe him, beyond the rather vague adjective “experimental”. It probably doesn’t help that he is perhaps better known for his exemplary music writing rather than his music. Previous attempts on my part to get to grips with his sprawling 2003 opus A New York Minute, more often than not ended up with me flummoxed by the 15 minutes of radio snippets on the title track, or the staggering expanse of the second disc’s 38-minute live rendition of ‘Remington Khan’. In contrast, however, 2001’s Plays Well is a playful, gleefully ironic explosion of every rock archetype imaginable, as Licht drops 4×4 Donna Summer disco into the middle of a noisy guitar improvisation with Beefheartian vocals, twisting the conventions of experimental music into contortions. In contrast, 2010’s collaborative album with Loren Connors, Into the Night Sky, is almost pastoral, a meeting of two sensitive guitarists, even when it stretches into noise territory. In such a career context, the fact that he has also drummed with Boredoms as part of their Boadrum project comes a little surprise.

So, how does one define Alan Licht? Is he a post-punk / post-No Wave guitarist who has stretched the jarring jangle of Arto Lindsey and China Burg into fuzzed-out noise territory? Is he primarily a writer who happens to practise what he preaches? A pop jester with experimental leanings? I’m not sure even Licht knows, and Four Years Older will not answer any of these questions, despite potentially being his best-ever album. It contains two versions of the same piece, performed, as the track titles suggest, after an interval of four years and using guitar as his sole instrument. It’s also been four years since Licht’s last album, YMCA, so the experience of the album is that of witnessing the evolution of an artist framed by his own perspective.

Intriguingly, the most straightforward of the two pieces is the more recent one, suggesting that in the four years since YMCA, Licht has returned – relatively speaking – to the rock-based style of his early years. He roams up and down the guitar’s fingerboard with lightning-quick speed, resulting in a six-string drone piece that connects Hendrix to Haino by way of Neil Young and Jim O’Rourke. This being Alan Licht, of course, the guitar’s sound is gradually morphed into a bizarre, percussive onslaught that sounds more like a maxed-out drum machine than anything resembling a guitar. ‘Four Years Earlier’ is even more bizarre, as the guitar’s tone is reduced to a wonderful bleeping, blurping digital mess, as if Brian Eno of the Roxy Music years has been beamed in from 1972 to patch every sound Licht creates through one of his analogue synths. The resulting noise is as far removed from the traditions of guitar music as you can get, bringing to mind abstract electronic artists such as Keith Fullerton Whitman or the messier side of Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin. As the piece builds up into a wall of freak-out drone, all connections to pop or rock or even noise conventions are severed, leaving a sonic environment that is 100% Alan Licht and little else.

Four Years Older is a mesmerising work of experimental guitar noise, made all the more startling by the fact that any expectations (i.e. that the more “out-there” piece would be the recent one) are turned on their head. Maybe Alan Licht is rock’s court jester after all. After all, I can’t escape the sense that a lot of Four Years Older was made with a wide grin slapped across his chops. Results this unpredictable are proof that humour and experimentation make excellent bedfellows.

A Liminal Live Report: Iancu Dumitrescu & Ana-Maria Avram with the Hyperion Ensemble, Mats Lindström at Cafe Oto (January 11th, 2013)

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One of the nicest things about live music is the way it brings together music fans in the mutual admiration or, at times, discovery of a recording artist. It’s a pretty fundamental part of the musical experience: you can share stories on artists or previous gigs, compare thoughts on what you’ve witnessed, and argue over the merits of whatever record or show has pleased or irked you in the past, even the immediate past you’ve just experienced. Sometimes, you can do this with complete strangers, which is even more invigorating and pleasing. This happens to me a lot at Cafe Oto, maybe because it’s such an intimate venue. So, while I am generally disinclined to comment on the antics of fellow concert-goers, the fact that Mats Lindström’s set on this occasion was severely blighted by five boorish idiots had me so incensed that I feel the need to express my irritation. I’m not sure who they were (rumour at the urinals suggested they were radio journalists), but they made it clear in loud voices throughout his three pieces that they thought he was, in their terms, “shit”, before loudly proclaiming “We thought that was bollocks, mate!” at the set’s conclusion. I’m all for people expressing their displeasure at a musician if they, for some reason, are so annoyed as to need to comment, even to the person’s face, but I’ve never before witnessed such rudeness directed towards an artist or an audience. That it occurred at Oto was even more incredible. Here’s hoping I (and any Liminal readers) never have the misfortune of sitting in the same audience as this moronic quintet again.

It was all the more displeasing, however, because the music on this cold January night was at times, and from all artists, pretty stellar. This was the third showcase from Stephen O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ sub-label, and one hopes it’s a sign that Dumitrescu and Avram will shortly be releasing one or more records for the erstwhile SUNN O))) guitarist. Lindström has, of course, already done so, but I was very curious as to how he would translate the abstract electronic works on МИГ into a live format. His three pieces were subtly varied and often bizarre, starting with a touching tribute to the late British composer Hugh Davies, which took samples of Winston Churchill making speeches and news announcements of his death and mashed them together with snippets of patriotic British music (‘Rule Britannia’, for example), gnarly electronic static and throbbing bass oscillations alluding somewhat to dub. Lindström’s approach is minimalist in many ways, as if he’s dedicated to stripping the conventions of electro genres such as techno or dance to their bare bones, but maximalist in his commitment to abrasion and dissonance. Plus, in the context of this current, most cynical of UK governments, Churchill’s ghostly reflections on his empathy for the poor carried quite a bit more weight.

The second piece was altogether less interesting. Set against the backdrop of a commercial video produced by Russia’s major fighter plane company, MIG, Lindström used heavily-processed recordings of jet engines soaring and powering up (I assume taken from the video itself) to build up a dense industrial noise wall that flickered and faltered on its way to joining the dots between Throbbing Gristle and Keith Fullerton Whitman. Nothing remarkable, really, although more irritation (and some amusement) was caused as the aforementioned brain-dead brigade missed the quite blatant irony in the composer’s use of Russian propaganda, falling over themselves to loudly decry his “communist” worldview.

The Swede saved the best piece for last, rigging a series of strobe lights to contact mics and using them to generate (I think randomly) percussive blasts of noise around a series of intricately-placed synth textures, like a techno producer gone mad. Indeed, his live approach is very similar in focus and thoughtfulness to many dubstep or electro-dance producers I’ve seen over the years, but the results are, if this concert is anything to go by, much more abrasive. “Don’t try this at home” he said with a wry smile when introducing the third track – don’t worry, Mats, I wouldn’t even know how!

Lindström’s set wasn’t brilliant or transcendent, with the second piece erring on the dull side, but his humanity and sly humour were clear and refreshing in a domain that can often be a bit dry. Plus, he could have been as awful as a chorus of freshly-castrated pigs backing up Justin Bieber, that doesn’t mean he deserved the abuse he got. And those of us curious enough to give him a fair hearing deserved the chance to do so.

Still, the gormless gang were at least much more enthused by Iancu Dumitrescu, although I imagine even they were a bit thrown as technical issues initially interrupted the first piece, ‘Tectonics’ just as it got started. Dumitrescu and Avram each premiered a new composition, but both of them suffered due to overbearing use of laptops. Dumitrescu’s, the aforementioned ‘Tectonics’, was built around the tense interplay between the laptop’s caustic drones and the Hyperion Ensemble, made up tonight of former Henry Cow members Ian Hodgkinson on bass clarinet and Chris Cutler on percussion, with Stephen O’Malley on guitar. The computer, featuring a pre-recorded track, dominated the early stages, with Hodgkinson uttering gentle notes and Cutler pattering, brushing and bowing quietly on contact mic-ed cymbals and drums. O’Malley’s contributions were rumbling low notes serving to accentuate the laptop’s spacious, industrial noise. For all the processing involved, the music felt as organic and body-centred as Dumitrescu classics such as ‘Pierres Sacrees’, and the sudden emergence of crunching sounds that ebbed and flowed over the audience between passages of near-silence evoked the “blocks of sound” on Scott Walker’s recent The Drift and Bish Bosch albums, only more single-minded and minimal. As ‘Tectonics’ built to a close in a maelstrom of O’Malley’s doom-like riffs, consumptive bleats from Hodgkinson and almost imperceptible percussive scrapes from Cutler, the spirit of Dumitrescu had effectively taken up residence inside Cafe Oto. Almost. The laptop was, however, so high up in the mix that it often masked a lot of the other sounds, robbing the piece of the kind of dynamics that characterise Dumitrescu’s best works. It certainly shared the kind of spectral power of ‘Pierres Sacrees’ and ‘Grande Ourse’, but perhaps not their deceptive grace.

“Spectral” or “haunting” are apt terms to refer to Ana-Maria Avram’s first piece, ‘Nouvelle Axe’, in which she filtered her voice through a variety of effects on her laptop: loops, delays, choruses and reverb were all layered on her bizarre series of utterances, moans, wails and chants, but in a way that never at any point became intrusive or distracting. Instead, what caught the attention was Avram’s remarkable range, her progressions from low moans to impassioned cries demonstrating remarkable dexterity, with the various loops and delays combining to produce a creepy phantom chorus. At times, she veered into clever borborygmi and percussive bleats, Phil Minton-style, but it was clear that she stems from a very different tradition to the Briton, her ululations imbued with the kind of primordial, shamanic mysticism I have only ever encountered in Eastern European and Asian vocal music. For anyone who has ever marvelled at the beautifully austere landscapes in films such as Katalin Varga or Mayak, Ana-Maria Avram’s singular vocalisations represent the perfect soundtrack to such captivating vistas.

For his second piece, Iancu Dumitrescu stepped to the front of the stage (after spending the first monitoring the sound levels) to conduct the Hyperion Ensemble, with Avram taking a seat at the piano. Dumitrescu is an imposing figure, and his presence immediately gave impetus to the proceedings before a note had even been sounded. There was a palpable tension as Dumitrescu led the musicians – all eyes fixed on the Romanian’s black-clad frame – through fitful bursts of discordant noise that bordered on rambunctious rock. Dumitrescu’s music works with sustain and release: distorted bowed guitar notes, scatter-shot drum fills, cavernous manipulations of the piano strings and fluttering clarinet parps all piled up, to be followed, with one sweep of the conductor’s arm, by heavy near-silence punctuated by the omnipresent digital rustles from the laptop. Despite not playing, Dumitrescu remained the focal point, his twisted, rapt facial expression the mark of a man inhabited by his music.

The last performance was the world première of Avram’s ‘Metal Storm’ and, like with ‘Tectonics’, I was again put off by the bludgeoning volume of the laptop’s pre-recorded track. Hodgkinson was the brightest spot, his tone here more strident, even free-jazzy, in the style of a Jimmy Giuffre or a Perry Robinson, which was mirrored nicely by Cutler’s sporadic percussion and occasional Haino-esque blasts from O’Malley. Sadly, the chunks of computer noise often obscured much of what the musicians were playing, to the point that they seemed a bit confused by what was being asked of them by Avram’s flurry of gestures. It took until the final stages for the ensemble to build a righteous head of steam that matched the laptop noise for energy, if not volume, with pleasing weeps on the clarinet, gong-like guitar eruptions and schizophrenically unpredictable percussion. It all came a bit too late, but it was a fittingly stirring end to a fascinating and unusual evening that even the five twats couldn’t ruin, despite their best attempts.

A Quietus Interview – Thought Into Sound: Motion Sickness Of Time Travel Interviewed (June 27th, 2012)

US-based composer and musician Rachel Evans has been operating under the name Motion Sickness Of Time Travel since the late 2000s, releasing a series of tapes, LPs and CD-Rs of hazy, droney, semi-ambient bliss that saw her associated – perhaps hastily – with the much-heralded ‘hypnagogic pop’ scene.

In 2011, the vinyl reissue of her Seeping Through the Veil of Unconsciousness album garnered hugely-deserved critical praise for its tentative, ghostly atmospheres and Evans’ graceful vocals. This year saw her release a striking eponymous double LP set on Spectrum Spools, the Editions Mego imprint curated by Emeralds’ John Elliott, and it already stands as one of the imprint’s finest releases to date, building up elegant, achingly beautiful synth patterns over four side-long pieces that evoke the best of Cluster or Emeralds.

The Quietus caught up with Evans to discuss how she got into music, the genesis of Motion Sickness of Time Travel, and the genesis of this colossal album.

Could you please give me some background on how you got into music? Have you always been a musician?

Rachel Evans: Though I hate to admit it, I initially got into music through church. I was born in a small Georgia town and when I was young my mum sang solos at church and in choir, and my dad ran the soundboard. Neither of them were musicians themselves, but they always encouraged me to be.

I was never very good at sight-reading – great at reading music and dissecting it in theory class, but not so great at playing it correctly and on the spot. I’ve always felt the most at home with keyboard instruments, which has evolved into my love for electronics and synths without keys. Somewhere along the way my mediocre musician abilities led me to be much more comfortable with improvising than I was with actually ‘composing’ music in the traditional sense.

What led you to start Motion Sickness of Time Travel? Do you find working solo preferable to collaborating with other musicians?

RE: Well, I’d been in a few bands in high school, and in late high school / early college I tried to do the solo music thing but always with more traditional instruments… it was more singer-songwriter than anything else. Up until that time I hadn’t been exposed to a lot of types of music outside of my family’s tastes (which were always religious), and some early classical music. When I met my husband Grant in college he started introducing me to wider varieties of music, and I started listening to music differently and appreciating different things about sound.

At the same time my music theory professor was introducing me to early electronic composers. I ended up falling in love with Stockhausen, Reich, Satie, and the like while at the same time listening to krautrock for the first time, and Grant introducing me to the music of Valet around that time too. One piece in particular by Berio, titled ‘Visage’, was a huge influence for me, and really opened my ears to the possibilities of using the voice in wordless ways as a key ingredient. About that time I also started using Pure Data and Max/MSP a bit, and creating my own effects and computer-synthesizers. All of that is really what led me to want to give my music a new name and to take a new approach to creating sounds myself. And that’s how Motion Sickness of Time Travel came to be.

I wouldn’t say I prefer working solo. It’s just kind of an exercise for me. It’s how I get out stress, worry, emotions of all kinds. Even before it was called MSOTT, my music has always been a place of refuge, and a diary of sorts. I really love collaborating with other people, but especially with Grant as Quiet Evenings. I really feel like my music is only half-whole on its own, and it becomes something much more beautiful and complete when he and I do music together.

Motion Sickness of Time Travel is a very distinctive name. How did you come up with it?

RE: I actually didn’t come up with the name myself! Grant suggested it to me when I was searching for titles to call my new project, and stumbled across the phrase in William S. Burroughs’ The Soft Machine. I thought it was perfect, and have used it ever since.

And it does seem to resonate within your work. Is exploring notions of time passing and looping over itself key to your work? Where does this interest in time stem from?

RE: I guess my interest in time comes from my first experiments with trying to make music like this. I wasn’t sure how to begin, so I started by seeing what kinds of things I could do to my voice. Some of the first MSOTT recordings are actually me remixing my older music and just exploring the possibilities of all the ways I could change and affect the sounds I had been used to making. Time is such a funny thing and time passing has always been something that fascinates me. Sound itself is nothing without time, even a completely silent piece has a duration. Looping also quickly became one of my favorite things to do and play with, something I had never really explored until I started recording as MSOTT.

Do you think this interest in time can explain some of the off-kilter atmospheres in your work? A journalist once used the term “queasy” to describe some of your work (as a positive thing) – would you agree with that description?

RE: I suppose queasy could be appropriate… I wouldn’t necessarily define the atmospheres I create as ‘off-kilter’, but my interest in time can definitely explain the feelings and sonic environments it creates, despite the wording used to describe it. Describing my music has always been difficult for me.  I just record what I feel at a particular moment in time, and it just naturally takes on an atmosphere all its own, which I guess is just a reflection of my mind and my surroundings; how I see things, I guess you could say. Maybe it also has something to do with being from the South. Things are pretty slow down here.

Do you view your music, particularly on Seeping Through the Veil of Unconsciousness, as channeling something spiritual, or otherworldly?

RE: I wouldn’t call it spiritual. The word spiritual makes me think of ‘religion’ and that’s not what I’m after or trying to convey. In fact it’s the opposite of that. Maybe otherworldly is a better word for it, though I’m not sure that’s the best way to say it either. I’m not trying to channel anything in particular, just myself and my inner thoughts and ideas about the world I guess.

Seeping… was an exploration of basic magic for me, and in a way coming to the realization that I am my own ‘god’, or something like that. I’d been reading a certain book about the history of magic, ceremonies and the like. And although a lot of that can be considered spiritual I guess, for me it’s more human than that, more ‘real’ than that. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not much more than a diary for me. There’s no need to read into it any more than that. It’s just me conveying what I’m feeling, thinking, reading and learning at a certain moment in time, just instead of writing things down it’s recorded as music. Improvised thoughts documented as sounds.

One of the most distinctive and powerful aspects of your music has been your use of vocals. How do you approach the application of singing in your music? Do you write lyrics?

RE: As I mentioned earlier, my voice was one of the first things I felt comfortable experimenting with. It’s the most natural instrument at my disposal to use and manipulate. As I grew more comfortable using my voice in different ways, I grew more comfortable using other instruments in those same ways. Though it’s difficult to keep the human voice from being the centerpiece. It’s something I’ve struggled with on and off again for a while. Music certainly doesn’t need a voice in there to make it music, but the human ear is so strangely attracted to the human voice, which is very fascinating to me.

Beyond my first MSOTT pieces, the rest of my music under that name always starts out with other sounds as a base, and voice is the very last thing I’ll add. I don’t write lyrics. This goes back to one of the previous questions: in the same way the music is recorded improvised, so are the vocal parts. It’s all stream-of-conscious. I can remember some words and phrases from various recording sessions, just because they stick with me. It also depends on how much mixing I do afterward and how much I listen to the music myself once it’s done. Even I don’t know what I’m saying most of the time, it just flows and whatever happens, happens.

How do you know when it’s the right moment to include vocals on a piece?

RE: I generally record layers and layers of synth on top of one another until it feels right. If it still feels like it’s missing something, I’ll do a vocal take or two. I always record from beginning to end until it feels thick enough to my ears. Usually all of this happens in one sitting over the course of an hour or so. More and more often I’ve found myself getting more comfortable with leaving vocals out of pieces completely. Not every piece needs it if there are enough interesting textures already.

Could you tell me about the recording process for the new self-titled album? I imagine working almost exclusively with synths can be difficult!

RE: Ha! I personally find that working mostly with one type of instrument, like synths, is easier for me than combining different instrument textures that don’t always jive in the same way. I essentially explained the process above, there’s not much to it. I sit down with my synths, some pedals and a few other synth/electronics and my laptop and just hit record. For the new album, everything except the C-side was recorded direct-in, one instrument/sound at a time and layering on top of myself until it felt right. I’ll do a little bit of mixing, mostly playing with the stereo-field and adjusting reverb or delay before I bounce the audio and save it. I did that same process several times… I can’t even count how many.

For this album I started work on the material in early 2011 and finished the last piece in January 2012. About mid-way through that period of time, I did a few “live” one-takes. One of those became the C-side. The other sides were compiled from all those various recording sessions. I had so much material for the album come January that I had to cut a lot of it, but still wanted to include as much as possible from all those sessions. So I ended up dragging all of the ‘finished’ pieces back into my audio program and arranging them into side-long tracks as well. It’s the first time I’ve ever gone back in and connected pieces in that way. I really liked the idea of side-long listens and being in control of that space between ‘tracks’. The A, B and D side are more ‘suites’ than they are side-long tracks, but I wanted them to be digested by listeners as side-long tracks, which is why I gave them only one title per side.

I’ve seen Motion Sickness of Time Travel described as being ‘futuristic’, something one could argue is enhanced by its release on Spectrum Spools. Are you influenced by science fiction?

RE: I’m certainly influenced by science fiction to a degree. One of the biggest influences for this album when I first started recording it was Alan Moore’s Promethea series of books. I’d say it’s equal parts science fiction and magic, at least for me. The album is sort of my soundtrack for my own personal Promethea-esque epic. I was also reading Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore when I was finishing the final recordings and arranging them into suites. I wouldn’t call it science fiction, but more metaphysical fiction. I even pulled the titles for the sides from those readings.

Finally, do you have plans to tour with this album or release any new albums?

RE: I don’t have any plans to tour the album. Grant and I have several festival dates set up for our duo Quiet Evenings to play this fall, which will coincide nicely with the next Quiet Evenings LP release on Belgium’s Aguirre Records later this summer.

I don’t see any need to ‘tour’ MSOTT at this point since the music does very well for itself regardless of playing shows. I also just prefer playing live shows with Grant. It’s much more enjoyable and way less stressful than trying to recreate my solo music (which is next to impossible given the recording process for most of my MSOTT releases). That being said, Grant and I have both agreed to do solo performances at legendary venue The Stone in New York on February 1, 2013. I’ve decided not to arrange any solo shows before that date, and hopefully that will make that performance that much more significant and special. But who knows what the future will hold…

As far as new albums, Grant and I just released my most recent cassette tape on our own label, Hooker Vision. It’s called Chinaberry and contains a track that was cut from the 2xLP material, as well as the newest music I’ve recorded post-Spectrum Spools. I also have a cassette tape to be released soon on the label Sacred Phrases, which also features some outtakes from the Spectrum Spools LP. And I’m almost done with a new cassette tape of all brand new material for the Canadian label Old Frontiers. Beyond that I don’t have any plans for MSOTT releases which is actually a nice feeling. I’m looking forward to taking just as much time with the next big release and I did with this 2xLP, and working on more Quiet Evenings music and other new projects.

A Liminal Live Review – A thousand dark voices: Phurpa, Colin Potter and Slomo at Cafe Oto, June 9th, 2012 (June 14th, 2012)

The second showcase of Stephen O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ label at London’s Cafe Oto was markedly different to the first, held back in February. Then, audiences were treated to the delicacy, poise and elegance of Elodie, Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang, but anyone who had listened to Phurpa’s Trowo Phurnag Ceremony album before crossing the threshold this time would have known to expect something a lot darker and louder this time around.

Slomo is a duo made up of Chris “Holy” McGrail and Howard Marsden. McGrail has long been known for his association with Julian Cope, and there was some of the spirit of the ‘Archdrude’ in his use of double-necked guitar, as he patiently coaxed deep, heavy drones from his 18 strings. Meanwhile, Marsden used a large Korg synth to plough a trench of throbbing sub-frequencies around McGrail, the duo combining to edge close to the kind of floor-shaking intensity that O’Malley himself has indulged in over the years in Sun O))) and Gravetemple. There was even a hint, towards the end, that Slomo were, for all the near-industrial murkiness of Marsden’s synth, edging into the kind of spacey post-metal territories of latter-period Earth, as McGrail used an e-bow to coax a single, continuous, high-pitched note out of his guitar, allowing it to drift while he played a discrete harmonium. There is a tendency for this sort of music to drift aimlessly, and maybe some other instruments would have added a bit of variety, but I think to dwell on this would miss the point; Slomo’s music demands that you sit back and let it roll over you.

Like Holy McGrail, Colin Potter is known for his association with one of the UK’s most esoteric underground figures, in his case Steve Stapleton and Nurse With Wound, although, as this performance demonstrated, he is an innovative musician in his own right. Stood behind an impressive array of devices and pedals, he introduced his set in jovial fashion, injecting a dose of eccentric humour and good-naturedness to what could have otherwise been a rather dour, serious evening. Despite some initial technical glitches with a CD player, he quickly got into his stride, conjuring up a dense veil of sound using untethered synth drones, sustained electric guitar and loops. The piece – jocularly named ‘What Could Go Wrong?’- bore strong echoes of early Cluster, who likewise distorted and mangled electric instruments to create heady musical concoctions as hypnotic as they were experimental. With his amiable manner, Potter also, somehow, evoked a folk-singer of the sort hailed in Rob Young’s Electric Eden (this might have something to do with his ever-so-vague resemblance to Ewan MacColl), and his brief but lovely set was a warm and melodic counterpoint to the doomier ones that bookended it. (As an aside, I have since seen Nurse With Wound, opening for Sunn O))) at Koko, and while it is clear the heart of the band is Stapleton, there was no denying that the architect of their multi-faceted industrial music was Potter, as he mixed and arranged what his partners produced while also dropping in key elements of his own).

And then came Phurpa. I should probably kick off immediately by saying that this was the longest set I’ve experienced at Oto, and probably their longest ever for an evening with three acts. After about an hour of the Russian trio’s cavernous, intimidating chanting, I had to make a break for the bathroom, anxious that I’d miss the climax of their performance, but was informed they still had at least another hour in them!

Predictably, some of the audience didn’t really appreciate this bloody-minded approach, and gradually each renewed gurgle and rumble from the trio was met with incredulous whispers and folks heading for the door. Their loss, because as the noisier punters took their leave, something akin to a hush descended on those remaining, providing the perfect curtain of rapt fascination to tune in properly to what fast became a strange, unsettling ritual. You don’t have to be a follower of the pre-Buddhist Bon religion to be able to release yourself into the strange realms of Phurpa. Under a fug of pungent incense, the trio huddled, sitting cross-legged in their black ceremonial robes around their aged percussion and horn instruments, and patiently, doggedly, intoned their harsh, nocturnal mantras, their voices never relenting, never receding, even when they sprinkled their hoarse drones with minimal percussion. The only respite, if you want to call it that, was when leader Alexei Tegin blasted out echoing notes on his colossal horn. It was almost peaceful, although a very different sense of peace to that conjured up by Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang four months previously.

Though the band hardly move and barely deviate from their established sonic formula, the close-up Phurpa experience still resonates more potently than on record. Lying on my back in front of them with my eyes closed, shutting out the occasional chatter of less respectful audience members and honing into their enmeshed alien, my sense of place and time became untethered. And given the intrinsically dark and primordial nature of Phurpa’s music, I found my mind wandering to weird and sinister places on the currents of their tenacious drone, as I pictured myself stumbling into an icy cave under the Himalayas and finding a trio of ancient zombie monks locked in an eternal cycle of chanting. The music is disquietingly beautiful, but at the same time, you fear that if they notice your presence, they might just remember that they require living human flesh to survive. A daft daydream perhaps, but one that seemed apt as I lay sprawled,  quailing beneath the impregnable wall of voices conjured by this most mysterious outfit.

A Quietus Review: Motion Sickness of Time Travel by Motion Sickness of Time Travel (May 25th, 2012)

Rachel Evans’ previous release, the hugely well-received Seeping Through the Veil of Unconscious tape and LP, can in retrospect be seen as the culmination – and possible high water-mark – of a strain of hypnagogic pop involving ghostly (usually female) vocals intoned dreamily over muted guitar and piano melodies, the whole thing blanketed by layers of vinyl crackles and tape hiss. It’s a formula that has delivered stunning results over the years, from Grouper to Inca Ore, but perhaps Evans realised that it was also one that could quickly become limited, a realisation that, on this eponymous album, sees her subtly change her approach to sonic mystery by embracing the synthesizer. No surprise then that Motion Sickness of Time Travel appears on Emerald John Elliott’s Spectrum Spools imprint.

‘The Dream’ opens the album emphatically, building up layers of synthetic melodies and counter-melodies in the manner of vintage Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, with a similar mastery of texture and atmosphere. And that’s no exaggeration, I swear. ‘The Dream’ billows like a cloud, synth lines and noises piercing the ether like shards, similar in its intensity – if not volume and tempo – to Oneohtrix Point Never’s opener to Returnal, ‘Nil Admirari’. Like Daniel Lopatin on that album (released, in fact, through Spectrum Spools’ parent label Editions Mego), Evans uses ‘The Dream’ to robustly shake off the shackles and influence of her previous material, delivering something that is more immediate and abrupt, albeit not as noisy. ‘The Dream’ is an ever-evolving, quasi-organic piece that develops like a suite, with various segments building up and then receding to make way for new passages that share the same abstract elegance of their predecessors, but are somehow different. A lot of recent synth acts, particularly those on Spectrum Spools, have channelled the spirit of Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream, but few have done so with the aplomb Motion Sickness of Time Travel (MSOTT from now on) does on ‘The Dream’.

Which is not to say that MSOTT is purely an attempt to recapture the starry-eyed exploratory desire of those hippie futurists. Indeed, the first passage of ‘The Dream’ just as easily evokes the queasy, experimental and cosmic minimalism of Japan’s Taj Mahal Travellers, and the piece is built in the manner of a prog-rock suite – imagine ‘Tarkus’ stripped of all its pompous lyrics and obvious imagery. Instead, each carefully balanced segment metamorphoses out of the dense textures that precede it, unfurling like limbs from a common abdomen. The title is well-chosen: like a real dream, the different moments of Evans’ composition (for that is surely the word) don’t always resemble, and often sit at odds with, one another, but somehow are part of a coherent whole. When she releases her tentative, oneiric, wordless moan into the mix, it doesn’t seem out of place, but rather another ingredient in a well-defined, albeit unusual, sonic recipe.

The sense of meticulous balance that dominates ‘The Dream’ permeates MSOTT. The following three tracks, all equally long (the album lasts over an hour), all feature gently balanced sonic shifts relying on Evans’ gradual integration of synth melodies and sequencer patterns, each one echoing some facet of former synth and kosmische greats like Manuel Gottsching, Emeralds or Cluster. If synth music is not your cup of tea, then MSOTT is not likely to change your mind, for its dedication to the futuristic and atmospheric capabilities of your average Korg or Moog is supreme. But the moment on second track ‘The Center’ – an altogether more immediate and direct piece than ‘The Dream’ – when the repetitive, looped melodies recede into the background and Evans’ ghostly voice take centre-stage, obliquely intoning an indecisive mantra, is so filled with pathos and stark beauty that the whole album, synths, references and all, becomes crystalline. It’s as if HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey had paused in “his” torture of Keir Dullea and laid “his” synthetic eye(s) on a faded photograph of a long-dead family beaming in unison, Dead Poets Society-style. The contrast between technology and memory is acutely underlined on ‘The Center’ (and across MSOTT), as if Rachel Evans is herself fighting to find her voice in a world of machines and indifference.

So it doesn’t really matter that the album’s second half is a tad weaker than the first. What Evans has done is transposed her overtly emotional take on folk-pop into a realm of ever-evolving, ever-churning musical machinery. She snatches at Pauline Oliveros, Schulze and New Age, but as these different strands are processed and enhanced, her own voice (literally) emerges. A lot of modern synth and drone is derivative. Maybe Motion Sickness of Time Travel shows us how to do derivative properly, and beautifully.

A Quietus Review: V by KTL (May 8th, 2012)

Mark Fell’s surprisingly bright and colourful artwork hides a dark and wondrous monster of an album, the long-awaited latest chapter in KTL’s enthralling saga of sonic unease. Yet if the cover doesn’t quite herald the kind of synth explorations that have started to crop up on a lot of noise musicians’ work of late, V does see Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg develop the sonics of their palette in new ways.

The music of KTL is anchored in the lowest frequencies of both electronics and guitar, and the first half of V perpetuates this obsession, ‘Phill 1’ evolving patiently and murkily via intense drones that envelop and submerge the listener – smothering, claustrophobic yet at the same time beautifully textured, with O’Malley’s restrained guitar tone rumbling away underneath a duvet of dense modular synth lines… or rather one line, extended and amplified until it fills every nook and cranny of space and even, if you listen to it in the right frame of mind, time. This power, this all-encompassing envelopment that the duo creates, has long been their signature, and its stamped on the entirety of V, with the same brutality as before, but with an extra injection of subtle elegance.

The description on Editions Mego’s website mentions that V “tackles the complex working processes of the European avant-garde”, and you can certainly detect an influence of a piece like Alexander Knaifel’s gentle, subtle Blazhenstva, or even the music of Arvo Part, on ‘Phill 1’ and its partner track, ‘Phill 2’, on which string arrangements by Johan Johannson performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra meld with the nebulous sounds conjured up by KTL, circling their dank drones with flights of moody yet symphonic grace.

On ‘Phill 2’, and the bass-heavy, anxiously percussive ‘Tony’, at times all sounds seem to recede, leaving gaps that feel like air filtered into a airtight room. Indeed, lulls, restraint and near-silence crop up across V, feeling like a ballast against the grim murk conjured up by O’Malley and Rehberg, opening up the vista of their music and again throwing back to the hesitant modern composition of Knaifel or even Cornelius Cardew.

On ‘Study A’ and ‘Tony’, however, their gaze seems to also cross the Atlantic, with the electronic and metallic drones stretched out and reinforced with a focus and tonal emphasis that evokes American avant-garde minimalist masters such as Pauline Oliveros, LaMonte Young and Tony Conrad. ‘Study A’, in particular, sees Rehberg’s synth drones come remarkably close to sounding like a sustained violin tone, and V has a similar ability to swallow the listener up like a musical whale as works like ‘Four Violins’ or ‘Inside The Dream Syndicate’, although KTL’s marine mammal has pretty razor-sharp teeth.

This diversity, even one so well-anchored in familiar formal territory (nothing ever lets you forget that this is a KTL album), gives fresh impetus to O’Malley and Rehberg’s music. Albums I and II, their most complete works to date, were powerful and absorbing, but with an emphasis on the kind of post-metal dark ambience that anchored them resolutely in a sub-genre of drone where atmosphere of the most deliberately terrifying kind primed over texture and experimentation. “Horror music”, I like to call it, and while it is a sub-sub-genre that has thrown up many sordid delights of late (Failing Lights, Xela, William Fowler Collins and Black Mountain Transmitter, to name but four), I always felt that, with Rehberg and O’Malley’s pedigree, KTL could – and would – eventually go further. They’ve done that emphatically with this latest opus.

The second half, in particular, is astounding, as Johansson’s aforementioned string arrangements on ‘Phill 2’ build a majestic frame around the crackling, ghostly atmospheres of his collaborators, edging the piece ever upwards even as the subsonics at the track’s core drag it into a well of near-total obscurity. The album then closes on a note of sheer, unmitigated horror, as if to both drag KTL back to their roots and use their experimentation to pass definitively through the mirror and over to a land of shadows and nightmares. ‘Last Spring: A Prequel’ is based on a piece written by long-time collaborator Dennis Cooper, the notorious author of provocative, murderous gay fiction; and the text is spoken, in French, by Jonathan Capdevielle, a collaborator of artist Gisele Vienne, whose installation lent the track its title and serves as its atmospheric template.

Capdevielle’s vocals on ‘Last Spring: A Prequel’ are nearly impossible to describe. Seemingly taking on two characters, or a schizophrenic arguing with his own internal demon, he switches with disturbing ease between a plaintive plea and a monstrous snarl that could have been taken directly from one of “possession” recordings in the Okkulte Stimmen collection. His rasps, moans, cries, whispers and poisoned invectives creep towards the listener, feeling like a presence in the room, whilst KTL unfurl a haunted atmosphere of blighted, quiet phantasmagoria, as if tuning a radio to pick up the unintelligible voices of evil ghosts hovering just behind a veil of ectoplasm. The piece had me fidgeting with both disquiet and marvel, and it took a while for me to clear my head of it.

V cements KTL as more than just a side-project of two of modern underground music’s most celebrated figures, crystallising their vision and expanding it beyond everything that they – and other drone artists operating in the same field – have done before. It retains their sinister stamp, but takes the fear into new realms, like demons breaking out of the ground into muted sunlight.

You can also read this review, complete with Spotify playlist, here