A Liminal Review: MP3 Deviations #6 + 7 by Yasunao Tone (November 7th, 2011)

Legendary Fluxus artist and former member of Tokyo’s Group Ongaku Yasunao Tone has for some time been more interested in sound as an abstract artistic tool rather than a component of popular music. His hugely celebrated 1997 album Solo For Wounded CD (Tzadik), is one of the essential modern noise opuses, one which saw him cover the underside of a CD with perforated adhesive tape and then record the outcome as the beleaguered CD player attempted to process the seemingly random interruptions in the information it received. The result was an almighty whirlwind of ecstatic crackle and roar that seemed to decompose and then reassemble musical signals into something more abstract, yet more thoughtful.

MP3 Deviations #6+7 follows on from the approach of Solo For Wounded CD, expanding into the realm of MP3 manipulation (topical, of course, and I’m rather grateful he bypassed the rather ignoble Sony Minidiscs!). Tone worked with a team from the New Aesthetics in Computer Music (what a great name!) and Tony Myatt of the University of York, intending at first to develop new software based on transforming MP3 files. As he says in the album’s liner notes, “Primarily I thought the MP3 as reproducing device could have created very new sound by intervention between its main elements, the compression encoder and decoder.” All a bit Greek to a technological moron like me, and, rather thankfully, what resulted deviated (aptly) from these intentions, thanks in part to the very nature of MP3 files themselves.

With amusing understatement, Tone states that “the result was not satisfactory”. However, attempts to process the files caused them to become corrupted, spewing out 21 error messages, and these could be utilised, with Tone and co. sampling and collating them with varying play-back speeds to create the final result that is MP3 Deviations #6+7. Apart from Hecker, Anne-James Chaton and maybe Tony Conrad, I can’t think of anyone taking such a scientific approach to music in this day and age.

The main force of MP3 Deviations #6+7 lies not with it’s actual “music” (and, to be honest, it is hard to really consider it as such), but rather in the electrifying stereo interplay. Listen to it with headphones, and you can actually alternate between each earphone and hear two different sonic landscapes. As with Solo for Wounded CD, the impression you get is of a piece of technology being overloaded with unfathomable data and manipulations, causing it to vomit forth sounds in a desperate attempt to make sense of what it’s receiving and deliver a coherent result. In an odd way, given how abrasive the results are, it’s a strangely humanising approach to the musical machines that surround us on a day-to-day basis.

But what of the results? Well, even in a noise landscape that has given us the extreme sonic walls of Vomir, The Rita, Merzbow, Incapacitants and Werewolf Jerusalem, MP3 Deviations #6+7 is an overwhelming experience. Highly-digitised squalls, screes and bleeps fly at you like arrows, seemingly at random and with little coherence. I can only beg anyone unfamiliar with Tone’s work to give it a chance. Like the Harsh Noise Walls of Vomir or Werewolf Jerusalem, if you release yourself into MP3 Deviations #6+7, you start to hear patterns and even melodies, as your mind recomposes the data much in the way Tone and his team have recomposed the corruptions of the MP3 files and made something strangely coherent with the result.

MP3 Deviations #6+7 feels like the most advanced exploration of John Cage’s “Indeterminacy” concept, pushing the unpredictability to its apex by handing the sonic elaboration to an overdriven machine. If it certainly doesn’t make for “easy listening”, it does present fascinating new challenges to the way we approach and listen to sound.

You can also read this review here: http://www.theliminal.co.uk/2011/11/yasunao-tone-mp3-deviations-6-7/

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A Liminal Review: Elemental Disgrace by Hive Mind (October 27th, 2011)

 

hivemind_cover

Spectrum Spools, a sub-division of prestigious Austrian label Editions Mego curated by Emeralds’ John Elliott, is rapidly becoming the premier driver of the modern synth revival, particularly in the US, thanks in part to its hugely prolific output. For my part, I’ve often been somewhat underwhelmed by much of what has come out of the stable. There is quite a lot to enjoy and admire with the new synth acts, from the aforementioned Emeralds, to their Mego labelmate Oneohtrix Point Never, via the much-lauded Bee Mask, on Spectrum Spools, as they’ve joined the dots between the sombre drone of classic kosmische artists like Klaus Schulze or Cluster and the current post-noise underground; but equally their commitment to plundering every aspect of synth music has seen a resurgence of some rather tacky and twee new age mundanity.

No such worries with Detroit resident Greh Holger. The opening track on Elemental Disgrace emerges falteringly, starting off as a slurpy, liquid current of fitful analogue wobbles, before building and building into a wall of overdriven deep noise. While a piercing high note squeals over the top, Hive Mind builds on a rumbling bass tone, and cavernous effects drift in and out of the mix like the flitting moans of transient ghosts. From the very first minutes of this short but troubling two-track album, Holger plunges the listener into a dank, claustrophobic netherworld, like the heroine of A Nightmare on Elm Street going to sleep and waking up in Freddy Krueger’s nightmarish factory. As the piece gets louder, you find yourself submerged in the swamp of Elemental Disgrace, unable and, increasingly, unwilling, to leave. Seduction by darkness – this could almost be a goth album.

Geography surely plays a part here. Unlike most of his label mates, Holger hails from the same dark Midwestern scene that gave us premier noise rock acts Wolf Eyes and Hair Police. Indeed, Hive Mind has appeared on record with erstwhile Wolf Eyes alumnus Aaron Dilloway, while collaborations with Robedoor and Religious Knives underline exactly where Holger operates on the synth/drone spectrum. Perhaps his closest cousin is Failing Lights, the superb solo project by Mike Connelly (again of Wolf Eyes and Hair Police fame). Like that of Failing Lights, Hive Mind’s music is more insidious than, say, the overt abrasion of Wolf Eyes, slowly seeping into your consciousness and settling there like a beautifully scary parasite. To continue with the horror film metaphor, if Elemental Disgrace were a movie, it would not be the gory splatter of Friday the 13th or the camp terror of The Exorcist, but rather the sweaty, lugubrious, atmospheric terror of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead or Jeepers Creepers. Holger explores a shadowy American psycho-geography, where creepy farmhouses perch on lonely hills, their doors closed over heinous secrets, their occupants waiting at the window for fresh meat.

Hive Mind builds on the atmosphere to a thrillingly unsettling climax on the second piece, which opens on distant bass throbs and slowly, patiently evolves into a dense electronic forest of sound, as gritty synth lines seep in and out of earshot and strange sounds perturb the lengthy, insistent drone walls. Far removed from the airy cosmic flights of fancy of many of Greh Holger’s peers, Elemental Disgrace in fact owes more to the angry industrial music of Throbbing Gristle and Ramleh. In the current synth climate, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air. Settling nicely into a “horror music” continuum characterised by atmospherics rather than the histrionic posturing of black metal, and that also includes such illustrious gems as Xela’s In Bocca Al Lupo, William Fowler Collins’ Perdition Hill Radio, Bleaklow by The Stranger, all four KTL albums, and Failing Lights’ self-titled effort. The music of Hive Mind is further proof that synth-based music can be forward-thinking, challenging and even downright scary.

You can also read this article here: http://www.theliminal.co.uk/2011/10/hive-mind-elemental-disgrace/

A Liminal Review: Hold Everything Dear by Cindytalk (September 23rd, 2011)

Cindytalk - Hold Everything Dear
The power of emotion, or rather, the desire of an artist to articulate and communicate emotion to her or his audience, is a key motivating factor in the creation of music, popular or experimental. From singer-songwriters laying their souls bare in their lyrics to snarling metal vocalists via the minor chords and soft-to-loud progressions of mop-haired post-rockers, the desire to express one’s sadness, joy, love or anger holds sway even over political messages and evocative story-songs.Cindytalk have long been the perfect example, in the manner of Swans or Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, of an act that has forced unfettered, uncensored emotions to tumble onto the ears and hearts of its audience, creating intensely affecting music for the best part of 30 years now. In the eighties, the music of Cindytalk, at the time a full band, was the sort of oppressively dark and paranoid Goth that had made Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees so successful, and they were for a while closely associated with 4AD stars Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil. But cross-dressing frontman Gordon Sharp’s possessed bark and the general slovenly atmosphere of bleak desolation that hung over albums like Camouflage Heart was too much even for the era’s Goths, and Cindytalk have been forced to eke out a living in the unending shadows, beloved of a lucky few who were keenly attuned to the raw emotion Sharp and co. have continuously displayed, despite constant changes in personnel and styles. The feelings inherent to the music of Cindytalk cast a terrible spell, so much so that nearly everything Sharp does under the moniker is essential listening, albeit occasionally harrowing.A lot has changed for Sharp since those early days at the Batcave. Cindytalk is now very much a solo effort, at least on record. Hold Everything Dear (Editions Mego) is the third edition in a trio of albums that are far removed from the cavernous Goth of Camouflage Heart, with Sharp eschewing conventional instrumentation in exchange for laptop-driven electronics and field recordings. If The Crackle of My Soul and Up Here In The Clouds demonstrated that this new direction was a valid and heartfelt one for Sharp to take, Hold Everything Dear elevates Cindytalk to new heights of emotional purity, and it is easily one of the most instantly affecting and emotionally resonant albums you will hear all year. It’s all the more remarkable given that, as some have noted already, the tools used by Sharp are not anything especially new in the world of electro-acoustic music. Some of the minimal tones evoke post-Eno ambience, whilst the use of dense electronics is oh-so-very Mego. With an emphasis on mournful piano on several tracks, it almost feels at times like Michael Nyman’s sitting in on a Fenn O’Berg session, which is no bad thing, but doesn’t help a poor old journo like me identify what makes Hold Everything Dear so powerful.

And so I come back to emotion (and yes, I’m afraid the word’s going to be something of a leitmotiv, if you hadn’t already guessed as much!). The Nyman comparison is actually unjust, for there is a starkness to Sharp’s quiet piano that echoes the sparse ambient masterpiece by Steve D’Agostino, John Foxx and Steve Jansen, A Secret Life, on which bleak piano was offset by rumbling tam-tams and disquieting electronic drifts; and a similar strain of understated discordance runs through Cindytalk’s work. As on A Secret Life, electronics, drones and random effects bleed into one another, creating dense, impenetrable waves of sound that build up slowly, almost imperceptibly, before washing over the listener like a torrent. Hold Everything Dear was recorded over the course of five years by Sharp, in collaboration with longtime musical ally Matt Kinnison, who tragically passed away last year. As such, the melancholy ambience of the album is imbued with a strong sense of loss and sadness. Found sounds of playing children, passing vehicles and daily life dissolve into oceanic walls of compressed digital noise, as tinkling bells, wind chimes, tentative synth lines and distant piano notes seem to herald the passing of souls into the next life. There is something deeply spiritual about these impassive drones, perhaps an echo of the buddhist traditions of Japan, where much of the album was recorded.

But where Jansen, Foxx and D’Agostino were content to linger over the empty passages and reverberating silences on A Silent Life, you get the palpable sense that Gordon Sharp has retained enough of his refusenik, Gothic spirit to rail, albeit elusively, at the disparate forces and elements that he’s channeled into his work. Perhaps the album’s high-water mark (most of the tracks seem to ease fitfully into one another, a dense sequencing that only adds to the album’s potency and is barely elevated by the brief piano/drone snippets that are tracks 2, 5, 8 and 11) is ‘Hanging In The Air’, in which a cloud of electronic drone is punctuated by staccato bursts of indefinable noise, somewhere between a cash dispenser releasing money and a burst of machine gun fire. Meanwhile, Sharp’s unintelligible vocalisations are subsumed into the sonic tapestry, a strangled whisper of humanity amid so much digital fug. The overarching sensation is one of acute anger, of brittle frustrations and deep sadness bubbling to the surface before being subsumed by some unidentified mass. Hold Everything Dear may be seated on a familiar timeline, but in Sharp’s fitful attempts at what appears to be rage or protest, it suddenly becomes so much more.

In a post-digital, post-noise world, Hold Everything Dear stands as a troubling, affecting expression of all the inchoate, intangible emotions that make up the erratic reality of the human condition. The titles of the first and last tracks say it all: ‘How Soon Now…’ ‘…Until We Disappear’. In a subtle paradox, Sharp has taken a musical means that can often seem artificial and dehumanising, and made it almost unbearably heartfelt. Life, love, death and loss jostle for space in the troubled roils and sudden explosions of this album; Gordon Sharp stares at all those emotions, embraces them, and serves them up for our contemplation. As a result, Hold Everything Dear is one of the most beautiful albums you’ll ever hear. But it won’t be an easy ride.

From the Vault: 2010 In Review

2010 In Review

I’m a big fan of the www.rateyourmusic.com website, as it’s a great place to discover new music. It also allows one to create lists of album, and below is my top 30 for 2010, a great year.

1
An Ark for the Listener

Philip Jeck

An Ark for the Listener (2010)

Predictably, having been one of the highlights of ATP, and a consistently excellent composer and artist, Philip Jeck delivered an absolute masterpiece, perhaps his greatest work yet on CD. Inspired by poet Gerald Manley Hopkins’ work The Wreck of the Deutschland, an ode to 5 nuns who perished at sea, An Ark for the Listener is a dense, wistful album, where Jeck’s broken down turntable explorations and avant-garde, droning synth melodies create a rich, mysterious and oblique tapestry.

2
Psychical

Ensemble Economique

Psychical (2010)

Dark and cinematic, Ensemble Economique’s exercise in giallo-style horror soundtrack mixed with dub, hip-hop and avant-rock, was one of the most ambitious, challenging and atmospheric H-pop releases of the year. Perhaps it’s the dire economic and socio-political climate, but the influence of horror movies loomed large in 2010, and this was a great example of an intelligent, musical use of this influence.

3
Location Momentum

Eleh

Location Momentum (2010)

Deep listening in the Pauline Oliveros sense of the word, the music of mysterious drone artist Eleh is as hard to pin down, assess and comprehend (in the traditional sense) as the individual who creates it. Anonymity is key to Eleh’s aesthetic, but the core beauty resides in the dense, minimalist and hypnotic nature of the music, as listless wave generators and stripped-down synth lines contort, fill and caress the ether.

4
Liberation Through Hearing

Demdike Stare

Liberation Through Hearing (2010)

The excellent Mancunian duo continued their exploration of arcane and sinister textures and references through hypnotic synth patterns, warped dub and wispy electronica. Liberation Through Hearing is the second installment in a bewitching (the word is apt) trilogy that has cemented Demdike Stare’s position at the forefront of British hauntological music.

5
Going Places

Yellow Swans

Going Places (2010)

Tragically, this is Yellow Swans’ swansong, but it may be their best album to date. Reining in their harshest tendencies, they delivered an expansive, cinematographic masterpiece of noisy drone, its mournful synth lines adding depth to the crunch and grind. The result? An elegiac and haunting addition to the noise canon.

6
Returnal

Oneohtrix Point Never

Returnal (2010)

Much more consistent and unified than previous releases, Returnal is Oneohtrix Point Never, aka Daniel Lopatin’s arrival on the big stage and he delivers big time. As well as his new-age-tinted excursions into synth-heavy electro-drone, with hints of Tangerine Dream and even Vangelis, which on Returnal are even more compact, yet emotionally-charged, than before, he also opens with a blistering noise-drone freak out that was as astounding as it was unexpected.

7
Waving Goodbye

Sex Worker

Waving Goodbye (2010)

A late addition to my 2010 list was Sex Worker’s fabulous second album, a haunting and disturbing critique in music of the sex trade. Intelligently using sexy, woozy dance tunes, which are then overlaid by raw, aching or deadpan vocals, Sex Worker inteeligently evokes the drama, pain and despair of this modern-day slave trade…

8
Untitled

Hype Williams

Untitled (2010)

Blurring the lines emphatically between hip-hop, art-pop, dance, dubstep and even disco, Hype Williams are a mysterious London-based duo whose eclectic debut is like a weird, half-dreamlike, half-nightmarish trawl through nocturnal streets with the iPod set to shuffle. Hysterically over-the-top, it nonetheless preserves H-pop’s initial spirit of ambiguity and nostalgia, whilst remaining resolutely forward-thinking.

9
Renonce

Vomir

Renonce (2010)

After a decade of genre cross-pollination and soul-searching, noise was returned to its harshest, most abstract form with the emergence of Harsh Noise Walls, and French artist Vomir’s Renonce is the perfect, hour-long demonstration of the sub-genre’s capacity for sonic assault and sensory deprivation. As much a sound/art experiment as it is an album, Renonce is overwhelming, terrifying and, ultimately, hypnotic.

10
Dagger Paths

Forest Swords

Dagger Paths (2010) [EP]

Olde English Spelling Bee emerged in 2010 as one of the record labels for hypnagogic pop, and Dagger Paths was probably the company’s stand-out release. Though short, it perfectly encapsulated Forest Swords’ oblique combination of brittle, nocturnal dub and haunting post-noise atmospherics.

11
Patience

The Dead C

Patience (2010)

The New Zealanders are veterans of the noise/avant-rock scene, and each release of theirs is an event in itself. Patience sees them pushing out into free-form, improvised drone-rock, with extended guitar workouts and monolithic rhythm patterns evoking krautock giants like Ash Ra Tempel, or the unrelenting sub-metal of Skullflower and Les Rallizes Denudes. Pure rock at its best!

12
Music for Real Airports

The Black Dog

Music for Real Airports (2010)

It may be a rather unfair rebuke to Brian Eno’s seminal Music for Airports, but this remains an essential album, a troubling concept album about the soullessness and emotional alienation of airports. The synth melodies are dark, the sound effects cold and subtly jarring. A nightmarish sonic trawl through an airport, between endless queues, unhelpful staff and deserted waiting lounges, its claustrophobic atmosphere was almost unrivaled in UK electronic music last year.

13
Suburban Tours

Rangers

Suburban Tours (2010)

Highly praised, Rangers’ debut is a seminal piece of hypnagogic pop-rock, a reverie depicting sun-bleached suburban eighties’ neighbourhoods, portrayed with a mixture of nostalgia and disgust. Latter day power pop of the Black Star variety is refracted through wobbly vocal effects and subtle inflections of jarring post-noise to create a beguiling and ultimately catchy gem of an album.

14
Love Is a Stream

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma

Love Is a Stream (2010)

Shoegaze music is pretty much dead these days, weighted down by the shadow of My Bloody Valentine and the unjustified savaging by critics back in the day. By California-based musician Cantu-Ledesma has updated the genre almost single-handedly here, stripping back the excesses of those 90s bands to focus on the emotions and the drone. Blissful and hazy, Love Is A Stream takes the spirit of shoegaze, but blasts it into the post-noise age.

15
Failing Lights

Failing Lights

Failing Lights (2010)

Mike Connelly of Hair Police and Wolf Eyes released his full official solo debut as Failing Lights in 2010. Reining in the harsh noise of his other projects, he recreates the dank, dusty atmospheres of vintage American horror, overlaying throbbing bass lines and sinister drones with clanking noise effects and whispered, ghostly vocal snippets.

16
On Patrol

Sun Araw

On Patrol (2010)

Sun Araw (Cameron Stallones) has long been at the forefront of the H-Pop scene, and here takes his awkward, wobbly neo-psychedelia into darker territories with On Patrol, with its futuristic neon cover and Blade Runner ambiance. Dense and peculiar, the music on On Patrol features acid-drenched guitars alongside clunky synth patterns and distorted, mashed-up vocals. Dub and psych never sounded this great together.

17
Le Noise

Neil Young

Le Noise (2010)

In the midst of all these youthful explorers of noise and fucked-up pop, Neil Young stood like a statue to the old guard… and delivered an album of noise and fucked-up pop! With help from producer Daniel Lanois, Young created a brief solo album where his aged voice and grungy guitar were double-tracked and looped over themselves to create a ghostly folk-metal orchestra. He still refuses to fade away, but has a way to go before he burns out, by the sound of things.

18
Bloodlines

The North Sea

Bloodlines (2010)

Who would have thought power electronics would be back in 2010? Actually, with noise music getting more and more coverage, even on the Pitchfork website, over the last decade, maybe it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Whatever the case, Bloodlines is a dark, frightening and enveloping canvas of sound, steeped in arcane lore and heathen noise.

19
Porcelain Opera

Rene Hell

Porcelain Opera (2010)

Modernising old-fashioned analogue synth drones was not just the domain of Oneohtrix Point Never, as former noisician Jeff Witscher, aka Rene Hell unleashed his paranoid, icy vision on this fabulous debut. Any of Daniel Lopatin’s warmth and nostalgia are stripped away on Porcelain Opera, replaced by crackling, minimalist drones and shuddering percussion.

20
Plays Wagner

Indignant Senility

Plays Wagner (2010)

Evidently inspired by The Caretaker’s approach to deconstructing old vinyl, Indignant Senility nonetheless created a singular, haunting (and haunted) work, using ancient recordings of works by Richard Wagner and ladling on the effects and the haze to deliver an album of dense, nocturnal drone.

21
Gravitoni

Pan Sonic

Gravitoni (2010)

2010 was a good year for veteran electronic duos, with Autechre and The Chemical Brothers also releasing new (and, in Autechre’s case, well-received) albums. Pan Sonic trumped the lot though with this brilliantly unceremonious swansong album, in which thundering club beats were allied to vicious power electronics, proving that whilst time may have dampened their desire to continue the Pan sonic brand, it did nothing to halt their creative spark.

22
Cosmogramma

Flying Lotus

Cosmogramma (2010)

His Los Angeles album was among the top records of 2008, and Cosmogramma will always pale by comparison. But, despite its boundless ambition that takes in just about any genre imaginable, from free jazz to freak rock to dubstep, it still maintains that typically Flying Lotus talent for scattered, ruthlessly infectious beats and tunes.

23
Causers of This

Toro Y Moi

Causers of This (2010)

“Chillwave” may be one of the dafter genre names I’ve heard of late (alongside “glo-fi”), but for all of acts like Toro Y Moi’s taste for cheesy MOR influences and disco-inflected soft rock, there’s no denying Chaz Bundick’s knack for catchy pop tunes, glorious post-Beach Boys melodic hooks and lush vocal performances.

24
Triangulation

Scuba

Triangulation (2010)

Dubstep is, if I admit it, somewhat on the wane, as new acts embrace garish funk and glow-in-the-dark bleeps and bloops to try and come up with something new. But Scuba reminded all of the glory of vintage garage/dub, effortlessly evoking Burial or Kode 9 whilst retaining a unique new voice with his darkly urban electronica and thumping beats.

25
North

Darkstar

North (2010)

If dubstep was struggling to maintain its voice in a constantly-evolving world, Hyperdub once again showed the way by signing artists that explored fresh and innovative ground. Darkstar are the perfect example, their synth/programming-heavy electronic pop bearing hints of eighties synth-pop, but above all carrying a post-modern, despondent vibe of romantic urban alienation, somewhere between Burial’s nocturnal haze and the bright lights of Human League-esque dance.

26
King Night

Salem

King Night (2010)

Another new genre reared its head in 2010, “witch house”, but, unlike “chillwave”, this is actually remarkably tricky to define, as walls of glorious synth noise (a la M83) are offset by jerky dubstep beats and murky sub-sub-Spaceape vocal murmuring. The mix is uneven at times, but with King Night, Salem announced themselves as a band to watch this decade.

27
Before Today

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Before Today (2010)

The H-pop craze propelled maverick Californian hippy Ariel Pink straight into the limelight, and he responded with his best album, and his first on a major label and with a backing band. Rather than water down his oddball sound, it enhances it, as glorious pop tunes are jostled and jarred by unusual tempo shifts and bizarre nonsense poetry lyrics.

28
Does It Look Like I'm Here?

Emeralds

Does It Look Like I’m Here? (2010)

They were much better live but Does It Look Like I’m Here is a cracking album, more concise and focused than 2009’s What Happened?, and featuring several breathtaking melodies and passages of lush electronic drone.

29
Presidence

Excepter

Presidence (2010)

Excepter are probably unique, and their music is suitably undefinable. They may be friends of indy faves Animal Collective, but there is something darker and more troubling about Excepter’s sprawling, heavily-improvised post-noise electronica. Presidence is overlong, but worth persisting with.

30
Splazsh

Actress

Splazsh (2010)

Splazsh was The Wire’s album of the year and, whilst I (evidently) won’t go that far, I still think Actress displays here that he is one of Britain’s most forward-thinking, adventurous and inventive producers, his intelligent mixture of just about every post-drum’n’bass dance music pointing the way for the coming years.