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| Outer Limits |
by Jim Haynes
originally published in The Wire, 275: January 2007
Previously known for his use of frequencies so delicate that even headphones don't adequately render them, Richard Chartier has steadily been building up his albums into denser and denser propositions. Needless to say, Chartier has not given up on the minimalist agenda. On the exemplary Incidence, he continues to crack the monochromatic surfaces of his sounds with subtle compositional gestures that deftly turn his work away from the clinical and towards the paranoiac. The album starts with a focused hiss of white noise that succumbs to a low-end rumble, like idling heavy machinery rattling architectonic forms. A chorus of acute frequencies and a slow motion tidal current of grey sound steadily build over the course of 15 to 20 minutes. Like the best of Chartier's work, the passage of time becomes irrelevant thanks in part to his acute sense of pacing. Yet it's the interaction of each layer of sustained sound that makes Incidence so compelling, and one of Chartier's finest works.
Handbags & Dada – Live Reconstructions Of Imaginary Events
Fin de Siecle Media CD
The six minutes that open this collection of live recordings from defunct post-Industrial group Contrastate hold so much promise that what comes afterwards is perplexing, if not disappointing. A slow oscillation between two murky tones gives the opening moments a nearly transcendent Popol Vuh ambience, dappled with spectral Göttsching guitars. But when ringleader Stephen Meixner steps up to the microphone with all of the misguided fury of a Temple Ov Psychick Youth acolyte, everything takes a turn for the worse. The bleak, kosmische overtones of the dark Ambient arrangements immediately dissolve behind Meixner's unfortunate sermons about fear, politics, money, religion, and so on. The following tracks fare better only when the thin, synthetic drones expand into bellowing rumbles after Meixner has stopped talking. Choice moments are few and far between, and there is nothing to convince that Contrastate are remotely Dada as the title might suggest.
Taylor Deupree/Kenneth Kirschner/Tomas Korber/Steinbrüchel/Aaron Ximm
May 6, 2001
It's hard to imagine that any public place in New York City at any particular time could ever be completely silent and still. But, in what must have been the wee hours of May 6, 2001, composer Kenneth Kirschner captured the city in such a state with a set of field recordings from its financial district, which quietly undulate in a slumbering network of grey drones, with no discernible human activity. The absence of humanity becomes even more profound considering that just a few months later, the location for these recordings was one of the targeted sites on 11 September. Kirschner has made this recording available for free download from his website, and And/Oar commissioned four notable sound artists to rework the piece. Ralph Steinbrüchel extracts sonorous harmonics for his radiant, if desolate composition; Aaron Ximm re-engineers Kirschner's sounds into a mechanical chugging; and Tomas Korber's lengthy remix dynamically explodes through a compressed hiss and collapses into minute crackling, comparable to the strategies of Francisco López. Taylor Deupree concludes matters with a hearty melding of discordant activity and electronic melody.
An intertwining jigsaw puzzle of orchestral composition cohabitating with digitally mottled electronics, Gebrauchsmusik (Utility Music) is comprised of 13 pieces, each of which is inscribed with a highly charged allegory, covering such subject matter as war, death, fairytales, festivity, and art. Deliberately distorting and confusing these allegorical elements, Swedish composer Fjellström seeks to present his ‘utility music' as a grand statement about the human condition. He may be an exquisite alchemist in transforming the electronic into the symphonic and vice versa, but Fjellström‘s ability to apply his aesthetic craft to the conceptual conceits of the album is sorely lacking. The lugubrious atonal clusters of "Festivity Music" are far from being jubilant, and the muffled vocals and infernal crackle of "Fairytale Music" are far more unsettling than the wooden-horse clomp of "War Music". Even if these are intended as reconstitutions of archetypes, Fjellström's structures are baroque musical ellipses that complicate rather than illuminate.
Feelings For Something Lost
Swedish duo Library Tapes have pared their music back to skeletal tinklings of piano and a very quiet undercurrent of shortwave radio crackle, textural rubbings and delicate field recordings. On Feelings For Something Lost, their miniature compositions are incredibly sparse, with every subtle creaking gesture threatening to shatter the delicate atmospheres. Not surprisingly, the work of Eno, Satie and Basinski echo strongly, supplemented with a persistent dark cloud of melancholy and pathos. The ephemeral and poetic smallness of Library Tapes is emotionally pregnant for sure, but any investigations beyond the sentimental surfaces reveal little more than a pedestrian meditation on the nature of memory and loss.
Subtlety has rarely been a hallmark of Daniel Menche's prolific noise constructions, with a few notable exceptions. Released several years ago, October Larynx and Crawling Toward The Sun were detours into the realms of claustrophobic minimalism, remarkably restrained and successful. Beast Resonator is certainly not as placid an album, but is a far more detailed work than his recent slew of releases, characterized by teeth-gnashing distortion. Centered on a polyrhythmic interlocking of layers of beaten metal, tribal drums, and bells, Beast Resonator constantly evolves in density, acceleration, arrhythmia and metaphor, with Menche's rolling patterns resembling locomotives, applause, Native American rituals and horses' hooves. Beast Resonator never assaults the listener with demonic howls or nuclear bomb blasts, and these rhythms never reach the level of brutality or mercilessness found in other Menche recordings. If there is a beast to awakened by these animistic rhythms, he might turn out to be a pleasant chap after all. Is that such a bad thing?
Hafaz Al Assad
Eight years after Bryn Jones's death, new editions of Muslimgauze's work still pop up with remarkable regularity. Given the consistency of his work over his entire career, the reissue of Ingaza and Hafaz Al Assad (both originally part of the Box Of Silk And Dogs nine CD set) could easily stand as his contemporary musical responses to the ongoing political turmoil in the Middle East, which he insisted was aggravated by Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories. Though his creative process was driven by his fiercely held political beliefs, Jones never intended the music of Muslimgauze – with its spiralling trances of Arabic percussion, terse breakbeats and seductively arid dub ambience – to be overtly political. Take the House groove of Ingaza's "Kumari", which gets to Chicago by way of Kabul, but which is intent on euphoria, not rhetoric or propaganda. A strong album despite breaking no new ground, Ingaza's snippets of wavering Arabic song, sitar drones, and complex hand-drum patterns rigidly conform to quintessential Muslimgauze rhythmic structures. Hafaz Al Assad is more of a collection of blown-out sketches of distorted breaks and chopped ‘n' clipped samples. While more intense and immediate, Hafaz Al Assad isn't nearly as well-rounded. Both come handsomely packaged in oversized triangular folios.
Osso Exótico & Verres Enharmoniques
A few years ago, Manu Holterbach and Sophie Durrand (aka Verres Enharmoniques) released the their first recordings of Holterbach's 'enharmonic glass' instrument, a variation on the glass harmonica that allows for a smooth harmonic transitions between sustained notes. It's a perfect device for exploratory minimalism, and the two have returned to it for a brilliant collaboration with the likeminded Portuguese ensemble Osso Exótico. Given their mutual affinity for the acoustic phenomena of beating frequencies and harmonic glissandos, the collaboration between the two is a perfect match. Osso Exótico augment Verres Enharmoniques' circular drones with e-bowed guitar, harmonium, shrutibox, violin and even bowed piano, secret melodies whispering their tunes amidst a constant stream of acoustic dronings. Folk Cycles is a very powerful album, on a par with the finest work of Phill Niblock and Eliane Radigue.
The Egg And We Music CD
The Swiss aktionist Dave Phillips has always had a knack for silence. But his use of still moments has nothing in common with the specialised hush of the likes of Bernhard Günter, as a startling rupture always follows any pool of emptiness. Phillips's silences explode into noise collages – a hammer heavily dropping on wood, a gargled scream and a piece of glass being shattered are just a few of the muscle-clenching punctuations he employs. Like much of Phillips' solo work, 6 is highly physical in its use of the dynamics between silence and noise, digressing into occasional bouts of puerile political comedy, such as the belched chorus on "The Absurd Belief That The Worst Of People, For The Worst Of Reasons, Will Somehow Work For The Benefit Of Us All (On Organised Religion, Politics And Economics)". All 23 of 6's tracks sport similarly anarcho-political titles, whose agenda is articulated by Phillips's queasily manipulated recordings of insects, which express his misanthropic belief that we may be no better than the common fly.
Formerly working under the moniker Speculum Fight as well as in the aptly named subterranean dirge-rock trio Slug, Damion Romero has been a cornerstone of the Los Angeles noise community since the early 90s. Like many of his solo outings, Negative harbours a quasi-scientific rigour that implodes with toxic results, calling to mind the works of fellow Californian malcontents Joe Colley and Scott Arford. This 30 minute piece opens with a recording of dripping water, marred by the sound of wind abrading the microphone, with a placid tone hovering in the distance. Steadily, a lawnmower engine roar engulfs the sound, transforming it into a network of growling, saw-toothed distortions occasionally pocked with echoing synthetic pings. Strangely, this ghastly post-Industrial wasteland's motley medley of frequencies is never overwhelming or punishing. But like the smog that settles upon the Los Angeles skyline, there's nothing benevolent in this rattling cacophony.
In a rare interview for the Japanese magazine G-Modern in 1996, David Jackman gave a pithy, bleak metaphor for a particular Organum track: "It was of a black starry sky above one of the crematoria at Birkenau. Flames were shooting out of the chimneys and up into the night." Though they take a radically different approach to sound sculpting, the same nightmarish image applies to the work of the Danish post-Industrial duo Wäldchgarten. The molten Ambient passages found on Distractions emerge from an electric volatility, and push into bleary sinewaves of feedback and dense windstorms. While Distractions enjoys a few moments of bellowing horror as well as a Fennesz-like ethereal finale, Wäldchanegarten are at their best when cloaked in shadows, hinting at what might be lurking in the darkness.