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| Outer Limits |
by Jim Haynes
originally published in The Wire,270: August 2006
The Angelic Process
For all its bombastic strategies for reinvention, Metal has always defined itself through a stranglehold on the mighty riff. The Angelic Process may be attempting to carve out another new subgenre of Metal ("ambient drone Metal", if you must know), but the savage churn of downtuned riffs is fundamental to their sound. The "ambient drone" aspect draws on the lugubrious atmospheres of mid-90s indie shoegazing. But instead of drifting on a sea of blissful guitar wash, The Angelic Process punctuate a Swans-like rhythmic crawl with a savage use of explode and release dynamics and densely packed slabs of guitars, which shift between blackened desolation and celestial luminosity in slippery fashion. The dichotomy imbues Coma Waering with an almost apocalyptic framework, like a score to some mythological battle between good and evil. But far from sounding corny, The Angelic Process is as demonstrably powerful as Jesu, Godflesh, and anything else JK Broadrick has produced.
The Oakland, CA label Isounderscore is only a few releases old, but has already embraced an intriguing area of sound research, one which sits between the precision of 20th century computer music and dark Ambient’s grim expressionism. Isosoundercore’s black on black artwork for Arastoo Darakhshan’s debut leaves no doubt about the sonic spectres found within. But the resemblances to Walter Marchetti’s seminal composition Nei Mari Del Sud place this well outside the realm of Lustmord copyists. Darakhshan manipulates a slow procession of chiming tones (possibly steel strings, springs, or even a piano struck with soft mallets), cleverly mirroring each of the sounds into a knot of out of phase frequencies, rendering the source material a chimera of eerie atonalities. These bent sounds are scattered at a deliberately funereal pace across a Bertoia-like cascade of metallurgist drone, giving Three an air of compelling desolation.
Martyn Bates & Troum
To A Child Dancing In The Wind
In many ways, Martyn Bates has mirrored the career of David Sylvian, transitioning from an eccentric producer of art-pop through Eyeless In Gaza into a crooner romantic with avant-garde sensibilities. Just as Sylvian’s work with Christian Fennesz and Derek Bailey added a contemporary sparkle to his voice, Bates’ collaboration with the German drone specialists Troum seeks to recast Bates’ melodrama in a new lilght. Inspired by the mystical poems of W.B. Yeats, To A Child Dancing In The Wind swaths Bates’ elegant tenor falsettos in a snowblind ambience and moonstruck melancholy from Troum’s signature drones from guitar, bass, and accordion. While Troum has delved into the depths of dark monochromatic rumblings with nightmarish intentions, their arrangements here are profoundly lightened, recalling the more transient atmospheres from This Mortal Coil
Kapotte Muziek & Lethe
The Japanese/Dutch summit which resulted in Tsurumai reflects a methodology of extracting minute sound from silence. Kapotte Muziek is the long-standing "broken music" project of Frans de Waard, Roel Meelkop and Peter Duimelinks, and the trio’s collaboration with Kuwyama Kiyoharu (aka Lethe) musters the tiniest of acoustic clicks, bleeps, and scratches out of expansive passages of nothingness. Eventually, constellations of uneasy ripples, clinical hiss, and a gingerly caterwauling violin manifest before dissolving back into silence.
The Dying Submariner
Beta-Lactam Ring CD
Aptly subtitled "A Concerto For Piano And Reverberation In Four Movements", The Dying Submariner is a hypnotically simple album from occasional Nurse With Wound collaborator Andrew Liles. While there is no spoken narrative, the sequence of events is perfectly clear: the nautical protagonist finds his bathysphere cast free from its tether to the surface world, and eventually plunges into the ocean’s depths. Liles guides this grim tale through numerous different moods, using polyphonous tone clusters and arpeggiated hammerings to connote the shift from dreamy weightlessness into noirish tension, slowly pushing towards a forbidding chill. The final piano notes of the album emerge from cavernous reverb and leaden sustain, both curiously playful and drunkenly stumbling – a comedic twist of fate for the luckless submariner, or his final thoughts flashing before his eyes as he nears his demise?
Ashis Mahapatra kicks off his impressive debut album with a wall of sparkling guitar monochords – sugar-coated through laptop trickery – which will inevitably be compared to My Bloody Valentine and Fennesz. As his heavily filtered and layered guitar samples disperse, Mahapatra stomps on the distortion box, channeling a narcoleptic pink noise directly from the magenta nebula of Loveless. His introverted expressionism and resampling of guitar techniques certainly follows in step with Kevin Shields’ innovations, which were later expounded by Christian Fennesz. Orange Of may be mimetic, but Mahapatra proves himself to be a deft tunesmith, mingling wistfully nostalgic melodies with pixellated fizz and irradiated tone-float.
Norwegian noise meets Japanese noise, as the Origami Replika trio of Lasse Marhaug, Tore H Bøe and Mads Staff Jensen trawl through the archives of Merzbow recordings as the source material for Kommerz, recorded in 1997. The Norwegians employed Merzbow cassettes from the early ‘80s as well as a handful of mid-90s CDs, bridging Masami Akita’s huge stylistic leap from the primitive ‘noise junk’ of early Merzbow to the sustained viral explosion of his later pre-digital sound. As one would expect, Kommerz is a testosterone-driven assault on the ears with dive-bomb squeals, volcanic rumblings, compacted mechanical plunks and the cackling crunch of overloaded distortion boxes, juxtaposing exasperated female moans and heavy male breathing in a quickened pulse which erupts in a climax of primal noise.
Klang Galerie CD
I can’t claim to know anything about the conflicts between the various members of Zoviet France in the 80s and 90s, but the occasional grumbles from former personnel imply an acrimonious divorce with irreconcilable differences. Zoviet France’s numerous splinterings have meant that all of their recordings have been out of print for well over a decade, denying a large potential audience the chance to experience the magnitude of their work. Reformed Faction is a trio of former ZF members (Andy Eardley, Mark Spybey and Robin Storey) who employ many of the strategies of the seminal ZF albums. The semblances of a revitalised aesthetic are evident: a ghostly ambience crafted from dubbed bagpipes; multiple loops of gut-string plucks falling in and out of phase of each other; and fragmented shakuhachi wafts swaying along a current of shortwave hum. But each of these sounds is merely a digitised replica of the original, with little trace of ZF’s allusions to secret histories and religions, and the philosophies their ritualised music worked to reveal.
Geboren, Um Zu Dienen
Die Stadt CD
Throughout the 70s and 80s, Asmus Tietschens created a precise language for avant garde electronics in parallel with the development of Industrial music. Though he professed to admire some of the genre’s progenitors, his work could never be confused with that of Throbbing Gristle or SPK. Tietschens describes Geboren, Um Zu Dienen as his Industrial homage, but it’s no snarling epitaph of cultural hysteria and claustrophobia. Recorded in 1986 and released on the Discos Esplendor Geometrico label, it aimed to harness the electric abjection of Industrial culture and to cast a paranoid gaze on the growing political tensions between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, as manifested on the border between east and west Germany. It contains only a few truly tense moments of locomotive rhythmic churning, more reminiscent of the sound of industry than an Industrial aesthetic. The album’s cheesy electronic melodies and primitive, flange-drenched rhythms are oafishly charming, but there’s nothing remotely provocative or apocalyptic about it.
Shift Coordinate Points
To celebrate 75 years of Belgian radio, sound artist Esther Venrooy was commissioned to produce a sound artwork. She extracted sounds from the hallowed Conet Project, the Irdial label’s anthology of encrypted shortwave messages, originally broadcast from intelligence agencies to operatives in the field. Exquisitely eerie, these ‘numbers stations’ recordings are mechanical recitations of letters and numbers interspersed with a vast array of idiosyncratic 8-bit tone poems and quizzical melodies. Given the governmental secrecy behind these very public transmissions, Venrooy’s choice of source material is a double-edged sword, as the numbers stations imbue her sounds with an immediate shadow of conspiratorial mystery, but occasionally hang too heavily on her delicate compositional framework of post-Techno modulations and structured repetitions. As wholly sinister as the numbers stations samples are (the protracted use of the CIA’s "Sexy Lady" transmission at the album’s conclusion is especially spooky), Venrooy is at her best when she alludes to a technological disquiet through the electrical discharges and sinusoidal hums endemic to shortwave itself.
CM von Hausswolff
The Wonderful World of Male Intuition
With a lengthy career of melding earnest inquisitiveness and absurdist black humour through metonymic leaps of logic, CM von Hausswolff delves into the first of two releases dedicated the prospects of male intuition. As with most all of his conceptualized works, Hausswolff strives to short-circuit any linear thought process when executing the work at hand; hence an album about intuition is anything but convoluted. So the logic may go for Hausswolff: if all matter is a really a vibration, what better way to communicate than through the modulation of pure frequencies? If technology is really an aid to our ability to perceive the world around us, what better way to increase that perception by forcing technology to interact with those pure frequencies? Hence, Hausswolff’s intuition arrives at a system of running shortwave radio and cassette recordings of the human voice through sinewave oscillators as the best means of articulating what intuition has to say for itself. The grand comedy of this album is that the voices of the Dalai Lama, Alvin Lucier, and Albert Hofmann are mangled into an unrecognizable muffle amidst a clinical mosaic of fluctuating electricity. Through his inimitable deadpan delivery, Hausswolff presents yet another brilliant conundrum for us to figure out through our own powers of intuition. Good luck.