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| Outer Limits |
by Jim Haynes
originally published in The Wire,225: November 2002
Anomalous NOM14 CD
Following the Second Nature album, also released by Anomalous, Jeph Jerman has expanded his very quiet improvised activities within the context of a larger ensemble. Comprised of like-minded sound artists from the Seattle area, they have ranged up to nine members, but stopped at six for this recording, Dubbed the Animist Orchestra, they steadfastly concentrate on the miniscule textures from natural objects like small rocks, sea shells, driftwood and feathers being rubbed, tapped and stroked. The use of such elements must have required an incredible amount of concentration on the moment and attention to detail. However, as Jerman accurately states, "this may facilitate the removal of actions arising from taste and memory". Unlike many contemporaries within the lowercase community whose pristine digital sounds demand near anechoic listening conditions, the clarity of the bristlings and tinklings produced by the animist orchestra work amazingly well as the foreground to the din wafting through my urban apartment window.
BEACHES AND CANYONS
DFA PROMO CD
JW Bellbottoms of Revolver Distribution offers the glib but accurate description of Beaches And Canyons as the "Amon Düülisation of indie rock". The New York/Rhode Island art rock ensemble Black Dice have taken a drastic detour from their No Wave chair throwing temper tantrums towards a lysergically inspired celebration of Krautrock and its global proliferation during the past 30 years. However, some of the abrasion from their previous incarnations reappears as synthetic chunks of noise swaddled in cascading amounts of reverb, delay, tremolo and other pedal effects set to cosmic mindwarp. Black Dice counterpoint these harsher elements with meandering flutes, playful phase guitar melodies and a monomaniacal rhythm section, which all coalesce in a neo-hippie sound not unlike Boredoms' Vision Creation Newsun. Not bad for artistic reinvention carried out just for the hell of it.
Bottrop-Boy B-BOY001 CD
Bequeen's Frans De Waard says that he composed the first Freiband album, Microbes, entirely through borrowed or stolen elements, from the source material and track titles to recording techniques. Yet, unlike the plunderphonia of John Oswald or Wobbly, De Waard's constructions never flaunted the felonious act of copyright infringement, proffering instead an ephemeral abstraction of the cultural fragment into clinical vibrating trills and electric flutterings. This, the second Freiband album also centres on the manipulation of other peoples' music. Here De Waard has applied an overload of Max/MSP patches to pulverise the source material into unrecognisable molecular components of granular noise and modulated frequencies. Again, the techniques appear to be borrowed. On Homeward, De Waard take his cues from the digitally recombinant activities of Ekkehard Ehlers and Stephan Mathieu on their respective Plays and Edits albums. Unlike those sets, which openly declared the origins of their sources, De Waard teases his audience with the knowledge that he has stolen something, but won't let on to what that might be.
FOR MORTON FELDMAN
Trente Oiseaux TOC024 CD
Morton Feldman consecrated his friendships and influences (often they were the same) by offering titles like For Philip Guston, For Samuel Beckett and Rothko Chapel to his epic abstractions of muted tones cycling through endless variations. A decade and a half after his death, the central figures of lowercase neo-Minimalism - Bernhard Günter, Richard Chartier and Steve Roden - follow his lead with their trilogy of homages For Morton Feldman. Like Feldman's aforementioned compositions, the CD's three very restrained pieces of sculpted sound are elusively suggestive of an intimate portraiture crafted through personal working methods. Feldman's ghostly presence is certainly audible in the way repeated events emerge and collapse during extended timeframes. Günter's contribution is the most daring for attempting Feldman's melodic austerity by flickering between digitally treated notes on a sho (a mouth organ used in Japanese court music), while a field recording of rain and burbling water slowly dissolves into a textured mass of quiet sounds. Chartier complements Feldman's chromatic simplicity without straying from his well-trodden course for an incredibly small range of frequencies at very low volumes. The rolling repetition of delicate metallic timbres in Roden's piece grows incredibly hypnotic and sublimely compelling.
Semishigure/Bottrop-Boy SEMI002 CD
In an interview with Rhama Khazam (The Wire 212), German installation artist Christina Kubisch explained that "composing for me is very often just shaping sounds, rather than inventing new ones". In essence, she focuses on the elemental forms of sound through tone, timbre and colour. Diapason originated as an installation at the Singuhn-Hörgalerie in Berlin. As documented on this CD, it's a wonderfully simple construction that maintains those ideals and methodologies by using medical tuning forks as her sole sound source to strike up a variety of spartan percussive patterns. Utilising their intrinsically long acoustic decay to her advantage, she accomplishes some astonishing moodshifts, ranging from the painfully sad resonance of lonely bass tones to jaunty clusters of higher frequencies. Her elegantly spaced sounds sustain the composition's pristine clarity and sense of infinite motion.
Idea 2004 CD
Die Stadt DS49 CD
Mirror and Monos are the current projects from the principal voices of Ora, a now defunct ensemble which sought an unsettled calm through droning improvisations, blurred production techniques and processed field recordings. While both projects undertake recognisable detours from the original Ora sound, they still find common ground in their finely tuned ability to evoke picturesque mysteries and subjective speculations. However, Mirror's Solaris is their least impressionistic effort yet. Here, the duo of Christoph Heemann and Ora's Andrew Chalk centre on the slowly evolving interplay between a prepared piano and a clarinet, both clouded in hazy reverberations, to create an AMM-like context for their textured free improvisation.
For their part, the electronic tinkering of Monos - the post-Ora duo of Darren Tate and Colin Potter - reveals their bunker mentality, as they bore the path of their drone. The pair may have begun Nightfall Sunrise by sifting through Tate's archive of field recordings, but very few natural sounds have escaped Potter's vast collection of ring modulators, oscillators, various parametric filters and other almost obsolescent electronic gizmos. Their coldly flickering atonal clusters of synthetic tones and mirage-like vibrations recall the paranoiac ambience of Gil Mellé's soundtrack to Andromeda Strain.
Malignant Records TUMOR17 CD
Ever since Brian Eno proposed that music could be a sublimated balance between artificial sound and pre-existing environmental activity, evoking thoughts and images through suggestion instead of direct storytelling, various conflicting musical agendas have leaned heavily on his idea. Following on from the grim merchants of Industrial culture, for example, who annexed Ambient as a strategy to infiltrate and reorganise social space from the inside out, Germany's Troum and America's Yen Pox have made their careers at the shadowy crossroads between Industrial and Ambient, albeit under slightly different circumstances. Where Troum opt for darkened dream metaphors, Yen Pox descend into yet darker Gothic netherworlds. The collaborative album, Mnemonic Induction, is a near perfect blending of Troum's signature blurred guitar drones and Yen Pox's characteristic gaping bass rumbles that rivals such historical precedents as Lustmord, SPK and Nocturnal Emissions. The Troum/Pox merger brings a paradoxical sense of urgency, drama and majesty to this hitherto shadowy crossroad.
VAGINA DENTATA ORGAN
WSNS 2002VDO CD
Since the heyday of Industrial Culture in the early 80s, Jordi Vallis has presented himself as a fanciful dandy whose sporadic productions as Vagina Dentata Organ continue surrealism through the means of a cryptography that is as elusive as his megalomania is grand. Past associations with Whitehouse and Psychic TV certainly haven't harmed the collectability of the five VDO records preceding this one. To all intents and purposes a VDO retrospective, The Perpegian Killings is sourced from their earlier, starkly constructed recordings, which minimally processed such emotionally and semiotically charged raw material as attack dogs, Jim Jones sermons, couples having sex, pagan drums and a Harley Davidson motorcycle. In effect, these albums teetered between banal art world posturing and a horrific paroxysm seeded by fusing Duchamp-inspired readymades with German bondage-doll artist Hans Bellmer's psychoanalytic shock appeal. The Perpegian Killings doesn't offer any clarity or resolution to that quandary. Instead, Vallis has simply collaged his older work (minus the motorcycle from Un Chien Catalan) into a fluid mix of pounding drums, moaning orgasms, snarling yelps and the rhetoric of Rev Jones, whose Jonestown isolationist eschatologies are scarcely dying to be heard nowadays. But at least its cross-pollination of metaphors makes for more complex readings than the originals.