Reviews: 9/2007

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(09.01.07) This is the second in this new monthly review series by TJ
Norris
. The focus is fixed on charged international releases that play
on audio/visual elements and experiments within the hybrid of multi
genres. Like particles in space, or ions, this type of charge can
unknowingly produce both positive and negative conductivity. Norris is
also continuing to curate a somewhat related a/v performance series,
soundbytes, in his native Portland, Oregon. In the past he has hosted
diverse acts as Twine, Illusion of Safety, Richard Francis and
vidnaObmana. If you are passing through please contact him

for more
information, or read his
regular blog
(or Myspace) to get the double-dipped
flavor of the month.

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  • William Basinski :: El Camino Real (2007)
  • 2062/Musex International, CD, Edition of 300

    El Camino Real is William Basinki’s rebirth of ambient cool. Keeping
    true to his growing discography of sensitively deconstructed sound
    work, this was recorded from his signature tape loops in 2006. It’s as
    if I were sitting upon the tarmac at LAX at dawn, watching the 747s
    take flight, one by one, in slow motion. The hazy thick drone is
    delivered en masse filling the ground with passing clouds of dusty
    distortion, rolling as if you could almost touch its edges. The single
    50-minute track rumbles in the eye of this low-fi sound storm, never
    losing the bounty of its curvy, harmonious structure. In its
    insistent, repetitive continuance Basinski retrofits the listener at
    dawn, within a certain silence where few have survived the fallout of
    an imaginary apocalypse. It’s fiery, yet desolate.

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  • Novi_sad :: Misguided Heart Pulses, A Hammer, And the Clock (2007)
  • Tilt, CD, Limited Edition

    The new disc by Novi_sad (Thanasis Kaproulias) on Greek label Tilt
    Recordings is a categorically astonishing debut. From the start, this
    nearly hour-long triptych of pieces is a multi-layered, expertly
    edited collage of dramatic fluid and crunchy textures. In this light,
    becoming a transcendent departure from your sense of space.
    “Everything Looks Better Beside Water,” indeed. And if you simply
    close your eyes while playing this you may envision haunting streams
    of consciousness on the edge of clinical abduction. At times the low
    end delivers indelible hypnotic vibrations, searing metallics and a
    steady sense of the percussion of presence in the distance. The almost
    inaudible high pitched sine waves of “O you sweet and spontaneous
    Earth. You answered them only with spring” shift the velocity some.
    That is until about four minutes in when a siege of encrusted razor
    tones builds to a drone that obliterates most anything in its path.
    It’s noisy, yet resilient, and Kaproulias smartly knows when enough is
    enough, and as such mediates his own table of elements.

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  • Minibloc :: carton, micro, récréation (2006)
  • Le-Son 666, CD

    This is the first full-length by the Montreal duo Minibloc (Nicolas
    Dion and Anne-Francoise Jacques). It runs the gamut from risky rough
    micro-noise on “Examen: Monsieur Déboule L’escalier Jaune Longtemps”
    to the shyly sparse feedback and roll-back-the-tape play of “Bingo
    Crounch.” One thing’s for sure, these two are nothing if not
    completely adventurously inventive. They sound as if they are on the
    underside of their instruments on the quirky THX 1138 inspired
    “Bourgeois Poison Ivy.” Very physical and raw, without any real
    melody, Minibloc has concocted what sounds at times grating like an
    overly anxious dog pawing at an open mic. When I saw them play live at
    the Mutek Festival in ’05 I actually called them “cute” and this makes
    me want to eat those words. Sure their name is Minibloc and the
    players are each under 5’8″ – but the whole book/cover conundrum plays
    hardball right back at you here. Sawing wood, jangling keys, twisting
    and tightening gadgets – their playful experimentation continues
    throughout. This is not at all music that you can dance to, more like
    the sounds of a fix-it chop shop do-it-all repair center – especially
    as heard on the muscularly breathing “Pink Duvet.” There’s ample
    amplitude, and a sudden, almost naïvely curious sensibility.

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  • Yasujiro Ozu :: Hitokomakura (2007)
  • and/OAR, 2xCD)

    These thirty-one imaginary soundtracks combined in a deluxe two-pack
    are based on the films of Yasujiro Ozu. A very diverse international
    compilation that includes work by John Hudak, Roel Meelkop,
    Steinbruchel, Steve Roden, Taku Sugimoto, Marc Behrens and many
    others. They’ve each created their own visual/visceral sound
    experience for the listener to explore with conceptually dramatic
    sequencing throughout. In a combination of field recordings, samples
    and electronic experimentation, most of what is contained herein is a
    wash of drone and ambience – especially noted in the beautiful
    three-minute piece “Ukigusa” by Alejandra & Aeron.

    Doors creak in
    syncopation, a stream flows quick and softly, with a light roar from
    the mysterious outdoors. On Behrens’ “Samma No Aji” there’s a dramatic
    shift between understanding the listening experience as sine waves or
    the nature of crickets. The tone is sharp and postured like stalking
    prey, while incidental chirping distracts the potential of the
    situation. The work is dramatically dense and ordered, and not
    necessarily through common sense, but the shared experience, the
    happenstance of aural cinema perhaps. As you listen, read deeply into
    the well-written liner notes from Masters of Cinema’s Doug Cummings,
    who truly gives a quick, yet rounded historical interpretation of
    Ozu’s film work and how it can possibly endure through recordings such
    as this. The shaking feedback in Asuna’s short “From Scene 99 To The
    End – Kohayagawa-Ke No Aki” alludes to the never-ending buzz of the
    fixed machine age. It changes the continuum of energy here, but is
    much needed grounding.

    Kiyoshi Mizutani presents two pieces titled two
    tables (1 and 2) where field recordings of domestic scene, watching
    television in the kitchen are layered with exotic birds and the hiss
    of a light rain. Part 1 sounds like the bass roar of a waterfall
    combined with the delicate gathering of well water, or bathing. There
    are voices and knocking (industrial or ‘peckers?). Rustling through
    woods can be heard over a fine din of more rapturous rain, along with
    vehicles whizzing by and a few cawing birds. It’s all quite noir,
    really. “Tooi Soba” is Sawako’s unusual free-form ambient noise
    contribution. Sauntering in slippers, perhaps prepping breakfast with
    the clink of teacups, it’s definitely morning. There’s a frustrated
    bit of pacing, and a few sparse words as familiar birds call. This is
    the morning after (what though)? Dale Lloyd contributes one of the
    few truly melodic pieces here called “Return To Me Who Sleeps” which
    closes the set. Strumming on strings, with the echo of a gong-like
    instrument, there’s a distinctly Japanese quality to the timing of his
    playing as it fades softly.

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  • Tenniscoats :: Totemo Aimasho (2007)
  • Room40, CD

    The Tokyo duo of Saya and Takashi Ueno has released a record of range
    from the delicate harmonies of the jazzy shoegazer “Cacoy” that turns
    discordant towards the very end to the mysterious crooner “Rasen”
    which plays on Bjork’s lonesome sweetness amidst the vibration of
    organ drone. Totemo Aimasho makes several attempts to toy at
    something pop, but never really goes there intentionally. The weary
    “Jitsurei” is a good example of a languid soundtrack at half-speed. Of
    the dozen tracks on the disc, three are under one minute, including
    the would-be just-revving anthem “Midori,” the 44-second piano recital
    opener “Hakka” and the micro-hiss and textural elements of “Broome”
    that are more like a throat singing version of a chugging freight
    train passing through. These are situational pauses, like haikus, that
    balance the drama of the other stories like “Donna Donna” (sung like a
    Japanese oompa loompa ditty, with a hint of Nick Cave). Though phrased
    in quite a contemporary manner, parts here sound like one of those
    lost folk records that slipped between the cracks decades ago, atop a
    cracked rhythm box, both bright and mellow.

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  • Ellen Fullman + Sean Meehan :: untitled (2007)
  • Cut, CD

    Phases of open wired strings, like feedback caressing, then sending
    distress signals, this live duo is immediately bold and distracting.
    Fullman has developed her own long string instrument, percussionist
    Sean Meehan helps fill out the sound with the brushed sizzle of his
    cymbals. In the constant barrage of wavy vibrations grows a fuzzy glow
    that fills the entire aural capacity of the room, or your head
    (through earphones). It’s a pervasive, building dissonance cyclically
    regenerating itself like sunflowers in August. And that’s just track
    one of three. The break in the set is dramatic, necessary, before
    diving back into the elongated pitch and echo created from these
    untitled pieces. The screech in part two is a bit cumbersome and
    grating, disconcerting and run-on. But things change some in the final
    leg of this torso where the high-pitch is traded in for a mutable
    drone approximating a dead old-fashioned analogue telephone line or
    the low-hum whir of some assorted motor. At closure, the numbing
    layers are like a flatline current, slowly softening into air.

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  • Jean-Francois Laporte :: Soundmatters (2007)
  • 23five, CD

    Soundmatters is a compilation of five works by Jean-Francois Laporte
    that spans 1997-2005. The flap-like snore of “Plénitude du vide”
    (2005) has a metallic edge that rumbles about with a to and fro
    motion. The restless purr is a curious warning. In the distance a
    hybrid air raid siren slowly moves to midground. The discordance is a
    disturbing reminder of our times. The near 1/2 hour long “Mantra” (1997)
    treats industrial field recordings like collage, ahhh, the familiar
    pitch of generators spinning endlessly. Laporte has found a way to
    harmonize the shape of the sound with his own layer of drone reverb,
    which ominously cascades in and out. Incorporating PVC tubes to mute
    some of the frequency, there’s a directional sense to the sound in a
    sculptural sense. The track sandwiches gut-massaging lows that offset
    the crisp high spatters. It’s funny how compositions that use the
    manmade production machine can become somewhat meditative the more you
    listen. The initial influx of noise is a bit dense and brusque, but in
    no time, if you close your eyes you may see stars. “Boule qui
    roule…” (1997), by comparison, is a bit of a test. It’s posture
    seems to be much more micro intimate, with sine wave-like pitches that
    are scratchy and neon bright. The work plays on sounds that remind us
    of cartoon space gravities, lunar expeditions and hover craft. I’m
    most certainly not in Kansas anymore.

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  • Esplendor Geometrico :: Trans-Version (2007)
  • Artecnico, CD, limited edition

    In a whirring, crunchy buzz-fest filled with discordant rhythm this
    Madrid-based duo has been developing industrial sounds for nearly
    three decades. This time out they’ve sent a lethal charge through a
    wood chipper, well not really, but the music is muscular and suited
    for well worn ears. The insistent shock waves made by “Raskin
    Maquinista” are insistent and unforgiving, but again, they know how to
    make noise experiential, and not just from the point of pain and
    endurance. It’s a factory-like mechanized mix of full-bodied gyrating
    repetition. “Control Dos” is the last cut on this four track long
    player, an overtly physical recording, texturally grating, an
    impractical, unnerving listen. It’s punctuated by pointillism and
    brashly brazen. These two have virtually stumbled outside the
    sensibility of building any semblance of traditional composition into
    their own hands and pulled it inside-out.

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  • JPLS :: Twilite (2007)
  • M_nus, CD)

    Jeremy Jacobs is JPLS and this new disc is filled with refreshing
    free-float, and syncopated dance tracks. His hooks are jangly and
    elongated, tinny and spaced. But all the while he keeps you waiting
    before adding a layer, a twist or break. It’s the tease of recycled,
    regenerated loops. Happy loops nonetheless. And this is chill out
    slow shimmy stuff, not the run out on to the dancefloor to shake and
    romp variety. It’s a calculated affair, hence its title. But making
    such clap-trap fodder you must circumvent the simplicity of the beats
    with an undulating harmony, which is here and there on Twilite
    though a bit too spare, except for on the very catchy “green 01
    (skoozbot’s twilite remix).” It doesn’t save this recording from being
    a bit dry and programmed sounding. From track to track there is just
    too much that sounds similar, which overall makes for a bland batch.
    Though I bet this stuff relaxes the masses into the wee hours, it
    comes up short here. [Purchase]

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  • Matt Shoemaker :: Spots in the Sun (2007)
  • The Helen Scarsdale Agency, CD, Edition of 400

    If you could imagine flying high, into hyper space you could fashion
    this trip in your mind. Seattle’s Matt Shoemaker has drawn from the
    wide open space of fantasy science fiction. He has, as well, depicted
    the intimacy of the hands touch of immediate objects dramatically
    playing on the dichotomy of aural depth of field. With an intense
    sense of pacing, and the breath between instrumentation Shoemaker has
    generated something a bit akin to the lingering noir of the classic
    soundtrack for Kubric’s 2001. It’s gassy drone, and moving airways,
    the low-fi roar of something faintly mechanical, yet restrained, to
    build up a mysterious set of passages that are inhabited by beings and
    distant weather systems. Field recordings are folded into the
    background delivering a sense of the remote. You get the feeling that
    perhaps something much larger than you lurks out there, somewhere. It
    harkens a sense of third person, of surveillance. And without any
    specific action, the ambience of Spots in the Sun projects that a
    lurking and suspenseful sense of the sinister is at large, and
    elusive.

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  • Jodi Cave :: For Myria (2007)
  • 12K, CD

    Opening in a gorgeously processed title track filled with wavering,
    glowing tones and sparkly crackle Sheffield’s Jodi Cave makes a
    stunning debut. Equal parts Kim Cascone and Nobukazu Takemura, the
    blend is something freshly toothy to the touch, and bits of a lullaby.
    Incorporating samples and field recordings she uses music boxes and
    the meandering of a toothbrush(?) on “Rara.C” which sounds dreamy and
    exploratory. There’s a train whizzing by atop a twinkling flash of
    tiny clicks and a daydream harmony that is residual from “For Myria
    (Two)” which is a sleepy piece that sounds a whole lot like labelmate
    Skoltz_Kolgen. The “Unititled” tracks seems oddly different from the
    rest here. Contemplative, drawn, paced like a gauzy funeral dirge.
    Throughout Cave conducts a whole ritual of moving physical objects
    about with the additions of peculiar birds, breath and other vestiges
    emanating sound in her surroundings. For Myria is so full of
    emotive, tones in a multitude of strange hues, dark and light, and
    everyday.

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  • Felix Kubin :: Axolotl Lullabies (2007)
  • Oral, CD

    This collection of compilation tracks, remixes and other short
    oddities spans 1999-2006 and is a welcome relief to many who have
    watched this man’s elusive career and random output. For he
    uninitiated Felix Kubin is this slamdunk cross between the
    ping-ca-chong tonalities found in Kraftwerk, the wry humor and pacing
    of They Might Be Giants and his own poker-faced delivery. And here
    tracks like “Ich Traeume Nur In Super-8″ fit the niche to a t. It’s a
    rat-a-tat-tat throw-back to the gay old era of Liberace and Lawrence
    Welk. On “Marche Telepathique” add the playful themes of Danny Elfman,
    mix it all up by fellow frolicking sound boxers like People Like Us or
    Analogue alchemist Asmus Tietchens – and voila – instant harmonious
    pandemonium. This record brings together a whole slew of fun music,
    handclaps, twang guitar, reverb and all into one place. ‘Axolotl
    Lullabies’ is collected chaos at its best. There are moments when
    things get a bit more off and dense as on the short “Rudi Gullit’s
    Head” which harkens to some of Richard D. James “Come to Daddy” days,
    which sequences into “Let’s Rock, Baby” perfectly. The cadence here is
    amply messed around with, blending lunge and Wurlitzer like a set of
    twins forced to wear their Garamimals (r). “Trauergonelparadies” is a
    whole other world where Kubin collaborates with Tietchens. What
    emerges is something of a grey area blending each of their sounds. If
    you might imagine “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” but just a whole
    lot more darkly psychedelic, with characters caught in the eye of the
    storm, falling endlessly to their untimely death, you may see what I
    see. And just when you thought it was safe to continue playing “Slides
    From Yesterday” from the One Bomb Fits all compilation throws Grace
    Jones, ESG and Slayer into the Blendit for fun. Its melancholy chords
    vs. gravely rock stance is a frolicking match of pompous wit and pert
    punctuated attitude. You have to sit this one out because they saved
    the best for last, the anthemic “Russian Robot in N.Y… It’s his own
    lushly noir-filled march of the robots combining the precision of the
    stealthy futurism of Metropolis opposing the little people of
    Munchkinlan. A complete romp!

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  • The Beautiful Schizophonic :: Musicamorosa (2007)
  • Crónica, CD

    It caresses the mind and careens forward, this Beautiful Schizophonic
    (Jorge Mantas). Musicamorosa is a selection of passages, deep and
    full-bodied in passionate drone. Music for the awakening of the soul,
    no doubt. Much of this was influenced by the romantic sense of time,
    and losing it, in the literary work of the great Proust (Valentin
    Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust). The disc is most cavernous at
    times (“Du Fond Du Sommeil Elle Remontait Les Derniers Degrés De
    L’escalier Des Songes”), taking a surging river ride at others (“Les
    Oiseaux Qui Dorment En L’air”). On “La Lectrice” (The Reader) he
    employs multi-instrumentalist and composer Colleen (Cécile Schott)
    reading without accompaniment from Proust while in Paris. It causes
    for a linguistic pause before once again floating amid the luminous
    “L’amour, C’est L’espace Et Le Temps Rendus Sensibles Au Coeur.” Chambers of translucent whispers and the elongated echo of whistling
    carry the sense purported on “L’éternel Matin”. What Mantas, who
    fancies himself a sound designer rather than a composer, ends up
    harvesting here is randomly conceptual as a long player. It works in
    sections, but perhaps it may be best left alone, to simply bathe into
    the entirety of its length. And in conclusion, it does with the
    thirteen minute gem “Soixante-Quatre (@C Pour T.B.S.)” which combines
    all that is grande about electronica today, a glint of minimalism and
    the subliminal power of the soundtrack. And while pre-empted by
    hushed, fidgety goings-on the end straddles those moments in-between,
    that time actually forgot. Which is to say the subtleties of
    Musicamorosa will carry its secrets into the air like a swarm of
    bees, vying on extinction, on a particularly humid day.

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