Friday, 26 June 2009

Encouraging Signals Of Life From The Galaxy Of Dead Music

A clutch of rather brilliant releases on Dragon’s Eye and Infrequency, respectively run by sound artists Yann Novak and Jamie Drouin, specializing in the contemporary aspects of electronica, ambient and installation soundtracks. There’s some seriously striking material to be found in this lot for lovers of motionless trance, evocative concreteness and exploratory transformation. Substance prevails upon inflated ego, always a major plus when we look at the impersonators who don’t know what music is yet keep releasing records and fool the ignorant, operating in the easily cultivable soil of creative failure. The artists reviewed here, fortunately, seem to walk and think differently, privileging sobriety and intelligence to Paypal-funded illuminations and senseless esoteric ostentation, thus rekindling a measure of interest for the genre in this disillusion-soaked commentator.


In a slim case come two discs, a CD and a DVD, containing audio and video material from a couple of voyagers who possess qualities that are not exactly evident on a superficial listen/glance. Hunt’s work is born from what’s illustrated as an “unstructured emotional template” combined with the idea of an “anonymous force that shapes”. In actual fact, this translates into soundscapes hinting to a sort of repressed violence explicated by long moments of sick stillness (of the industrial kind, rather intimidating and resonating unpromisingly) and acousmatic interference adding a measure of psychic instability, with rare intrusions by reassuring elements that render the picture harmonically agreeable for the ill-equipped. Digital media artist Heileson took 18 minutes worth of these sonic figments, applying his own sensitiveness in a series of intangible images which miraculously appear perfectly synchronized to the sounds, to the point of optical addiction if one enjoys the vision in the appropriate circumstance. It takes several tries to recognize that the underlying concepts are awfully serious, and the music – in particular – is quite difficult to enjoy at first given its almost total impenetrability. But once perseverance unlocks the mechanisms correctly we realize that there’s much more than meets the ears (in that sense, headphones are recommended) and that Hunt is a no-frills purveyor of greatly sounding human decay accelerated by the inevitable degradation of hidden instincts, the whole camouflaged under the “desire to represent the movement of abstract objects in an imagined perceptual space”. An excellent set overall.

CELER – Breeze Of Roses

Unbelievably, the caressing sounds that constitute the whole structure of this tenderly engulfing music were obtained by the extreme processing of a recording that Will and Dani Long made in 2005 during a weekend on the Lake Attersee in Austria - in the belly of a docked sailboat, of all places. The basic constituents are a mini-piano, whistles, cello plus the “thumps and thuds of water against the bottom of the boat and the wind howling outside of the open hatch”. You won’t be able to discern practically anything of these factors, though, as the 48 minutes of Breeze Of Roses are a wonderful reminder of how the notion of “ambient” was born: persistently cuddling drones whose tonal tissue changes just that necessary bit to guarantee that the sound lives and flows, perfect for infinite-repeat spinning, a delight in an evening where the tiredness of the mind and a general inclination to the non-assimilation of overly complicated concepts create the ideal terrain for total relaxation, still maintaining the human insightfulness that the couple has grown us used to over the years. One of the genre’s best releases in recent times.

LISSOM – Nest Of Iterations

Portrayed by the press blurb as a “sound and video artist transfixed with micro details”, Tana Sprague (Lissom) presents this splendidly titled record which since the very first attempt demonstrates considerable abilities, resulting in a convincing collection of electroacoustic situations where the soul factor is always essential and at the forefront. Sprague’s substantial CV features studies and artistic collaborations that immediately place her in the altitudes of the technically advanced, but one can’t just be creative with degrees and bachelors. She designs mesmerizing soundscapes consisting of faraway ins and outs, cyclic appearances, electronic transformations of alien melodies and environmental droning, the whole sounding like the breathing of life in between the worst kind of internal turmoil. Foreboding thrums, morphing loops and benevolent voices – whispering amidst unfading echoes of sonic fickleness - succeed over the course of a constant remoulding of perceptiveness, shimmering visions filtering through the muck of existential anguish. Clear-minded music conceived in strict adherence to the aesthetic suggestions of non-formulaic, semi-abstract expressiveness, an especially good outing by a woman who touches the right nerves with graceful savoir-faire.

CLINKER – On The Other Side… (For L. Cohen)

That’s right, you read correctly: the composition is a homage to the author of “Hallelujah” and “Suzanne”, commissioned for the 2008 Leonard Cohen International Festival in Edmonton, Alberta; in essence, this was a “live cinema” performance, one of the various specialization of Gary James Joynes, who’s also a visual artist and a vocalist besides composing commendable music (at least from what I could gather from this, my opening meeting with this man’s production). Exploring “meditative spaces and the kinaesthetic and synesthetic effects of sounds and visuals”, Clinker develops intriguing textures of processed vocals and synthesized resonances, contextualizing his work in the advanced rank of what once would have been designed as “dark/space ambient” with a pinch of (perhaps unintentional) Lustmordian influence. Indeed the growling features of the basic factor – Cohen’s low tone – meshed with the infinite wavering and oceanic swells of the electronic treatments generate more than a few moments of intense resonance, both emotional and physical. Harmonious meditations on the absence of weight, diffusing around our persona with the same levity of a flock of black-haired cherubs looking at us with a mix of resignation and severity. Nothing really new under the sun, but – inexplicably – absolutely stunning for long segments.

YANN NOVAK – The Breeze Blowing Over Us

If one has a good idea for making music, that usually comes in the most unexpected situations of life. Such is the case of this pleasantly soothing release by Dragon's Eye honcho Yann Novak who, together with his partner, was experiencing a torrid afternoon in Seattle in 2008, fighting the heat with a fan placed near the bed where they were lying. Evidently influenced by the hypnotic whirring of the appliance, Novak decided to create something serious with it, the result being an album whose extraordinariness lies in the relation between the extreme simplicity of the starting source and the complexity of thoughts that the resulting emanations elicit in the receivers. Lengthy reverberations - halfway through metallic auras and low-frequency spirals - self-regenerate in utter splendour, propagating in shadows, infinite air currents and whispered suggestions of immortality. Amidst these comforting atmospheres, separate materializations of electronic dignity interrupt the flux only for a few moments of additional reflectivity, adding further energy to an already rewarding concentration of luminousness. Beautiful, unpretentious, highly recommended.


Nine artists present individual reworking of a basic concept – “basic” indeed, as we’re talking about the earliest audio recording ever made, 1860’s snippet of a woman singing the popular tune “Au Clair De La Lune” captured by the phonoautograph (invented by Édouard-Léon Scott De Martinville) and converted into audible signals by the scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2008. Over the course of two CDs we hear interpretations that make use of the source by thoroughly disfiguring it (Bernhard Gunter) while maintaining its fundamental essence, or mixing it with segments of audio-verité, such as Canadian Lance Olsen. Jamie Drouin and Yann Novak are the ones who privilege the most ethereally abstract qualities, developing their own peculiar kind of lunar perpetuity in almost total absence of the original character of the primeval copy, while Stephen Vitiello and Molly Berg sound like a drugged folk duo informed by avant-garde tendencies. Other participants include Lionel Marchetti & Yôko Higashi (a disquieting, gorgeously misshapen version), Steve Roden (a delicately minuscule minimalist gem), Christophe Charles and Sleep Research Facility (effective manipulations, not exactly awe-inspiring but definitely signifying considerable decorum). Good stuff overall; look carefully and, in both discs, there is some serious beauty to be found somewhere.