AFTERMATHematics - instruMENTAL
The opening of "4d," the first track on uber-producer Bill Laswell's latest sonic experiment is a bit of a history lesson. Grandmixer DXT throws down a scratch that takes us all the way back to Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" (which Laswell produced and for which DXT provided the scratch heard 'round the world) while Middle Eastern rhythms -- echoing numerous Laswell-helmed ambient projects during the late 1990's -- coalesce around the abrupt patter of DXT's handiwork. This is AFTERMATHematics and the record is called instruMENTAL: Rhythm and Recurrence. It is, like a lot of Laswell's work, a strong stratum added to an already impressive bedrock of work and a progressive amalgamation of dub, turntablism, and world rhythms.
A voice at the end of "Cut Virus" spouts off a quick story, ending with a punch line of: "Fine. We'll go to Cuba." There are sly nods throughout instruMENTAL to Laswell's oeuvre, acknowledgement to the recurrence of themes and leitmotifs which persist through an artist's life. And, while aspects of instruMENTAL are reminiscent of the Valis compilations, it is testament to Laswell's continuing endurance that he never recycles, but rather reinterprets. Much like his efforts with Miles Davis, Bob Marley and, more recently, Ethiopian singer Gigi, Laswell continues to find new texture and sound in previously mined musical territories. "It's very strange," a voice chatters during "Scratch Code" as DXT goes all Burroughs-style cut-up on his record. "Your technique," the voice says, "it's very strange." An Indian raga swirl into the mix, the oddly flanged notes bending and warping against the distressed scratch work. While instruMENTAL is very definitely a Laswell project -- his liquid bass flows throughout the record -- it is equally the effort of Grandmixer DXT and his nimble fingers against the vinyl. Long time collaborator Robert Musso provides beat construction and engineers the work, and Wordsound artist Spectre offers beats on four tracks. "Black Dust" is heavy with Laswell's throb, anchored by that cavernous sound. While a drum machine drives the bass along, a guitar -- the type which could very well be labeled as "squelch guitar provided by Knox Chandler" -- flexes alongside horn stabs. It's all slathered with ambient atmospherics that seem to simultaneously be bird song and water music. It's the sort of effortless sounding work that you can imagine these consummate musicians putting together in an afternoon or two. Just an empty hard drive, several hundred miles of tape containing every imaginable type of source material, a well-stocked bar and buffet, and no agenda other than pressing "record" and seeing what happens. These guys groove together -- that much is clear from every second of this record -- and what keeps their sound invigorating and exciting is that you can tell they are still experimenting, they are still pushing the possibilities of sound and rhythm.
Adjacency Pair - self-titled
The CD comes in a simple green sleeve and there isn't any information about the identity of Adjacency Pair. There isn't the brutish push of a press release one-sheet to confuse the reviewer. There is simply the music. Adjacency Pair -- whomever they may be -- simply prefer to let the music do the talking, or rather, as it turns out as I hear these ten tracks, to let the music whisper.
Buoyed by gentle ambient washes, minute clicks, and just the ghost of noise, the songs of Adjacency Pair are marvelous excursions to quiet restful places. "Maghio" washes over you like lambent moonlight, the flickering motion of the lunar glow caressing your face. "Noyaii" bubbles and chatters like something from an Arovane record, the beats a gentle propulsion beneath the bright slow tones of the melody. A metallic susurration of old steam pipes drives "Aphraq," a symphony of half-inch pipes gorting and jetting white stacks of cold smoke.
There is a chiaroscuro world being built here, a land of flickering light and moving shadow. The tracks crackle with restrained energy, buzz with the subtle movement of electronic pulses. Streamers of gossamer light arc overhead like atmospheric draperies of the Aurora Borealis. "Kiswahjola" takes you to the edge of a cliff, the dark sea undulating beneath you, the sky alight with the reds and greens and yellows of the phantom light. "Yugaqh" undulates on an endless journey towards a horizon flickering with dawn. Shadows stretch out on either side of you, a contrail of sparking light dazzles your wake. A resolute hum echoes in your chest, a slow melody which is held aloft by its own weightless construction. "Elambah" shivers with a single shortwave signal, an abrupt signal fragmented by the corrosive atmosphere. Surrounding this fractured signal is the glittering sky, a dome of luminous curtains.
Adjacency Pair craft a debut which transports the listener to an antediluvian country which exists prior to the invention of language, where all communication is accomplished through sound and sensation. The track titles suggest a guttural, yet lyrical, tongue which is filled with breath and space, reflecting the open and infinite vista of the sky which is constantly filled with arcs of prismatic light. Beautiful.
Ah Cama-Sotz - La Procesión de la Sangre
The work of Ah Cama-Sotz is steeped in medieval terror. Named after a Mexican bat which uses its long claws to decapitate its prey, Ah Cama-Sotz seeks to engender a similar sort of nocturnal apprehension through music. Herman aka Dr. Blood, the singular vision behind Ah Cama-Sotz, has a fascination with dance and classical music. He crushes these two genres with mortar and pestle into a fine powder before pouring them into a cauldron filled with crumbled shards of ritual imagery, spiced with his consternation about the decline of modern society. The result is a concoction that is part industrial, part orchestral, and part dance-floor rumble -- but entirely sinister and dark. It is the crimson caught in the silver cup by the hooded occultist who waits at the base of the eager guillotine. This is the draught that Torquemada relishes after a full day of whipping heretics.
The beginning of La Procesión de la Sangre -- "[Blood] intro.agnus dei" -- is a minute of lost voices and cascading cymbals, cut-up instances of fog and memory. It is a miasma which rises out of the stones of ancient crypts and which drifts along slow dead water. "The Corridors of the Unseen" catapults us further into this dark and cryptic atmosphere, the hard electronic beats driving us forward. "Ko-brah" weaves about your brain like a hypnotized serpent, its coils swaying back and forth, its scales flickering in mesmerizing patterns. One can see the progression of ideas and musical intentions with the powerful rhythms which pervade this track as Ah Cama-Sotz continues the trend introduced in 2001's Mantra EP -- an evolution towards more charged and more beat-oriented work. Indeed, the evolution extends to a reconsideration of Mantra's "Hungrr-ah," a remix which takes the original's driving rhythms and adds several layers of sound effects and vocal samples to it.
But there are still the deep atmospheres which resonate back to the earlier Terra Infernalis. "Sabbat IV [hexen]" is here, continued from Mantra and the Excramentos Diabolicos 7-inch on Klanggalerie, and it is full of sonorous voices, distant drones of vibrating stone monoliths, and the oppressive atmosphere of a thousand chanting acolytes. "El ┌ltimo Sacrificio" is haunted by a live wire, a hissing arc of noise which undercuts the Gregorian-style voices echoing throughout a spectral cathedral.
Split into two parts, the last tracks of La Procesión de la Sangre move away from the discourse on blood and are a ritual called "Lughnassadh." Filled with violins, flutes and lonely voices, the rite seems to be pulled from the English highlands. "Lughnassadh" is a rhythmic ceremony, an initiation of the innocent into the practices of dark magicks -- lessons to be learned through an oral tradition of beat and sound. If there are dance clubs for witches, you will hear these tracks pounding over the sound systems there.
There is a history to blood, a thick, visceral trail which leads from me and you back to the first monkey to ever pick up a femur and use it on another monkey. It is inside all of us, pulsing and moving. Ah Cama-Sotz's La Procesión de la Sangre is a historical journey along this route, a reminder that we are never too far removed from the violence of our predecessors. There is something horrible and yet sensual about blood, and La Procesión de la Sangre captures that dichotomy well.
Ah Cama-Sotz - The Way To Heresy
The trademark Hands Production case design has been spattered with blood for The Way To Heresy, Ah Cama-Sotz's apostatical liturgy for nocturnal sex parties. Ah Cama-Sotz records adhere to a thematic vision: a sonic exploration of ceremonial communion and sanguine passion via dark ambient excursions charged with the inflamed thirts of heretics and hedonists. The Way to Heresy is an aural grimoire which revels in the occult rhythms and spectral atmospheres of secret rituals.
Combining the kink of the The Rites of Flesh EP with the haunted ambience of Terra Infernalis and the ritual beats of La Procesión de la Sangre, The Way of Heresy is one of Ah Cama-Sotz's finest works. It boils with the hot sweat of a thousand bodies moving in a subterranean ceremonial chamber; it whispers and cajoles like a lover with a strap-on and a fistful of lubricated toys; it crawls across the room like a mist of virginal ghosts, moaning their phantasmic choruses. "Upon the Face of the Earth" groans with aboriginal digeridoos and the hollow voices of an ancient choir while a woman's voice pours sly suggestions like purified honey into your ears. "30 Siecles de Sommeil" is filled with rain and a moody conversation in French that is punctuated by huge slabs of organ music and Middle Eastern instrumentation. Ah Cama-Sotz has discovered Constantinople and the musical heritage of the Middle East beyond, weaving hints of Persian and Sufi styles into the medieval ambience and gothic overtures. "Entierro De Los Muertes" is lost in the same region, filled with street percussion, throat singers, finger snaps and the drifting menace of a bad fog. "Your Darkest Soul" is a bit of erotic intercourse, laid over a dance-beat re-imagination of the spirit of Peter Gabriel's Passion soundtrack, an exhortation for spiritual enlightenment through body movement -- flesh to flesh until the spirits merge.
"Nachtzehrer" sizzles like wet meat on a hot skillet while temple drums pound beneath a future pop keyboard melody. Dance floor friendly, sure, but it is the sort of dance floor where the women are coyly hidden beneath layers of diaphanous veils and the men are naked but for a sheen of sweat and grease paints. And lots of flickering firelight. That sort of dance party. "Armitangosh" slams about in a 5/4 rhythm, an off-kilter pulse filled with Dervish breathlessness and uncontrolled acceleration, while "El Sueño de la Hora Más Oscura" perambulates like a gothic rave where movement is a matter of languid motion from pose to pose. The beats aren't in a hurry because the undead cannot be hurried, not when they're busy being so beautiful.
Speaking of beautiful, "While Others Cry" knocks This Morn' Omina's "One-Eyed Man" off its perch as Favorite Ritual Trance Track. It opens with a woman's monologue about her night of passion with her Lord of Darkness before it dissolves into a Middle Eastern serpent rhythm with an undulating female voice that sings a song of intense yearning over a guttering bass line that whispers to your lower vertrebrae and tells them naughty things.
The Way to Heresy is occult chamber music for Lovecraftian sex ceremonies; it will summon virgins (both male and female) to the altar and entice the Black Goat with a Thousand Young out of the Wood. It will lace the tongue of the dominatrix with fire and make the bottoms whimper with eager excitement. Ah, sex magick musick. How I have missed thee. Don't make me wait so long next time.
Antigen Shift - The Way of the North
I was quite surprised by Antigen Shift's newest record, The Way of The North. Familiar with the noisy history of his discography, I'm still adjusting to just how not noisy this record is. Which isn't to say -- in any way -- that Nick Theriault has lost his edge, verve or focus; he's just gone and taken Antigen Shift in a new direction. Funnily enough, just like his name implies: the antigens have shifted. The Way of The North is a passionate concept record -- an arctic homage of melodic ambience, fractured motifs and symphonic syncopations.
On the underside of the CD tray is this quote: "The way of the north must not be threatened by the spectre of arctic drilling." Theriault's efforts with the record are to capture the natural character of the north and the opening track, "The Way of The North," is a wealth of glittering percussion laid across rarified melodies while swells of ice-laden wind storm across the pristine landscape. "As Flies To Careless Boys We Are To Gods," while not quite the most over-the-top title on the record, finds a syncopated groove and dives deep into it, tugging synths and digitized harmonica into dark caverns filled with echoes. Theriault's programming is spot-on (the whole record is impeccably recorded); his application of sonic details and emotive melodic elements create miniaturized soundtracks, tiny epics that evoke a strong sense of place. "Verglas" shivers and bleats with discordant beats and gusts of noise while thin melodies -- think streams of atmospheric lights high above a cracked tundra -- glide through rarified atmosphere. The intent is to instill in the listener a sense of the unspoiled and isolated beauty of the frigid north -- the pure landscapes, the cutting wind, the crackling ice and the empty skies. "L'Horizon" begins as a winter drone, filled with whispering atmospheres and guttering notes, before transforming into sizzling trip-hop (complete with the moaning voice of an arctic queen).
Along with "Toppling Drunk Into The River While Trying To Embrace The Moon," "Peacekeeper" veers towards old-school rhythmic noise territory, though the beats are less caustic, less crushing in their application. Theriault, like a lot of his contemporary noiseniks, has moved beyond a need to make the listener bleed and is more fascinated with complexity than sheer volume and density. If some of the other tracks are synonymous with being caught in a brisk wind on the open glacier, then "Peacekeeper" is being swept off your feet and rolled down a mountainside by an avalanche of snow. You just keep moving faster and faster. "Toppling Drunk Into The River While Trying To Embrace The Moon," one of my recent favorite beat-driven tracks, weaves in a bit of didgeridoo as the piece grows into its calamitous climax.
Okay, so there are noisy bits, but they are accents to the thematic thrust of the music. Well, "Tundra" is pretty hard, but the growling of shale and the grinding of granite is played against the ambient drift of a simple piano melody and a hovering sonata of strings. Its an intense struggle back and forth between the two extremes. "Fimbul Winter," opening with a crystalline smear of analog tones and tinkling bells, transforms into a muscular track with heavy bass, syncopated heartbeats and damaged percussion.
Nothing is relentless in Antigen Shift's The Way of The North. I guess that is the crux of my temperamental adjustment to change. Theriault is becoming a chameleon, able to disguise himself within a number of different styles and textures. It's not a disjointed or chaotic record -- the thematic homage to snow and ice keeps the mood in line -- it's a record of some depth, filled with the sort of fascinating layers that keep revealing themselves the more you pore over it. It's like taking a ice core and discovering an amazing wealth of interesting strata beneath the crystallized surface.
Architect - I Went Out Shopping To Get Some Noise
Daniel Myer is a busy lad, putting out a broad range of electronic material under a number of aliases, though he is probably best known for his work in his post-industrial future-pop inflected guise of Haujobb. One of his secrets has been Galactic Supermarket, the previous record released in his Architect guise. Galactic Supermarket was a streamlined fusion of ambience and beats, a slick glittering construct that sailed silently between the stars. Myer returns to I Went Out Shopping To Get Some Noise and, while he brings the echo of solar flares and space wind back with him, he's also found a string quartet and a forgotten cache of recorded voices.
Architect may be the realm of experimentation, the space where Myer dabbles with strange fusions and odd conglomerations. "Anger Management" works the space anthems, the sampled voices and the string quartets into a highly polished downtempo piece. In the future when anger will be managed through chemical reconfiguration and genetic alteration, this track will be the song inserted into your brain on a perpetual loop as a reward for good behavior. "Belgian Connection" stutters and hiccups with noise artifacts and glitches in the digital signal, but the core aesthetic remains future-glow downtempo as if the house band in the cyber-club of the 22nd century was a rhythm section of bruised machinery percolating retro-analog sounds as backup for an antique wood-grained radio cabinet which is still transmitting signals from the late 20th century.
"People forget that the brain is the biggest erogenous zone," a voice intones in "ICL Feelings," interrupting the shuffling, clattering dance floor breakdown that Myer has spun the record up to. This is machine sex music pumped directly into the eXistenZ input drilled into the base of your spine. "Colorado 6AM" kicks up dust on the empty highway as our vehicle flees before the spreading lambent glow of the sunrise behind us. Nothing out here in the high desert but the keening whistle of the desert wind, the repetitive whap-whap doppler sound of road markers streaming by, and the sub-sonic pop-pop of the last meteor storm dappling the fading blackness of sky's cupola.
"Unlike" is the burr of noise and the whispered voices of a schizophrenic's nocturnal chatter disturbing a melancholic string quartet. Myer layers unlikely elements together, whipping a line of Autechre-style machine crunching across a solitary piano melody (furthering, you know, the melancholia first introduced by the string section), while sustaining the impression that we're eavesdropping on an orchestral recital, sitting in the back row next to the geriatrics who can't keep their comments to themselves and a poorly maintained heating unit that is wheezing and leaking water on the floor. "Dievorce" stretches my favorite Tyler Durden speech from Fight Club across a bed of light-fingered beats and a hint of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," further dovetailing disparate elements in an amalgamation which lend credence to the argument that -- in the right proportions -- the sum is greater than the parts.
I Went Out Shopping To Get Some Noise makes me put the words futuristic, downtempo and drum 'n' bass in the same sentence with absolute no shame. While some of Myer's other projects haven't held my attention, his work as Architect continues to captivate, fascinating me as to how he manages to combine all of the oddly-shaped musical leitmotifs and genres into an engrossing cohesion. I want to go shopping with Myer, just to see what he puts in his cart.
Arovane - Icol Diston
Here I was, excited about a new Arovane CD, and it turns out that the CD release of Icol Diston is actually a hard plastic compilation of three 12-inches from a few years ago. Exactingly mastered to preserve some of that breathy quality and scratch factor of vinyl, the CD version of Icol Diston is a delight for those of us in the audience who haven't been keeping up with the 12-inch releases. The extra bonus is that Uwe Zahn's work as Arovane ages incredibly well.
Glitch without being metallic, analog without being dated, Icol Diston is warm, organic head music. Filled with sputtering tempos and haphazard melodic ideas which skitter and flit around your head, these 11 tracks showcase Zahn's compositional abilities to fabricate sonic atmospheres which breathe and move. These are heady, oxygen-rich environments.
"I.O." makes me feel like I am a fish, floating above a grid of thermal vents, rising and floating in the upswell of warm bubbles, surrounded by darting schools of tiny, jeweled fish and lost among a field of slender, fluttering anemone. "Parf" shifts me to a tidal pool on a Pacific Ocean shore, the pounding pattern of the waves a distant roar which permeates the rhythms of the track without being obdurate. "Torn" ascends skyward, driven by a beat-pattern that leaves the softer, more restful, watery places behind. Think the straining muscles of an aquatic bird as it pushes itself away from the water, droplets streaming off its feathers. "Andar" begins with a tiny glitch pattern like the repetitive sound of a raven working a snail shell against a rock. The melody from "Torn" meanders in the background (there is a consistent melodic thread which runs through most of the tracks which make up the i.o. EP, furthering the impression that the entire record is one unbroken journey). Other glitch elements creep in as if our sonic diameter has increased, allowing us to hear the rhythmic motion of other creatures as they pound and flex and chatter.
"Icol Diston" is an abrupt cessation of song, a 19-second burst of compressed sound which shoves us away from the warm embrace of these landscapes. This is the beginning of the second EP's worth of material and, while the organic melodies which soothed us on the earlier tracks are still present, the beats are more evident. "Yua:E" scampers along like something gone astray from a Boards of Canada record, a wriggling, scampering beat without the attached samples of childhood memories. Arovane's take on innocence through musical explorations isn't hampered by the heavy-handed reminder of childhood joy and, as a result, the track feels looser and much more filled with delight. "Icol Vern" bursts with a scatter of machine noise, a fax transmission split down the middle, before finding its pace as mood music for a neon triggered skyline. "Nacrath" moves like light pulses across a fog-covered sky, the city shifting and morphing behind the mist barrier. There is that eternal sense of movement running through the material from the Icol Diston EP, a fluidity which charges the second half of this CD. "Acval" retreats into glitch terrain, burrowing underground and throwing us into the fiber optic pathways which run beneath the city streets. This is high-speed data, flickering on and off in complete disregard for the tonal melody which drifts around it. Zahn threads the delicate melody through the rapid push and pull of the flickering beats, making "Acval" simultaneously placid and frantic.
Icol Diston ends with the two tracks from the Au▀en Vor 12-inch, both of which are remixes from the library of other artists. The "No. 8 amx" is a 13-minute version of the nearly eight-minute version on the 12-inch, the extra five minutes being nothing more than the sound of the record needle going round and round. It took me a bit to realize this probably wasn't planned, but the soothing sound of the needle in that last groove isn't terribly out of place. Not as melodic, sure, but still in keeping with the warmth of the previous hour of music.
I'm paging through his discography right now as I finish listening to Icol Diston and I'm realizing that my knowledge of Arovane isn't nearly as complete as I thought it was. Which makes me all that more happy to add this record to my collection. Thanks to Din Records for compiling the pieces into one compact collection; that process makes it easier for all of us to get lost in the fabulous work that Uwe Zahn has done as Arovane. Highly recommended.
Autechre - Tri Repetae++
It has been almost a decade since the genre IDM -- "Intelligent Dance Music" -- was dropped in our laps and, as a concise descriptor of musical styles, it has become so over-used that, like the term "electronica," it has become meaningless. There are so many sub-genres fighting for their own niche of listeners now that keeping track is like trying to zero in on a beat sequence in a Squarepusher record. Is what you are hearing "microsound" or is it "lowercase" or even "glitch?" Do you prefer "tech-step" to "drill 'n' bass" to "broke-beat?" And the $64,000 question: how the hell do you classify the modern Autechre sound?
Booth and Brown have said that they want to create music which would instill an urge in their audience for repeated listenings, and, in hearing to Tri Repetae again, I begin to understand both the past and the future of electronically-generated music. IDM began as a means of categorizing music which tapped its toe outside the "four on the floor" convention of House and Trance. The "intelligent" bit supposedly meant that your head could accomodate a beat structure that was neither consistent nor traditionally rhythmic. This wasn't -- necessarily -- get down, get funky and sweaty music; this was music that tweaked your noodle. Repeated listens were mandatory because of the depth of texture and the complexity of sounds which were available. The opening track, "Dael," invites the use of such words as "gurgles," "whispers," "shuffles" and "winsome" in describing the variety of its sounds. These are mechanized soundtracks, generative expressions for an age of steel and wire. The children of the computer age find thmemselves more comfortable finding human emotions -- hearing "melancholy" and "wistful dreaming" in the melodies which percolate and drift over the buzz and hiss of the lower rhythms -- in these electronic songs than they do in, say, the third movement of Mozart's "Serenade for Winds" (K. 361).
Okay, maybe that's a bit hyperbolic. But there is a parallel here. IDM is essentially chamber music of the 21st century. (And does that make Wolfgang Amadeus the grandfather of ICM -- Intelligent Chamber Music?) This isn't dance music or pop music; it is listening music. The intricacies and melodies are mathematical rather than strictly tonal; the artists are exploring the range of sonic environment through mathematical synthesis and configuration. A number of them probably have little or no formal musical training, and what interests them is creation of tone and rhythm through the application of software and algorithmic processes.
While Booth and Brown have certainly scampered off into the mathematical fringes with their later records (and I'm specifically thinking about Confield here) Tri Repetae has welded itself into the historical timeline of electronic music. Their third full album, Tri Repetae sees Autechre really finding their stride, adding a darker element to their design. There are more mechanical sounds in this record, more hisses and hums and metallic bleats to the underlying structures. "Stud" rumbles with the sound of pistons and chirps with the cheerful notification of automated systems while melodies expand and decay like oscilloscope readings and seismic line drawings. With the inclusion of the Anvil Vapre and Garbage EPs on a second disc (the "++" of the US release), you have an additional seventy minutes of crunchy, Autechre goodness. Anvil Vapre is the closest Autechre comes to flat-out dance friendly material with the floor-stomper of "Second Bad Vilbel" and the garage/drum 'n' bass pace of "Second Peng." Garbage, on the other hand, is more fractured, more a swarming fusion of pixelated shards. If you think of these two EPs as opposing extremes, then you can imagine where the body of Tri Repetae falls.
The striking permanence of Tri Repetae is that it is the critical momement where melody became an elusive ghost, a haunted echo which weaves its way through a patterned landscape of precise structures. Music is no longer about capturing the perfect chord and the quintessential jingle or even concerned with a verse-chorus-verse structure. Tri Repetae is an explosion of new technology. It is fractal, it is chaotic -- it is supremely mathematical -- and it rewards those who listen. And how long has it been since music written specifically for the general population was just about listening?
- A -
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Publications I've Written For
- Eraldo Bernocchi
- Fields of the Nephilim
- Peter Gabriel
- Chris Randall
- This Morn' Omina