Amir Baghiri - Ghazal
I've been listening to a lot of field recordings from the Middle East recently (a number of the releases on Sublime Frequencies) and have been getting lost in the way music is so readily accessible from the street in these regions. Amir Baghiri's Ghazal opens in the same way: by submerging you in a street somewhere in the Middle East. Voices float in the background, nearly drowned out by the music and the singer's voice. "Nasime Saba" is a pop song of the street, replete with hand drums, finger cymbals, flute and the undulating siren song of a itinerant musician. You are submerged in a culture thick with a constant flood of music from hidden speakers, street musicians, distant prayer calls, and the rhythmic patter of the language. The trick with Ghazal is that everything is composed, recorded, played and mixed by Baghiri himself.
Baghiri is recreating the vibrant energy of the Middle East in the studio, mixing the spontaneous rhythms of the marketplace and the city streets with carefully edited loops and field recordings. An ocean wave draws us in to "Shure Baran," a liquid wash of sound that transports us to a seaside community where a five piece percussion ensemble is banging out a rhythmic piece. It almost feels live until studio effects warp the sound, altering the rhythm and distorting the clarity of the drums. It is a Muslimgauze-like effect (a comparison which you really can't avoid when talking about Middle Eastern rhythms being distorted by authorial manipulation), but with more subtlety and less abrasiveness. The subtle field recordings wash across track divisions, lending a cohesive flow to the music as if we were sampling the ethnic music styles of the region. The ocean tide of "Shure Baran" gives way to a field of buzzing and chirping insects in "Daryaie Golfeshan," a lengthy piece that gradually winds up to a tumultuous explosion of sound before fading again into the distant burr of insect noise. "Eshragh" returns us to the street corner again and Baghiri works in cut-up loops and a persistent background crackle of insect life and whispering noise. "Sukhte Balha" builds as a duet between a water faucet and a field recording of street vendors and sing-song conversations.
And everywhere there are drums: Khaliji drums, the Persian tumbak, the Egyptian dumbak, liquid drums, bendirs, the Azerbaijan frame drum, surdo, djembes, tamborin, the Persian zarb and Dohol drums. Ghazal is a sea of drums, beats, rhythms and percussive threads which run run run throughout the tracks. Baghiri's fingers and hands are never still on Ghazal. The more I listen to Ghazal, the more I get lost in the vibrant texture and hypnotic complexity of Baghiri's compositions. Highly recommended.
Beefcake - Coincidentia Oppositorum
Beefcake's second album for the Ant-Zen side label Hymen is sixteen unnamed tracks that veer from Italian opera to drifting soundscapes to hard drum 'n' bass to downtempo, pausing briefly at about every other genre along the way. It's not as much an unholy mess as you would imagine. In fact, the lads in Beefcake have actually managed to build a rather hypnotic album from this wide wash of musical nuggets.
Coincidentia Oppositorum begins with Italian opera heard over an old shortwave radio, music that is lost under the growing rush of a thousand moth wings. There are harsh breakbeat noises -- rhythms quite at home on the Ant-Zen label -- that turn into orchestral flourish taken directly from Craig Armstrong's work on the Plunkett & Macleane soundtrack. This, in turn, is skewed by digital fuckery as you would find on an Oval record. Soft piano lines drift over the distant roar of the ocean as if we've just skipped into the back row of John Tesh's Concert by the Sea. And then skipping again, we find ourselves deep in an IDM track that appears to be a lost outtake from Tri Repetae-era Autechre. An Enigma-esque dance number with laughing schoolchildren echoing in the background is brushed away again by harsh, scattered beats. And it all ends with a calming ballad.
All in all, Coincidentia Oppositorum is a soundtrack for the patients of the schizophrenia wing, meant to delight and soothe in the end. It's not the jarring world of sampledelica, but rather an adventure crafted with exquisite care to take you through the wide range of influence without a scratch. This is what Lewis Carroll would be doing if he were writing music in the 21st century instead of plunging down the rabbit hole in the latter part of the 19th.
Belio - War
TO: Ministry of Cultural Information
FROM: Division of Cultural Observation, Sub-Agency 12: Music and Art
RE: Summary of Belio:CD:War
THE PACKAGE: The Belio:CD:War sonic assault system is a multi-part system which delivers its payload through two modes of sensory input: (1) a permanently etched aural delivery vehicle (the CD) which contains 15 distinct audio warheads; (2) visual -- a collection of bound and printed leaves (the BOOK) which contains numerous images intended to arrest and distract the occular engine.
THE PURPOSE: The varigacies of the human nervous and cognitive systems notwithstanding, Belio:CD:War "is designed to instantaneously immobilize personnel within an established radius by causing rapid excitation of the cerebrum through both sonic and visual input." [q.v. Hymen data for release ¥732]
DEPLOYMENT & OPERATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS: Utilitizing five distinct agents whom, in turn, employ high-calibre ambient, industrial, and experimental electronic equipment, the aural delivery device (the CD) simulates modern combat through musical and rhythmic motifs and collages. Proper deployment of the CD is achieved through high volume playback on a public announcement system or through a personal interface to a stereophonic sound reproduction system. The visual delivery system (the BOOK) assaults the individual occular imaging system through its use of urban warfare collages. The textual message of the BOOK is secondary to the design aesthetic and presentation of the collected material. The combination of text and graphic images are intended to cause a biochemical reaction within the central processing unit of the individual, eliciting a response which can be measured against standardized emotional performance meters.
EFFICACY: The 15 audio warheads of the CD are evenly divided between the five agents with the following schema: two (2) distinct formulas originating from their respective laboratories and one (1) warhead which is a re-sythnesis of material from one agency through the filters of another laboratory. The delivery methods of the warheads are spread across a variety of sonic spectrums in an attempt to successfully impact the largest denominator of the target population, and successful delivery of the individual warhead is measured by the total registered value of intellectual and emotional entertainment which can be recorded in this target population. To fully measure the efficacy of the Belio:CD:War sonic assault system, we have charted the effect of each agent and their audio warheads.
 Matka -- an organization with historical ties to the Czech Republic and which is currently based in Valencia, Spain -- employs an "early warning ambient siren system" to create its audio tactical strike units. Captive within the nose cone of Matka's "Locusta 64" model warhead is a miniaturized tape recorder. This recorder will engage as the device hits, spilling its recording of a historical warzone transmission to further enfeeble the listener, heightening the spectral atmosphere of its impact. The "Hidden Xacra" model is a stealth model, intended for early morning dispersal. Its conical shape is perfect for cleaving through fog and mist, and its audio footprint is commonly mistaken for a dub echo device.
 Asphalt! -- a Spanish organizaion based in Barcelona -- employs techniques similar to Matka in its armed audio warfare: an arsenal of haunted echoes and atmospheres. Their first warhead, code-named "Dark Dreams," is a gently guided missile that sneaks under radar and delivers its payload through a low BPM transmission. Their "Rhythm Produkt" utilizes the same waveform distortion method of recorded radio transmissions that the "Locusta 64" warhead does, though the engine and electronic delivery vehicle is more complex, filled with a greater number of pistons and valves. The Matka organization recycles the "Ffwd" warhead and turns it into a floating harbor mine that lurks just below the surface of the water. It sends out low frequency waveforms and contains a rhythm buster which, with its clattering pattern, is sure to play havoc with submarine sonar.
 Assembled by self-styled "mad luddites" in New York City, End is a mysterious organization which has done forward-looking electronic signal configurations and their warheads are sleek and futuristic. The innards of these rockets are all next-generation fluid mechanic processors, optimized for complex quantum calculations. Their payloads are viral in nature, biochemical infections which inject static saturated polyrhythms directly into the bloodstream of the target through proximity contagion. These are "culture bombs."
 The Black Lung organization -- an Australian group created by rogue elements of the International Mind Control Organization (which is also the tentacled mastermind behind Snog) -- delivers particulated payloads which create miasmas of fevered atmospheres -- soundtracks for ruined cities. Their "In The Trenches" warhead contains a densely packed payload of caustic Roland analog sounds, mutated recordings of wind patterns, the rumble of machinery against cobblestone streets, and the sirens of early warning systems. "The First Bomb Falls" is meant to fragment upon dispersal, shards of its hot casing screaming through the atmosphere like a thousand distinct sirens as the spherical nodules of the payload pound the landscape.
 Proyecto Mirage -- based in Madrid, Spain -- has previously been under contract with the mysterious Hands organization and their distinct methodology is put in play for the Belio:CD:War sonic assault system. The "B-side" and "Gas The Humans!!" projectiles are carpet bombs of noise which scatter their payload across a broad terrain in a persistent catalclysmic rumble. The final warhead of the system is a Black Lung reconfiguration of a Proyecto Mirage warhead entitled "Belio."
SUB-AGENCY RECOMMENDATION: The Belio:CD:War sonic assault system is an effective multi-sensory delivery system. Its payload system ensures a complete delivery of content through the two primary sensory inputs of the target individual. An initial stage of rapid excitation was recorded as was an urge for continued self-application of the package. While the target individual's resistance increased against the invasive methodology employed by the audio and visual stimulii of the package, continued persistence returned a continued level of elevation of the cerebrum's exitation. It is this Sub-Agency's recommendation that the Belio:CD:War sonic assault system be widely employed in all regions where its potential effectiveness has been measured at a substantive level.
Beyond Sensory Experience - Ratan
Drakhon (of MZ.412 fame) and K. Meizter (an Uppsala-based scientist/artist) had, over a number of long conversations tinged with beer, come to the realization that music is inextricably programmed into the human brain and that numbers were the primary language of communication. One should, they posited, be able to utilize both and fathom some grander vista of the possibilities of human existence. Undeterred by the cold light of day, they set out to fabricate tools in order to pierce the veil of the next realm; they set out to apply the numbers to music. Beyond Sensory Experience is the effort of K. Meizter and Drakhon and the three records -- Tortuna, Urmula and now Ratan -- strive to invoke an expansion of human consciousness through concentrated listening.
The final act of the trilogy, Ratan begins on the edge of perception, a gentle beat crumbling at the periphery of your hearing. An orchestral swell blossoms like a seismic movement, followed by an equally spectral drift of voices as if a floating chorus of Russian folk singers just broached the horizon. The liner notes are filled with black and white pictures that appear to be lifted from old Soviet-era mad scientist movies and, for the centerpiece, they have a picture of two old scientists sitting at a table, playing chess. "The Last Operation" is the title of this picture and of the opening piece, and the track, after swelling and moving into the foreground, finishes with a mechanical voice (as if from a ruined voice box) saying, "This is my last operation." This, then, is the culmination of a lifetime's work with numbers and sound.
Drakhon and K. Meizter bring us gradually into a psychotropic state, layering drones and rumbling atmospheres with faint percussion like the crump-crump of distant mortar shells. Operatic voices drop from the sky like streaking meteors, their final flight a keening waterfall of wordless sound. There are brief glitches of back-masked sounds worked into "Observing the Invisible," old tape being rewound so as to subliminally influence our mental state. Our first journey into shared consciousness is "Inside Erasmus's Head," which adds acoustic guitar and ghostly voices to the mix as well as a phantom flute and bell tree which caper like a Japanese phantom just out of reach.
"Numbers Rule The Universe" fills your head with the sound of molecules exploding, sizzling and popping as their constituent particles are blasted free of their prison of concentric valences. It is the digital transmission -- all those protons and electrons escaping -- of a primal, orgasmic moment of creation. "Ratan" is the Ohm moment, the birth of the world-sundering drone which shatters all remaining individual consciousness. In the minutes following come the whispering voices, the hushed voices of the Fates as they reveal to you the secrets of the universe.
Ratan, like the other two discs in the trilogy, is meant for headphones; this is a record for solitary listening in a sensory deprivation tank. Unlike the others, there are more voices on Ratan, more distorted whispers thrown up from the dark undercurrent of our collective headspace. This is cosmic exploration straight down through your navel and up your Kundalini spine. Drakhon and K. Meizter have crafted a dark ambient adventure of the most introspective kind. Highly recommended.
Beyond Sensory Experience - Urmula
The history of Beyond Sensory Experience goes back to 2001 and several long conversations over alcohol between Drakhon (of MZ 412 fame) and Uppsala based scientist/artist K. Meizter. Music, they decided, was inexorably connected to numbers and existence, and one should be able to explore all three simultaneously. The music of Beyond Sensory Experience is meant to be absorbed and considered by the rational mind in an effort to come to some scientific understanding of the world. Urmula is the middle act of a trilogy of works designed to enlighten the mind through deep, personal consideration.
Filled with the ebb and flow of cosmic winds, a recording of the ocean hitting a rocky coast and spectral voices, "188.8.131.52" is like a numbers station transmission passed through a nature conservatory's promotional video of endangered coastal habitats. "A New Kind of Science" begins with a count -- an intoned "1, 2, 3, 4" -- before dissolving into an exploration of dark caverns where the sound gets caught on the protruding edges of the cave walls. "Celestial Disharmonies" is a play on Pythagoras' music of the spheres idea and, while filled with sonorous harmonies, contains a sizzling vein of arcing current running beneath the intense female voice which speaks insistently during the track.
Urmula is a record which is probably best suited for headphones. You need to be able to blot out your environments and dive deep into the slumbering realm of the music. Your conscious mind needs to have the distractions stripped away so that you can concentrate on the whispered alchemy of the music. "The Two-Trace Problem" is a duet between a cello and a brushed gong, filled with long tones -- low-end drones of string and struck metal. "Filth Discipline" reminds me of a Darrin Verhagen track, part of his work from The Witch Hammer, a cinematic perambulation through the nocturnal hours. "Urmula" is the only track which actually has beats as a solitary drum kit paces through the emptiness behind the groaning wind that tracks through the sonic space, hauling in its wake a twisted bell tree.
Urmula is a dark ambient headspace for those times when you want to sink into the isolation tank for a night of quiet reflection. "Take the earth as it is," says the liner notes, "examine its different parts with minuteness and, by induction, judge the future from what at present exists." Drakhon and K. Meizter are creating scientific mysticism with their work as Beyond Sensory Experience. The only thing you need to join them is a good pair of ears. Nicely done.
Bionaut - Lubricate Your Living Room
Lubricate Your Living-Room will grease your walls with the warm, buttery sound of lush electronica. A collection of tracks from releases ranging back to 1993, Lubricate Your Living-Room is a summation of JÖrg Burger's work under his The Bionaut moniker. Well-known for his groundbreaking work in the Cologne minimal techno scene, Burger has released material under a number of names, rivaling Mike Ink for the most convoluted discography to come out Cologne. Matador has made life a little easier for us by putting together a solid collection of tracks from six releases that quite enthusiastically sum up The Bionaut's sound.
Beginning with the burlesque Henry Miller-style campfire tale of "Electric Campfire (In a Neo-Ackerman Style)," the disc undulates through an hour of blissful melodic electronic music. Like all minimalists coming out of Cologne, Burger's music is equal parts sparse beats, playful melodies, and warm analog environments. Much more a rhythmic beast associated with the techno beat than the glitch structures of Intelligent Dance Music, Burger's songs dance and flit with a easy rhythm. The "Theme from 'Please Teenage'" is very reminiscent of the Burger/Ink record that Matador re-issued a few years ago and "Der Kurze Weg" has a somber, yet beautiful, quality to its multiple melodies that intertwine over the constant beats. Lubricate Your Living-Room is a great soundtrack to taking a train ride in the early summer sun, which, actually, is exactly what I've been doing with it these last few days. The ride gets shorter and shorter and I'm arriving more and more refreshed -- well-lubed, even.
Bluetech - Elementary Particles + Prima Materia
Bluetech's 2CD set for Aleph-Zero is trance meditation music for the globally wired. Armed with a rack of virtual synths and a ear for world rhythms, Evan Bluetech has put together an expansive ride around the globe on a very chilled jet stream. Mixing Oriental flutes with Middle Eastern hand drums, Jamaican dub with Polynesian ritual rhythms, and high desert trance with European choral flourishes, Bluetech is a new world alchemist working on a complex synthesis of world music into a singular vision of global universality.
Or you could call "World Beat Trance Lite" but that would dismiss the very solid possibility that Bluetech is engaging in the act of making something complex seem deceptively simple. The eighteen tracks spread across the two discs ebb and flow like ocean waves; you ride them with little effort, so little that you can disappear into them without much trouble at all, and you touch so many shores on this journey that it all becomes a blur of sound and motion in the end. That may be what chill music is all about anyway: blurring the hard edges. Bluetech blurs with distinction on Elementary Particles + Prima Materia, making a pair of records that combine the world into a whirling ambience that is filled with the blissful motion of the sky and sea. Elementary Particles + Prima Materia will leave you nicely boneless.
Bluetech - Sines and Singularities
I hesitate to use the word "wordly" when referencing Bluetech's second album, Sines and Singularities, but in light of the extensive touring done following his first release on Aleph Zero, Bluetech's sound has become richer and more, well, "worldly." Not world-beat ala Juno Reactor, but simply more assured and more textured, filled with a subtle confidence that makes the tracks both more robust and more phantasmal.
The percussion of "Enter The Lovely" is a triplicate of artesian effluvium, bubbling rhythms that weave around each other. Synthesizers cum spirit voices are a wordless siren call which summons strange yearnings in the listener. "Enter The Lovely" is a high desert exultation for the dawn, a thermal of voices and rhythms that rises up from the cold sand to greet the warm sun. "Leaving Winter Behind" rises like steam around a very simple piano melody (one note left to echo into infinity before the next descending note is struck), evoking images of naked trees bearing witness to a winter ceremony where George Winston is lowered into the white-cold lake with his Steinway. The trees sway back and forth as arctic winds blow snow across the water and freeze over the lake and the submerged pianist.
Bluetech's work would have been relegated to the Chill Room in the '90s, but with the emergence of global groupthink in the 21st century, the chill vibe has been allowed into the front room where tracks like "Airstream" are allowed to play out across the active cortex of the brain. Verging on downtempo (as in "introspective downtempo" or "vibrant chill" -- it's that cross-pollination of genres that happens once both firmly entrenched in the collective consciousness), "Airstream" darts and swirls with dappled melodies and the micro-patter of dusty percussion, an electronic wind which caresses your face while blowing the sand of ancient civilizations across your toes. "Shimmer" wavers like a heat mirage, an undulating series of glistening tones and shards of stringed melody that shiver and twine around each other in a slow-motion blender of cool sound. "Wilderness" is haunted by the sound of frogs, the grotty distorted voices of the amphibians singing beneath a downtempo evocation of warm swamp weather. Bluetech adds layers of synthesizers, as if we were slowly drifting further and further into a fetid realm of mist and streaming mosses where the air is rich with the scent of mysterious flowers.
There's a straight line between Jean-Michel Jarre and Evan Bluetech, but while Jarre wanted to fill stadiums and take over the world with a synthesizer, Bluetech knows the synthesizer has already conquered the world via the warehouse raves and the small club beat-boxing. He's just interested in changing the wave patterns in your brain -- altering your internal chemistry by doping you with his vibrations. Sines and Singularities is the wave pattern of ambient alchemy, the vibratory sigil which transforms rigid stone and unyielding metal into placid liquid and quiescent gases. We are all just puddles of warm goo after the passage of Bluetech.
Bong-Ra - Grindkrusher 12"
A love-song to the massive guitar noise of the Earache roster of his youth, the "Grindkrusher" 12" celebrates Bong-Ra's love for grindcore metal by sampling a wealth of furious guitar shreddery for textural material against Bong-Ra's blistering and abrupt breakbeats. "Bloody Cenotaph" uses samples from Ridley Scott's Legend as a statement of purpose ("black as midnight, black as pitch") before throwing a few thousand beats against a wall of speed metal guitar noise. "Jo Bench," named after the female bass player for Bolt Thrower, is the new anthem that will bring metal headbangers and spastic drill 'n' bass aficionados together -- pitting speed guitar against 200 BPM rhythms in a mosh pit battle to the death. "Ram Waster" pummels Emperor-style vocals and a bruising guitar line with a battery of pristine hand claps and a crushing maelstrom of bass beats.
Not to be outdone, Doormouse and Sickboy contribute remixes that manage to even further mangle and eviscerate the metal guitar parts into chattering, shrieking cut-ups that are ground into paste by beat frenzies that make your lower intestine constrict involuntarily. They're competing to out-program one another and make music that will simply cause you to break a bone by listening to it. "Grindkrusher" is as it sounds: massive and destructive. Bong-Ra celebrates the past by demolishing it with a jackhammer and a steamroller.
Bong-Ra - I Am The God of Hellfire
After getting my skull pummeled by Grindkrusher and my brain tossed in a blender by Monsters of Mashup, I was expecting a full-length release by Bong-Ra to leave me in a small puddle of bone meal and tenderized fat. Surprisingly, I Am The God of Hellfire doesn't trample the listener as much as I expected. Sure, I wish I had a better sub-woofer on my system so I could really shake the neighborhood, but it wasn't the insane beat-down I had prepped for.
Which isn't to say that Bong-Ra has gone all soft on us. No, he's just mercurial, difficult to pigeon-hole and hell-bent on shaking the dust off all these genre markers we've gotten so complacent with that we're not quite sure what to do with a guy who so gleefully runs them together. "Skool Ov Violence," for example, stomps in as a downtempo piece but has such a ginormous bottom that it can barely fit through the door. Coupled a claustrophobic density of percussion and a profusion of wailing guitar lines, it knocks a hole in the genre classification and lurches through dark-hop and electro-rock on its way out. "Redrum" and "Pop That Cristal" are ostensibly rap songs (both feature Mike Redman on the mic) but are filled with such a howling low-end and heavy drum 'n' bass vibe that they make East Coast rap about as dangerous as getting slapped by a piece of limp celery. Hanin Elias' sex-kitten howls in "Go Tiger!" is an anthemic call to arms for dominatrixes -- a 'get your whips out, girls!' rallying cry -- filled with the sonic thunder of a dungeon full of sweaty slaves banging on drums.
"The Claw" takes down Shaggy and eviscerates him in a very messy way as Ras Bumpa rides the Bong-Ra thunder into the dancehall. While Ras undulates with the vocal slipperiness of a well-blunted reggae singer, Bong-Ra mixes heavy beats, the barking growl of a tiger and skittering drum 'n' bass into a suffocating dub plate of heavy menace. "White Horse Come Soon," one of the purely instrumental tracks on the record, riffs around a sample from a Clint Eastwoof film while churning metal guitars into slow motion Godflesh noises and applying IDM propensities to a clattering rhythmic structure. Its the sound of Death, galloping down on you, all THX-ready.
I Am The God of Hellfire isn't about beating you to a pulp with BPMs in the 200s. It's about choking you with heavy rhythms and a dense cross-pollination of dancehall, jungle, downtempo, rave and metal. It's about making you beg for the sting of the lash and a boot to the ass. "Rave you fuckers!" is the primal commandment printed on the inner sleeve. Bong-Ra wants you to move with such complete abandon that you sprain something. Anything. Just stopping sitting there. Being dead won't save you. I Am The God of Hellfire will dig up your coffin and make your skeleton dance.
Boom Bip - From Seed to Sun
There is a healthy disregard for the boundaries of genres these days. Young upstarts, crafting monsters in the privacy of their personal studios (read their bedrooms) are patching constructs that owe their style and substance simply to their creator's whims. Bryan Hollon -- the surgeon operating under the onomatopoeic moniker of Boom Bip -- has nothing to hide really, all of his influences and predilections are lying out on table for everyone to see in From Seed to Sun. Whether it be graceful chamber music, scratchy hip-hop, cautious percolations of calculated rhythms, or sun-drenched ambient melodies, his songs are patchwork creations which have had their rough edges buffed and aligned to smooth perfection.
There is the opener, "Roads Must Roll," and the later "Pulse All Over" which are swollen and delightful like perfectly sun-ripened summer fruit, their veined surfaces stretched taut over a rich sack of nectar. Ambient mouthfuls of peach and melon. "Popsicle" drips out of "Pulse All Over," languorously unraveling from the former, distant radio voices drawing your attention to the distant horizon until the atmospheric window closes and you are left with the soft clatter of a gentle melody.
"Third Stream" rambles and lurches like an old carnival musician, his clatter box and sandbox shaker worn with age. Discordant piano variations stumble across your field of view, hand-in-hand with a muttering, molting parrot. It's a little jazz, a little hip-hop, and the whole thing stutters and wheezes like a first-generation machine that can't let go of the music. It'll play on until its parts snap.
A visit from rapper Doseone on "Mannequin Hand Trapdoor I Remember" links Boom Bip to Hollon's full collaboration with Doseone, Circle. Doseone sneaks in through the back door, adding his gentle raps to the mild catabolism of Hollon's arrangements. These tracks don't sound out of place, but are rather gentle explorations across available terrain.
That's what Boom Bip is all about really. Exploration. Planting ideas in sunny fields and seeing what grows. Patching and matching the ragged edges of beats and melodies. Growing monsters in the basement. From Seed to Sun is a hard record to categorize, but an easy one to enjoy.
Christopher Bissonnette - Periphery
Christopher Bissonnette examines the fragility of space on Periphery. Running simple piano tones and pastoral orchestration through randomizing filters and generative DSP sweeps, he makes music that threatens to vanish in an instant. "In Accordance" exhales with a hint of static and fulsome reverb, while isolated piano notes search for one another in the echoing space; "Substrata" hums and mumbles with subterranean noises, as violins and cellos strain through layers of harmonics to produce whispers of seismic movement; and "Tenor Viol" is filled with hanging notes, cello tones that are looped beyond human sustain to an infinite horizon, while a microscopic pulse pricks at your ears. A veteran of Canada's minimalist Thinkbox collective, Bissonnette works on an introspective level, building pellucid arrangements that suspend you, breathless, in a perpetually meditative state.
Keef Baker - The Widnes Years
A glance at the band links on Keef Baker's webpage will reveal the antecedents of his new record, The Widnes Years: Tarmvred, Gridlock and Somatic Responses. Like all of these, Baker mingles smooth electronic melodies with percussive rhythms and blasts of supersaturated static, pushing his cinematic instrumental music into the realms of Industrial Cacophony and Rhythmic Noise.
"Bingo Hall Murders," as an opening salvo, sets the mood for the record, shattering the placid synth melody of the introduction with an agressive and noisy breakbeat. The gold-tone melody tries to sneak back into the limelight but the breakbeat is waiting for it, nail-studded bat in hand. Baker's sound is the difference between film school lighting and the Ridley & Tony Scott style of supersaturating the film stock. Everything is a touch sharper, more distinct, more finely edged. "Castrovalva" revolves around a digitized chorus, a rack of binary voices which is smashed and bludgeoned by a steam-driven noise machine. Baker creates a pre-Industrial agrarian hymn that is torn apart by the belching black machinery of the next century. "Calmed Robbery" is reminiscent of the early tracks of Gridlock's Trace, flowing between glistening ambience and ferocious breakcore, while managing to push the limits of both ends of the spectrum.
Much of the allure of Baker's work on The Widnes Years is his flexibility. It's not all noisy strum und drang; tracks like "Runt" explore more gentle melodic possibilities, creating spaces as airy and ethereal as the percussive demolition in other tracks is abrasive. "Reckless Engineering Through Diamonds" is a barely restrained drum explosion, the piano melodies struggling to keep a stage full of enthusiastic drummers from banging everything they can get a stick on. The elements nearly get away from Baker, but he reels them back in for a pastoral fanfare before finally unleashing the percussion to raise the roof of the auditorium. "Ernie Unwise" evolves from a few tones, a wash of sound that falls like the curtained light of the Aurora Borealis, and the subtle static edge of the percussion is like the sparks flying off distant meteorites as they ping against the troposphere.
The Widnes Years represents a shift in the direction of n5md, an opening of their doors to more abrasive material. Keef Baker straddles the line between rhythmic noise and ambient electronica, offering material that will delight both camps while opening their ears to the permutational possibilities of the cross-breeding of styles. Highly recommended, especially if you've got an itch for something outside of your normal comfort zone.
Peter Benisch - Soundtrack Saga
My first exposure to Sweden's Peter Benisch was his Waiting for Snow album on Germany's FAX label. For a lot of us FAX-heads, Waiting for Snow was a left-field surprise, a stunningly sublime album by a guy no one had heard of. And the album title perfectly summed the impressions left on us: a cold, crisp winter exhalation that left us stunned and alert, and the continuing state of anticipation that this release left in us for more.
Well, it has taken a few years and Peter has only gotten better at melding titles to his work. Canada's Turbo Records should be exceedingly proud to bring to North American Peter's latest opus, Soundtrack Saga, which -- not surprisingly -- is both: a soaring soundtrack to an exploration to the top of the world, infused with echoes and melodies that will quickly live up to the "saga" appellation.
Now I'm not getting all gooey because I've been waiting and talking about the arrival of this album for three years and just don't want to look like an idiot because it doesn't live up to the hype and anticipation that I've placed on it. No, I want to go all soft for this disc because it surpasses my expectations. How often do you get what you ask for and then more?
"Skymning" begins with a Casio drum beat, a quaint, nostalgic, analog beat that immediately sets the tone: this isn't going to be an hour of DSP-wankery or IDM-fractured melodies. Benisch is out to produce a classic ambient-but not too ambient-house-but not too house-record. Having been classically trained since the age of nine, Peter's work is suffused with rich melodies, lush environments that speak of green spaces. The cover image of a couple walking across an ice field has been so bleached by the sunlight that the only thing which settles in your retinas is the pale green still left in the sky. Benisch definitely takes us into Biosphere's arctic territory with his beats and sonics, but this is the arctic tundra in the spring. The permafrost is melting and there is water beneath the crusted surfaces-unfrozen, moving water. "The Wireframe Fields" are permeated by this sense of motion beneath the surface, the beats continually pulsing beneath the soaring melodies and string flourishes. The cinematic sweep of "Temple of Opposites" is a definite candidate for incidental music in the next James Bond film. Even the "Love Theme" is delicately handled with its inclusion of drifting vocals by Emma Holmgren.
Soundtrack Saga is at the top of my list for 2001 and in hearty consideration for inclusion in the group of discs that I want to be buried with. More than just an ambient album, Soundtrack Saga is filled with overwhelming cinematic sweeps and melodies. There's a new genre here -- "lushbient" -- and this record is the standard which others will have to equal.
Pierre Bastien - Mechanoid
I used to own one of Pierre Bastien's earlier records, I believe it was Musiques Parallo´dres, and I never really clicked to its hypnotic beauty. Listening to the second track of his new record, Mechanoid, I am reminded of that previous outing with the prepared trumpet that sings softly over the repetitive loop of the old blues record. Bastien has built an orchestra of robots, using the raw materials of meccano (somewhat similar to an erector set) to craft machines that either operate traditional instruments or simply play a lock groove from an old record, and Mechanoid collects ten pallindromatic efforts of his mechanical aptitude. Some are melodious (like the above-mentioned track "Revolt Lover"), while others fill the room with their alien rhythms. "No Eon" fills your head like you've just miked the entire circulatory system of a whale and are having it piped directly into your skull. "Gnu lung" lurches and chugs along like a water-powered, steam-driven hurdy-gurdy. "Deep Speed" runs along like an out-of-control flatbed truck, its brakes squealing occasionally, a pallet of metronomes still attached to its bed, with a wild-eyed saxophonist behind the wheel. "Rev over" waits at the stoplight, its engine running, the bleak notes of its horn coloring the late afternoon air. Bastien fabricates landscapes with his machines, strange resonant environments he calls "mechanica" and "acoustica," off-kilter labels which mesh surprisingly well to describe the sound of his records.
As a label, Rephlex makes what they call "braindance" music and the underlying scholium is one of complexity, of fragmentary elements combining in non-traditional ways, of sounds that touch regions of your head that don't quite know how to react to such stimuli. Bastien's work, with its generative and non-organic nature, is clearly comfortable with this paradigm. And the listener is much better off the sooner he or she can get with this program. So, sit back, open up your head, touch the hard spots that have been forming on your hypothalamus, and let Bastien's tiny machines go to work on your brain. It'll feel a little like someone is pulling your strings at first, but that's normal: when your brain first begins to dance, the rest of your body has to catch up.
- B -
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Publications I've Written For
- Eraldo Bernocchi
- Fields of the Nephilim
- Peter Gabriel
- Chris Randall
- This Morn' Omina