Chihei Hatakeyama - Minima Moralia
Chihei Hatakeyama evokes a purity of sound on Minima Moralia, his first release for Kranky. In keeping with the label's recent trend towards drones and minimalism, Hatakeyama's record is a series of velvety sonic landscapes, broad washes of processed tones and elongated chimes. Sourced from guitar and vibraphone, the music is stretched flat via laptop processing and then spread out until it is so thin that it becomes vaporous.
"Bonfire on the Field," at over eight minutes in length, spends more than six of that simply rising from silence. Only in the last two minutes does a light rustling of sound creep out of the drone tone as if a slow dawn has finally cast enough light on a field to warm a dead fire. Hatakeyama's titles, in a manner unusual these days in electronic music, actually evoke a sense of the music. "Swaying Curtain in the Window," filled with diaphanous tones, twinkles with tiny motes of melody like sunlight winking through the gentle motion of a curtain. As more of a breeze kicks up the curtain, the melodies become more realized, transforming from light vibraphone notes to flowing runs on an acoustic guitar. "Sunlight Reflecting On The Surface Of The River" is dappled with tiny reverb, miniscule elements of back-masking and hitched glitch that echo across the sparkling tones.
"Towards a Tranquil Marsh" clicks with the circadian buzz of small insects and glittering lightning bugs before the tones evolve into melodies of guitar and violin; while "Granular Haze" undulates like a ribbon of smoke through a crisp winter sky where it chases distant chimes and is, in turn, pursued by the soft rumble of atmospheric pressure ridges. "Inside Of The Pocket" is a more personalized rendition of "Towards a Tranquil Marsh." Guitar and violin work together again but the gritty noises and hiss of animal life is more immediate. It is only in "Beside A Well" that Hatakeyama ventures into static and detritus as his long waves disintegrate into hissing noise.
I may have poor acoustics or just crappy speakers on the home system, but Minima Moralia didn't really move me until I listened to it on headphones. In an isolated environment, the sonic depths opened up and the ambience became pervasive and enfolding. Hatakeyama's efforts came alive when I fell into them. They are spaces where I drifted quite happily.
Hagedorn - Home Grown
While Home Grown falls rather solidly into the micro house category, Hagedorn's approach has a more flesh and blood feel to it, a sensation that the artist is more directly plugged into his work. When he crosses into terrority previously mined by Thomas Brinkmann in the Soul Center series for "Funk Infection" for example, Hagedorn brings a vibrant organic pulse to the collision between the Motown R & B samples and the micro rhythms and textures.
Roseli Ferreira croons on "Heart," a micro-textured torch song built around her cool and reserved voice. Wispy bleeps and translucent bloops rise around her like soap bubbles, snaring her voice in rainbow-colored spheres. When her voice vanishes, all that remains is a layer of soap bubbles near the ceiling, and they pop eventually, captive flecks of sound expiring as they fall. "dc 16" intros for a minute, laying down the programmed beat and hi-hat, before changing the melodic elements as if Hagedorn has suddenly ripped off his shirt to reveal a more colorful crew neck beneath. You fall under the spell of the new textures, the bubbling bright tones and bouncing rotund melodies, and -- carefully, slowly -- Hagedorn gets his sleeves back in the orginial costume and everything new and bright vanishes until only the drum programming remains. And even that peters out eventually. "Electronic Music Machine" has a looped vocal sample (the ubiquitous phrase of the title) as if to remind us that everything we hear has been provided by an EMM, and, while true, that fact slyly tries to distract us from the reality that all the sounds on this record are driven by a man's desire.
This is one of the great appeals of this genre: it isn't just a matter of programming a series of loops and letting the tape run for twelve minutes. There is a granular intensity to micro house, a very particular sort of attention has been applied to all the sounds you hear. "Nam" is only two and a half minutes long, but there are at least four distinct phrases of instrumentation which pass by in that time. It is all set to a very static beat, but in this tiny space of time, Hagedorn plays out a theme and variation. The deftness of micro house is that it takes all of the full scale repetition of the dance floor house anthems and micro-manages them with the addition of tiny elements that dart and splash through the mix like tiny fish. Home Grown may seem to be locked into 4/4, but the tiny shifts which each element undergoes belies the florid gravity of the repetitive beat.
Headphone Science - We Remain Faded
After a number of successful web releases with No Type, Subverseco, and Observatory, Dustin Craig has released his first CD under the name of Headphone Science. Cleaving closely to the two pieces of his name, Craig delivers six tracks of vocal cut-up flavored IDM that will fill your headphones nicely.
"We Remain Faded" is propelled along by a solid kick drum beat. Colored by thin shards of digital noise, the track washes over you with restful melodies that harkens back to Amber-era Autechre. If this is Craig's nod to what has gone before, it is a very solid nod and well worth the price of admission for this eight-minute slice of blissful chilled ambience. "Air Bubble Material" is also chillout room material, colored with a little sharper tempo and the inclusion of droning cellos and sprightly plucked violins to the click and skitter of the digital beats.
"Games" finds Craig leaping forward to the more current phenomena of throwing cut-up hip-hop vocals into the mix. Like Amon Tobin and Prefuse 73, Craig slices and dices the vocal track over his beats and melodies, dropping his ADD-addled scat singer onto an otherwise laidback IDM track. Cut-up vocals populate the most of the remaining tracks on We Remain Faded, adding a certain amount of grit to an otherwise pristine electro-beat environment. Beats squelch and skitter, melodies caper and slink, and hip-hop voices are Ginsu'ed with gleeful abandon. The technique adds a human element (albeit a scattered and fragmented one) to an otherwise digital landscape. The closer "Life Struggles Constant" fuses the Autechre ambience of the beginning with the precise beats and echo-driven and cut-up vocals of the middle tracks into a thoroughly successful summation of what Headphone Science has to offer.
But just prior this closing statement, we have "To Dine in Distance" which, like "We Remain Faded," pulls out all the stops. While the rest of the tracks on the record are solid players in the IDM field, these two tracks really make the record shine. "To Dine in Distance" is like the lost track from DJ Krush and Toshinori Kondo's sublime Ki - Oku, filled with sharp beats and a lonely trumpet melody. Craig applies the same backmask and cut-up methodology to the trumpet line that he uses on the hip-hop vocals in the previous tracks. Tack on a lazy Spanish guitar player and a stolen conversation between distant lovers and we've got a solid winner on our hands.
Apparently Craig has a full-length release planned for later this year on Vienna-based Skylab Operations. You know I'll be Googling up their site later tonight and bookmarking their shopping cart for the record's eventual release. Craig's work as Headphone Science is very good and We Remain Faded shows a deft hand that is worth adding to your collection.
Diffusion i Média
No Type 
Hollydrift - Waiting For The Tiller
Hollydrift is not for everyone. Let's just get that out of the way up front, so those who are timid or easily put off can find something else with which to occupy their time. For those who have a streak of white lightning running through their spine, there is Hollydrift. It's not white noise; it's not pop music; it's doesn't even have verses and choruses. Waiting For The Tiller is a collage of sound; it is Hollydrift's summation of the post-industrial landscape of the newly born WWII generation. It is the sound of new machines slowly creeping across old fields, the sound of radio signals tentatively reaching for the stars and interacting with the wild swoop and ping of space noises. It creaks and whistles and moans like an ancient wind redolent with the oil stains of history, and it drones and hums with the electrified breath of radio transmitters. I'm in love, I think.
Equal parts Wilt, Coil, Scanner, Stone Glass Steel, and Meat Beat Manifesto (okay, that's a lie -- I'm just referencing "Intermission" from RUOK?), Waiting For The Tiller is an aural collage that is, as Mathias Anderson has said himself, a "smear" of sound. It has no beats and no discernable melodies you can tap your foot to. It is simply a wash of noise, an amalgamation of sound that moves past you, obscuring the sun and casting a shadow across your face. It is a collection of sounds which pool at night beneath your window and influence your dreams. It is static and wind, field recordings and intercepted transmissions, processed noises and raw audio. There will be sounds you find frustratingly familiar (like that drone which runs through most of "From An Old Horizon"), and there will be alien noises which sound like nothing you've ever heard before.
Hollydrift has put out a dark ambient radio transmission. You've dialed in to some tiny laboratory out of a dark wood and, for the duration of the hour that he transmits, time and space are compressed and elongated. There is a mighty centrifuge running in Hollydrift's studio and what we hear is the cream Anderson pulls from his whirling concoction of noise, voices, field recordings, and radio signals. It's an audio soup -- crackling with its own supercharged energy -- that gets poured into a funnel and blown like a mist of excited particles into the ether where your tiny radio becomes infected. Excellent.
Horchata - Basidia
While Mick Harris gave birth to the subterranean basso terror movement with his Scorn project, it has been the dark hop and illbient children who have kept the movement alive. Mike Palace records as Horchata and his second solo disc, Basidia, is ambient music with menace, blissful atmospheres tainted with the apprehension that something -- somewhere -- has gone wrong.
"Anamorph" slinks along like a biomechanically modified leopard, the soft pads of its paws sounding like wire brushes on a drum head. Tiny burrs of noise like the creature's velvet purr come and go over the wave motion of the synthesizers. There is nothing hurried about the way "Anamorph" stalks you. It slinks around the room as if it has all eternity to wait for you to fall asleep. "Somatic" gets under your skin like a morphine drip, static fogging the edges of your brain and blurring the colored arc of the ambient tones. Horchata builds aquatic dream landscapes, oceans of sound that are time-stamped with the perpetual motion of slumbering rhythms and tinged with the echo of ancestral voices.
"Mychorrhizae" hums with the fine static of electronic cicadas and invokes the sea air with its field recording from the deck of a wooden boat. Tiny clusters of percussion sneak about the deserted vessel as the ambient mood becomes thick with slow moving air. This is like being caught in the horse latitudes, drifting aimlessly with no current and no wind to propel your craft. "Demicyclic" grabs this same atmosphere -- this sense of dread-filled heat mirages -- and sends it scampering, strapped to the back of an illbient beast.
The illbient beast is present in full force in "Cyst" as the percussion moves to the foreground. The room isn't large enough to hold its shape and the persistent hammer of its beats will eventually bring down the walls. The defining element of the dark hop beat is its pace -- how its glacial (as compared to tech-step or gabber) BPM is a combination of time-lapse syncopation and dub echo -- and "Cyst" is a delicious slab of the thick and dark stuff. "Acervulus" skitters on the edge of something faster, some flavor nearly IDM, but is still constrained by the weight of its low end. Try as it might, this bird is never going to fly, but that doesn't keep you from breathlessly urging it on.
Basidia doesn't remain still. Horchata is motion, finding new ways to attach slow and heavy beats to ambient melodies and fistfuls of particulate noise. Basidia is mood music for the hour after sunset when the sky isn't completely black and the night creatures aren't completely awake. But they are stirring.
House of Low Culture - Edward's Lament
Aaron Turner's House of Low Culture haunts the periphery of perception. His second disc, Edward's Lament, manifests itself like a nearly invisible mist just at the threshold of existence. The four major parts of this record are atmospheres of dis-ease, filled with hints of primal awakening and the decay of once-organic possibilities. The House of Low Culture is the last stop between life and death -- all is doubtful, all is mysterious. The Edward of the title might be Dr. Edward Jessup, one-time candidate for the Nobel Prize who conducted sensory deprivation experiments on himself (the subject of the film Altered States). Turner isn't saying, though there are enough hints in the spectral darkness of these miniscule experimental soundtracks to lead one to surmise that these nine songs are a rendition of the unconscious music heard by Jessup while in the psychotropic blankness of the tank.
"Edward's Intent" grows from darkness into a spectral landscape of ghostly bird noises and the movement of tiny creatures in the night. Over the course of 13 minutes, this sepulchural atmosphere fills with enough ghosts that their tiny chirps and squeaks become human voices and the lamentation grows into a ghostly choir shivering in the frigid electronic atmosphere. "Intrmssn_A" erupts with a wail of guitar noise, a block of sound which is abruptly silenced and we are then left with the fading echo of this guitar sound across the ghostly landscape.
An acoustic guitar strums its way through "On the Upswing" like a wandering minstrel and the ghosts it pulls out of the imaginary landscape are the haunts of native shamans whose howls are garbled as if they have been underwater for centuries. Or maybe this is Edward's voice from the depth of the sensory deprivation chamber, his head back too far in the water. "...And Now The Man You've All Been Waiting For!" is an exercise in holding one's breath as tones drift back towards the end of infinity and pause there, waiting for you. There is nothing but blackness bleeding around the edges and it creeps towards you during the near twenty minute duration of this excursion in minimal minimalism.
As for musical landmarks in this desolate terrain of partially submerged consciousness there are breaths of Labradford, Scenic and Ennio Morricone's sparse spagetti western soundtracks as well as glitch and microsound hints of the Raster-Noton and 12k labels. Turner's experiments with the House of Low Culture are like soundtrack music to accompany a journey to the Wild West by means of hypnotic regression techniques and massive amounts of LSD. The title track, "Edward's Lament," has the closest thing to recognizable guitar melody -- a scuffed-up, dirty twang which slouches across your aural filed as if it were lame. The dust devils and spectral vultures which trail after the melody are transparent, ghostly images which seem more like false frames sketched in by your imagination than real objects. The final track, "Thank You, And Good Night" almost sounds like a lonely guitar being plucked from a backporch under a rain-touched sky, but it all happens at such distance from the listener that it sounds like there is a veil of time and space between us.
Edward's Lament is an extremely haunted record, a sparse elegy for empty space that almost requires listening from the solitude of a sensory deprivation tank to really hear. It is a record of a mental trip, an internal excursion buoyed by the weight of thought and primal possibilities. It is full of ghosts -- the genetic noise of our evolutionary past -- and yet, with the final wistful notes of "Thank You, And Good Night," it becomes a paean to what we may still become. Spooky and beautiful.
Neurot Recordings 
- H -
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