Andrey Kiritchenko - Kniga Shazok
There is a thriving electronic community in Ukraine and at the center of it is the Nexsound label. Andrey Kiritchenko is the one of the rising stars on the label and Ad Noiseam -- Germany's upstart one man operation which is turning more and more heads with each release -- has the fortunate opportunity to release one of Kiritchenko's first full-length records to be released under his own name. Unlike the more experimental work which he has done under the names of Nihil Est Excellence and Sidharta, Kniga Shazok is a precisely designed work of glitch-tinged ambience.
The title of the record apparently references the idea of fairytales turned into music and these ten tracks are bedtime stories which contain no words, just pictures built from sound. Imagine Boards of Canada style innocence and wonderment infused with the Germanic metronome of the click 'n' cut movement of Force Inc or Mille Plateaux. The rhythm of "Myth02" is a pair of hospital monitors, bleeping and chirping in some abstract time signature while tiny layers of fabric rustle in the background. Other elements sneak in like the woodland animals do when storytellers gather their audiences around the campfire. Shhh, children, listen. You can hear your hearts beat in time with the motion of the story; you can hear the tiny pitter-patt of your nervous systems as you subsume yourself into the mystery of the tale.
"Sleeping Beauty," with its repetitive melodies and whispering hits of static and vinyl crackle, sounds like a collaboration between Thomas Brinkmann and Stefan Betke (of Pole), while "Airless" moves like vapor trails streaming across a broad expanse of dawn-fingered sky. These are songs for CGI fairies, perfectly rendered digital pixies which shiver in and out of the scene, unhindered by laws of physics. "Cheers, My Fairy" is filled with the sound of their tiny lace wings, chirping and ringing in the crisp, unhurried air. "Skazka" is the ambient sounds of the dragon's cave as our hero sneaks in past the slumbering beast, his passage through the maze of gold and precious jewels lit by the glittering reflection of dragon fire from the myriad towers of golden riches.
I love records which ask you to bring the full force of your imagination to them; music which causes me to empty my head and dream is the drug which I crave. Andrey Kiritchenko's Kniga Shazok is a sublime slice of pure fantasy, a minimalist never-ending story which becomes infinite as I touch it. The precise compositions and delicate interplay between glitch, minimal techno, and ambient structures has endless possibilities, endless variations and avenues of exploration. "Siren" is a fierce creature, a stern tale of movement and shadows, rhythm and flickering light. It begins slowly, carefully sliding into your consciousness before multiplying frenetically, glowing and sparking with sunbeam dappled energy. For this track alone, the record is worth your time. The fact that "Siren" is surrounded by nine equally stunning works is the reason I call Kniga Shazok masterful. Highly recommended.
Christian Kleine - Real Ghosts
On Real Ghosts, his second solo release, Christian Kleine softens the austerity of digital construction with the organic heartbeat of traditional instruments. "Ghostwriting" mixes in a live-wire guitar, "Home" submerges aquatic ringtones beneath a flood of fat bass and heavy percussion, and "Like the Clouds, Like the Sky" rocks delicate eddies of static and a luscious harp to sleep under a rotund bass rhythm. Kleine blunts his amplified edge on the second half of the record, unplugging his instruments and leaving them as acoustic phantoms against the digital backdrop.
Cordell Klier - Winter
Cordell Klier's Winter is a ten-part ambient and glitch suite dedicated to the blissful emptiness and harrowing bleakness of the winter months. Winter is the second release for Klier under his own name (previously releases have come under the monikers of Kreptkrept, OF and Monstrare) and continues the clicks and cuts ambience of his first record on Ad Noiseam, Apparitions. In addition to making records in nearly every waking instant of his day, Klier also runs the Doctsect label. The man has his fingers everywhere and the cross-pollination of his efforts breathes its way into the ambient glitchery of Winter like tiny clouds of pollen trapped in the perpetual ice of these songs, lending them strange colors and textures.
"3" is a fragmenting glacier, a slow-moving structure which groans and heaves with its massive weight. Ice breaks up along the surface, shards of crystalline sound skittering across the dazzling surface. There are seismic tremors, abrupt beats of sudden movement within the mammoth ice field as things shift and shatter. Air which has been trapped in pockets for centuries is suddenly freed as the crevasses open across the face of the glacier and the exhaled wind from these pockets contains ghostly echoes from thousands of years ago. Klier builds mysterious environments from ambient drones, splintered IDM rhythms, squelchy fragmented melodies, and sudden expectorations of glitch noise.
Then -- suddenly and seemingly effortlessly -- six minutes have passed and we are in "4," the next movement of Klier's vision of winter where a tiny tone flutters against the inside of your speakers like a persistent wind blowing ice crystals against your goggles. Strange machinery fumes and clanks across the surface of a breach hole in the ice where thin monitors are being lowered into the water to capture the submerged song of ice-encrusted monsters of the deep arctic water. And, as we huddle over the instruments, a wind comes off the plains, scouring the loose snow and shifting the hillocks of ice so that all our landmarks are gone within the hour. This is the fifth movement of Winter, a song of wind and machinery that sounds as if someone were playing a slowed down version of an Aphex Twin track at the other end of a wind tunnel. "8" hints at radio transmissions and satellite signals, lost transmitters forever signaling from abandoned ice-covered stations. The wind caresses these places like you might pet a cat in an attempt to coax tiny sounds from the belly of the creature beneath your fingers.
The minute of silence at the beginning of the last movement is the purest simplicity of the cold world: the stark beauty of the white landscape and chill emptiness of the still winter air. The buzzing, hissing, clattering world of man can easily be reduced to a featureless white plain by a winter storm. We are warm-blooded creatures and the beauty and terror of winter confounds us. Cordell Klier lives in Minnesota near the 45th Parallel and, while he is only halfway up the side of the earth, Minnesota is a long way from the warm air coming off the oceans. All he gets is the jet stream howling down through Canada. Listening to Winter, you can imagine him huddled beside an ancient oil-driven heater writing love songs to accompany the arctic moan and wail of his icy mistress. Highly recommended.
KJ Sawka - Synchronized Decompression
I think I need to drink about a case of Red Bull to be able to talk about Kevin Sawka's drumming. Ten or so years ago, this record would have been lost in the haze of drum 'n' bass that was currying favor on every street corner. Now, drum 'n' bass has that sort of tired whiff to it that says, "I didn't age well coming into this new century." Unless you're Kevin Sawka. Why? Because he does it all live with just two hands, two feet, and a head for rhythm. Synchronized Decompression is a mind-blowing excursion of extreme BPMs where every drum kick, snare pop, high-hat snap and rolling breakbeat is done by hand. In real-time. By one guy.
Working off a kit that seemingly needs an octopus to properly trigger, toggle, wiggle, "press play" and otherwise made noise and lights with, Sawka builds tracks that lie somewhere between Squarepusher and the Ninja Tune stable while still retaining an atmospheric lightness that keeps his work on the cusp of downtempo stateliness. "Ancient Wedding" is wrapped around a strip of vinyl that has a single spoken-word warning about the destructive nature of our modern fascination with the weapons of war. Sawka dances and darts around this looping phrase, his drums and triggers fluttering about as a cascade of percussive jabs and pops. Atmospheric electronics gurgle and noodle in the background like the constant titter of adoring fans. In "Sapphire," a downtempo chanteuse croons a dreamy lament about the disappearance of magic from our lives while Sawka shuffles and whispers around her like a whirlwind of dry leaves and heavy rain drops. His rhythms add a LTJ Bukem sheen to an otherwise Portishead-style track, lending a flurry of motion to the dreamlike downtempo movement of the singer's voice.
Sawka moves like a hummingbird, his arms a blur as he layers drums and triggered events into a syncopated soundtrack for "Psycho," a bit of cinematic chase music that clatters with a chaotic intensity on the edge of high velocity BPM. His assault on the snare drum in "For Oily To Normal Skin" is a frenzied burst of stick work alone and the fact that he surrounds this rhythmic fury with a winding synthesizer melody and a stack of triggered events and drum kicks continues to build the mythology that he's more human than human. "Scrappin'" swaggers with its strings and sultry synthesizer tones but underneath it's all percussive chaos as Sawka churns up the bedrock with a profusion of charged rhythmic movement.
Synchronized Decompression will give you brain cramps if you try too hard to deconstruct it. Sawka has disassembled the rhythmic punch of drum and bass and recreates it on-the-fly with his monstrous assembly of real and digital instruments. Blurring the distinction between reality and artifice, he demonstrates that the truth isn't that we need to fear computers, it's that technology needs to fear us. Because we will adapt and catch up. Sawka is next-generation.
Klinik - Akhet
Marc Verhaeghen's Klinik returns after 2002's electro-stomper, Sonic Surgery, with the double disc Akhet, a dark and spacious ambient journey through the liminality of dawn. The first disc begins with "Heka," the Egyptian word for magic and unfolds like an early wind blowing in from the desert, carrying on its light breath the yellow sands which have covered civilizations for centuries. Verhaeghen is experimenting in the long form with this record, exploring a moment of time through spatial arrangements of manipulated melodies, long tones, and ambient drones. Nothing changes quickly in the 30 minutes of "Heka," but there is the continued pressure that something might.
The distinction in "dark" ambient music is the lack of light, the continued presence of something hidden in the music. You often feel claustrophobic, cut off from wind and light. The music has weight. Verhaeghen doesn't delve into that bleak of a darkness with Akhet. He hovers on the edge of morning; "Akhet" means morning and the music waits at that event horizon, that balance point between light and dark, life and death. In the old days, this was the final instant of exile, that final moment before the world was born anew with the rising of the sun, and there is a sense of anticipation in the air. The particulate -- the sounds and the rhythms -- are vibrating with an urgency of release. Which is why the thirty minutes of "Heka" and the 60 minutes of "Orion" (which makes up the entirety of disc two) never seem overlong and tedious. Something is always about to happen, and this sensation pulses throughout Verhaeghen's drones and rhythms.
The second track of the first disc, "Bellatrix," hums with rhythm, gentle ethno-tribal surges which remind me of the work done by VidnaObmana and Steve Roach. There is the sound of water later, the red gurgling of the Nile as it quickens in the early spring. That flash of light -- dawn -- can't be far off now. Energies quicken with "Mintaka" as rhythms grow stronger and closer, pulses of light running through the near dawn. There is a bass rhythm running beneath the drum pads of "Saiph" as all things come to a head. In the end, the sound doesn't explode, it simply changes. Dawn happens, a beam of red and orange light pierces the sky; your breath may quicken in your chest, but there are no explosions, no fireworks.
Akhet may be more familiar to those who follow the FAX label and Peter Namlook's style of environmental ambient music. Opponents of this style will say that nothing happens in the music, but actually what the music challenges you to do is to be "in the moment." There are changes -- you can't take a breath in exactly the same way every time -- there are miniscule variations in what is unfolding around you. Akhet waits for dawn, and Verhaeghen stretches out that last minute before sunrise out towards infinity. This is not a style which Hands is known for, but it is good to see that they are expanding their sonic palette. Akhet fits in those quiet moments between events when you are done with What Was and are waiting for What Will Be. What Is is you suspended in space, listening to the winds of Akhet.
Kreptkrept - Irregular Dark Beat
The guy in the cube next to me pops his head over the wall one afternoon with an annoyed look on his face. His mouth moves. "Excuse me?" I say, lifting the headphones from my ears. He pauses, cocks his head, and replies, "I've been talking to you for the last five minutes."
I point to the headphones. "Sorry," I say, "Couldn't hear you." I take the phones off and offer them across the cubicle wall. "Here, give it a try."
He puts them on -- I think the track is "Niddhog," a complete shit-storm of noise and beats -- and immediately jerks like he's had a couple hundred volts run through his molars. "Damn it," he swears, yanking the headphones off his head, "What the hell is that?"
I smile and put the headphones back on. "The good shit." Never did find out what he wanted. Kreptkrept must have knocked his train of thought right out of his skull. Good noise makes a savage weapon and Cordell Klier -- the one-man mayhem maker behind Kreptkrept -- knows this maxim and captures its full digital clarity on Irregular Dark Beat.
Frozen Empire Media is the U.S. stronghold for rhythmic noise and Cordell Klier's Kreptkrept record is one of their latest detonations. A re-interpretation of a very limited CD-R release among close friends of Mr. Klier called The Moon and the Fog, Irregular Dark Beat is exactly what it purports to be: a howling maelstrom of sound and fury, a cataclysmic wash of knives and glass and chattering steel. It is not the unrelenting wall of Merzbow feedback, but rather the carefully calculated application of rhythm and beat against a powerful tornado of sonic force.
"The Darkthrone" is the perfect theme music for Thulsa Doom if John Millius had been half-able to lens the evil magus as he should have been filmed. Martial drumming overwhelms the groaning chant of hooded monks. Caustic melodies squirm and dart throughout like hallucinogenic serpents. "God Graced by Bullets" sounds like the arrival of Kali and her attendant devotees. Klier skillfully hammers drum and bass patterns through a virulent wall of powerful energy while still weaving ambient atmospheres throughout these explosions of sound and beat. "Speach Will Be the Next Four-Letter Word" drifts and creaks like a malevolent machine which has lost most of its ability of locomotion, but none of its destructive intent.
Klier works surgically; his tracks aren't filled with too many extraneous movements, just swift, precise strikes. "Omnipotent Gray Area" is barely more than two minutes long, but it is a hurried shard of splintered time -- very jagged, very keen with its edges. It does what it needs to do and goes, leaving you staggering, leaving you unprepared for the martial march of "Rebels" which quickly drives over you and leaves you in the roadway. "To a Lull" grinds down into nothingness, a tread which slows to a fatal stop. You catch your breath -- this may be your last chance -- because the "Whores on the Cavity March" are coming and you can imagine that they aren't ones for taking prisoners.
My last exposure to Cordell's work was his work under the Monstrare moniker and a cold, bleak ambient release called Isfet. Irregular Dark Beat grinds home the fact that this lad has more than one hat in his closet. This hat has spikes and horns and blows scorching steam out a vent in the top. It's got ragged chain mail across the back and a cowl that is swept up like the thorned arm of a destroyer angel. It is, in short, a hat I wished I had. But, until I can figure out where to buy such a helm, I'll be satisfied with the powerful imagery supplied by Irregular Dark Beat.
- K -
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Publications I've Written For
- Eraldo Bernocchi
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- This Morn' Omina