Various Artists - MD8
California-based label n5md is now in the CD business. Previously, one of the charms of Mike Cadoo's (who records as one-half of Gridlock) efforts with n5md has been that the releases have (almost) all been issued on pre-recorded mini-discs. Sony, however, finally ran the numbers and decided that there just wasn't a viable market for the pre-recorded format and dropped the availability. Cadoo, though disappointed at the reality, hasn't missed a beat and is now releasing n5md releases on CD. For the rest of us who weren't embracing the technology, this means that we can now more readily hear the sort of music Cadoo means when he references one of the core tenets of the label as being a home for a "more emotional type of experimental electronica." The first post mini-disc demise release, MD8, is a compilation showcasing the efforts of the n5md roster to realize the Three E's of Cadoo's dream.
Quench's "Frost" is a textured piece of winter night music, flush with the sort of soft flakes and persistent whiteness, which fills the air and layers a sparkling coat across rooftops and city streets. This is a gorgeous tune and it takes me four tries to get past it on the CD. I keep hitting the repeat key and losing myself in the slow build of the blizzard it raises in my head. Sohcahtoa's "Magretha" exudes a similar textured lushness, the ripe melodies flooding your speakers like a spreading pool of warm sunlight. Beats dapple the surface of the piece like a dusting of colored motes dancing in the waves of heat given off by the expanding pool.
Vesna's "Rack Mode" clatters like a broom closet exploding which only adds to the organic charm of the warm analog melodies. Rivel's "Isine" is a winsome little tune that is fractured by digital artifacting. Round tones are cut and fragmented by bit-slicing, turning the human emotion of the melody into a stuttering mechanical expression. Portland's "Soco 2110 Th" is a soundtrack to a cybernetic private eye film, a biomechanical film noir ditty. Gridlock's "Chrometaphor" is remixed by Loess, turned into a ballad which sounds like it is being sung by a chorus of steam pipes and old machinery going gently into the dark night.
Gimmik blenderizes a Speak-n-Spell and children's voices into a Squarepusher-esque mix with "Booga." Headphone Science re-imagines a Philip Chandler novel as a piece of electronic mood music for "Disappeared in the Rear View." Spark's "Don't Rain on my Parade" sounds like a spring shower dancing on the rooftop, and Mercurial's "Rainwater" closes the disc with an emotive piano and rainwater hymn to the temperate space following a heavy thundershower.
Electronic music can be devoid of any human touch, beats and rhythms derived by abstract math and soulless calculations. It's a testament to our insistent need to communicate that mathematically derived music can so readily be warm and engaging. MD8 showcases the possibilities for emotion and experimentation in electronic music. This is the first time I've heard some of these artists and MD8 only fuels my desire to devour n5md's back catalogue. Excellent, and damaging to the pocket book.
Various Artists - Natural Born Chillers
The trouble with the word "chill" is the tendency to try to squeeze it into a pun as a record title. Most are atrocious and the rest are, at best, minor distractions to the work. Aleph Zero's Natural Born Chillers has, unfortunately, an allusion to Natural Born Killers, Olive Stone's ode to the media and the public's fascination with serial violence. For a record that is intended to induce a sublime state of physical bonelessness, it's a jarring misstep.
That niggling detail aside, Natural Born Chillers does indeed cause bonelessness, a liquidity of movement that is inspired by the Oriental and Middle Eastern overtones flowing throughout its rich sonic landscape. The ten artists on Natural Born Chillers have a cohesive intent, a singular vision that allows for the ten tracks to be seamlessly integrated into a single flowing experience. While each track has its own indelible personality and influences, the overall focus is so clearly defined that the record moves as a single unit. And, frankly, that's how I've been listening to it over the last few days.
Sure, I can point out the downtempo lounge work of Cosmic Fools' "Be Yourself" (including their use of torch singer Natalie Chalfon), or the delightfully rich and time-stretched melodies of opener Ishq's "Alaya," or the water-tinged textures, vocal inserts, and sumptuous dub echo of Zen Mechanics' "A New Philosophy," or the wooden flute and vaguely Taiko drumming of Agalactica's "Monochrome Rainbow Pixie" (which, of course, in keeping with the blended philosophy of the record also channels Middle Eastern desert rhythms and African vocal histrionics). But singling out such efforts break the flow of Natural Born Chillers, and such an insistence mars the vibe this record gives off in waves.
Aleph Zero 
Vox Barbara - (de)Constructing Ghosts
From the delicately constructed liner notes: "Eldon Chorashan, a former pupil of Semyon Davidovich Kirlian, believed that an analogous [to Kirlian's concept of fields displayed by radiation field photography] process that he called 'hyper-timescale threshold gating,' performed on digital audio waves, could produce audio luminescence. Chorashan thus believed it was possible, using the appropriate sound analysis software, to produce an audio document representing the hidden 'historical energy artefacts' produced by all entities which emit sound. In other words, Chorashan believed that within all sounds is encoded historical material, echoes of the past(s) of the objects producing the sound, which may be isolated using the proper stimuli."
Yeah, there's no real way to paraphrase that into an introductory sentence without coming off like a total loon. And I have to admit, there's a certain level of I've-been-watching-way-too-many-episodes-of-X-Files type skepticism that must be overcome to properly hear not just the random sounds of the internal workings of a Power Macintosh, of construction sites in Seattle, San Francisco, and Siem Reap, Cambodia, of a special education theater troupe, and of the physical environment found aboard a retired silver-shelled automobile ferry; but wonder at the echoes of the past which are laid over the present so that we are not hearing sounds in isolation but in the full context of their past. The tracks of (de)Constructed Ghosts are not snapshots; rather, they are complete aural timelines of objects and events. There is an archaeological twist to Frank Smith's recontextualization and noise sculpting. He's not so much interested in a sound in and of itself, but rather of what it was and what it may become in its own context. After a few listens, it becomes akin to leaning in an old well and listening for echoes that may still be bouncing around down in the darkness. You toss out your own voice -- or throw a stone against the worn, brick walls -- and what comes back to you is not just the echo of your event, but other sounds disturbed by your passage--sonic ghosts which float up, heavy and replete with the past.
There's a lot of history in Seattle tied around the Kalakala -- the unique silver-shelled ferry that sits unattended (for a few more weeks at least) at the end of Lake Union. I used to drive across the University Street Bridge every morning on the way to work and the morning light would make the rounded shape of the futuristic (then and now) ferry gleam. Somewhere in (de)Constructed Ghosts Frank Smith may uncovered the sounds of the ferry when it traveled across Eliot Bay -- the sound of the water against its hull, the rumble of the old cars climbing on and off at the wooden docks, and the chatter of society voices echoing in its upper decks. This is a truly unique recording, eerie in its possibilities, and endless in the depths of its sonic vibrations and turbulent rhythms.
Little Man Records 
Vromb - Rayons
Hugo Girard is a busy man. While his Vromb project has been in existence for a decade now, it has only been the last few years that he has become prolific with his output. 2003 saw three releases by Vromb with Rayons being his fourth full-length record. The focus in this record is on light, on what rays of light can sound like when converted into a musical experience.
"Klinikum" rises and falls with swooping curves, modulated tones which peak and ebb like the movement of light across a living room floor. The sounds on Rayons are completely fabricated on digital and analog equipment. Girard isn't experimenting with taking concrete data from some sort of scientific equipment and converting this signals to music; the tracks of Rayons are built by hand and are thematically structured to leave an impression of a visual experience on the listener. And so the ebb and flow of "Klinikum" is like watching a time-lapse film of light patterns moving across a floor.
There are beat patterns to some of these tracks, a sensation of movement which corresponds to the pace of the listener. "Éclairs" is a rendition of a thunderstorm. While you might stand under a tree and watch the stabs of lightning for awhile, when the rain starts to fall -- light glittering off the individual drops of rain as they come down -- you will consider better cover from the weather. The storm will follow, lightning breaking the sky behind you, the shining curtain of rain advancing upon your heels.
"Rayons" interjects some spoken voice bits (hmph, I guess not everything is sample free) into a scattered cut-up style that moves from beat landscape to washes of sound before vanishing in a buzzing hash of chattering noise. "La Rayure" stomps through the room like a fat beam of white light, a brilliant pulse of pure energy who incandescent flashes leave trails of sparks on your retinas. "Perpendiculaire" feels like you are riding an infinite conveyer belt, humming past broad windows which allow the light to spatter you in wide stripes. You can close your eyes and still see the light and dark patterns playing out against your eyelids. "Circuit Imprimé" chatters like sunlight sparkling off the water of a lake. You can feel the chop of the waves against the bottom of your boat, rocking you back and forth, while the scattered light dances across the watery landscape. The closing track, "Deuxième Générateur," is gentler than the preceding tracks, filled with undulating waves of soft noise and the whirring pulse of an oscillating tone. The light of "Deuxième Générateur" is man-made, colored by our grip on the prism, and less permanent than the brilliant light from the sun. This light is powered by machinery and, as the power dies, so does the light. Girard touches upon night with this final track, as the tones and the rivers of sound fade out in a rising note of panic and apprehension, you are left in an environment bereft of light.
Girard's approach to crafting the music of Rayons is creative and innovative and, ultimately, it is his muse. You don't need to know that the impetus of the tracks is an effort to reconstruct light events on a musical scale. Vromb's style of ambient music -- flush with glitch and electronic beats -- is engaging and always listenable. But knowing how and why he makes the songs he does adds a level on enjoyment. Instrumental music isn't just meant to be noise in the background; it should also engage your brain. Rayons is twice as fascinating if you are willing to dream along with it. Excellent.
- V -
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Publications I've Written For
- Eraldo Bernocchi
- Fields of the Nephilim
- Peter Gabriel
- Chris Randall
- This Morn' Omina