Music Reviews



Astatine: Global Exposure

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 12 2019
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Artist: Astatine
Title: Global Exposure
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence
Stéphane Recrosio’s solo project Astatine gives us a curiously sketchy release here in “Global Exposure”. It’s twenty tracks of lo-fi ideas and noodlings that feel variously either accidentally or deliberately muted, muffled, experimentally mixed, or just raw. There are guitar pieces with vocals that border on songs, but they seem like insular bedroom demo versions, lacking in confidence or punch, and with awfully recorded vocals at times- but in the context of more consciously ambient works, they feel like they make more sense.

Most of the twenty tracks are short- only a handful top the three minute mark- but when pieces like “Monotron 5” are allowed to breathe, with their dark echoing ambiences and windy tones, the coherences starts shining through. “Etude125”, with its mixture of drone and distant radio signal style noises, is a highlight, as is the varispeed playfulness of prosaically named “Snow Loop #7”.

The mood also jumps here and there quite a lot, with angrier tracks like guitar-hammering “Muzrub” shaking you down and pushing the rather thin lo-fi production approach to its edge. By contrast, despite its endearingly frustrated title, “This Rail Junction Is A Disaster” is practically a guitar ballad. Some grungy pieces like “Decipher The Fall” fall a little flat, but details like unexpected drums in “L’Art De La Defaite” keep the surprises coming throughout.

Rawness and rough edges abound on a release that seems to epitomise the introverted solo experimental guitarist genre, but which absolutely has its strengths. This will strike a chord, quietly, with quite a few listeners, I expect, although others are likely to dismiss it’s thoroughly low-quality sonics as amateurish or ‘the wrong kind’ of lo-fi.

Thomas Brinkmann: Raupenbahn

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 06 2019
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Artist: Thomas Brinkmann
Title: Raupenbahn
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Editions Mego
“Raupenbahn” is a simple yet fascinating idea- twenty-one recordings (or only eleven if you buy the vinyl) of old mechanical industrial looms in action, presented as purist field recordings, but of material so rhythmic and comprising of so many moving elements that it is far from ambient and instead offers up its own form of accidental music.

Three of the recorded looms date from the late 19th century, the other two between 1967 and 1972, so whilst not the earliest examples of industrial rhythmic machinery, the older looms do come from towards the very beginning of what might be thought of as ‘industrial sound’. Many of the recordings clock in between 100bpm to 140bpm making them feel like precursors to (and potentially great rhythm tracks for) modern industrial or electronic music. The thumps and clicks in “Ruti / ód / PL, 1892” feel like the 19th century prototype for a 4/4 kick-clap electro beat, while “Lentz 2 MG” even feels like it ought to have Underworld chords and Karl Hyde lyrics applied directly to it. The double pounding pattern of “Grossenhainer EU lower floor” really does link industrial sound to industrial music.

The stereo effect in “Henry Livesy BO” is an example of the detail and care with which these sounds have been recorded, really filling the sonic space but without pushing it into the realm of an oppressive sound, even though visitors to old industrial museums might be expecting such sounds to be unbearably loud. That being said, certain pieces like the strangely tractor-like “Saurer 400 BO” are certainly noisier than others. Some recordings are relentless and somewhat flat, whereas others encapsulate the machine’s start-up and switch-off processes as well, some of which add neat little bookends.

At 70 minutes, the digital edition is an extensive pack and that’s perhaps too long a time to sustain avid interest in any pack of purely rhythmic sounds- so as a full-length listening experience it may be better in small doses. There are plenty of fascinating individual tracks though, that make this intriguing presentation of old genuinely-industrial rhythms certainly worth dipping into.

Passing mention has to be made of the artwork, of course; presumably there’s some excuse for putting a lesser-clothed woman on the cover. Titillation draws attention, obviously, but it totally misrepresents the sound product, and leaves some potential customers maybe having to explain to their wives or partners that it “isn’t what it looks like”.

Giona Vinti: Orc

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 05 2019
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Artist: Giona Vinti
Title: Orc
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Elli Records
“Orc” is a collection of four numbered tracks, or ‘layers’, each being around ten minutes of dynamic and impulsive live electronics work fusing modular synthesis, sound generators, and a litany of effects ranging from the homemade and handcrafted to the (fairly) big budget, mostly arranged on the fly through a 24 track analogue mixer. The result is four slabs of gloriously expressive chaos that jumps around between differently constructed walls of broken noise, and mostly short-lived breathing spaces between them. Rhythm is foregone, but there’s a serialism to the sonic affrontery that acts as a surrogate structure.

To say that the second part is any calmer than the first would be true, but would imply that the second part is in any way calm, which it certainly isn’t. The analogue squeaks come further to the floor, and the noise and distortion is notched down a touch, but it’s still panicky and skittish. The bubbling low electronics of the third part are the nearest we get to an actual rhythm, while part four is the darkest and most sinister, channeling more than a little sense of a Radiophonic Workshop representation of alien threat as expressed through the medium of late 60’s black-and-white TV.

It’s a fine balancing act to work in such a noise-driven and cacophonous way yet to find a way of emoting and building human expression into it, rather than pure randomness, and for the most part, Giona Vinti pulls off that balance here. The sheer unadulterated rawness and relentless energy level of it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you like your electronics acerbic, bordering on sandpaper-like, then this is a deep dive into thick soundwaves that you’ll definitely enjoy.

VV.AA.: Now That's What I Call Silence!

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Oct 23 2019
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Now That's What I Call Silence!
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Media
The brilliant title of this release is worth the price of admission on its own- but it also gives you a slightly misleading idea of what to expect here. In the natural world, real silence is non-existent, and in our modern day life, even more so. Here, seventeen different artists have offered up their very different interpretations of attempted, circumstantial or artificial silence- and some of them are very, very loud.

Some scenes, like X-Bax’s “Don’t Be So Cagey” or Baptizer’s “Whispers Of Rovinj”, are true representations of natural near-silence, with indistinct open atmospheres. In recordings that range from 30 seconds to just over 10 minutes, you are drawn in and encouraged to reflect on the base level of noise that exists in your life.

Other tracks however, in the words of clickbait, “will surprise you!”. Small Life Form’s “Empty Vessel” is a heavily driven noisy industrial drone, the kind of thing employees have to wear ear protectors and have special training for, and Remora and Konbanwa both offer up gritty mechanical-sounding flat sonic platforms. Ben Link Collin’s “The Concealed Surround” is conscious sound design full of hollow resonance, creating a haunting sci-fi soundscape that gradually becomes more animalistic as it evolves. Charles De Mar’s “Nap Time” seemingly twists the sound of soporific baby sleep.

And furthermore, other tracks seem to pay only passing service to the concept (or at least, to the concept as I understand it). Goddakk’s “North 7th” and Electric Bird Noise’s “A Walk Around The Neighborhood” are both dark bits of guitar strumming but decidedly musical, while Premature Burial’s “Signal To Noise To Signal” is thumping, musically industrial rhythm work. High Tunnels’ “Food Lion Meat Cooler” is a fascinating sort of hybrid between a complex electronica heartbeat rhythm and the sound of ice cracking, while the 30-second pieces are the oddest, almost comical parts.

The idea of the release is drawn from the 2000 “Blank Tapes” by Reynols- plus John Cage, naturally- but the noise of imperfect recording mediums is not a big player here. It does show up in the microphone peaking of Heavy For The Vintage’s “Attempted Baptism, Accidental Suicide”, for example.

It’s a really strong collection of tracks that shows off the broad range of sounds on the Silber label, but if you bought this release expecting ambient noise for nodding off too, you’re in for a shock.
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: On Corrosion
Format: Tape
Label: The Helen Scarsdale Agency
“On Corrosion” is an ambitious art project. It’s the Helen Scarsdale Agency’s 50th release and the theme is based on founder Jim Haynes’ work curating an art collection under the name “On Corrision”. Ten different established sound artists have contributed their own full-length albums inspired by, or in response to, that theme. Over the course of nearly seven hours, these works head off in a variety of different directions, with diverse and varying appeal (some more than others). It’s appropriate that each album has its own artwork and subtitle as well, since largely they would stand up as sound works in their own right even if disassociated from the overriding theme- yet as I work through each release, I find myself spotting commonalities between each, leading to over-use of the word “also” in introducing each in the context of the last.

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project’s “Hydration Equilibrium” is a series of disquieting found sounds constructed into occasional patterns and rhythms on a drone base. ‘Disintegrated media’ is a successful subtheme, drawing and dismantling recordings from old tapes into an extensive entropy of modern broadcast noise, and meaty final track “Only The Green, Blue and Black” is a highlight.

The corrosion in G Park’s “Nosode” is largely digital, heavy bit-crunching, phasing and thick shifting equalisation taking fairly ordinary sounds like dripping taps and breaking them down into evil-sounding and edgy sonic abstracts across two fairly flat but intriguing 17 minute textures.

Himukalt’s “Torn Asunder- The Half Girl” is an exercise in unrelenting fury. Passionate angry feedback and noise walls punch your ears repeatedly, heavily distorted spoken-word monologues are barely discernible, raw sexual noises are thrown in for added affrontery. It jumps between structureless assembly and infrequent more industrial pattern-based sections such as when a kick drum pops in and out of “Cruel By Most Estimations”. “Absent” is the most successful track but the whole thing feels like reading somebody else’s private diary about a relationship that’s broken down in violent fashion.

Alice Kemp’s “9 Dreams In Erotic Mourning” also feels like relationship breakdown channeled into sound, but very differently. The stereotypical British bottling up of emotion seems at play here, as lethargic synth-piano melodies take precedent and suppressed feelings creep in at the edges, in the form of electric hums, masturbatory and pained vocalisations, identifiable rustling, and the like. These feelings break through periodically, most notably in the screams of “Alles Ist Wie Es Ist”, but it remains an odd balancing act of repression and expression.

Kleistwahr’s “Winter” also juxtaposes long harmonious melodic pads with more impulsive and gritty injunctions, this time more guitar-like, but across these two twenty-minute pieces it’s a contrast that feels more assured, almost enjoyed. It’s a tourist’s journey through discord but it somehow feels safe and unchallenging. Even as the pitch steadily shifts up and up and up in “Rust Eats the Future”, it somehow never sounds stressful or tense- which is very curious considering the ingredients.

“A Collection Of Damaged Reel Tape Loops” by Francisco Meirino also makes awkward noise palatable. There is no melodic element here, but there are windy envelopes that stroll over the main meat of the production, which is unrecognisably distorted sonic blowout and feedback that comes round and round, in looped patterns, to create rhythm and structure seemingly by accident. What could possibly me old music hall recordings drift through into your consciousness vaguely as it progresses, a literal but powerful interpretation of the corrosion of recorded sound-history.

No-wave, anti-rock duo Neutral offer up “Lagliv” which feels faintly anachronistic in this set thanks to the dominance of heavy guitar thrashing. A cacophony of dramatic documentary sound and spoken-word elements ride atop thick noise work but it still feels like the album here which is closest to what it would sound like if performed live. Of the two eighteen-minute tracks here, it was “Ganska lagt / Ocksa” that felt more accessible to me thanks to its increased inclusion of electronic noise, since I’m an electronics kid at heart.

Pinkcourtesyphone’s reliably minimalist “Shouting At Naunce” is an entrancing but uneventful forty-nine minutes of light electronic pulses, long delays, and slowly fading and breathing hums that’s absolutely charming and eminently soporific. Second piece “Alternatory” is marginally more melodic, adding to the sense of lullaby. If anything my only criticism of this work is that, in view of the overriding theme of the collection, this work doesn’t sound corroded- if anything it sounds smoothed, like a glossy sonic pebble. It joins other Pinkcourtesyphone releases on my sleep playlists.

Relay For Death’s “Mutual Consuming” is also a pair of long ambient works with a wave approach and a soporific flavour, but quite a different tone- there’s something steadily metallic about the resonances here, never straying fully into nails-down-the-blackboard territory but sharp enough to give an underlying sense of tension. Unlike the previous album, this does build to something dramatic, with second piece “Terminal Ice Wind” stepping assuredly up in level until it earns some dramatic deep bangs and crashes, corrosion akin to hearing the rapid cracking of a huge ice sheet from the point of view of someone trapped in the ice.

Alice Kundalini, as She Spread Sorrow, offers up “Orchid Seeds”. It’s storytelling-driven, powered by a breathy spoken word narrative that’s frankly hard to follow and feels invasively and deliberately over-intimate. This works on top of a bed of dark sonic textures, primarily super-low bass rumbles on the border of reproducible sound and ordinary hearing, but also cut through by higher-pitched rapid pulses and some very high-pitched squealing sounds that add to the discomfort. Occasionally, kicks and sub-bass sounds borrowed from dubby deep trip-hop bring everything up a level, making tracks like “She Didn’t Care” more memorable. Despite being split into five pieces, it mostly plays as a single unit, with the track divisions feeling as much chapter-based as they are by sonic change. A word of warning about the distant relentless old-fashioned telephone ringing sound that sits in the background of “Queen Of Guilt”- it will make you think your phone’s ringing, even if it doesn’t sound anything like your ringtone.

It’s presented as a 10-cassette set in a wooden box, but I only have the digital files to review so I can’t comment on the physical aspects of it. The packshot photo certainly makes it look like a thing of retro beauty though.

Sonically, it’s certainly a work of art. The way in which ten different artists have tackled the overarching theme, drawing parallels between themselves but also setting off in ten tangibly different directions. Everyone will have different favourites- I’d probably single out Pinkcourtesyphone and Francisco Meirino as mine- but people with a lot of time (and presumably money- I don’t know the asking price) to invest in dark electrosonic arts will find a lot that’s worthwhile in this nearly seven-hour-long collection.


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