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Vital Weekly 788

img  Tobias Fischer

The most striking feature of this new Merzbow CD is the cover, designed by Rutger Zuydervelt, who choose a 'modern' design, which is something that we haven't seen for Merzbow - but I am the first to admit I don't see as many Merzbow CDs as I used to. Two hens on the cover, which makes it fairly save to assume that Merzbow is still on his 'pro-animal' course. That hasn't changed and same goes for the music. Not a lot of info on the cover otherwise, as to why when where and how. That perhaps is a pity, since it makes this the obvious target for people to say 'oh yet another typical Merzbow' CD. Its no secret I have been a Merzbow promoter and lover for years, but I found myself at one point with sealed CDs that haven't been opened for some time - that's the moment when I lost interest. Also, the sheer volume of work made me hardly go back to the ones I liked, let alone the ones I heard once. That said, I like what Masami Akita does a lot. His sheer consistent production of some of the finest noise around is something one can only admire. There will be die-hards out there who still collect it all, and I can't blame them, even admire them, and with them 'Yaho-Niwa' will go down equally well. Just as well as it went down here. I thought this was all quite electronic, with loops of electro-acoustic noise fed to the VCS with the tape running all the time, and seemingly without too much editing. Exactly like we would expect from a 'typical' Merzbow CD. More of the same perhaps, but then I also missed out on his Merzbient 10 CD set - that would have perhaps made a difference. (FdW) Address:

While one is a collaborator, the other one isn't. In a personal note that came with the first CD, Z'EV writes me that in a conversation Mister Watson had with Mister Mallinder (having not seen eachother in thirty years since the Cabaret days), it came to light that Z'EV is the first one to work with sound files handed out by Chris Watson. First on a three way disc with KK Null and now together. At the source of this lies field recordings by Watson made at Serengati National Park in Tanzania, capturing the atmosphere, birds, elephants, frogs etc and a recording made by Z'EV playing percussion in a crypt of Christ Church in Spitalfields. The cover details all the various steps taken from there to create this work, per date and per technique. We learn that time stretching was used and that quite an amount files were exchanged. This leads to this one piece of forty some minutes which has a strange character. It entirely fits the somewhat lesser known side of Z'EV is creating electronic music rather than pure percussive music. It has a great haunting (haunted?) spooky character of loop based animal roar, birds chirping but also these ghostly sounds of sparse percussive sounds. Slowly moving backward and forward, this is a fantastic piece of soundscaping of nocturnal animal life. Obviously if you would go out the woods tonight, then you may think this is scary place. I would think so. A simple, straight forward idea, yet complex in realization. Did I say a fantastic piece already?
The other new Z'EV release is also a collaboration, this time with Faust, represented here by Hans Joachim Irmler on 'keyboards/outboards' and Andreas Schmid on recording and sound support. Z'EV himself can be found on percussion as well as the production of the final result. Packed unfortunately in a dreadful cover. The recordings were already made in 2007 and mixed later on in 2007 and in 2008, and now released as Faus't. If the previous collaboration is a pure piece of soundscaping, this is much more a musical enterprise. Z'EV rolls his percussion in various layers about, while Irmler provides with the necessary sustaining organs, feeding them through various distortion pedals. Music with a bite, that much is sure. Quite loud and forceful, but not always convincing. Psychedelic and krautrock like for sure, but at various times without too much direction, when things leap too much in an all too freeform jam session. Things could have been a bit more tighter, a bit more condensed, weed out those bits that me thinks are a bit too much over the top and the album would have been excellent, in stead of 'pretty good' which it is now. (FdW)


Warning! Serious music ahead! Warning! Martin Neukom (1956) studied musicology, mathematics and psychology and now is a teacher in music theory and a composer, who uses sound synthesis and composition with computers. For the pieces on 'Studien 5-7' he uses Csound and an Atari ST. That may seem odd, but these pieces were composed between 1992 and 1996. If I understand well, Neukom captures sounds into some system and let them run through various parameters that alter the sounds within a given spectrum. Sometimes it goes a bit out of hand and the system is reset and moves into something new. It's quite interesting music, I must say, very clinically clean and very serious (warning!) harking back to the sixties electronic music, like Marcus Schmickler also sometimes does, or other releases on Domizil. But not clinically and cold, but clinically and captivating. The missing link between the sixties overground composers and the 21st century microsound. Think Kim Cascone and Asmus Tietchens with 'totaller E musik'. Maybe a bit long in the end, although the best bit was at the end, with 'Studie 7.3' as the best piece. Great music! (FdW) Address:


A trio of new releases on the Hypnos label, for me still one of the more important homes of ambient music. Warning, spoiler. I never expect anything 'new' from Hypnos; they are leading masters of the ambient music scene, and carved out their own niche in that respect. They don't open new roads in music.
Nebulae (where the 'a' and 'e' should be connected together) is a project of Italy's O–phoi and this new album is dedicated to Klaus Wiese, erstwhile collaborator with Popol Vuh and ambient master of singing bowls. O–phoi gets help on these tracks by a bunch of people, making this into a floating membership thing. Wiese himself provides with some synth and zither, but also Mathias Grassow is present and a whole bunch of people I never heard of, such as Lorenzo Pierobon, Geert Verbeke, Luna and Mauro Malgrande, who get credits for harmonic chants, vocals, shakuhachi, processing and vocals. The album was recorded in 2003 and previously released by Stella Maris as a limited CDR, yet not reviewed before. Of the three new releases on Hypnos, this is the one that is the most quiet and cerebral one. It has humming voices, long sustaining sounds and a vaguely ritual notion to it, all melted together to enlighten the listener, to elevate the listener at least a couple of feet above the ground. Quite an achievement when that happens. A tad bit new agey perhaps and that's the only downside, but perhaps this mass of weightless space is also too dark for the regular new age market anyway? I surely quite like it: it was on repeat for a few hours, slept a bit during that time and floated back to earth later on.
Following the abundance of the name Augur, Steve Brand now works under his own name. I must admit I didn't hear a lot of his solo music, which was released solo as well as in collaboration with Ishq and Disturbed Earth, and hearing Augur is a long time ago, but there have been some changes in his music too. Augur was more on the experimental edge of ambient music, whereas his current direction is more along the lines of what Hypnos is in general about: long sustaining patterns of sounds, based on synthesizers or perhaps any type of sound processing which goes on for quite some time (maybe field recordings?) and on top there is the rattle of percussive sounds. 'Avatara' means 'descent' in Sanskrit, 'in the sense of a deity's descent from heaven to earth' and this the main idea behind the album, the descent of avatars in various cultures. Now that sounds all a bit too new agey for my liking, but its easy, I guess, to see the music by itself. On a somewhat grey and cloudy day, like today happens to be, this ambient music in which the element of percussion is kept to a minimum, compared to his previous 'Children Of Alcyone' (see Vital Weekly 712), in favor of more drone like music, makes perfect sense. Majestically it unfolds itself. Great one.
Some more musicians who have been around for some time, are Loren Nerell, who had some fine albums of Soleilmoon and Side Effects and A Produce on Hypnos and Trance Port. If Nebulae and Steve Brand are downright ambient with a small tendency towards new age, this collaboration is the one that drifts slightly towards the realms of ambient house. Not as 'pumping' or 'driving' as some others, but the plinky plonky rhythm elements are surely present, along with small melodies, as opposed to endlessly sustaining material. It reminded of the earlier solowork by these two, but also a fine reminder of the Silent Records catalogue, especially the work of The Heavenly Music Corporation, or the pseudo/quasi ethnic percussion of O Yuki Conjugate in 'String Theory'. This is where ambient house was at its most ambient and least house related. Great atmospherics going on here, the perfect chill out music, in case anyone knows what that was all about. Great late night music, or very early morning. (FdW)


For somebody who has been around for some time, I was a bit surprised to see that he did not as much releases as I thought he would have. It's been indeed some time since Vital Weekly 678 since we last reviewed his work. His website says that these new pieces, eight in total, 'simply redefine electronic music. Each song is a crafted fusion of contemporary rhythm and melody sculpted from Stokes' hand-made electronic instruments' - and that last part is actually true. It is indeed a fusion of rhythm and melodies but it doesn't redefine electronic music. Far from it, I'd say. But that is no a problem. You don't have to change the world of music all the time. What Stokes does here on 'Sleek Nucleus' is playing electronic music that fits the forty year tradition of seventies cosmic music to the mid nineties ambient house - that's where electronic music was shaken and stirred and an unlikely fusion happened between techno's 4/4 ticking beats and the arpeggio waves of analogue synthesizers of the seventies. 'Sleek Nucleus' fits entirely in that tradition, and that's great. I think ambient house is on a return course to earth after being in orbit for many years, and Stokes is simply someone who knows how put on an ambient house track. Not always quick and uplifting, but also sparse and more seventies like such as in 'Spun Into Static'. Quite a varied album, this one, and nothing new as such, but very well made and likewise entertaining. (FdW) Address:


Denis Kolokol is an Ukrainian sound artist, composer and performer living in Krakow, Poland. He ran also a few underground magazines and was writing about music. He interprets music not only emotionally, but also analyze it. He wrote a lot about music and one day he started to make music and his first performance was at the Replica Festival in Almaty - Kazakhstan. After that in 2006 he continued to play with Alexander Chikmakov, who plays guitar. Proud to be Loud is mastered by Jos Smolders. The first two compositions at his debut album are collaborations with this guitarist. A interesting mix between classic or modern classic guitar and electronics. The aim of their collaboration is to explore the possibilities, borders and contradictions between traditional and modern music and to create a coherent, multilayered and carefully composed pieces of music. And that is what it is. Denis Kolokol knows how to use his computer in an intellectual musical way, but it never starts to be without any emotion. The fourth track is created with the voice of Carmina Escobar and was composed and performed in a residency at the California Institute of Arts in 2009. The piece is also exploring the same elements as the music with Alexander Chikmakov. All kind of possibilities of the female voice have been used, like singing, talking, humming, whispering and shouting. His solopiece is shorter in time, raw and a combination of drums, electronics, voice. It is more a collage of sounds which fits well together, but the extra element of a traditional music-instrument or vocalist is missing, what makes the piece less interesting than the other three. Although the album Proud to be Loud is a great debut of the this musician who knows to combine intellectual concepts and well composed music. (Jan-Kees Helms) Address:


The first batch of releases by The Truth About Frank (see Vital Weekly 670, 674 and 727) get better and better all the time, this time also the package looks much better than before. A band that is based in the world of loops and primarily at that in two things: rhythm and voices, more than anything else. Slowed down rhythms from drum machines, glitchy click n cut rhythms, sampled drums: that's one side of the game. The other is to take voice material from various sources, mainly films I would think, and loop them around. I didn't recognize any of the film material, but no doubt horror and science fiction. To add synthesized bits are added. The earlier influences of Pan Sonic seem to be removed, not being as dry anymore as before. Instead this duo go for a more full body of sound, with the use of the full dynamic range of the material, with sound effects in place on all the material. Still not entirely fulfilling its potential I think, as sometimes it leaps too much in easy repetition of sound material, such as 'Swimming Over Mountains'. The Truth About Frank is not about any kind of style, as the hop various genres and melt them together, which is a fine thing. Still improving and still room for further development. (FdW) Address:


STRINGSTRANG - ONE (CDR by Suggestion Records)
Jan Kees Helms, these days known as writer for these pages has a long history in experimental music, through Little Seed and his Lor Teeps label, then a few years of hibernation and these days back under his own name and apparently now also as StringStrang. This new project deals with 'repetition, atmosphere, harmony and contradiction. Everything was recorded on the spot without any overdubs. He uses guitar drones and field recordings. To me, but I haven't heard all of his work, this seems a shift away from his earlier stuff, and moving more firmly into the field of drones/ambient/soundscapes; the crowded field as its not easy not to think of bands like Fears Falls Burning/Microphonics and Machinefabriek, both of them quite active with releases of this kind of music. Helms hasn't necessarily found his own voice with this, but these five lengthy pieces are fine works of dark ambiance resonating through the six strings. Not easy to say to which extend the field recordings are used here; I found it hard to say if there were any at all. One negative aspect is that there is some mild distortion here and there, perhaps due to the 'recording in one take' aspect of this. Once that is smoothed out, in the second track, things improve greatly. Good start for a new direction. (FdW) Address:

Three neatly packed 3"CDRs of mostly unknown musicians. The first one (I played) was by Controlled Dissonance, of whom nothing is known, and who plays, according to the label, 'dark ambient/harsh drone/soft noise'. 'Terrains Vagues' is one, seventeen minute, piece which exemplifies that. Dark ambience for sure, through a very low end rumble which seems static but below the surface is on the move all the time. Hard to tell what was used to create this, but it surely could be any kind of sound processing on basically any kind of sound. After about two-third things make a change and radio voices leak through - thus perhaps giving away the sound source (shortwave radio) and it makes a fierce noise ending. Nice one.
Khristian Weeks is from Durham, North Carolina, and is a sound artist/designer who uses found and hacked electronics, objects, field recordings, microphones, electro-acoustic and electro-mechanical devices. He plays all of this in an improvised manner. I assume he uses various layers of his playing on objects and electronics (hand cranked) in quite a chaotic way, without caring too much about such notions as composition. That I thought was nice, but perhaps not for the entire length of the second piece, 'Rumpus', in its entire sixteen or so minutes. The first one, only four minutes, proved more than enough how things work for him. In the second piece I think some editing would have been nice, as well as some touching up in the area of hiss. Music with potential, I'd say.
Labelboss August Traeger works with Carl Kruger as Nipple Stool. They have no less than fourteen tracks within twenty-one minutes and within that music things are even more fragmented. I assume they operate as a laptop duo with their own constellations of software to fragment small bits of audio information a bit further. Reminding me of the glitchy clicks 'n cuts of say five to ten years ago (think Ritornell, early Mego), this is quite nice improvised electronic music. Since nothing lasts very long here, and with a nice touch of modern composition, this is a sparkling release. Not because its necessarily new but for its sheer compact character. Best out of three, although I doubt if a much longer release would be equally interesting. Time will tell. (FdW)


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