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Vital Weekly 814

img  Tobias Fischer

If the word revival is something your really hate, just like retromania, skip this lengthy piece and go to the next. And yes, if you send a CDR with 70 minute of harsh noise and no information you may not get a review this long either. And the best thing is: I bought the Minny Pops CD/DVD so technically I am not obliged to do a review as it was christmas gift to myself. Right. So there must be something going on. A small lesson in musical history from the lowlands. Late 1980 and early 1981, Amsterdam's venue Octopus hosted a bunch of evenings called Ultra, organized by Wally van Middendorp (Minny Pops), Rob Scholte and Harold Schellinx (both of The Young Lions). Hardly a movement as such but one could say it was the Dutch answer to No New York. Energy rides high, musical techniques are not that important. Whereas with punk you had to learn three chords to play what was basically an up-speed version of rock n roll, the post punk was the really do-it-yourself, the only true avant-garde inside popmusic. Go and find the compilation cassette of live recordings from those evenings, which is on the internet somewhere. The 'movement' had its own magazine, Vinyl (inc the infamous flexidisc), it had its stars and its workers. No doubt Minny Pops were the stars. They came from the punk band The Tits ('we're so glad Elvis is dead'), but their first album 'Drastic Measures, Drastic Movement' was certainly one of the most radical records to be released in The Netherlands - and it was still in the 70s. Named after a Japanese model rhythm machine, with a totally crazy guitar and a Korg synth, topped with the manic recitations of Wally (which hardly is singing, but more poetry to music), made up a record beyond belief (go and get the CD!). Minny Pops attracted the attention of Factory Records, recorded with Martin Hannett and then were sidelined to Factory Benelux and became a more main stream doomy new wave band. But they toured the USA in 1981 - then big news in the Dutch pop media - and returned to play more concerts here. One these was captured on a 8-track machine and now released on CD. 'Standstill To Motion' means that the Pops are in motion again. Wally sort of instigated a small Ultra revival that will sweep the Netherlands in the next few months, but curiously the Pops only play Amsterdam twice in March and April this year (last year in Rotterdam, along with Dick Polack of Mecano and opening for Peter Hook in Eindhoven), closing four events, in Nijmegen, Eindhoven, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. In these events other musicians (young and old) will contemplate how and to what extend they are inspired by Ultra ( for more information on the program still in progress), and Harold Schellinx will present his book on Ultra. All wheels set in motion. The DVD of the Minny Pops captures at the Ultra evening in Octopus, Peppermint Lounge and Hurrah (both in New York) and at the Filmacademie. Especially the old footage give a fine impression of the old Minny Pops, which look great in all its graininess. The New York footage shows them already more polished and that's how they sound on the live CD. They became from a 'project' a real 'band' and on that particular night, back in 1981, they were in great form.
Now the Minny Pops may have been in hibernation for thirty years, Truus de Groot never stopped. She was in a band called Nasmaak, singing and playing the crackle box, before they turned into Nasmak and she shortly left after that. Together with Lee Ranaldo and David Linton she formed Plus Instruments, guitar, drums, tapes and vocals. Later on she had a band called Trigger And The Thrill Kings (actually a band playing blues and rockabilly), but these days took back on the name Plus Instruments, still using the crackle box, still singing and she manages to still sound like Plus Instruments the way I remember best. Somewhere after Nasmak's first LP and Truus' departure, they played as Nasmak Plus Instruments and in this short, transitional period they toured with DAF, picking up along the lines some of their motorik drum patterns and sequencers (check out their 12" for Zig Zag). Now while it remains to be seen if Minny Pops will find a way to update their 80s sound to 2012, Plus Instruments certainly did. Each of these thirteen pieces have that motorik drive that was a prominent feature in the early 80s, but now its much fuller with the addition of a lot more instruments all sequenced to go along with the beats. No doubt thanks to today's technology, which allows musicians to play along with themselves more easily, De Groot adds crackle box, analogue synthesizers, sampled toys, sampled percussion and De Groot's more spoken than sung delivery make this an excellent updated form of Plus Instruments. Starting with 'Drinking Song' the album collapses a bit with pieces that don't seem to belong to the others, like they have been added afterwards to fill up an otherwise good album. These are more pop like tunes with simple drum machines and singing. Only four of those, but those nine previous pieces are more than excellent.
But Truus doesn't just dwell on past inspiration and is perhaps still 'ultra' - in the sense of always moving, always exploring new ways of working. She proofs that with her album she recorded with one Bosko Hrnjak. The cover lists a whole bunch of instruments, from the by now known crackle boxes to guitars, synthesizers, ambient noises, objects turned instruments found at the Salton Sea and much more. This music doesn't resemble the previous one, not even closely, except perhaps for the voice of Truus de Groot, who sings more now in stead of the more staccato delivery for Plus Instruments, and it bathes in a richly layered mass of improvised electronics, which work hardly as improvised music, but more like atmospheric poetry. Occasionally leaping into a rhythm machine - another hardly seen feature in the world of improvisation - or even a song, such as in 'Cruel Desert Sea' but those are very few. This is some excellent intimate music. Highly original as it bypasses such notions pop, improvisation, soundscape and in return melts all of these together into something that I thought was innovative. That's true spirit of Ultra: consequently re-inventing ways to work. According to Harold Schellinx Truus de Groot is the queen of the Dutch Ultra movement and he's right. (FdW)


Humcrush is Ståle Storløkken (keyboards), founding member of Supersilent and Thomas Strønen (drums and electronics), also known for his work with Food, Arve Henriksen a.o. As Humcrush they deliver their fourth album. It happens to be a fantastically recorded live performance at Willisau jazzfestival. They were on stage here with Sidsel Endresen, a reputed jazz singer and vocalist. For sure an odd combination: the experimental environment of drums and electronics combined with the jazzy voice of Endresen. One feels the swing in her performing, that is absent the playing of the others. The abstract structures of drums and electronics come from somewhere else. An interesting meeting is the result. This recipy works for some unusual but successful musical moments, but overall it failed however to keep my attention. The Hedvig Mollestad Trio consists of Ellen Brekken (electric and acoustic bass), Ivar Loe Bjornstad (drums) and Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen (guitar). With ‘Shoot!’ they make their first statement, recorded live in the studio. They switch between heavy rock and jazz. For Thomassen who equally grew up with both this combination is no more then logical. She developed a very dynamic style as a guitarist and it is her mean as well as subtle playing that impresses most on this release. Ellen Brekken started in the world of pop, but Terje Rypdal is her main influence. Drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad studied jazz but has a background in playing grunge and metal. This power trio puts all their energy and drive in nine instrumental but song-oriented pieces. Pieces that reminded me more of a musical past then of a musical present. For this reason, I enjoyed this one, but in the end I not completely convinced of their undertaking. (Dolf Mulder) Address:


MIKE COOPER – RADIO PARADISE (CD by Hohnny Kafta's KIds Menu)
A new one by the english veteran improvisor Mike Cooper on the comically named Lebanese label Johnny Kafta’s Kids Menu. His first record came out already in 1969 and since then he operates mainly as a solo-improvisor on lap steel and other guitars. I know and enjoy him most all from his work with french guitarist Cyril Lefebvre creating relaxed hawaiian moods on a Nato-release. Cooper is now in his sixties and still seeking and exploring in his musical activities. On this new release a development culminates that Cooper started in 2003 combining live improvisation, songs, field recordings, real time sampling, digital treatment and looping, using acoustic and electric lap steel guitars. At the same time everything on ‘Radio Paradise’ is drenched into the blues. Departing from blues traditional as ‘If I get Lucky’ (Arthur Crudup) and ‘Special Rider’ (Skip James), Cooper moves towards more abstract and experimental sound improvisations. In other pieces like ‘In Exile in Aghmat, Al Mutamids Grief at The Loss of I’timad’  he seems to move the other way around: from pure and far out improvisations he seeks to integrate bluesy textures. Interesting and captivating exercises, recorded in a studio in Beirut. (Dolf Mulder) Address:


LUBOMYR MELNYK - THE VOICE OF TREES (CD by Hinterzimmer Records)
DANIEL MENCHE - GUTS (CD by Editions Mego)
Two works for piano, two quite opposite works for piano. They arrived on the same day, and although I like Daniel Menche's music a lot, I choose to play the one from Lubomyr Melnyk first. Simply because I heard a lot of Menche but only once Melnyk: the re-issue of a LP from 1978 on Unseen Worlds was my first introduction (see Vital Weekly). I was curious to hear more of him. With this new press release I learn he is from Canada with Ukrainian origins. His style is playing like in a 'continuos mode' - simply said: it goes on and on. He plays very fast, repeating chords all the time. The work here is already recorded in 1983 and was only available on CDR so far, and sees Melnyk playing two pianos and Melvyn Poore (now of Zeitkratzer) on three tuba's. Not at the same time, but in real-time over backing tracks of their own playing. Again its clear (and perhaps easy) to see the link with Steve Reich and Terry Riley, but again I'd like to point out similarities with Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt - mostly because like Ten Holt, Melnyk plays without sustain pedal pushed down and so it has not all those overtones. But what differs is the fast repetition play that Melnyk uses here, in stead of the more slow motion play from Ten Holt and of course, here, the addition of the tuba, which of course is hardly an instrument that can play in continuos mode but Poore tries to keep up with it and does a great job. The dense-ness of these two pieces (two parts of the same piece) works very well. An excellent tour de force for both players and the listener, but a well-regarded trip.
Daniel Menche did the photo for the Melnyk release and also has a new CD out by himself and the cover credits him with 'abused and trashed piano guts'. Now if we hadn't been told, we would have probably not known this. In fact, I wouldn't be sure if I would have recognized anything in here. Menche is of course a master when it comes to noise, but over the years his work has toned down a bit: its now more the work what I like to call intelligent noise. Not just a screaming wall of noise, but there are also moments of more contemplative sounds in play here. Unlike others, say Francisco Meirino, Menche doesn't use the shock/surprise element of collage techniques but builds his work in singular, linear lines from start to finish. Its goes up, up and up, slowly and slow, but it will, ultimately, reach that logical end stadium, in which it keeps rotating for a while. That I thought, was at times a bit too long for my taste, and I think these pieces (three out of four lasting twenty minutes, like they do on the vinyl, where, I am sure, also the last one will last twenty here, here comprised to ten) could have easily be five minutes shorter and still have equal power. But no doubt true Menchians will wholeheartedly disagree here. Also a tour de force, but perhaps more for the listener than the composer. (FdW)


Over the years I didn't keep up with Mark van Hoen's solo work. I remember Aurobindo to be a nice work but haven't heard that in a long time, and also 'The Last Flowers From The Darkness' has faded from my memory, but then no less than fifteen years have passed. Van Hoen, once a member of of Seefeel, Scala and collaborator with Slowdive, discovered some old tracks which brought him in the a teenage mood again: why not use that old four track tape machine again with a minimal set up? When hearing this, I reminded of his older works again. Van Hoen plays, at least for me, pop like music, with rhythm, broken down guitar sounds, samples and occasionally a female voice dropping into the music. Grainy, down-sampled voices going back to the 2-bit sampling mood add a certain raw texture to the album. Hazy stuff, a bit blurry. Its a clash of the modern versus the old, new and ancient technology meet up in a very nice way. A well entertaining record, filled with melancholy, ambience, choir like sounds and glitched up rhythms. I am told this is all a bit more abstract than his previous work, but I think this is some very nice alternative popmusic. Certainly the kind of popmusic I like. (FdW) Address:


On the subject of compilations I also wrote a lot in the past, but I'd like to make exceptions for things like this. A three way compilation with each band delivering a long piece. This CD was released in a small edition to commemorate a concert they did in Paris in November 2011. The fourth piece is all of them together. Syndrome is the new name for Mathieu Vandekerckhove (also works as Amenra, Kingdom, Sembler Deah) and is armed with a guitar and lots of sound effects. His pieces starts out with the usual drone material, but then slowly moves towards plain guitar playing and looping it around. Introspective music. Monotonos is Roger NBH, whom I known for a long time, and despite his sparse output, I usually like his dark drone music a lot. On this new piece 'All Seemed So Clear, Yet Now So Distorted' the music has opened up a bit and a shred of sunlight shines through. Also a guitar like piece, also with a loop station (it seems) but also with what seems to be a piano, making a dark but melodic piece of music. Excellent. I never heard of Sequences, but his piece is the most traditional drone like one here with a bit of nastier ending. Its alright, but not great. Together they have a fifteen minute piece of slowly shifting guitar sounds, moving minimally. Obviously improvised on some spot or the other, but with this kind of playing its hard to go wrong when it comes to improvising. They slowly built up - almost in a Godspeed kind of way - but don't take it too far and create a highly atmospheric ending. Altogether a fine piece and marking a great ending for a nice compilation in a fine classic Roger NBH packaging. Now this is what compilations should be like. (FdW) Address:


Obviously John Tilbury and Keith Rowe know each other from their time with AMM, of which Rowe was expelled in 2004, but apparently they didn't meet until the recording of this CD in 2010. Two giants from the world of improvised music - and while I have most of the AMM releases, I must say I don't play them as often as I should. My fault of course, not enough time to back and re-listen to all the music lying around. But perhaps also because the music of AMM is quite demanding. This new work by Rowe and Tilbury is no different. Its an excellent work (to spoil the end of the review) of whatever it is that these two men do best: examining the sound possibilities of their instruments through a journey that lasts almost an hour. Demanding music, obviously, but that is good thing I should think. Do nothing, sit back and listen. And you know: a CD is a poor excuse to the real thing - the concert - but this comes close. Vibrant recording, with Rowe playing the guitar in the usual table top mode, radio never far away, motors on the strings and Tilbury using prepared techniques to engage in something similar, but using more broken up sounds, as opposing the more sustained sounds of Rowe. An hour that leaves the listener probably exhausted, I was, but always quite rewarding. (makes note: pull out an AMM CD and repeat the experience). Great one. (FdW) Address:


The work of Philippe Petit always kinda surprises me. Not necessarily because I think its always good (it wouldn't be a surprise then) but maybe because I am not always sure what he wants with his music. This new CD, for instance, is 'an epic soundtrack, a trilogy equally inspired by glorious Italian Gialli than the odysseys of Homer, Lewis Carroll or James Joyce', it says on the press release, and this CD is the first volume. But had I not known this, would I still think its an epic soundtrack? That is, obviously, a question I can no longer answer. So wether this is the soundtrack to a 'fruity lemon girl's nonsensical journeys to oneiric lands' is hard to say. I was more thinking along different lines here, but then strictly thinking about the music: this sounds more like a crazy record of plunderphonics to me. Petit armed with a whole bunch of records with orchestral music, sound effects records and real sound effects of his own, toying around to create his own oddly shaped orchestral music, with indeed a cinematographic feel to it, although not always clear which film. Petit also adds his own blend of percussion sounds and zither here and there, and with relatively simple means creates a very nice record. Not easy to make up ones mind about it, but I'd give this thumbs for sure. Petit created an original here, which is never easy. (FdW)


The first time around when I heard music by Mark Harris, it was on the 'Birmingham Sound Matter' CD (see Vital Weekly 685), and then later 'The Boy Observes The Ocean' (see Vital Weekly 756), in which he displayed an interest in using instruments such as bowed guitar, saxophone, violin and some field recordings, which he gently transforms using software of his own making. During the heavy winter of 2010 he got stuck in his studio and recorded the main piece of his new album 'An Idea Of North', more or less in one go. Then he created the four other and shorter pieces in more or less a similar vein, but nowhere we have the impression that we are listening to improvised music, or even, now I'm at it, to music that is comprised of those instruments I mention - maybe just 'In Slow Motion She Falls' there is a bit of violin, in a nice chamber music mood. But apparently it does use them, and wether or not we can hear them, the end result is an album of five pieces of music that have a glacier like feeling to it. Very much a winter's album. Snow and rain are duly recorded and set to dark atmospheric music. Call it ambient, call it drone, none of these terms will shock anybody. Think Ora, think Mirror, think Jonathan Coleclough, think Monos. Its an album that is quite nice I must say, excellently produced with some great music. However, I also inclined to note that what hear here is not something we haven't heard before. That may seem to me the only downside to it, but that aside: this is very fine album. (FdW) Address:


ELEKTRIK UNDERGROUND 2011 (CDR compilation by Motok)
The annual compilation from the world of Nico Selen, perhaps best known as the man behind O.R.D.U.C. but also NoNotes and E.M.M. Every year he produces one of these highly limited CDR releases (this one even only to thirteen copies, but I am sure there will be a download) of works created by these three prime monikers as well as a few under his own name, and none by anyone else. Selen is a man for electronic music but has many tricks up his sleeve. Each name stands for a specific concept in music. Thirteen piece here of mostly moody music, sometimes sketch like as in Selen's 'EU11-tune', which is over before you realize it, and his 'IZ11.2', which is a mere doodle. The sine wave/synth like 'Introduction' by NoNotes grasps the darker edges of electronic music, and the other two pieces by the same name are more abstractions of electronic music. O.R.D.U.C.'s pieces are not as pop induced as some of their other material released elsewhere and E.M.M. are the most cosmic of his outings. Here I could see something that should well connect to the current revival of the genre and maybe something Selen should explore more. I am not sure to what purpose  a compilation like serves, seeing its limited run, but if you're a fan, I'd say grab your copy sooner than later, and if you are looking for an introduction, this is a good enough place to start. (FdW) Address:


The complete "Vital Weekly" is available at: Vital Weekly

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