issue 25 :: January 2015

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Noise / Sound Art Reviews

Seattle Phonographers Union, The Aeolian String Ensemble, Roel Meelkop & Mecha/Orga, Gen Ken Montgomery, Rick Reed, Keith Rowe & Bill Thompson, John Grzinich, Costis Drygianakis, Cyril, Tibetan Red, Thanos Chrysakis, Jeph Jerman / AMK, Jeph Jerman, Lost Trail, FrzImagho/Moon, Omni
Seattle Phonographers UnionBuilding 27 WNP-5 (Prefecture) LP

* The members of the SPU record sounds in a variety of locations (phonography) and then mix their recordings together during performances. The two performances here, one on each side, were held in unusually large, resonant spaces, one an old military hanger and the other an unfinished nuclear power plant. The Union, on these recordings, include Christopher DeLaurenti, Steve Peters, Dale Lloyd, Steve Barsotti and others, all who show incredible restraint in their mixing, leaving much acoustical space for us to hear how quiet sounds—crickets? motors? whines? wires banging?—reflect off the walls of these unique environments. For liner notes, DeLaurenti writes an essay called “Walls Are For Listening” explaining the anarchistic yet respectful methodology of the Union, which has existed for over ten years. It’s nice to note that parts sound like Steve Peter’s ghostly wisps of sounds on his Emanations CD reviewed back in issue 5.
The Aeolian String EnsembleLassithi - Elysium (Robot Records) CD

Two beautifully hypnotic drone pieces made from aeolian strings? (wind harp) and lush reverb devices? I was going to start this review by explaining this type of more-interesting-than-“ambient” drone was common in the mid-1990s, which makes perfect sense now that I read the brief liner notes that denote the 1992 and 1996 creation dates of these pieces. Re-issue or unreleased material? It’s immaterial as these dream-inducing soundscapes, with many layers lurking underneath for the ear and mind to explore, deserve to be made more available to discerning listeners. The deep drone of “Elusium” is particularly entrancing, the strings from the wind harp producing strange harmonic chords. Christoph Heeman provides the trippy illustrations. I know little about the Aeolian String Ensemble and who is behind it; let’s read their web page together.
Roel Meelkop & Mecha/OrgaRotterdam 54:21 (Monochrome Vision) CD

* We are given one long duet from these two noise musicians and two shorter solo pieces from each, all recorded in 2012. The 30 minute duet is a collage of loud construction machine (or train?) sounds and quieter urban sounds, as if hearing the squeals and bangings of street sounds at a distance. What sounds like brake squeals could be bowed metal to imitate that effect. Loud cricket-like electronic chirps then blanket these squeaks and distant rumbles. The music is, on a large scale, unpredictable, with electronics or analog synthesizers joining the scene. Meelkop’s solo piece seems to be many of the distant outdoor sounds, and the Mecha/Orga (Yiorgis Sakellariou) solo piece also has outdoor location recordings, here next to a body of water, like a harbor not the open sea, with clangs from boats or wires and diffuse drones. Meelkop has been releasing music for nearly twenty years and I’ve never really explored his music before, just due to not being able to get to everyone involved in the types of music that interest me. I vow to track down more.
Gen Ken MontgomeryBirds + Machines (Pogus) CD

* Ken Montgomery has been a steady flow of creativity for decades, laminating items as art, performing music and other activities, running record stores and art galleries, participating in Mail Art (although I don’t think he has sent me any Mail Art; he’s sent me other things, like cat purrs), and who knows what else. Like John Cage, his wide range of activities in many fields is inspiring to someone like me who wants to do and experience a diverse range of activities across the creative art spectrum. Birds + Machines documents live performances and rare releases throughout those scary years known as the 1980s. The two part live suite “Birds & Machines” has a machine part that uses bloopy electronics to sound like birds mixed in with swirling and growing electronics; the bird part uses what sounds like recordings of birds to sound more machine like, with an entirely different array of electronic effects, much more aggressive than the machine suite. Montgomery’s rough, unpolished music startles and wonderfully explores the sounds of many different devices and objects. Two short tracks were recorded in Conrad Schnitzler’s studio in 1986, seemingly using synthesizer sounds for two short, eerie soundscapes. The three “Subliminal Clutter” pieces hides various voices under loud machine warbles, rhythmic thumping and short delay loops.
Rick Reed, Keith Rowe & Bill ThompsonShifting Currents (Mikroton) 2 x CD

* Keith Rowe’s connection to Texas that started with AMM’s 1996 shows in Austin and Houston, and the basis for the recording Before Driving To The Chapel We Took Coffee With Rick And Jennifer Reed, continues with these trio recordings with that same Rick Reed and former Austin-, now UK-based electronic musician Bill Thompson. Reed and Thompson have both performed with Rowe in duos and Reed in the Voltage Spooks trio. In this trio, they improvise over unique mixes of tracks from Thompson’s Shifting Currents installation. They do so months apart in Scotland and the Netherlands in 2009. It’s a good, flowing mix of drones, scrapes, electronic noises, radio snippets throughout, mostly on the quiet side of things, with Rowe’s tactile manipulations exploding out from background drones. The liner notes tease us with details of the performances, the musicians in the center of the audience, with the multiple speakers of the installation surrounding the audience. The two CDs provide many glimpses as to how incredible the actual performances were.
John GrzinichTwo Films (and/OAR) DVD

Made of short black and white clips, “Sound Aspects Of Material Elements” shows various places and the sounds that occur in them, mostly natural sounds, rain falling through the roof of an abandoned building, or wires being blown in the wind. Sometimes we see people engaged in an activity, such as gently striking a metal railing with percussion mallets. The sounds are generally quiet and meditative, and sometimes don’t seem like they are coming from the shown environment, but then at other times it is obvious the sound is from the environment. Grzinich is an expert in ferreting out these unusual sounds in the world around us. In one of the scenes we see waves breaking against a shore line, a long metal pipe half on land, half below water produces eerie tones as the waves move through it. “Mimema” mainly deals with surfaces, the surface of water, of fog, of a sheet of cobweb waving in the wind, with special attention to the waves and ripples that appear on these surfaces. We see close up views of people’s faces, especially their closed eyes, floating on the water, or water striders running across the surface. It’s strange and mysterious. Why are these people floating? Why are these surface scenes interrupted by close up views of various plants? To contrast their pointed edges with the undulating surfaces? The music sounds like an organ playing long tones, its different partials throbbing and pulsating against each other. Beautiful, entrancing and strange in its presentation of the natural world.

Costis DrygianakisBlown Into Breeze (private release distributed by More Mars Team) LP

I had lost contact with Drygianakis these past ten years since the closing of his EDO label. His 1999 CD Post-Optical Landscapes remains for me the most significant and interesting collage work since the Hafler Trio’s A Thirsty Fish, and I bring it out once a year to marvel at the exquisite chain of sounds that forms it. Drygianakis has made a second grand return in recent years, releasing three recordings in as many years. This LP returns to the chaotic collage of Post-Optical Landscapes, utilizing live cello playing from Nikos Veliotis and snippets of recordings from opera singers, spoken voices, vari-speed tape players. It is a collage of ever-shifting moods and directions. The overall effect is one from a 1960’s Felini film soundtrack. The LP, a private pressing limited to only 350 copies, can be streamed and downloaded at Soundcloud. Yes. Don’t delay.

Cyril30x30x2 ([self-released]) CS

* A perplexing bit of sound art from Aaron Russell, the guitarist for the Weird Weeds and the Moonsicles, and unlike anything suggested from those two bands. Sixty minutes of near silent sounds that I could never tell if it was the music or the sound of my boombox’s motor. My fancy tape decks broke years ago and on the rare occasions when I do listen to cassettes, it is on an old boombox in the TV room. After listening twice, I am still unsure what is the music and what it the sound of the device. There are at least two points where something unmistakably music, a few short seconds of very modulated guitar tones, comes into play, but apart from those bits: confusion and wonder. Just the way I like it. A shark tooth pun would the perfect ending to this review.
Tibetan RedFouta Djalon (Gliptoteka Magdalae) CD

* Tibetan Red (painter/sculptor Salvador Francesch) returns after a long absence with four piece that recall the early days of electronic looping in the 1980s. In different ways, he still uses a short, one second or so, sample loop, the loop itself providing a strong rhythmic basis to each piece, apart from what is being sampled. The most interesting of these pieces, “Fields of Activity,” samples African tribal activity (I assume), the shouts, chants, claps and simple percussion creating a fascinating collage. The other pieces employ more electronic noises as samples, each a distinctive bumpy sea of activity.
Thanos ChrysakisKlage (Aural Terrains) CD

* Chrysakis weaves delicately beautiful pieces from pianos, keyboards, electronics, cymbals, vibes and sometimes his voice. “Nekyomanteion” mixes eerie moaning with electronic gurgles, perhaps a ritual to reboot an old computer console? “Immanent Distance” is a duo with pianist Bernal Villegas with Chrysakis playing pulsing vibraphone. Gentle and meditative, these open structures are a relaxing listen, but with interesting edges poking through everywhere. Chrysakis also engages in installation work.
Jeph Jerman / AMK[split] (Cohort Records) CD

Jerman offers “30 Minutes For Joe Jones,” presumably the Fluxus artist known for making self-playing musical instruments and not Coltrane Quartet drummer Philly Joe Jones. This is a long, slowly throbbing drone of several distinct layers weaving in and out, sounding much like the din of computers and equipment in a data center server room. And true to the legacy of Joe Jones, a brief note informs us that the music is made from a fan blowing on a “wind” gong. The music sounds more layered than being from just one source, but Jerman is an expert at sound manipulation.
AMK delivers two approaches to sample-based work. The first fuses many small snippets of unrecognizable pop music into a kaleidoscopic jumble not unlike certain works by Negitivland or the Evolution Control Committee. It’s surprising given what I know about AMK. The second, longer track, uses a loop of something squeaking, it could be a run-out groove of a LP record, scratchy, staticy, hypnotic in its lofi rhythm. The loop slowly speeds up and morphs into a 1960s pop song, presumably lifted from an old LP. We can hear the playback being slightly adjusted, slowed down by a finger.
Jeph JermanFour Drones (AARC) CD

The four drones, deduced from the descriptive titles—brass bowls, violins, springdrums, wind gongs—offers extended excursions into minimally prepared single instrument explorations into more or less statis sound fields. The music unusual, and the one least drone like, is “violins,” which unlike what I expected from the title sounds more like Richard Lerman’s bicycle gamelan, and seems better suited to the title “__ Minutes For Joe Jones” used on the above record, as Jones’ musical machines produced this kind of repetitive clang. “brass bowls” and “springdrum” both slowly pulsate, drones with only tiny hints as to their sonic origins. I cannot but fondly recall my first hearing of Hands To cassettes 20+ years ago. wind gongs us a breathy rush of blowing air, like putting your ear to the end of a long tube to hear distant traffic.
Lost TrailBlacked Out Passages (Visceral Media) CD

* Lost Trail, a prolific husband and wife duo from North Carolina, has released two or three dozen releases in past five years. The music on this record is long, slow drones made from guitars, synthesizers and many effects pedals, with murky field recording thrown in. It’s pleasant enough to listen to as background music, but I can’t help but think of what the one record compiled from the best bits of this year’s ten records would sound like. Releasing a dozen guitar drone albums a year is “somewhat” ridiculous. I want to hear the best five minutes from those dozen records. The last track here, “Rooftops / Spires / Valleys,” places everything in a more aggressive overdriven drone, more industrial and factory roar sound that cuts to farmyard animal recordings. I liked this one the best; it seemed to have the most character.
FrzImagho/MoonBE#37 Single Series Eight (Burning Emptiness) 3”CD

* Eight short droney electronic pieces with some glitchy parts. The four Moon “ambient haikus” sound like they come from a synthesizer and a rich reverb/flanger effect; very soothing, like a dream sequence in a low budget movie. FrzImagho, a duo, uses electric guitar and delay effects that sounds like the ambient tracks cut up, and while the tracks from both groups are one-take improvisations, here we hear glitchy cutup noises adding some rhythmic feeling.
OmniOmni (Presqu’ile Records) CD

Tetuzi Akiyama, Toshimaru Nakamura and Kato Hideki all play electric guitars and basses through electronics to create a barrage of squeals, gurgles, buzzes, a seething, tumultuous mass of sounds, unlike Akiyama and Nakamura’s more quitter works. Distorted crunchings, howling feedback, and novel tomes from Hideki’s bass synthesizer erupt and stop unexpectedly, always challenging the ears with sonic extremes. I am conscious at all times of three different voices and approaches, which I think I can trace back each performer based on their equipment. Very enjoyable.
Reviews by Josh Ronsen.
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