issue 27 :: September 2015

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Noise / Sound Art Reviews

Korperschwache, Colin Andrew Sheffield, Yannick Franck, Gen Ken Montgomery, Marcus Maeder, THU20, Brian Lavelle, John Kannenberg, Christopher DeLaurenti, Ian Holloway & Banks Bailey, Mem1, Emerge, Tibetan Red, K2 / Allan Zane, Michael Prime, Artificial Memory Trace, Jim O’Rourke, Johannes Dimpflmeier, Rydberg, Seth Nehil, Entrelacs, John Grzinich, Jeph Jerman, Gary Rouzer, Javier Hernando
KorperschwacheThe Unpublished Notebooks of Erich Zann (Instincto Records) CD

* Setting aside the sludge metal jams of previous releases, this Korperschwache record focuses more on electronic textures, drones, and slow rhythms hinting at ritual processes. Not surprising as the piece titles all reference various parts of Lovecraft’s Cththulu writings. “what erich zann heard when he opened the window” is the climax of the ritual, with what sounds like repeated screams in the distance constantly punctuating the drones and what sounds like an accordion. But other pieces explore harsh noise and abstract electronic warbles. The epic arc of the seventeen minute “the blind man vs. the blind idiot god” takes us through thunderous rumbles, a distorted electronic sound that sounds like a fire crackling, piecing guitar feedback and what sounds like rain hitting the ground. The phrase “what sounds like” was used four times in this review.

Korperschwache, 2015
Korperschwache at Cherry Park, Austin, 2015
Colin Andrew SheffieldTime Will Tell (Quiet World) CD

* Sheffield’s m.o. consists of heavily-reverbed drones gently evolving through different layers of texture. The atmospheric, cinematic music slowly pulses out of the loudspeakers. One doesn’t hear sound sources but a pure tonal energy that relaxes the mind, maybe softly nudging it to and fro. The length of the pieces seems arbitrary, each of the four pieces lasting about ten minutes, could be stretched and turned into full-length works. The fourth untitled piece here is the longest and most aggressive, sounding like layered, vibrato organ samples and is my favorite of this bunch. All of these pieces would work in a movie when the main character slowly realizes some important truth or the house he is in is far stranger than he expected. After recently moving to Austin and trying his hand at a self-owned vegan eatery, my long-time friend hinted that he may return to making music soon. Austin certainly needs his work.
Yannick FranckHierophany (Monochrome Vision) CD

* Yannick Franck has been active for the past decade with a number of solo projects and groups, including Y.E.R.M.O. This collection of three long pieces houses perfect drone constructions, with murky field recordings in the background, and strange noises oozing out through the cracks. It is not unlike scores of works by Illusion of Safety, Mirror, Michael Northam, the Hafler Trio and others I enjoy. There is something still very attractive about these industrial soundscapes that can include just about any kind of noise or sample source. I still love hearing how the various layers interact against each other.
Gen Ken MontgomeryThe One Sided Triangle (Generator) CD

* Originally released as a cassette in 1988, these 27 short pieces (and two extra tracks not included on the original tape) were all recorded in Conrad Schnitzler’s studio in Berlin earlier that year (also one of the years Giancarlo Toniutti worked there, and in fact, one of the pieces is called “Who Tackles Tones? Toniutti Collects Stones’). My knowledge of Schnitzler and his work is not great, I’ve really only explored the Kluster recordings to any great length, but being able to record in his studio, using his equipment I assume, must have been a fantastic experience. Here Montgomery explores the sounds and timbres of a number of synthesizers, producing in effect a catalog of synthesizer possibilities of the year 1988. Blips, swells, LFO warbles, pings, foghorns... I imagine Montgomery moving through a massive warehouse, each wall supporting dozens of sythns of various makes and models. Most of these pieces are about two minutes in length, and Montgomery uses this for maximum variety among the pieces; some are melodic enough to be a quirky (cable access) TV show or Roberto Cacciapaglia tribute, some are gritty noise pieces, some sound like they are aping the world of 1950’s early electronic studio, some are quiet and introspective. Montgomery’s wildly creative persona works over visual and performance arts, Mail Art, curating exhibits, publishing works in print and music, laminating the fuck out of stuff, and who knows what else.
Marcus Maederdie wunschmaschinen (Domizil) DVD

* This radio play is on DVD, not to contain video, but to include an advanced three-dimensional 5.1 Surround Sound mix if you have a system set up for that. Otherwise, you get a stereo mix. The radio play is based on the book Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, specifically their idea of desiring machines (the wunschmaschien of the title). The book is a complicated, postmodern critique of Freud, Lacan, sexuality and fluid dynamics. Yes, human sexuality can be modeled by fluid dynamics, because they both concern fluids? But what about dry humping? Fluid dynamics won’t do a thing for you there, but I haven’t read Deleuze and Guattari’s book. They may have an answer to this problem, or maybe Alan Sokal does. The hour-long radio play features German speaking, recordings of footsteps, environmental sounds, the music of Kraftwerk and Richard Wagner and some electronic noises. Of course, to my years, the techno music sections go on for too long, but maybe they make a point about the emptiness of consumer culture and the traps of conspicuous consumption, or maybe making reference to desireless machines (“an overdub has no choice, it cannot rejoice,” etc.). The voices in the play are playing the parts of Antonin Artaud, Guy Débord and others. One re-occurring voice is a deep man’s voice, soothing and comforting. Near the end, three women (or one woman with a harmonizer device?) start singing a languid ditty over the sounds of crashing waves (fluid dynamics?) and the popping of a camp fire. All in all, a very weird production, somewhat lost on me as I don’t understand the language, and I was not provided with English or French translations, not even of the detailed liner notes. OK, more about sexuality as fluid dynamics: “the angle of the dangle equals the mass of the ass over the motion of the ocean” isn’t supposed to be taken literally. Maybe all of the German voices in the radio play are making note of this. Maeder possesses a keen ear, turning various scientific and environmental data into music on his other releases.
THU20Vroeg Werk (Monochrome Vision) 2xCD

* The Dutch supergroup of sorts working since 1985 gets a nice compilation retrospective. The work of Frans de Waard, Jos Smolders and Roel Meelkop are more well known now, and with their companions Jac van Bussel, Guido Doseborg and Peter Duimelinks have made dozens of noise records, compilations tracks and live performances. This set collects about two dozen compilation tracks and portions of live shows, a majority from the years 1986 to 1989. The only of these compilations I have is the 1988 Korm Audio Art Three: The 4 Elements (Anthology of Interpretations) so nearly all of this record is new to my ears. The music is a wild exploration into noises, static, devices, voices, field recordings, everything mixed and layered. As such, with five or six creative minds, creative minds all involved with other projects, inputting ideas and sounds, the results are a unique rollercoaster of loud, soft, hiss, buzz, bloop, throb, poundings, an overview of European Industrial Noise techniques of the time. The excerpts from the live performances get into aggressive beats with guttural screaming. An excellent collection of a prolific group that had little material released on U.S. labels.
Brian LavelleMy hands are ten knives (Quiet World) CD

* One long track based on a single tone slowly pulsating like waves going up and down against a wall. Distant rumbles and sparse piano notes are occasionally heard, but it’s the tone that fills our ears and mind, relaxing us to the point where we no longer recognize its presence until something changes in the mix. Does the tone slowly change over thirty minutes, or does my perception of it change?
John KannenbergA Sound Map of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (3LEAVES) CD

* This is one, but not the first, of the records that makes up the small sub-sub genre called Field Trip Recordings. Ha. It documents, in fact, what one might hear on a school field trip to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, if your family was insane enough to send you to a field trip to Egypt. What we hear is an hour of footsteps, bird chirps (outside the museum?), indistinct crowd noises bouncing off a high ceiling, mutterings, murmurings, chatting… all the sounds you may have heard if you’ve ever visited a museum. It would be fun to play this back in an empty art gallery and see how long it takes people to realize there are no people in the room making all these people noises. These crowd noises would probably annoy the hell out of me were I trying to look at exhibits in a museum (the noisy Houston assholes at the Museum of Fine Art ruined the James Turrell installations for me), but here, taken out of context, provide a nice background for other activities.The Egyptian museum lacks a dedicated webpage at the time of this writing, but you can see some photos of the interior here.
Christopher DeLaurentiTo the Cooling Tower, Satsop (GD Stereo) CD

* We’ve heard sounds recorded in this cooling tower before, on the Seattle Phonographers Union LP reviewed a while back. DeLaurenti returns for another listen. This time we get a greater sense of the cavernous space about the microphone, huge clouds of reverb bouncing about, footsteps splashing in water, and occasional loud clangs producing large echoes. Knowing this was recorded in this space, pictured on the SPU LP, takes away the mystery. Thinking about where this was recorded would have been a fun game, but I guess we don’t know exactly where in the tower and surrounding tunnels. It’s weird to have your room filled with the ambient noises of another space, slowly getting use to the other environment pumped into yours. I would quickly turn off this record and have the shocking sound of my room snap back into focus. Unlike some other moving field recording releases I have heard, there is not a sense of a journey here in the tower, no starting in one sound environment and ending in another. The beginning here sounds much like the end. We have always lived in the tower.
Ian Holloway & Banks BaileyStrange Pilgrims (Quiet World) CD

* Holloway and Bailey create an engrossing sound college of field recordings, mostly of hermit thrush calls and relaxing creek splashings. Holloway then glues everything together with soothing ambient drones. It’s very relaxing, a beautiful taste of nature for those stuck inside or buried deep within an urban environment. The thrush calls sometimes have a woodblock flute quality to them; I can imagine a master shakuhachi player making some of these owl-like hoots. As hundreds of birds routinely hoot, squawk, cheep, chirp, peep, pip and whistle around the Hushroom every day, I had to listen to this one at work where there is much less avian noise interference in my windowless, basement office.
Mem1+1 (Interval) CD

The +1 of the title refers to the nine guest musicians who join the cello & electronics duo of Laura Cetilia and Mark Cetilia on each of the nine tracks. Steve Roden and Ido Govrin are the recognizable names to me. Jan Jelinek’s collaboration evokes a harbor setting, with recordings of wire creakings and clangings, and the gentle electronic ebb and flow. Ido Govrin’s track similarly mines a creaky waterfront setting, with electronic sounds simulating the bubbling of water before an intense string drone takes us far out to the deepness of the sea. In fact, most of the collaborations provide a pleasantly similar watery feel, making an extended exploration for the ears and mind. Not a sinker in the bunch, which includes Jen Boyd, Area C, Rs-232, Frank Bretschneider, Kadet Kuhne and Jeremy Drake, and the work as a whole has a unifying feel to it, not at all feeling like a set of nine separate collaborations.
EmergeOneirism (Attenuation Circuit) 10”

* Sascha Stadlmeier is the man behind the reverbed soundscapes of these two untitled side-long pieces. There is so much reverb on the first side that very little trace of the unidentified sources used. There only exists a roaring mass of frequency bands, like hearing a subway train through miles of ventilation shafts. The second side is darker, more droney, but still through layers of reverb with oversatuated frequency bands. If a distant subway train described the other side, this side is hearing a fifty ton truck driving overhead a subterranean cavern. You have to play this one through 12” or 15” woofers to get the full effect.
Tibetan RedNarrative Spaces (Antahkarana Records) CD

* Drones of slight wispy textures float above occasional voices and percussion sounds. The drones pleasantly remind me of the whines of computer fans in my server room at work, ebbing and throbbing, encasing tiny specs of static. The piece “Invisible Voices” included more voices, here an announcer at a bus station perhaps, and the wispy drones expanded to tiny fragmented melodic fragments. The track “Portrait of an Ascension (in memory of Roman Opalka 1931 - 2011)” commemorates the painter and installation artist, who made paintings by writing series of consecutive numbers on canvas, starting from 1 in 1965, and up to 5,607,249 in hundreds of works until his death in 2011. From a distance, one does not see the numbers, but fields of textures based on ink color and number spacing. OCD art? A crackling man’s voice could be that of the artist, as he did record his voice for installation works. “Encounter at the Taizo-in Temple” introduces a guttural voice (involved in martial arts movements?) and faint footsteps, presumably at the Japanese temple mentioned in the title.
K2 & Allan ZaneMusic for Colored Sin & Zerstörte Musik (Attenuation Circuit) LP

* It’s a mystery which side of the record belongs to which name. I am going to assume the first side I played is K2. The harsh noise/squeal assaults hit me with what I know of Kimihide Kusafuke’s work. “Mirror for Colored Sin” is a constantly changing battlefield of static roars, electronic whines, distorted drum machine beats and sharp fluxations between these types of sounds and other bits of noise. I sense that the piece was mixed live, not overdubbed at all, maybe Kusafuke standing at at table, surrounded by tape players and devices, turning no more than two knobs at once at any one time. Very rich, as it does not stay on any one type of sound for more than a few seconds, often jumping back and forth between two different sonic landscapes. Allan Zane’s track, “Zerstörte Musik,” feels like a mellow mix of K2’s track. Many similar sounds are used to a quieter, less frantic degree. I’ve written before that I enjoy harsh noise music to be played very quietly, so the extreme sounds become subtle and mysterious, tiny things in the corner, or locked in a box.
Michael PrimeOne Hour As A Plant (and/OAR) CD

Some people eat the bitter cactus meat of the peyote plant, and then they see strange things. Michael Prime attaches electrodes to the peyote plant and then hears strange things. But in Prime’s case, he can record his experiences and share them with us. The massively magnified minute electrical signals spill out as rumbles and strange gurgles. In fact, some of these sounds resemble the “purrs” I heard on the Annea Lockwood record discussed earlier. Could those purrs be the drying trees mentioned in the liner notes? Regardless, the “sounds” of the peyote come across as strange analog synthesizer rumbles, constantly shifting, bubbling and gurgling. Its unique sonic palette makes it a necessary listen, if you are into that kind of thing. And if you aren’t, why are you reading this zine?
Artificial Memory TraceOrganfish - Electric Fish Songs From The Amazon (and/OAR) CD

Like Michael Prime’s record, Slavek Kwi (Artificial Memory Trace) records a portion of the natural world, here electric fish. And while the recordings are minimally-processed, the results sound like obscure analog synthesizers, buzzes and repeated clicks. Mixed in are tiny water splashing sounds and tones that sound like they come from a harmonium. The nine untitled compositions buzz and click in a beautiful way, letting your ears feast upon these strange sounds. I have to end this review as I ended the previous one: Its unique sonic palette makes it a necessary listen, if you are into that kind of thing. And if you aren’t, why are you reading this zine?
Jim O’RourkeSteamroom 10 (Steamroom) CD

O’Rourke is a thankfully prolific musician and he has now embraced online-only releases to distribute his musical creations to his fans. He has released nineteen records at this time on Bandcamp, and some, like this four-part “Four Views of a Secret,” were originally presented live. The four parts display O’Rourke’s continued mastery of electronic and computer-generated sounds and drones, and his command of mixing these with field recordings. Here we hear what sounds like sea birds near the coast, bits of a cracking fire. His work remains as strong and interesting as early pieces such as Scend and Disengage. Drones fade in, throb for a while, get swamped in the mix, fade out or build up to abrupt cut offs. What is the secret in the title? Weather Report had a song called “Three Views of a Secret.” Could the secret be that O’Rourke is a Weather Report fan? That doesn’t seem something he would hide.
RydbergRydberg (Monotype Records) CD

Perhaps best know for his work in Polwechsel, Werner Dafeldecker has appeared on over a hundred records playing with Boris Hauf, Sachiko M, David Sylvian, Sven-Åke Johansson, John Tilbury and many others, often pursuing an ultra modernist, post-Cage soundscape of abstract sounds. In Rydberg, he teams up with Nicholas Bussmann, both playing electronica instruments. The music smartly combines beats and samples into a mix that borrows from abstract dance floor rhythms, but ends up as appropriate for a dance party as the early records on the Sähkö label. I think the record works best at the beginning of the piece “Elevator,” where electronic chords are slowly pitch-bent upwards, but as the record progresses, the further it regresses into sampled drum beats that sound like a lot of sampled drum beat music. While there may be some interesting processed noises on top of those common place beats, the tedious atmosphere makes me regret listening to this. Dafeldecker has scores of more interesting recordings behind him, playing double-bass, playing electronics, playing who knows what. Polwechsel makes such amazing music... maybe another Werner Dafeldecker is in Ryaberg? I just recently heard his 2000 duo record with Dean Roberts (Aluminium): such wonderfully interesting and inventive playing. That record is worth tracking down.
Johannes DimpflmeierJohannes Dimpflmeier (and/OAR) CD

Lovingly recorded by Michael Northam in 2002 and 2003, these twelve delightful pieces are some of the only examples of Dimpflmeier’s unique work available to the casual listener. He has been designing homemade electronic instruments for decades. The music is spacey, melodic sometimes sounding like cheap synthesizers, sometimes sounding like advanced electro-acoustic work, sometimes like a Tortoise remix track. As with the and/OAR release of Arsenije Jovanovic’s work, Dale Lloyd should be commended and exulted for bringing this criminally neglected music to a larger audience. Dale Lloyd, I commend you! And let’s not forget Michael Northam, who had originally intended to release these on his now defunct Cloud Mirror label. Weird drum machines abound in the tracks “Schlendendriano” and “Scala Ouspenskij,” with cute, synthy melodies played on top. At once weirder and more normal sounding than I expected from reading the interview with Dimpflmeier in N D a lifetime ago. “Spiragio"at times mimics a church organ sound, mixed with buzzing string noises. The one minute long “Satarello” has a bouncy synth pulse that could be found on a prog rock record. The three part Grill section, “I Grill Concert,” “II Grillo Viola,” and “III Grill Concert,” all use string sounds (but from what kind of strings?) in different creative ways to make drone soundscapes. The string sound could be a resonant filter or electronic processing to make a characteristic string buzz out of other sounds. Every piece on here shows a determined, creative personality, possibly unique in the world. Most of the records I take the time to write about I consider to be essential listening, and these dozen pieces doubly so.
Seth NehilSkew (self-released) Flac/mp3

Seth Nehil does not rest comfortably on past successes, and of what I call the Gang of Four who left Austin around the same time in 1998—Michael Northam, John Grzinich, Olivia Block and Nehil—it is Nehil who, from what I can see back in Austin, has progressed and explored the most, not that my other friends haven’t built solid reputations on truly exceptional and flawless work. I hear this recording, which hopefully be released as an LP some day, as influenced by his recent work for dancers and avant-theater events. The music is highly fragmented and choppy, breaking from highly addictive mold of dronescapes and slowly changing field recordings. At times it sounds like the music is being played back through a sampler that you’d be likely to find in a club, not that we hear any drum machine tropes. The rhythms here come from chopped up and repeated, or stuttered voices, electronic buzzes and generally unidentifiable noises. It’s not at all like the music of Esplendor Geometrico—I wish Esplendor Geometrico sounded more like this—but a similar feel gets sprinkled through this. In “Veer,” I hear a bit old timey musique concrete in the backing rumbling of what sounds like a burning fire. Recent video work has also explored extreme cutting and pasting of small bits of image and sound. I should have reviewed his 2010 LP/online release Knives in last issue. I can now hear the seeds of the more radical approach on Skew in that earlier work.
EntrelacsUnderleaf (Semperflorens) CD

Tricked! Duped! I was had! When I saw these Semperflorens releases at End of an Ear Records, I assumed that this was a new release by Michael Northam and Yannick Dauby, two artists always worth listening to. But this is just a reissue with drastically different packaging of a 2003 release on the S’agita label. a release that Michael gave me some time ago. Well, these things happen, and the forty-nine minute long work “Underleaf - Stasis In Change” deserves another close listen. We are told “Sources are a walk along a fallen tree in Corbet, Oregon and a conversation with found objects in Paris, France.” The first part indeed sounds like tiny forest crackles, dried leaves and branches shifting about, birds chirping in the distance, a jet liner passing over head (the bane of many a phonographer!). Then, slowly, metallic clankings are introduced. Sometimes with this kind of work, it is difficult to tell if Northam and Dauby use their electronic processing skills, or just rely on their nimble fingers to manipulate these objects to bring about electronic-sounding whines and drones. Nimble hands create a slowly changing mix of forest noises, that nicely oscillate through the stereo field. There comes a point two-thirds the way through where the metal sounds become predominate in a noticeable change of mood. Here, there has to be electronic processing of the sounds. The mood changes again near the end, the processing is turned off, and it sounds like our duo has found a box of wind up motor parts. All-in-all, the record’s quiet turbulence does not sound like at twelve year old piece I’ve heard before.
Jeph JermanPrayer * Tactus (Semperflorens) CD

Another Russian Semperflorens reissue from the prolific Jerman, this time from his own AARC label. After making more than a hundred records, we know what to expect from Jerman, and we get exactly that: slowly evolving layers of mysterious noises, murky drones, items banged or tumbled together. On the first track “Prayer,” he manipulates “Tinguely's Machine,” maybe an original device made by Jean Tinguely, or a self-made homage to the bizarre machines made by the Swiss artist. The second, longer piece, “Tactus,” takes us through another of Jerman’s styles, a long rumbling soundscape that should probably be played so the low end vibrations shake your listening room apart. We are told one of the sound sources use here is “volcano,” and that’s exactly what the piece sounds like, the bubbling flow of lava creeping past you. Of course, the work is richly layered, and we hear something like a music box playing in the distance. Jerman is a master soundscape builder and rarely, if ever, disappoints.

This 1959 Tinguely machine looks exactly like something Jerman would use…
John GrzinichSurface Strips (Semperflorens) CD

While Grzinich’s work is just as worthy as being reissued in Russia as Jerman and Entrelacs, we are gifted with two new long works. “Planar Migration” sounds comfortably familiar, environmental sounds (birds?), what sounds like rain drops dropping on metal pans, drones from motorized bowed strings, and a distant roar that sounds like a freeway or large waterfall from a mile away. All parts are perfectly balanced. Its mix of stasis and change leads my mind on an introspective journey. Until suddenly the familiar stops and I find myself in a field with people chattering and small bells ringing. “Skew Symmetry” takes us back through that journey, but the (I assume) churning string sounds are louder, metal objects are banged together, and creatures scurry out of our way in the underbrush.
Gary RouzerStudies and Observations of Domestic Shrubbery (Public Eyesore) CD
* With records devoted to electric fish, peyote, drying out trees, museum and industrial tower visits reviewed this issue, sure: field recordings of shrubbery. But this title is tongue in cheek from multi-instrumentalist Gary Rouzer, who overdubs clarinet, cello and cardboard into slow moving drones. I don’t know how the cardboard fits into the mix, but for those like me who enjoy the sound of clarinets and cellos, this is an interesting listen, not falling into any easily recognizable category. Too noisy to be chamber music, too static to be noise music, too ordered to be improv. These broad categories I put these reviews into aren’t meant to be taken seriously, they are just a way to break up the reviews into smaller web pages. The quiet explorations of instruments here make me think of Jim Denley’s work.
Javier HernandoLímite radioazulado (Geometrik/Urafonia) CD

* Spanish electronic musician Hernando has been releasing records since 1990, although he started playing music with the group Xeerox in 1979. The three long, languorous tracks here use synthesizers in less obvious ways, to create on the track “Querencia” a deep rumble with tiny plopping noise, evoking the distant sea. Increasing the volume, we reveal hidden layers of staticy pops, like a fire on top of that sea. “Inero Azurina” is another carefully constructed soundscape, here sounding like distant cars passing by on a highway, and again we are treated to mysterious layers of sounds bubbling up. During “Radardenker” we can hear sounds that obviously come from a synthesizer, bloops spread out on rumbles and whines.
Reviews and live photos by Josh Ronsen.
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