issue 28 :: October 2017

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Noise / Sound Art Reviews

Moniek Darge & Graham Lambkin, Horacio Vaggione, Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura, Anla Courtis, Chefkirk & Andrew Quitter, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Gary Rouzer & Anne-F Jacques, Alex Keller, Jeph Jerman, Vanessa Gelvin, Seers, Anna Homler & Steve Moshier, Asmus Tietchens, Ingenting Kollektiva, Hum of the Druid
Moniek Darge & Graham LambkinIndian Soundies (Kye/Penultimate Press) CD

I thought “soundies” were Darge’s one of a kind music/art boxes, like the object depicted on the cover, but these four pieces are soundscapes (that maybe will be put into the boxes?) made during travels through India. We hear sounds both from ceremonial spaces, continuing her recordings of such places as heard in Sounds Of Sacred Places, as well as street sounds, commercial music, animal noises, rainfall and sniplets of daily life. Darge makes two of the recordings, Graham Lambkin makes one from Indian sounds gathered from the Internet, and then the two work on a collaborative piece. Lambkin’s track, “Therianthropy,” strikes a noticeably harder edge. I have not yet played this record while cooking from the many Indian cookbooks I own, but some day I will.
Horacio VaggioneLa Maquina De Cantar (Ampersand/Cramps) CD

Originally released by Cramps records in 1978, these two long tracks from the Argentine musician Vaggione feature his explorations using a Moog synthesizer and tape machines. The music is a bubbling mess of synth warbles exactly perfect for the part of a sci-fi movie where the evil computer or bugged-eyed aliens take center stage. Are the tapes sped up at parts? The title track is heavily rhythmic from the modulated synth sounds, but there is no effort to put them into song or rock contexts like Tangerine Dream records of the time. This is for fans of pure analog synth. The second track, “Ending,” begins to sound more like a Tangerine Dream side, with the synth sounds fitting more into chord structures with melodic accents on top. I’ve been listening to Tangerine Dream’s The Bootleg Box Set, Vol. 1, live concerts recorded between 1974 and 1976. This second piece sounds like it could be included among those works.
Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamuras/t (Public Eyesore) CD

* We are used to hearing Toshimaru Nakamura’s “no-input mixing board” in conjunction with the radical quiet music of Keith Rowe and with duos and larger ensembles with Tetuzi Akiyama. Both of these directions have visited Central Texas in the past. Quiet background squeals and whines mixed in with quiet foreground squeals and whines… but here he is in the midst of a post-rock trio, adding layers of noise to thundering drums rolls and screeching guitar. Many Arms have recorded for Tzadik in the past and exemplify that loud, abrasive post-metal sound inspired by PSF records from Japan. With the guitarist and bassist both employing effects, it is hard to discern what Nakamura is adding, there is a lot of noise thrown on top of the chaotic rock rhythms. The music isn’t all full on metal rushes, the third piece, named “III,” focuses on more quiet twitters of sound. Here it is easy to tell discern Nakamura’s staticy buzzes. “II” is a constant series of explosive eruptions that fade to erupt again. Overall, an invigorating and surprising collaboration.  
Anla Courtis — B-rain Folklore (Yogah Record) CD

* Argentine guitarist Courtis takes up with a roomful of instruments, trumpets, synthesizers, various forms of percussion, bells, wood flutes to produce what sounds like an homage to Can’s Ethnological Forgery Series. These ten pieces all sound like they were recorded in various African and Southeast Asian jungles and distorted through time warps. Or it sounds like the creature on the cover trying to figure out what human music is. Very rewarding listening here, each piece sounds completely different from the others. The recording sounds natural, like these are groups of ethnic musicians, not Courtis overdubbing everything. A fun game would be to play this to a well-listened friend and ask them to identify the country of origin for each piece. None of them sound like they are trying to sound as if they originate in any particular place, no jejune cliches here, but it does sound like the work of many different people from many different places. When the finger-picked guitar appears in “Teryrupnuu” near the end of the record, it is a shocking return to near normality, until squealing violins (or some other bowed instrument) appear with outdoor ambience. Fans of the Sun City Girls and random small village ceremony music compilations will dig this.
Chefkirk & Andrew QuitterKaiju Manifestos (Eh?) CD

* Drones and electronic gurgles, ratchety clicks and steamy hisses collide and jumble through these five slabs of noise. The slowly warbling drone of “Plastic Synthesis” stretches out like the slow expansion of the universe, at the end, the sound waves stretched beyond waves into slow clicks, which continue into the next piece, “The Hedorah Strut,” as a glitchy percussive background. What makes these lively pieces flow so well is the diversity of methods used, from analog synthesizers (I presume) to feedback whines, to clicks of mechanical objects.
Janet Cardiff & George Bures MillerThe Infinity Machine (The Menil Collection) installation

The Byzantine Fresco Chapel in Houston, near the Rothko Chapel and the Menil Museum, used to house a bizarre modernist structure that looked like an exploded view of an architectural drawing of a glass cathedral. It resembled something inspired by Dali’s 1950s religious/geometric phase (“Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus),” and so on). There were also some actual thirteenth century frescos, rescued and restored by the Menils, in the building, but I don’t think I ever noticed the actual frescos amidst the striking glass panels and metal connecting rods. The glass structure looked like the perfect place to stage a sound art performance. The frescos were eventually returned to their rightful owners in Cyprus, the glass structure taken down (where is it now?!) and a new site-specific work was commissioned to replace it. Descriptions cannot do justice to The Infinity Machine, a rotating mass of antique mirrors in darkness, slowly changing lights and a noise soundtrack made from data recorded by various NASA space probes. The one hundred fifty or so mirrors, hanging from a rotating motor on the ceiling, fill the center of the room, twelve, fifteen feet high. When we entered, the room was dark and we could barely make out the large thing in the room with us. The music started and several small spotlights on the walls started to brighten. The portion of the soundtrack we heard was half wind-like sounds and half deep drones. As the lights came up, we could see more and more of the mirrors, so many different mirrors, and more and more reflections on the walls, the floor and our faces. It was a wonderfully immersive experience, unlike so many installation works I have seen that utterly fail to impress me. The Infinity Machine impressed me. I don’t know how long the installation will be up.
Gary Rouzer & Anne-F JacquesDéplacement Rendez-vous (Crustacés Tapes) CS

* This is seventh in a series of collaborations “at a distance between two persons who never met in person yet.” Rouzer we met last issue through his delightful record of clarinet, cello, cardboard and drones. This collaboration with musical object builder Jacques explores what sounds like a field trip to various factories and workshops with unidentifiable motors, stuff clanging together like ceramic shards being sorted into different bins, distant hums and strange electronic noises. Only twice was I able to discern a cello playing. Sometimes I was reminded of a stuck record player. Like the best of this style of industrial collage, there are usually multiple layers to lose yourself in, but sometimes there is just one concrete sound in the foreground. The record pops from room to room, scenario to scenario. I had to buy a new cassette desk to listen to this, and it was worth it. This label is bravely exploring alternative methods of exchange, with this series available to those who send a gift of some sort to the label. Another series, Post-Peak Oil, is available for sale on Bandcamp, with the proceeds to fund postage to send out tapes for free.
Alex KellerBlack Out (Mimeomeme) CD

* Austin sound artist Alex Keller does not release much material which is a shame. For you. I get private copies of live performances and works in progress. But the eventual public releases are perfectly calibrated for playback, and calibration hints at an aura laboratory work. The one long track on Black Out rumbles through throbbing electronic drones like motors heard a distance, through several thick walls. Mixed by recording its play black through a large room, the reverb heard is actual acoustic reverb which adds to the sense of distance without being marred by digital effect artifacts. The music evolves so slowly, it seems completely static, but upon a second or third listen, the changes that do occur seem jarring, for instance, hearing the beginning again right after hearing the end. How did the music change so much? Beautifully and subtly, that’s how.

Alex Keller @ the Volstead, Austin, February 2016
Jeph Jerman34°111’3”N 111°95’4”W (mappa) CS/online

The latitude and longitude coordinates mark the site of an abandoned windmill where these recordings were made. Type these coordinates into your favorite map software and see if you can locate the windmill. A favorite pastime of mine; using Google Maps/Earth to travel around the world when stuck at the office or just feeling stuck. Rumblings and clankings imprint themselves onto the microphone. Does Jerman manipulate the disassembled inner workings of the windmill, or do we hear what anyone would hear in or near the site? Most of the recordings resemble empty oil drums slid across concrete floors; that’s what I’d assume had I not read the liner notes. The mill still spins, but no longer pumps water. What would the area be like had it continued to pump water onto the ground? What wildlife would it have nourished through these many years? Like many of Jerman’s works, a crisp, interesting sonic world plays out for us, and, in enriching that world, the first editions of the cassette came with one of 36 small items found near the site, including the animal bones that grace the cover. The web page presents a photo of all of the objects.
Vanessa GelvinAnatomy Topography (Vanessa Gelvin) online

Austin-based artist Vanessa Gelvin continues her mission to collect sounds from around the world. Here, the sounds seem to be collected from a trip through India and nearby locales. It’s not the dense, recognizable affair of the Darge/Lambkin collages mentioned above, but mainly short glimpses into a particular place and time, fireworks or a plane taking off, “walking to a waterfall.” The titles of “On the Banks of the Ganges” and “Old Delhi Train Station “ give clues as to where they were recorded, otherwise we are left guessing, or left accepting the noises as they are, not as part of a travelogue.
SeersFrom The Beginning... Until The End (Misanthropic Agenda) CD

Gerritt Wittmer is an Oakland-based noise artist (recently returned to Houston?) who recently performed solo in Austin at the Museum of Human Achievement. The performance, which switched from blinding white light aimed directly in our squinty faces to utter darkness, mixed ponderous vocal utterances and thumpy, scrapy electronic sounds. I thought of the CO Caspar recordings I have. It was an impressive performance from someone I had never heard of before, who moves in circles of people I’m also not familiar with (John Weiss, Sissy Spacek—the noise group not the actor). Seers, his duo with another person with whom I’m not familiar, Pete Swanson (Yellow Swans, Badgerlore), takes us on an hour long trip of six untitled tracks that combines intense drones, chirpy electronic noises, harsh static into a perfectly mixed stew, with some nice slow, throbbing rumbles. Many of the drones recall gingerly manipulated analog synthesizers, slowly turning a resonance knob. It’s a very different atmosphere from the solo performance I was lucky enough to witness, but crafted with the same approach to texture and dynamics.

murky photo of Gerritt Wittmer @ the Museum of Human Achievement, February 2016
Anna Homler & Steve MoshierBreadwoman & Other Tales (Rvng Intl.) CD

The reissue of a long-forgotten masterwork from such a creative force as Homler should always be applauded. The Breadwoman is a performance art piece with a strong musical component released as a cassette in 1985. The character, developed over years as Homler’s entrance into the creative art world of Los Angeles, appears as a raggedly-dressed woman made from bread, her face covered by a large flour-dusted rustic bread loaf. (!) The music she sings sounds like Yemeni art songs filtered through electronic music—Ofra Harza if she was produced by Mego—and heavily influenced by those early Meredith Monk records. But this came out a decade before Mego, and doesn’t sound as dated as some of that label’s output. She sings in a made-up language sounding vaguely Arabic over a diverse mix of tape loops, synthesizers and early sequencers manipulated by Steve Moshier, layering lush beds of sounds for Homler’s mysterious singing. I liked the sample-and-hold buzzing of “Gu She’ Na’ Di,” with its faint clarinet hiding behind the vocals. “Sirens” features dove-like cooing and shrill hawk squeaks over science-fiction movie synthesizer. This was Homler’s first major work released into the public more than 30 years ago, and it sounds remarkably fresh and inviting. If you told me this was music they created last month, I wouldn’t doubt it. I remember Homler coming to Austin in 1998 or so ( reports that her N D CD came out in 2000, so was the concert then?), to perform with Ellen Fullman. They didn’t perform together, but each played their avant-songs. Homler’s set included the use of many wind up toys, I remember. I should have written about this when it happened, not now when I can barely remember what happened.
Asmus TietchensOrnamente (Zwischen Null Und Eins) (LINE) CD

The five pieces named “Ornaments” could have been made at anytime during Tietchens’ long and productive history, save for a few particularly-muted timbres that signify computer-based processing in the fourth piece. Mostly electronic drones mix with some sort of plinking or plopping in the foreground. Dripping water? The clang of coins? The rapid clatter of the foreground contrasts nicely with the static drones. The mood abruptly changes for the fifth work; it becomes atmospheric and larger—or at least the use of mammoth reverbs give the illusion of space. The foreground percussive noise becomes an insect-like buzz. Sometimes I need music to massage my subconscious, and Tietchens certainly does that with many of his works, including this one.
Ingenting KollektivaLost Beyond Telling (Invisible Birds) CD + DVD

* This collective consists of sound and video projects all involving Matthew Swiezynski with a changing cast of collaborators. I don’t remember how it came to me: did Colin Andrew Sheffield (who has a release on the same label) give it to me? Do I have to give it back? The audio CD is a nine-part suite called “Lost Beyond Telling, Fragments Of Night As Envisioned By Johannes D’Église, Church Mouse” and is processed from a previous piece called “Fragments of Night” and folded into samples of J.S. Bach, Olivier Messiaen and others, although I could not recognize anything that seemed to be a sample. The music is murky and flowing masses of tones, not readily identifiable as coming from any particular source.

The three movies on the DVD are gorgeous explorations of natural items, each made in collaboration with Swiezynski and Tarrl Lightowler or Diane Granahan. The “Spectral Analysis Loops” are rapid-edit dissolves or zoom in of nature elements, brightly-saturated flower petals, sun-glinted tree trunks, leaves and branches. The mood of the first two parts is pastoral, and abruptly changes into an intense Lynchian-nightmare of zooms and flickers, first falling into through levels of reality, then trapped with flickers of perception, with apprpropiate changes in sound. Our friend Giuseppe Ielasi mastered the sound for the falling in section. The two films made with Granahan focus on slower, shifting images of turning treescapes, smeared and blurred almost to the point of being unrecognizable, and blurry images of what could be candles in a forest. Mysterious and ponderous. The music accompaniment is simpler for these two, using a wood flute and harmonium to great effect. While I am sure the film makers would like the credit, these films would be great to use in your own performances, they have a way with toying with eyes, leaving ears and minds to wander.
Hum of the DruidRaising the New Wing / Braided Industry (Scratch And Sniff Entertainment) LP

This druid does not hum, so much as rumble, crash and sputter. If one put a running lawnmower inside a running washing machine and recorded it via a blown out condenser mic, that would be this record. It’s dynamic and tumultuous, both sides, and you may wonder if your turntable cartridge is clogged with LP lint; it probably is, but then clangs and siren sounds punch in through the rumble. Very likable (if you aren’t suffering from a headache) and it works at numerous volume levels. The LP comes with a helpful, larger version of the cover photo.
Reviews and photos (but not the Infinity Machine photo) by Josh Ronsen.
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