Lawrence English 'A Colour For Autumn' LP (Sweat Lodge Guru/Digitalis, 2010)

Ahh... Lawrence English. I couldn't possibly take a stab at how many times I've listened to his 2008 album Kiri No Oto. The magic of that album has carried through onto A Colour For Autumn, also obtaining perennial status around here (and by 'here' I mean my bedroom). Originally this was issued on CD via Taylor Deupree's 12k label, then eventually materializing as this lovely vinyl co-release. Outside of his personal exploration in sound, English also runs the fantastic and refreshingly unpredictable Room40 imprint (recent 7"s by both Grouper and Tim Hecker).

Because of the nearly year-round temperate climate in Vancouver, any miniscule seasonal spike, whether it's a few degrees higher or a few degrees lower, suddenly becomes the talk of the town. This is always noticeable in the winter and summer months. The other eight months of the year seem to take on varying shades of grey. But, when the time comes around–and it always comes around–we are again reminded of the subtle beauty of seasonal change, like in spring blossoms or reddening autumn leaves. It is the subtleties of the evolving and decaying of seasons that is so evocative. The textures found within A Colour For Autumn elicit these subtleties as seven cyclical pieces. It's simple enough to draw loose metaphors between shifting ambient music and the changing seasons. That kind of thing can get really cliché really fast, so I'll keep it to a minimum. Clichés aside, I fully condone English's ode-to-the-seasons work, this one being especially worth the effort.

The opening track, Droplet, with its overlapping falsetto is stunning. This is the kind of thing that could give Music For Airports a run for its money. It's also the closest thing on the album to Kiri No Oto's hazy electronics. From here the album emerges from the blur a bit and steers more towards movements of finer texture and microtonalities. The music is left spare, often set around a trajectory of revolving drone fragments, the sounds all fluctuating in-and-around one another. Watching it Unfold, perhaps the most elegant track on the album, finds English incorporating immediately recognizable instrumentation, including horns and an acoustic guitar, into the mix. English's musical approach for the album works solely to his advantage, where crescendos emerge as rolling hills rather than mountains. A Colour For Autumn treads its languid course, with side B seeing the emergence of Ambarchi-esque bass hammering and an overall stronger feeling of decay. The disquieting murmur of ...And Clouds For Company concludes the album. Clocking in at just over half an hour it all seems over far too quickly. My suggestion: flip and repeat.


Rick Reed 'A 4 CD Retrospect Covering 1978-2008' (Self Released, 2008)

Rick Reed moved to Austin in the late 70's from his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. Like many artists festering in the musical realms of sinister psychedelia, Reed takes cues from his days as a painter (John Duncan, to name another). To date, Reed has collaborated in a handful of projects including Frequency Curtain and Abrasion Ensemble, he performs and records solo under his own name and as Careful With that AKS Eugene--managing to reference both Pink Floyd and his synthi AKS.Currently, he hosts the electronic/avant garde radio show "Commercial Suicide" and continues his practice as a painter.

Rick Reed 'A 4 CD Retrospect Covering 1978-2008'

As you should have gathered from the title of this, it is dense. This is an absolute asset to fans of Reed's music, or anyone with the slightest interest in electronic music for that matter. Unfortunately, there are only 50 copies in existence and they are all probably spoken for by now. This compendium has taken a few different forms, one being the 3cd-r set titled Celestial Mudpie, and at least one other that contained 6 discs of material! Also, some of these tracks have been reissued on vinyl. The first two, Dreamz and Blue Polz, happen to be the title tracks of Reed's Picture Disc release on Elevator Bath two years ago. I reviewed that back in March of '09, and realized just now after reading the post again that I referenced this retrospect. Took me almost two years to actually review it though. Sometimes these things just take time.

Discs one and two are of Recent Electronic Music. Disc one begins with the aforementioned Dreamz and Blue Polz, and then slips into the dizzying electric bleeps and ventilator clatter of the third movement: The Fiery Sound of Light. Eventually Reed fills in the sound spectrum as he seems to always do so effortlessly, weaving the highest of high-ends with the crushingly low. Soft focus crescendos break over the existing sound, yielding the incredibly patient concluding track, Mesmerism. The liner notes cite an accordion as one of maybe ten instruments used in the making of these tracks. Odd, perhaps, considering how overt accordions tend to be. If that is in fact what I am hearing on Mesmerism, then kudos to you Rick for using an accordion in good taste (to you and Pauline Oliveros).

Disc two begins with a quick spoken sample not unlike something from an Omit album (see excerpt below), before falling into a series of looped low-end fragments and piercing frequencies. Nice scarcity in the arrangement of sound here. The second track, Capitalism: Child Labor, is a soundtrack Reed produced for a film by Ken Jacobs under the same name. Here we see Reed getting into some heavier arpeggiations of noise and synth-drone. The track is relentless, crushing and completely captivating. The heaviness continues on Hidden Voices pt 1 and 2 where Reed deploys similar psychotropic vibes to those that have come to define the canons of Matt Shoemaker and the Hafler Trio. Reed's control of various synthesizers is tactful to say the least, revealing a continuity and attention to nuance in composition. The final two discs document Reed's recent and historic collaborative work. There is a lot of material to sink your teeth into here, and somehow it all manages to work together in sequence. This is a great compendium of work. Attention labels, more reissues of Reed's work, please.

Each CD comes with a spray painted cover by Reed


Yui Onodera & Celer 'Generic City' (Two Acorns, 2010)

This is the first release on Will Long's (aka Celer) recently born label Two Acorns. Founded this year, Will plans to release material through a variety of mediums, not just formats, including books and film. I'm interested in seeing how this versatile label pans out.

Admittedly, I've never been a big Celer fan, partially because I'm always weary at any artist/band that spits out more than a release per month. I guess you could say that I've never under appreciated the value of quality control. The other reason is that of the handful of Celer albums I've acquired, it's become a daunting task in its own right to tell any of them apart. So I ask, does a band need to make the same album over and over again to get recognition? I like to imagine that if the music can speak for itself, then less is certainly more. But this is a collab, so anything could happen.

When this release was passed on to me (thanks again, Mathieu) I was, needless to say, skeptical. Upon tuning into the shaky opening sequence–an awfully rendered cacophony of bird calls, with no low-end to speak of–my skepticism was nearly solidified. Luckily, that opening sequence is quickly fizzled away by a more than sublime drone. Ever ponder at how amazing it is that an elegant flower can spawn from everyday dirt? Well then, welcome to Generic City. I'd say it's almost an underlying theme here: beauty created from dirt. And the album does have many exquisite parts, all of them in some form or another taking shape as stretched movements of blurred texture, often revealing multiple tiers of sound and hinting at what's to come.

Field recordings are cited as having a big role on the album, and it's easy enough to pick them out: birds, the crunch of ground beneath footsteps, rain, airports, cars, voices, chants and much more. Although there seems to be varying levels of obfuscation in the recordings, sometimes they are left completely unprocessed, while other times manipulated into unrecognizable sources. When an equilibrium is maintained between these two levels, like when a raw field recording is layered beneath a waxing drone, Will and Yui are at their strongest. The extremely wide scope of sounds captured in the field makes for a bit of a lackluster focus. Although, when imagining all the sounds that a city has to offer in a single day's commute, it becomes apparent that our lives, too, are bombarded by the billowing of concrete environments. I like to imagine the quieter moments as an escape from all that, a sudden turn down an alley where the street traffic becomes muffled, a detour through an urban park, or a stumbled entry into a church or monastery, where time and sound lay still for just a moment before you have to face the noise once again.

I can see this album squeezing its way into some year end lists. Good stuff, recommended.


"Quiet City" at Blim. December 17, 2010.

I will be performing with Mathieu Ruhlmann under the guise The Pollen Sisters next Friday for the great monthly music series "Quiet City." Come out to what will surely be a stellar night of understated sound craft.


Concert Review: Tim Hecker + Loscil, Western Front, Vancouver. November 19, 2010.

First Fennesz and then Hecker. Ecstatic to be have been given the chance to see these two contemporaries perform within two months of each other. Below is the complete unedited version of my review of the show. Look for it in Discorder where it will most likely look a little different.

Another sold out show at the Western Front on Friday night. This time it was for the highly anticipated return of Tim Hecker, whose last Vancouver performance dates back seven years. Hecker is appearing as a panelist for the 2010 Sound Thinking Symposium taking place at the Surrey Art gallery. Luckily, the Front was able to snatch him up for a performance beforehand.

Label mate, and Vancouver local, Scott Morgan (aka Loscil) opened the evening in good suit with his personalized blend of beat sustained minimalism. The non-existent lighting complemented the mood of Morgan's slow burning crescendos, which stemmed from heavily effected (and effective) swells of low-end intonation. However, the bass was often overbearing, effectively drowning a lot of the finer textures in Morgan's music. The diaphanous emissions of a finely plucked table-top guitar nearly saved the set, but the heavy handed bass reared its head once more, eventually giving way to an unrestrained use of piano sampling. Loscil's albums have always shown a patience and intellect to composition, and although the set had its moments, the intricacies of his craft were lost on this particular night.

It is difficult to unwrap the enigma that is Tim Hecker's music. Equal parts instrumental, noise, ambient, and electronic, Hecker smears the boundaries of these genres with a soft focus brush, then aptly blurs his movements into pixelated streams of kaleidoscopic texture. Essentially, he is able to create a music he can call his own. In good form on this night, Hecker strung together album tracks that weighed heavily towards his stellar 2006 release, Harmony in Ultraviolet . As the set rolled on it was clear that the audience was getting a lesson in transition, as the majority of the movements flowed into one another with impressive ease. Impressive when considering the multifaceted anatomy of Hecker's music. Sad to not see an encore, but it was an highly evocative and emotionally satisfying set nonetheless.


Jason Kahn + Jon Mueller 'Phase' WAV File (FSS, 2010)

This is the first and could quite possibly be the only digital download I will ever buy. And yes, I did purchase this. I don't really know why exactly. It was cheap for one ($2.00) and well, the sound sample was so good and such a tease at the same time that I couldn't help but grab it. I am by no means trading in my vinyl. No way. The SF has always and will always condone the furtherance of physical media. This was just too tempting to pass on. So call me a hypocrite if you like, but today, the SF is "going digital."

Jason Kahn & Jon Mueller

This definitely isn't the first time these two have collaborated, and I doubt if it'll be the last. On Phase, Kahn and Mueller's percussive set-ups seem at their fullest. The dense fluctuations of the single 39 minute track bring to mind Kahn's indelible 2009 release, Vanishing Point. As if existing as a sister piece, the two start off in similar suit (minus the noticeable use of tape hiss on VP), but differ in their end-point trajectories. Phase rarely deviates from its unrelenting form. The swirling undulations of tumultuous drum-skin clatter and subdued frequencies shift more in their presence than anything else. The layers supposedly phase (hence the title), although a steady decay as the track winds to a close is more noticeable. The consistency is jarred only briefly by the laser precision of what sound like high-end sine waves, adding a satisfying punchiness.

The interesting thing about the way Kahn and Mueller utilize percussion–in all their work but especially in this release–is the initial ambiguity of the sounds. Someone listening to this who is ignorant to the sources of these sounds will get lost in its seemingly impenetrable wonder. However, if that person were to suddenly become aware of the percussive sources, they would immediately start to recognize their telling features in the music. Interesting when considering the unconventional use of common instruments and the masking of these instruments in composition. Great stuff from these two, like all their collaborations. Hope to see this issued on cd one day.


Matt Shoemaker 'Soundtrack for Dislocation' (Elevator Bath, 2010)

Can Matt Shoemaker do wrong? Hot on the heels of Tropical Amnesia One comes his debut full-length for Elevator Bath. Soundtracks for Dislocation serves as more than just another notch in the belt of Shoemaker's steadily growing catalogue. The album feels less of a take on the heavy-toned cosmologies of 2009's Erosion of the Analogous Eye. Instead, he embraces a more noxious blend of psychotropic modulation for this new effort, rife with dizzying climaxes and not without a crafted semblance of cynicism. An organic pulse runs through the middle of all of Shoemaker's releases, leaving me scratching my head at how its all done. And after countless hours with his music and still not quite understanding, the mystery, it seems, might just be the best part. With that said, Soundtrack for Dislocation is not to be overlooked.


RV Paintings 'Samoa Highway' (Helen Scarsdale, 2010)

When a slow progression of tragic piano chords make themselves known in the latter stages of the opener Millions, it becomes strikingly clear that this is not just another forest dwelling, cannabis fueled test of one's patience. Although weed, I'm sure, played its crucial role. But no. The psychedelia on Samoa Highway is one of burning crescendos and bowed string canopies. Voice, piano, and even aircrafts play a role in carving out these pieces. Take for example the exemplary opening track, a nearly side-long slow burn whose undercurrent of rewound guitars meshed with distant drumming, firework explosions and jet take-offs drag the listener through the course of history in reverse; to a time predating civilization.

Oddly enough, the lack of obfuscation in the field recordings that Jon and Brian Pyle utilize, works solely to their advantage. A plethora of phonographers would have likely chosen to blur these lines a bit more, ostensibly, to lesser results. The opening of Mirrors brings to mind an obvious Stars of the Lid reference, but is quickly wiped away by a plague of unearthly echoes and synth fissures. Contortions then give way to distortion. On From Manila to Forever the guitars play out like a row of tolling church bells, setting up the melancholia of As Far As We Could See, the final track. The mood stands uninterrupted atop the careening of skittered percussion that brings to an end an album that, although lacking in the level of conceptual continuity that a lot of the HS releases possess, still manages to provoke any of a number of hallucinatory states of mind. Or maybe that's just the weed talking.

This is the first vinyl offering from Helen Scarsdale and the third official release by the RV Paintings duo. Brian Pyle is perhaps better known as one of the founders of Starving Weirdos. He also records solo as Ensemble Economique.


An Evening With Christian Fennesz

I'm not going to get around to posting anything proper for a while. I try to at least do some fancy label highlight or feature every month but a creative writing degree has been consuming my pen hand–or keyboard hands, if you will. Although school has been a little too all-encompassing, I did manage to catch Fennesz when he came to town and subsequently write a review for Discorder magazine. So, I'm now given the opportunity to post the review in its unedited version. More to come in the near future.

Fennesz + Scant Intone/Souns
September 26, 2010 at The Western Front.

An 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper tacked to the entrance doors: tonight, Fennesz, sold out. The majority of people that would be attending already sat comfortably in their seats well before Scant Intone and Souns took the stage. The two opened the evenings events on what would only be their second real-time collaboration. Maybe practice doesn’t make perfect as these guys were able to formulate a fine set filled with miniature atonal crescendos, subdued skitter and interwoven sampling–everything played at a comfortable medium-low (sometimes it’s nice not getting your ears blasted off). The sampling ranged from environmental sounds and indiscernible murmuring to more industrial elements. Occasionally a cheesy drum beat slipped through, though never outstaying its welcome. Impressively the duo were able to restrain their sound to a fog of subdued concrète clusters, ever dynamic and interesting. A fine display of what Vancouver’s subtler side of experimental muzak has to offer.

After a short intermission, the main act was announced. Not wasting any time Christian Fennesz dove into his first number, a heavy slice of electronica and fragmented guitar. Fennesz is not your average lap-top gawking purveyor of electro-glitch soundscaping. The man actually plays a guitar, live, through an actual guitar amp. All the while digitally deconstructed white noise flows from his computer. It’s all quite remarkable to see live and the opening half did not disappoint. As the set rolled on, however, claustrophobia started to settle in. What made Fennesz’s impeccable 2008 release, Black Sea, so good was its sense of space. And that space seemed to be filled in on this particular night. Despite this fact, the heat–did I mention that the Front has a serious lack of ventilation problem?–and the sets particularly sour-note ending of Fennesz walking off after his last song, disgruntled over the sound tech’s overly intrusive use of compression, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t leave satisfied.

To conclude, a brief word on Politics.

It is but a fact that among all communities, large and small, there will always exist a palpable level of bureaucracy. Kris Charlton, a man who has facilitated past Vancouver performances of such talents as Barn Owl, Oneida, Wooden Shijps, Nadja and much, much more, was robbed of the opportunity to produce what would have been one of his most memorable productions. I’m talking of course, about Christian Fennesz, who was nearly secured as Kris’s next headliner until The Front eventually (not naming names) got wise to Fennesz’s interest in visiting Vancouver. What ensued next were a series of unanswered emails that eventually left Kris out of the equation all together. This is only one side of the coin, and yes, Kris is a friend of mine. So, I’ll grant the amount of time it takes for you to finish reading this line to impart your judgments about favoritism and biases upon me. In any regard this needed to be addressed as it is clear to me that an injustice has occurred. For now, let us take a moment and revel in the fact that great musicians, international or otherwise, still desire the opportunity to visit our fine city. For that we should all be grateful.

Click here to view the severely edited (though I understand why) Discorder version.


New Vacant Tapes Release

Devoting most of his musical attention as 1/4 of bass & guitar amp-worshippers Nurse, Roger Mexico now branches out to provide us with his first solo outing. His musical prowess takes shape in the form of an unrelenting six-string, where Mr. Mexico has honed the technique of tactfully guiding his trusted ebow over a prepared guitar to actualize his sinister musical vision. Elongated tones and psychedelic squall fill these muscular arrangements, as if harkening to a dreamed up collaboration between Yoshi Wada, Tony Conrad and Broken Flag-era Matthew Bower. Fans of either three will find a lot to like in Poisson.

Mexico, Roger Poisson, C-32
Released August 2010
Edition of 30 cassettes


5 Questions: Daniel Crokaert

Daniel Crokaert is the man behind the decade standing Mystery Sea cdr label and has recently started a new label under the name Unfathomless. He currently resides in Brussels, Belgium and at my request was kind enough to indulge upon a few of my inquiries.

SF: In a past email you had mentioned that you have an insatiable appetite for music. Can you briefly talk about how you first became aware of outsider music culture and how you eventually began Mystery Sea?

DC: Since my early childhood, I've been bathed in various forms of music, as my father used to compile his own tapes from various vinyls he borrowed from friends... it's only much later than I realized how important these days were...

but the true triggering moment of my love for outsider music culture was my quasi direct experience of the punk DIY ethos (yes, I'm that old !) which seemed to meet all my hopes for change, rebellion against numbing/standard values, giving new directions... it's at that precise moment in time that I caught the “virus”, and that I became increasingly interested in all forms of non-mainstream art & music... then I had the chance to exchange correspondence with and meet some artists that turned me completely upside down, constituting some ideal model through their sheer passion, and formidable emotional impact, and all the background behind their own venture : Eyeless In Gaza ! The name Mystery Sea is a reverential tribute to Martyn Bates (half of the EIG duo)... this band has given me so much that it felt natural as a choice... the theme for the series poured out of itself...I started it a good 10 years ago, at the junction of the new century we're now in...and no end in sight yet...(endless seas...)

You've recently started a second label called Unfathomless with a focus on sonic interpretations of specific places. What was the inspiration behind this new venture? Do you see this new label as a personal opportunity to fulfill a different goal, perhaps something that could not be actualized within the scope of Mystery Sea?

If the Mystery Sea series was initially more based on “drone” as leitmotif, along the “episodes”, it gradually incorporated more works where field recordings had a paramount role... Along my years as a student in interior architecture, I had the chance to do some specific installation in an old building, the atmosphere of which deeply moved me...I've always been fascinated as well with the intimate relations we can share with environments that mirror us in a way, but also with what still seems to linger on in those...something far beyond words... it's so strange to remark that most of the places we frequent will survive us, and have been permeated with our passage...There are numerous artists who practice in that field, and who consciously or not did have a decisive influence on me... I used also to be an avid reader of this blog :http://sense--of--place.blogspot.com/

the U series has as aim to deepen the MS experience, and while still being ltd edition,it offers perhaps a bit more perennity to artists ' works since those are on CD (not CDR)...It also reflects my own thirst of expanding the act of listening - I recently acquired a Zoom h4n, and I do thus my own sound “photography”...

All the aspects of your releases, whether on Mystery Sea or Unfathomless, subscribe to a central ethos that shines through in the packaging, artwork and music. Probably most apparent is the deep-ocean-drones theme found within the Mystery Sea releases. Is it required that artists provide work that fits the theme, or is it more of a matter of accepting what they give you?

I try very much to get original works created specifically for each label, and thus probably conceptually stronger... though I'm not willing to close my door, and from time to time, I receive submissions outside of any invitation, yet more or less having a natural tie with the themes...it's sometimes nice to throw in a little anomaly, diversion to stay away from the routine... The challenge is then to find a way of linking them, and it can lead to other unexpected perspectives, I believe...

From your site and your stunning artwork, I've discerned that you have an interest in the blending of sounds with visuals as the complete package. Do you see this crossing of mediums becoming more of a focus in future label releases? any DVDs on the horizon? How do you feel about visual accompaniment during musical performance?

As much as I feel strong connections between the visual and sound aspects, that can complement each other for an enriched perspective, I've also my doubts about a forced or sometimes weak cohabitation... it certain cases it can be misleading, or simply decrease the potential of the imaginary... like a book translated into a movie : the encounter of these two spheres can be fruitful and point out new ways of appreciation, it can also be destructive...I've always done the artworks with much respect for the music, the artist, trying to be as close as possible to the mood in which the work has seen the daylight, or its emotional resonance in me...I hope it shows...For the reasons evoked in previous lines, and also financial ones, I haven't planned any DVDs so far...

You are centered in Belgium and have released work from artists all over the world. In your opinion where are some of the more interesting contemporary musical regions and why? Can you provide a written playlist of some of the music you've been into lately?

Interesting things happen all over the world really, mostly in the continents/countries where there's the luxury to be involved in such cultural activities...for economical/political/religious reasons, some people will most probably never have access to these...Nowadays, musical progress & diffusion is largely depending on the access to internet...I'm a bulimic music lover, and so my collection is always expanding, and I find myself often only listening to the latest things just in : currently spinning, and springing spontaneously to mind (a lot of usual suspects !)

Philip Sulidae “Hidden & Tied” MP3
Christopher McFall “The body as I left it” CD
Ubeboet “Archival” LP
Asher “Interference” Tape
Lasse-Marc Riek “Harbour” CD
Scott Smallwood “Desert winds : six windblown sound pieces” CD
Joda Clément “Movement + Rest” CD
Hapsburg Braganza “Hatchling” CD
Yann Novak “The Breeze Blowing Us” CDR
Anne Guthrie “Standing sitting” CDR
Chris Watson “Outside the circle of fire” CD
Simon Whetham “Restricted access” CDR
Various unreleased works from
James McDougall, Juan José Calarco,
Hiroki Sasajima, Tarab, Christopher McFall, Chubby Wolf...etc...

Mystery Sea ~ Unfathomless

Ominous Sonographies: Mystery Sea, Unfathomless and Daniel Crokaert -- Part Two

Daniel Crokaert started his U imprint in late 2009 and with 4 publications to date already, it's obvious that Mr. Crokaert is serious about this new endeavor. The Unfathomless releases are printed on cd rather than cdr and Crokaert has opted for a sleeker, slimmer aesthetic, trading in his jewel cases for clear poly plastic ones and opaque inner sleeves. Nicer prints as well, my photos do not do these justice.

While Mystery Sea was a label whose theme bridged on watery dronescaping, Unfathomless is based more on field recording and specific locations, and the artist's personal fascination with these locations. Essentially these recordings are meant to capture the spirit of these particular places where it is encouraged for the artist to use found materials from these locals yielding an organic characteristic to the recordings. A great idea for a record label which has spawned some interesting results.

Mathieu Ruhlmann Tsukubai
I received what I initially thought was a random email in February from Mathieu Ruhlmann. He had heard of the blog and was interested in hearing some music of mine. It wasn't until I realized that he actually lived just outside of Vancouver that it wasn't so random after all. We've become friends and periodically we record together, though unfortunately not as much as either of us would like. Upon our first meeting we exchanged releases, which was a little sad because I ended up with this hefty bundle and he got a single cassette. Stowed within that bundle was Tsukubai, the Unfathomless debut.

The "location" in question is the Nitobe Memorial Garden at The University of British Columbia. I've personally never been there despite spending countless hours in and around the UBC area. Ruhlmann based most of the album on hydrophone recordings, evident throughout as he does little to mask his natural sounds. The tracks unfold with a steady hand and an expert pace, the sign of a man who's done this once or twice before. Gradually, soft-focus drones creep their way in and it strikes me as impressive that Ruhlmann was able to capture it all at this one particular location. The album is made up of 8 tracks seamlessly blended, each one a miniature sound world that varies slightly from the last. Parts VI and VII are stand outs, the former with its chiseling motorifik clatter and the latter sounding like someone making coffee under water. A fine work by Mathieu Ruhlmann paralleling his Fourteen Worms For Victor Hugo and his latest As a Leaf or a Stone.

Luigi Turra & Christopher McFall Tactile.Surface

Tactile.Surface is the reflection of an imaginary place. It is the virtual space created from the culmination and consolidation of recordings from both Turra's living room in the city of Schio (North of Italy) and manipulated tape work with unclear origins by McFall. McFall recites an experience he had of listening to the pieces that were to appear on Tactile.Surface during a 12 hour drive from Kansas City to Colorado, as though the music were playing out as a soundtrack to the desolate landscape and absolute skies. Drawn out dark ambience and palpable textures aptly reflect that setting, resulting in an incredible work that rivals many of the better contemporary practitioners of sonic tactile excursion.

Ominous Sonographies: Mystery Sea, Unfathomless and Daniel Crokaert -- Part One

Well, so much for August being a hyper-prolific blogging month. In fact, as quite obviously noticeable from the archive list on the right hand side, I didn't even manage to churn out one measly post. There were, however, good reasons for this. Namely, the excellent summer we've been blessed with in Vancouver and not to mention a microphone purchase or two that forced me out into the world rather than idling in front of my computer.

And now, I finally have a chance to present the much overdue three part post highlighting the nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic of Daniel Crokaert and his Mystery Sea and Unfathomless labels.

Mystery Sea ~
Daniel Crokaert operates out of Brussels, Belgium and has been steadily – and it would seem, effortlessly –releasing exquisitely packaged short run (100) cdrs for Mystery Sea for nearly a decade. Crokaert publishes his "seas" (as he puts it) with an utmost attention to detail. This fact along with an artistic ethos that he personally overseas (sorry) in each release, can make one forget that they're dealing with cdrs here.

The label has nearly exhausted the gamut of note worthy musicians to contribute to its perpetual dark-ocean-drone theme, releasing work from mnortham, Dale Lloyd, Coelacanth and Troum in the early years, to Matt Shoemaker, Asher and jgrzinich more recently. And by the looks of it, he's not slowing down either. For this particular highlight I've decided to extract 5 recent releases from the MS catalogue to discuss and review, which, I think should paint a fairly cohesive picture as too what this excellent label has to offer.

Jgrzinich Phase Inversion

Speaking of jgrzinich, I've recently been spinning this incredible disc as therapy for restless nights. And in case you were wondering – as I was – the pseudonym is actually a mash up of his first and last name; John Grzinich, much like Michael Northam (mnortham), which, I believe is something they came up with together.

Jgrzinich is building an impressive catalogue with releases on Sirr, Intransitive, and Staalplaat already behind him. There is good reason for his work appearing on such prestigious labels as he has continuously produced some of the finest drones around. Jgrzinich's recordings are the culmination of countless hours spent in the field wandering in and around abandoned buildings, grasslands, silos and airplane hangers, anywhere that might hold a magical sound. His weapon of choice appears to be the contact mic, of which he affixes to these buildings and silos in various ways. Roadside fences, wires and train stations also seem to be points of interest for Mr. Grzinich, and he will often physically shape his objects, sometimes adding cups or plastic bags, or even an extra metallic appendage; much like prepping an instrument. Then he'll attach his mics, either sit back to let whipping wind or rushing water do the work, or he'll manipulate the objects himself to achieve desired sounds. To view photos and videos of Jgrzinich in action try these links:

images from Phase Space

It's not just that jgrzinich is able to capture these sonic spaces that is impressive – there are many-a-sound-artist who use similar techniques in the field. No, it is the focus and patience of his acoustically derived works that really make his recordings stand above so many others. Phase Inversion is no exception. A slow fade in for the 21 minute opener Dispersion Trajectory and the listener find's themselves amidst a thickly lain drone. Not thick in a wall-of-sound sense, like Acre or early SunnO))), but more of a coagulated pulse, slowly clotting with the introduction of subdued murmuring, out-of-focus tactile flourishes and maybe a happy accident or two. The second of these three tracks sees a reversal of roles, the flourishes shifting to the foreground while a low frequency throb simmers beneath it. That is, until the tolling of a ghostly bell just shy of the ten minute mark begins to play out, aligning the composition more with the first and third pieces.

If the staunch trajectory of Phase Inversion is a testament to anything, it is that John Grzinich cares about the environments that he is so evidently finely tuned into. I can picture him traversing Estonia where he now resides, painstakingly seeking out freshly discarded materials, ransacking through a post-industrial squat for objects to clang together, testing the acoustic parameters of a newly discovered sonic environment. And in all honesty, if he were to call you up one day to partake in an organic matter and sheet metal jam within the walls of a hollowed out geodesic dome... you'd be foolish to refuse. Like all his work, nicely done.

James McDougall Dispossession of Periphery

James McDougall is an up-and-comer with a handful of cd-r and mp3 releases spanning two years. A small but significant start to what could very well be a fruitful occupation in sound. Gnawing contact mics are immediately recognizable as the opener slowly churns a palpable grind. The track is quite nice, constantly speed checking and barely straying from its minimalist ethos. The rest of the album sees McDougall expanding his palette to include bowed metal, breath, water, and whirring motors. At times the music takes on a more lush cinematic feel, as described by Brian Olewnick from Just Outside; unfortunately, not to the album's merit. I would have personally liked to have seen McDougall adopt a less-is-more mentality in some of these arrangements. It's clear that some 'voice' searching is in order for this (artistically) young artist. All things considered though, Dispossession of Periphery is a fine effort that reveals much potential for future releases.

Terje Paulsen Horisont

Here is a man who I don't think many people know of. After two Mystery Sea releases appearing quite close together –MS 58 and MS 62–maybe the dimly-lit sound world of Norway's Terje Paulsen will acquire a bit more attention. With an undercurrent drone running through the center of the piece and a myriad of other sounds like rippling water, subdued bells and indiscernible rustlings, the single track on Horisont remains very consistent. However, the album's conclusion feels a tad abrupt. Seeing Paulsen extend the piece for an extra 15 minutes and oh, I don't know, maybe bring everything down to a gentle simmer, would have given this album the extra quality points it needs. Not a bad work by any means, just a little short and little too safe.

Simon Whetham Beneath the Swinging Bridge

The liner notes of Simon Whetham's Beneath the Swinging Bridge state that all the source material for this album was recorded in the Cumberland Basin in Bristol, UK. So, water, again plays a dominate role, along with structures that hold sonic possibilities, like the Bristol Swing Bridges. You've got to turn this one up to reveal it's intricacies. I initially had it playing at a fairly low volume and could only make out the bubbling of water, but I assure you that there are some menacing drones lurking in the background. Whetham gradually reveals more of the world beneath the bridge until we are actually there with him, listening to cars pass above and what could be the bellowing of gas pipes. Some of the sounds are maybe a little over processed, and again, at 37 minutes it feels a bit underdeveloped. Great idea though with moments of brilliance.

Hiroki Sasajima Nille

On his album split into 4 parts, Japanese sound artist Hiroki Sasajima presents a rather focused set of ominous field work, layered and significantly blurred around the edges. Most of these parts take the form of a low-end drone, that like many other Mystery Sea releases exemplarily captures the deep ocean theme, albeit can begin to stunt one's fascination after a while. Sasajima incorporates some of the other usual suspects quite impressively, ie bubbling water, rustlings and tactile elements, and there are a number of very minimal tonal sections buried in here that grabbed my attention. As a whole, the album doesn't elicit the potency of a jgrzinich or Asher release but is worth investigating none the less.