Phaserprone :: Back from the Dead, Part 2

As expected I present to you part 2 of this vastly incomplete label profile, the music in question, of which, I've greatly enjoyed deconstructing. Sitting here at my dimly lit desk looking out at the drabness that is typical to Vancouver this time of year, I brood over the near and distant future of the Scrapyard Forecast. Overdue reviews of stray tapes and cds from 2011 will see the light of day in January, along with the irresistible year-end feature (something I prefer to leave until early January even though most of us are sick of lists by then). I'm still working on the details of the year end thing, though I've recently narrowed things down to 20 or so albums. Keep an eye out. As far as the distant future goes, I have no plans on stopping, so all I can say is, time will tell...

Thought Broadcast - Up-Maker 7"

First I've heard from Ravi Binning's eccentric post-punk Thought Broadcast outfit, this 7" marking the project's third official release after two cassettes on Darren Ho's Gel and Hierodule labels. I've recently been delving into some 80's minimal synth from Japan, namely Sympathy Nervous and releases on Vanity Records, and I'm definitely hearing some similarities, mostly in TB's use of calculated percussion and inertia-driven mechanics. The format renders this an all too brief window into Thought Broadcast's dystopian sound world, the A side opening with the hyper-rhythmic "Noted Guerillas" before settling into the cantankerous "Pocket Planetaria". The flip sees a cracked ragtime missive coupled with the closer "Satisfiers of Alpha Blue" that's stuck in a middle eastern-tinged feedback loop. Great all around, impeccable packaging.

Ampax Catalog - Dsr.Slit C40

The most recent of Phaserprone's releases comes by way of the virtually unknown Ampax Catalog. Dsr.Slit marks AC's debut release, though frankly, on a blind listen I would have pinned this as at least a sophomore record by any of a handful of contemporary stalwarts exercising their respective minimal-synth aesthetics, be it Christopher Forgues, Jeff Witscher or even Carlos Giffoni (his arbor ep from two years ago came to mind).

Using an array of retrograde electronic gear such as a mono synth, tape delay and rhythm box, Dsr.Slit manages to achieve a sound that a heavy percentage of underground acts are striving for, all the while sounding distinctly modern despite its backward leanings. The tracks here are succinct, unmuddied and poised in their terseness, yet never shy away from making a statement; alien synthlines become grounded in simplistic rhythms throughout, holding their structures through the bulk of these works. "Identification Card", with its amassing and all encompassing analog buzz and Godspeed-esque megaphone vocalizations is up there as my jam of the year (Listen to the sound sample), while the rest of the tape follows very nicely in suite.

A brilliant release, and definitely one of the best cassettes of the year. Wonderfully presented in a two coloured letter pressed j-card and cool black and white schematic-type cover art.


Phaserprone :: Back from the Dead, Part 1

Jonas Asher and Jochen Hartmann's Phaserprone label returns in a big way after almost three years of inactivity, churning out six immaculately put-together releases over the course of 2011. The Brooklyn based label has in the past been an inspiring resource for little known, off-kilter techno, noise and synthesizer music, and this new batch only sees more austerity injected into Asher and Hartmann's ideology. Pro-dubbed cassettes, letterpressed J-cards, and stunning two-toned (occasionally two-coloured) printed artwork. Really beautiful all around.

Dust - Ballet C26

You may know Daniel La Porte's work under any one of his ever changing guises: Earth Crown, Copper Glove, Door. With this release he's managed to adopt-and-drop yet another. I'm not entirely sure of La Porte's motivation to switch project names so often (someone should ask James Ferraro!). I could see it being an obvious move if a change in moniker also meant a change in direction, but in La Porte's case, the Dust sound is very reminiscent of music he's made in the past – albeit many notches mellower than the Copper Glove material I've heard.

Ballet, his first for Phaserprone and first under the Dust nom, waxes and wanes between apathetic and overambitious. The opener "Pass" doesn't find its groove until half the tape's already passed over the play head, a distorted almost-rhythm eventually swallowing all the swirling bleeps and bloops in its mass. Things do take on more structure from this point, although it feels like an afterthought in these tracks, at least on the A side that at best can't decide if it wants to zone you out, annoy you, or make you awkwardly dance. The flip is stronger, but overall the work doesn't push forward the already over saturated "experimental underground" commonwealth.

Dust - Transfix Mutate (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast

Roe Enney - Damnatio Memoriae C42

An apparent ode to the New Romantics, Roe Enney's Damnation Memoriae is far more of a downer's surrealist trip than anything the blitz kids conjured up. Yet, deep down beneath the strange and sunken vocal reveries, bubbling noisescapes, and lonely flickering dance hooks, I can almost feel the connection. Somehow, the link lies with the fact that Enney's music seems to be coming at you from all angles, in one track feeling like a perfect piece of new wave that never was, in another embracing little more than sonic abstraction, while in another unfolding uncannily like an early Grouper or Inca Ore song.

The B side's "Rhythm" is a stand out, along with some of the more poppier cuts from the A side. The album feels like the Roe Enney 'entity' is still trying to find its style (I say entity because I'm not sure if that's her real name or simply a guise). It's a very experimental album, not just in style but in the attempt to find a voice. My advice: stick to the beats, develop the vocals further and the rest will fall into place. I sense some great work in the near future from this mysterious musician.

Hsdom - No Title C31

If there are two things I find extremely off-putting in the so-called post-industrial field, it's the overuse of delay and nondescript vocals as mainstays. The first of the four tracks that make up Hsdom's latest tape only solidifies my disdain for this music's emotional reliance on these tricks; that and an all-too-obvious attempt at build-up via a lack of control on the volume pedal (listen to the sound sample). However, the second of the two A side tracks practically has me eating my words, as it's rather brilliant, exhibiting a quixotic but cohesive raucous that's equal parts arcane techno, synthesizer throwback, and cyclic noise – very Throbbing Gristle, and I think the vocals actually work on this one. There's a slow transition near the end of the piece with some cymbal washing and simple beat cross-over that's especially good.

The flip sees more of this German expat's good side, where he utilizes his bizarro self-written digital synthesis language to spew more of a free form beat structure rather than a soup of noise. "Maschine" has an almost 8-bit feel with its streamlined rhythm, bleeding into the closing track. Some definite moments of clarity to be found, though there's a lack of austerity that I find so rewarding in select 80s synthesizer music and particular artist re-envisioning the stuff nowadays.

Hsdom - Am Graben (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast


Winds Measure Matters – Part 2

And here we have another charming variation in Winds Measure's unprocessed field recording rubric. As the title suggests, Phonography Meeting 070823 saw these five featured phonographers get together to create a unified work. To keep things interesting–as wm releases often succeed in doing–the album was recorded in the context of a live performance, in 10 minute chunks, and consecutively form artist to artist. Upon digging a little deeper it appears there were actually a number of phonography meetings that took place between 2003-2007, as part of the Seasonal performance series in NY. Other meetings included such stalwarts as Richard Garet, Patrick McGinley and Chris De Laurenti.

Scott Smallwood, Sawako, Seth Cluett, Ben Owen and Civyiu Kkliu
Phonography Meeting 070823

I imagine that on this meeting these gentlemen were particularly on their game, as the disc that's made it into my hands is a very fluid and naturally progressing succession of acoustic snapshots. And although it's tempting to follow along and match up each recording chunk with its corresponding phonographer, that task becomes superfluous in the light of this being the work–and sounding like the work–of a collective, and not a bunch of individuals.

To dive in is to soon acquire an understanding of how the recording chunks fuse together. Although there tends to be a simple cross-fading that happens as a piece is "handed off" to the next artist, each performer is free to bring in their personal touch while keeping in mind, of course, the whole picture. The transition near the 4 minute mark is perhaps my favourite part of the entire piece, as an astonishingly compelling recording of water (astonishing because, well, water, like planes, tends to get into almost every field recording session) suddenly cuts to the rattling of wind chimes. The cut is so perfect I missed it the first time, and was soon wondering how and when the sounds shifted so much from the opening phrase. Later, in what I believe are Seth Cluett's and Ben Owen's sections, the sounds really start to gel as layers of contact mic'd micro-noise fluctuations and distorted wind recordings steadily carry the work forward; sounds like some footsteps in there too.

I've only outlined some of the finer sounds, but really there is a whole world to explore within these recordings, some sections melding better than others, and the fidelity varying with each new sound -- something I came to really appreciate about the work. As with all wm output, I recommend this for those seeking more boundary-pushing work in this field.

Scott Smallwood, Sawako, Seth Cluett, Ben Owen and Civyiu Kkliu - Phonography Meeting 070823 (edit) by ScrapyardForecast


Winds Measure Matters – Part 1

I hope to meet Ben Owen in the flesh one of these days to personally thank him for the existence of Winds Measure, easily one of my favourite labels, and no doubt the one that's made the biggest impression on me this year. I also feel the need to mention that he's one of the only people (that I know of) putting field recordings out on tape.

In a way I understand the desire to steer clear of cassettes when releasing field recordings, mostly for reasons of fear in losing the structural subtly and texture that the style / method / practice can be known for. At the same time, however, I feel Owen uses the format to his advantage, picking and choosing work that seems well suited to the warmth and mechanics of analog tape. It doesn't hurt that the tapes are pro-dubbed either. Here's a little catch-up of two cassettes from early August.

Stefan Thut and Taku Unami
am wind, d±50

"What we call the sound of rain or wind we could better call the sound of plant leaves and branches." – Francisco Lopez.

It wasn't long ago that I came across this quote by Lopez, and I find I'm often bringing it to the fore of my mind when listening and critiquing. It is easy to forget that the sound of rain, wind or snow are directly dictated by the objects and surfaces they strike, and where one may be actively listening in that given space. In relation to Stefan Thut's "am wind" recording, it makes me think of all the possible outcomes of this piece, all the millions of variations that could have surfaced given countless factors, and it makes me realize that it's not about trying to record wind, that's impossible. It's about recording a location that is being activated by wind, and thus dictates that no two recordings of the same weather process can stand alike.

The first of Thut's two wind recordings is a particularly good representation of the sound of low to high velocity winds, while the second is far more settled, with intermittent bursts carrying the sounds of creaking fences in their wake. Wind recordings are hard to do, and Thut does a good job at it, a fine example of the unprocessed field work that Winds Measure goes above and beyond to endorse.

Side B sees Thut's other musical facet, the cello, come to life in an extended drone piece with Taku Unami (sinewaves). The recording has a very 'open room' feel, with a plenitude of movement and shuffling. In many ways it acts as a mirror piece to the wind recordings, especially in it's near-silent-to-quite-active articulation. I'm not convinced that actively listening to this piece for 37 minutes is the best way to go, as that should probably be reserved for the outshining A side.

Angharad Davies and Taku Unami
Two Hands

Taku Unami strikes again, and this time with London based violinist Angharad Davies. This near hour endeavor finds Davies in further arcane exploration of the violin, her instrument of choice, while both musicians are credited as playing "clap". The clap heard here refers not to some baroque instrument you've never heard of, but to the kind of common activity you might hear after a recital, though far less intrusive. Two Hands takes the predictable associations of clapping, the common wall-of-sound applause that always follows a performance or recital, and flips it on its head, utilizing clapping in a far more nuanced manner. Part one also finds the ever-so-slow clap interlaced with a delicately handled violin by Angharad. This one definitely grew on me.

While mimicking the clapping I heard through the speakers at home, and including the long silences in between, I found I had to consciously think about not clapping twice or more times in a row. It was like relearning to ride a bicycle. It's interesting that clapping in succession, that is, repeating the same movement and sound over and over, feels more normal than expending less energy and only doing that thing once. I suppose it's the fault of conditioning. Do try this at home.

Angharad Davies and Taku Unami - Two Hands (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast


Pierre Gerard - ENVIRONMENT & gesture (3Leaves)

Pierre Gerard and Andy Graydon's tape release from earlier this year saw a long distance sound exchange deploying themes of polarity and homeward migration. Gerard's take on the themes saw an ultra-minimalist approach – as he often deploys – that resulted in a nice piece of hushed concrete-drone music. As minimal as that piece was, it sounded tumultuous in comparison to ENVIRONMENT & gesture.

On their own, the three tracks that make up the album give little to no reward for the listener, elapsing as lackluster environmental backdrops: a water droplet here, a rock thud there. After the 20 minute opener the sound of a stream is introduced, which slightly livens things, though barely. But Gerard hasn't just presented an album of boring field recordings, his intentions are far more earnest.

From his perspective these recordings are the product of seamless improvisations, where the sounds of objects and instruments are integrated by the "performer" into an environmental soundscape by complimenting it as opposed to dominating over it. Rightly so, Gerard choose nearly silent locations to perform these passive improv sessions where even the slightest of movements likely had the potential to impede on his vision. In these recording situations discipline and restraint become important factors, and although the outcome isn't the most engaging, there is much revealed in the artist's intentions and in the sound work itself if one can spend time with it. Yes, this just might win you over. Recommended.

Pierre Gerard - With Objects (a) (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast


Organized Music From Thessaloniki

In a country in as much sociopolitical turmoil as Greece, it was quite refreshing to receive a package from Kostis Kilymis, who manages the Organized Music From Thessaloniki label. It's hard to ignore the international headlines branded about the state of the country. What will eventually transpire in Greece will surely be felt worldwide, and for now I doubt there's a single person living there who hasn't been directly affected. 

It's been said that great art can come from times of peril. I can't say for certain if these works then are the products of artists whose world is falling apart around them, so to speak, but I do take this as a ray of hope sent from a a place that's been severely darkened in recent history. So here's to creative perseverance and a realistic solution to get this great country back on its feet. Thank you Kostis, I send my blessings.

Ferran Fages, Robin Hayward, Nikos Veliotos - Tables and Stairs

First up is the three-way collab Tables and Stairs by Ferran Fages, Robin Hayward, and Nikos Veliotos. There wasn't a single name I recognized amongst the lot of these releases so I threw on this disc without knowing what to expect, outside of the music being some product of the combination of sine waves, cello, and microtonal tuba. 

The result is far removed from any "classic" improv session, or anything sounding remotely like chamber music. Instead, the single half-hour piece that makes up the album is a rather austere take on the kitchen-sink electroacoustics that Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Ben Owen masterfully put forth on the fantastic Frêle à Vide. I would be surprised if this was the first time these three performers got together, as it sounds as though they've been developing a harmonious relationship for a while; musically speaking that is. From moments of extreme sparsity the piece slowly builds into a long and graceful tonal working of rasping drones and arcing frequencies of slightly higher register. Everything comes together so seamlessly and the timing and transitions between the extended movements are sublime. Well done. Recorded live in an apartment, june 27, 2010. 


Michael Johnsen and Pascal Battus - Bitche Session

Next up is a two-way collab by the likes of Michael Johnsen and Pascal Battus, titled (rather awkwardly) as Bitche Session. Like the other releases, little is stated about the work or artists outside of what's being played. This is something I rather like as it adds an extra element of mystery to the sounds within. Compared to the previous disc Bitche Session is far more in the clunky, free-for-all realm of things, with plenty of squiggling sounds and clicks and pops making their way through magnetic pick-ups. Electronics and a saw are also sited as source material. The album has really fine moments of interesting sound combinations, and it's consistent in its scope throughout. However, I found it a lot harder to surf my way into this one despite some of the more unique sounds, as nothing really makes this stand apart from works similar to it, of which there are plenty. And in working with a rather basic template of scattershot-noise techniques, distinguishing yourself from the pack can make all the difference.

Michael Johnsen and Pascal Battus - Bitche Sessions, Side A (Excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast

Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga - Stroke by Stroke

Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga offers 21 vignettes of highly sculptured sound on Stroke by Stroke. The works here are all acoustic in nature if I gathered right from the liner notes, and sound quite meticulously rendered. Most of these pieces are quite percussive, and sound as if they were captured from simple sound structures, each one designed to produce one type of sound, and thus one piece of the overall puzzle. The repetitive nature of the works lend themselves to the shorter track format, and kudos to Lazaridou-Chatzigoga for being able to pick up on that.  

The aforementioned percussion is usually quite rapid and often interlaced with harmonic frequencies and metallic squelching akin to the sound of bowed sheet metal. The jump cuts between tracks make for more than a handful of brilliant transitions, while in between, the segments ring out in a brilliantly shimmering stoicism. Stunning. Do check out this release, and the works of this fine label.

Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga - Sleep Talk by ScrapyardForecast


Jim Haynes "The Decline Effect" 2LP (The Helen Scarsdale Agency)

After some purportedly uninteresting reasons for being pulled from the Root Strata production line, Jim Haynes' The Decline Effect finally sees the light of day via this stunning double long-player on Helen Scarsdale. It would have been hard for Ledesma and the crew over at Root Strata to top this. As with all HS releases, and especially the label's recent forays into vinyl, the care and detail continues to be well worth the humble rate of turnover.   

I had the pleasure of seeing Haynes perform earlier this year in Vancouver, and in witnessing his tactics live I was able to peel back some of the mystery that's steeped in his sound world. This experience has proven helpful in deciphering for many of these sounds, while others will forever remain a mystery to these ears. 

"Ashes", the opening track (and continued study of a commissioned piece for two films by Scott Hewicker), begins with the crackling of quick flame bursts akin to the closely mic'd sounds of lit matches that began Haynes' aforementioned live performance. A decompressed drone soon creeps into the mix and gives way to a brief but noisy mechanical churn. If this section isn't a direct homage to the opening moments of Nurse With Wound's 'Homotopy for Marie' than I don't know what is. At this point things really start to gel as Haynes introduces a cycling fan-like rumination that carries a myriad of low to mid-range drones. It all builds up and fuels the sinister storm that is the piece's climax. 

A similar development characterizes "Terminal", the B side, which is perhaps the best example of the necessity to allow works like these to develop over extended durations. Evidently, this notion is something Haynes has come to recognize about his work, and its all the better for it. The piece takes its name from the Terminal Geyser, one of many geysers and thermal vents recorded and later configured from Lassen Volcanic National Park. The track bubbles and hisses in a sea of fissures and underwater pops while skating along a subtly fluctuating stream. Things turn especially interesting near the side's finale as Haynes takes a magnifying glass to some of the more active vents, and chooses to funnel the calmed stream into waters far more cacophonous.    

Record number two begins with the cut "Half-Life". Compared to the other tracks, far less is written about this one on the inner sleeve. What is stated is that it's something to the effect of an approximation of radioactive decay through electromagnetism. That doesn't tell us much, other than it seems in line with themes that have resonated with Haynes for a while. In reality, this sounds like classic Jim Haynes: mechanical post-techno rudiment, spectral interference, and depressurized ambience in the form of brooding windswept drones.

The Decline Effect closes with the immaculately realized "Cold", a track that ebbs and flows through open space via shortwave radio, tapped wire errata, and various field recordings. Everything is swathed in the signature Haynesian decay, that's felt right through to the final wave of static-laden noise and onward towards the album's decline...
...or something to its effect. So good.

Jim Haynes : Ashes : from "The Decline Effect" by Helen Scarsdale


Western Vinyl Presents: Rolf Julius Small Music Series, 'Music for the Ears' & 'Music for a Distance'

The German born sound and visual artist Rolf Julius died in January of this year. In his parting the world was left with an astonishing documented history of his work, in particular, his work with sound. Julius's installations and sound pieces often focused on what the artist came to realize as "small music," an apt title for the subtle, often insect-like electronic music he mastered over his life span. Julius came to realize his sonic vision through the likes of John Cage, Morton Feldman, and La Monte Young, adopting the central concepts of their ideologies to propel his own work at the start. Eventually, Julius's craft led him to explore the relationship between visual art, nature and small music, by way of elegantly understated environmental sound installations and spacial-focused sound works. Two of the artist's most recent publications have been made available by Western Vinyl: Music for the Ears & Music for a Distance.
Music for the Ears is the first in a series of small music releases that will eventually culminate into a boxed set of seminal albums by the German artist. The cover image depicts Julius's installation in a bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan, while the inlay and back image are taken from a performance in Belo Horizonte, Brazil (also in a forest).

It's unclear if these images directly correlate to the sounds on the disc but I've come to think of these works more as Music for a Forest, as one can easily imagine Julius's floating tones descending from tree branches and intermingling with the wind and sounds of the environment. These pieces, which are quite similar to one another in their hypnotic overlaying of quiet tones, are perhaps more interested in conveying an understanding of space and how the sounds interact within that space, rather than just sound for sound's sake. "Song from the Past" is composed (improvised?) in such a way that the "active" sounds appear in chunks throughout the work, interspersed with sections of near silence. In the context of an installation, the silent sections would allow the listener to reflect on the work's interaction with the environment and also the interaction with the individual's own ears (music for the ears!). These gaps would perhaps also allow for a noticeable differentiation in natural sounds and sounds brought specifically into the natural environment.

"Music on Two High Poles" on the other hand, is more in the steady stream realm, likely a performed piece and busier than the opener. It's equally as lovely, especially in way that the tones ring out over extended periods and then cluster together in bouts of bagpipe-like fluctuations. Superbly meditative.

Rolf Julius - Song From The Past (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast
What has impressed me the most about these discs and Rolf Julius's music all together is his blending of the minimal with the maximal, of the cacophonous and the silent. His music can feel very active while at the same time resemble a stasis. Music for a Distance is one of the better examples of this dichotomy.

The album's main piece, a nearly 40 minute trip, is a work that Julius had been refining over a 6 year period, beginning in 2003 where it was performed live at the Donaueschinger Musiktage in Germany. Careful listens reveal an entire world of muted rustlings, insectoid harmonies, decrepit tonalities, and all sorts of swirling, pulsating, and vibrating ephemera, amounting to nothing short of a mesmerizing piece that is one of the milestones of Julius's long career in sound. The 13 minute "Music for a Corner" merits its title as an excursion into the dark recesses of the mind; a haunting motorifik piece of isolationist music.

Two essential documents of the true enigmatic genius that was Rolf Julius. visit Rolf Julius at Western Vinyl.

Rolf Julius - Music for a Distance (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast


And yet another Dusted review: Golden Retriever

As of this post I will no longer be posting Dusted updates via the Scrapyard Forecast for the sake of protecting the integrity and distinctiveness of this publication. However, the Scrapyard Forecast Auxiliary page will continue posting Dusted updates. Thanks.


New from and/OAR: Luigi Turra 'KI' 3CD + Lethe 'Dry Ice on Steel Tables' (either/OAR)

Two very stunning releases to get to today from Dale Lloyd's impressive and/OAR and either/OAR labels (OAR = Overheard and Rendered). The central branch of Lloyd's label is the and/OAR division, which focuses mainly on works that incorporate environmental sounds with an avant-garde awareness.

Luigi Turra fits nicely into the and/OAR model as there is much here that aligns with the environmental, and certainly also the avant-garde. I first became aware of Turra's work through his captivating – though blandly titled – Tactile.Surface CD, a collaboration with like-minded artist Christopher McFall. On Ki, we get to see what Turra can do on his own, and there is plenty of material to do that with, the album spanning three discs and clocking in at nearly 2½ hours.

The opening disc, Enso, which was originally released in 2007 on the Small Voices label (though was apparently mastered too loudly) immediately brings Organum's Vacant Lights to mind, with its indiscernible tactile movements, like footsteps and the scurrying of rats; a flute playing alongside. Unlike David Jackman and the crew he assembled that day for the Vacant Lights sessions, Turra brings in other instruments to accompany the objects he records with. The methodical plucks of a stringed instrument – possibly a guitar, maybe something more exotic – can be heard in the latter half of Enso 1, along with percussion, played more texturally than as a back beat, and what is probably a myriad of bowls and bells. Turra weaves field recordings into this expansive composition, and ultimately evokes a sort of languid – although precisely calculated – dance with his sounds, the third movement being particularly nice.

Disc two, Ancient Silence, picks up in similar vein to how Enso left off, though is more psychologically jarring in scope. The sound of chimes penetrating through a blackened ambience around the 10 minute mark are a stand out, eventually giving way to sounds of metal being bowed, along with more of the aforementioned tactility and flute playing. This section of the trilogy is a much darker affair than its predecessor, though still keeping in form with the bigger picture. On Shasekishu, the closer, Turra takes a magnifying glass to many of the background elements of the first discs and moves them to the fore. The piece creaks, fizzes, and clicks and pops as a gentle stream, a flicker of a fire here and a rattle of a vent or strike of a bell there; also some occult chanting and pipe recordings not dissimilar to the pressurized drones produced by Jim Haynes and Michael Gendreau. Ki is a massive work that is a lot to take in but very consistent and very good.

Lethe is the nom de plume of Japanese sound specialist Kuwayama Kiyoharu, whose long running Catastrophe Point series and fruitful collaborative albums (alongside Kapotte Muziek and Jonathan Coleclough to name two) have piqued my interest over the last couple of years. The majority of Lethe albums – if not all of them – were recorded in emptied or abandoned architectural spaces, such as warehouses and airplane hangers, where by a variety of ephemera was usually agitated, bowed, scraped, rustled or in some way, shape or form manipulated to create a sound that resonated within the vast walls of Kiyoharu's chosen infrastructure. The results that Lethe achieves after carefully overdubbing his compositions are often a potent crossbreeding of Musique Concrète, Acousmatic, and Impressionistic musical sensibility.

Dry Ice on Steel Tables veers from the Lethe paradigm slightly, as what we have here is a live, unaltered piece culled from a 2003 performance, as opposed to the usual post-production assemblage of kiyoharu's acoustic recordings. Remarkably, the stammering ebb and flow of buzzing metallic scrapes and bellowing drones that characterized the performance were sounds sourced entirely from three very non-musical materials: tables, dry ice, and candles. As the album cover reveals, Lethe positioned himself in the center of four small steel tables that were all being heated by candles, and maneuvered from one table to the next placing pieces of dry ice on them with a gloved hand. The sonic properties of the metal tables shrieked to life using this process and Lethe was able to manipulate all the materials in such a way as to coax interesting variations in the durations of tones and pitches in the shrieking steel, all the while leaving plenty of silent gaps to accentuate the isolated movements. Yes, quite a bold, creative and brilliant performance.

Lethe - Dry Ice on Steel Tables (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast


Jon Porras 'Undercurrent' LP (Root Strata), Elm 'Nemcatacoa' LP (Sweat Lodge Guru)

Coming down off the summer high a little bit and getting ready to sit down with some of the stellar music that's come my way as of late. On another note I've been working on a new piece of my own, two actually, more in the drifting ambient vein and I'd say quite a bit more nuanced than Orbital Decay (Still have plenty of copies of that by the way, email me if you'd like one). As of now wonderful music fills my living room and another glorious sun sets behind the mountains as I look out over the harbour.

Undercurrent is the latest album by Jon Porras, who is one half of the droned-out psych duo Barn Owl. In their own right Barn Owl are quickly becoming a household name and given all the high quality albums that they've produced – not to mention works by Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras as Elm (see below) – I had none other than high expectations for this. My expectations were met on first listen, and then blown apart by the second spin. Undercurrent is an exceptional effort that exceeds any Barn Owl affiliated release to date.

Porras's distinctive finger-picking-to-drone-wash style is back for this album, but because of the way it's been produced, (credit due, at least in part to the Normal Conquest) the melodies feel all the more subdued, the notes and guitar tones all the more bathed in glorious reverb, as if snaking along the bottom of an ocean or deep within a cave. At times the plucked guitar is reminiscent of Andrew Chalk's piano work on Blue Eyes of the March, both lush and elegant. Elegance quickly transforms into a languid prettiness on Chalk albums but in Porras's hands it turns sinister, transforming into distortion and foreboding stretched-out melodies.

The appropriately titled Calm provides a brief parting of clouds, with its slightly less harrowing though still melancholic melody, before the undercurrent grabs hold again. To these ears this album is a boiled down version of all the best Barn Owl/Elm moments to date, then filtered in a way to make the movements even more mysterious and effervescent. Adorned with a chillingly accurate washed-out-at-sea cover photo and limited to 500 copies. My record of the year thus far. Simply excellent.

Nice to see this reissued on record seeing as how I missed out on the original cd on Digitalis in 2009. To start off, the clear vinyl is a nice touch, and the cover is spot on, as with all the Elm, Barn Owl and Evan Caminiti releases, the art always seems to work as a perfect match to the music within. This release by Porras, had I heard it around the original release date would have meshed nicely with Bxogonoas and Woven into Light, both limited edition cdrs released in 2008.

Nemcatacoa, released a year later, doesn't feel at all estranged from those discs but likewise doesn't feel as evolved as Undercurrent (released this year). The individual tracks, composed of Porras's familiar sullen string plucks and heavy tones, are just that: individual(istic). As Barn Owl have progressed and as Porras's own music has progressed, the notion of holism when it comes to making an album has also progressed. This is not to say that this album feels rushed or even inconsistent for that matter, because all of these songs are good enough to stand on their own two feet – take for example the closer, Three Rings Drawn in Sand, with its bleary guitar wash and immaculately executed looped melody that eventually gives way to a crystalline ambience – it's just that they feel somewhat separated from each other, and the transitions between tracks aren't as polished. Truly, this is my only critique, and it's a minor one at that for an album that is completely worthy of this reissue and still feels refreshing after everything
that Porras has released since 2009. Recommended.

Elm - Three Rings Drawn in Sand (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast

As a little bonus, I just discovered a free download of Elm playing live at WFMU/aQ for SXSW 2009. Available through the Free Music Archive website: Elm Live.