Esoteric Soundscapes-Rogue Speakers

Outside of downtown Vancouver's Canada Place, a pair of malfunctioning speakers caught my attention. These site sounds proved interesting as the glass canopy that the speakers were housed-in created a reverberant acoustic space, and simultaneously, other "functioning" speakers filled that space with generic radio songs. The resulting track is a combination of two recordings from this location, although no overlaying or augmenting of sound has taken place. The majority of the track is a close-up recording beneath the canopy, but concludes with a recording from slightly farther away (about ten meters), allowing for peripheral sounds -- like that of construction -- to be heard.

Rogue Speaker by ScrapyardForecast


Alfredo Costa Monteiro + Ben Owen 'Frêle à Vide' (Contour Editions, 2011)

Anticipation turned to delight, as another offering from Contour Editions has graced my ears. Two offerings to be exact, one a cdr and the other a dvdr collab between Richard Garet (visuals) and Asher Thal-Nir (audio). Both of these are exquisitely packaged in double-gated oversized paper. Review of the dvdr release forthcoming.

There is something to be said of the procuring of refined Power Electronics – and something else entirely of the artists who are still attempting to make it – in that anything post-PE is perhaps a feeble attempt to revive a dead genre. Keith Moline from the Wire speculated on the regression of noise into old school forms as a way to curb a lack of contemporary creative steam. Maybe he has a point, there's no use kicking a dead horse. However, I wouldn't begin to knock acts like Baltimore's Copper Glove, for example, who seem more as carriers of the Broken Flag and Schimpfluch legacies, as opposed to just cheap knock-offs. Some artists can just bring the creative flare, even if it's to a dead horse.

I'm not confident of the parallels between Power Electronics and this recording, more like I'm running with an initial thought. If anything, Frêle à Vide borders more on Power-Electroacoustics. Sure, Monteiro and Owen take cues from noise's past, particularly in their use of sustained frequencies and penchants for grime. However, history has proven a strong cut-and-paste mentality among noisicians, and this is somewhat subdued (except in obvious spots) in this work. I also get the sense that the duo have approached the music from the angle of improv - though it's hard to say for sure - allowing for an ebb and flow between players, which, as obscured as it is here, is a style that finds its roots in Jazz.

The two utilize a battery of electronic gear, Monteiro with walkmen and shortwave radio and Owen with a mixer, mic, tone arm, radio and something labeled an op arm. Over the span of four tracks the music tends to crescendo over long arcs, extended quieter sections often submitting to controlled tone bursts. Over the course of these arcs, it becomes clear that the music's austerity is its championing characteristic, as this sort of junkbox "jamming" all too often leads to meaningless prodding and poking, and therefore, a lack of directionality. Not the case here, as it's clear that these two are taking their music to particular places. A fine work.


February's Bargain Bin -- Feat. Keith Rowe, Oren Ambarchi, Tim Hecker and The Hafler Trio

About a week ago I stumbled into Zulu for the first time in a long time. With a little extra cash flow from a few consignment deals I decided to hunt down some deals of my own. I didn't have a whole lot to spend so I mostly breezed through their vinyl department, which, no longer has an experimental section. The experimental cd section was, too, rather quickly going the way of the dinosaur. It had significantly shrunk down over the last six months to about a third of the size. I'm not surprised really, as outsider tunes aren't exactly a hot commodity in the West end, or anywhere in Vancouver really. For the few albums they were carrying (mostly ones that couldn't easily be lumped into the electronic or rock/pop sections), I was pleased to find almost everything at discounted prices––I'm talking nothing over ten bucks here. Here are the three albums I ended up walking away with:

Keith Rowe, Oren Ambarchi, Sachiko M, Otomo Yoshihide, & Robbie Avenaim
Thumb (GROB, 2002)

Half hour live effort from five players that collectively run the gamut of experimental musical stylings, from electroacoustic and drone to turntablism and free-improve. Despite the chaos that all these styles together might suggest, Thumb is surprisingly restrained. The focus here is on sonic minutiae and subtle electro-feedbacking. It's hard to say what everyone's role is just by listening to this as this could easily be mistaken for a single performer sitting behind a junkbox of battery powered gear. The liner notes credit each musician with one form of conventional instrument + electronics, so that's not much clearly. As the set progresses the high frequencies become more intense. Not for the weak eared and definitely not what I was expecting, although recommended.

Tim Hecker
Norberg (Room40, 2007)

Another live document and a nice little distraction to get back into Tim's music before sinking my teeth into Ravedeath (preorder the 2lp version at Kranky). Recorded in a mine shaft in Sweden, Norberg is an outstanding twenty minute recording. Hecker opens the set with a finely executed batch of glitch work before slipping into some static-swathed tonedrift à la the more ethereal portions of Harmony in Ultraviolet and the Atlas 10" released the following year. The whole thing crumbles away in a flurry of static at the end. Lovely as always from one of the electronic genre's best practitioners.

The Hafler Trio
Seven Hour Sleep (The Grey Area, 1994)

Here is the second of three issues of Seven Hour Sleep. This one is from almost twenty years ago and the original LAYLAH LP is from before I was even born. Korm Plastics also reissued this in '06 in a deluxe glassine paper wallet with a 28 page booklet. The Hafler Trio remains as one of the true musical enigmas of all time: bizarre controversies involving specifications of releases, ideology, ambiguous and often confusing album art, titles and liner notes, an obsession with trilogies, and not to mention the music. For Seven Hour Sleep, Andrew Mckenzie ventures more into surreal collage territory rather than the "pure essence" stoicism of later albums Intoutof, Cleave: 9 Great Openings, and the Colin Potter collaboration A Pressed On Sandwich. The album is rife with static hiss, looped vocal fragments, indiscernible field recordings and noxious drones, and in my opinion, has stood quite strongly against the test of time.


Steiner 'Untitled' Cdr (Self Released, 2011)

Got a nice little package in the mail the other day from Belgium based musician Stijn Hüwels. His nom-de-plume is Steiner and this handmade cdr (with a striking Polaroid on the cover) represents the extent of his musical output thus far. His website stresses that he's not in a hurry, which is refreshing to read when considering our current hyperbolic era of music consumption.

Clocking in a just over 26 minutes, Untitled is rather short. Despite its ephemerality, Hüwels manages to scribble down a map as to where the composition is supposed to transport us, or perhaps, where it could have transported us had the piece been an hour instead of just shy of half that.

Untitled is... nice. It's nice in the same way that a flower bed is nice, or a sunny day. That's not to say this is bubble gummy, it deserves more credit than that. I get a clear sense of all the musical elements working together, and yes, at any given moment they do always work well together. I don't, however, get a clear sense of purpose in the composition, like where the flow of sound is going, or where it's coming from. It just sort of fades in and fades out, leaving me with a certain sense of longing, like the feeling I get right after listening to a really good excerpt from a forthcoming album I'm anticipating. It's that hard hitting feeling of "I need more."

The work succeeds in its expert sense of timing and ability to evoke all the feelings that the best practitioners of this sort of serene soundscaping evoke. The most powerful of all probably being a steeped sense of melancholia with just a hint of nostalgia. The music is light but every note seems to resonate heavily with these emotions. Clearly, Hüwels is a maker who cares about his art. I look forward to hearing more defined work from Steiner in the future.

Stream the work:
Untitled by _steiner