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.


Rale 'Some Kissed Charms That Would Not Protect Them' LP (Isounderscore, 2011), Secret Pyramid 'The Silent March' CS C36 (Nice Up Int'l, 2011)

I've been away from the blogosphere as of late thanks to summer weather resulting in extended weekend camping trips and beach excursions. However, a new batch of material has propelled me back in. Currently working on a handful of reviews that should keep me busy for the rest of the summer, three for Dusted including a new outing by Barn Owl on Thrill Jockey, some spellbinding stuff from Western Vinyl + and/OAR including a triple cd set by Luigi Turra. Also, new material from Ian Holloway over at Quiet World and work by Jon Porras that's raised the bar once again. Stay tuned.

Rale 'Some Kissed Charms That Would Not Protect Them' LP
(Isounderscore, 2011)

William Hutson, aka Rale has been steadily releasing music since 2007, mostly via tape. In the past he's released on fine labels such as ekhein, monorail trespassing, cavelife, and peasant magik, this album marking only his second foray into vinyl – the first being 2009's Whispering Gallery 12" on Arbor. Hutson's musical style is perhaps easily understood as a muted analog noise, often quite minimal, though usually containing enough tactile crackle and self directed ingenuity to distinguish him from the Eliane Radigue copycats.

Hutson's work has remained consistent over the years, and Some Kissed Charms... is clearly one of his most controlled offerings. However, at a mere 29 minutes, the potential for grandeur is somewhat stunted by the album's length. All the elements of a good album are here: the patient dips and dives into sonic isolationism, book-ended drone passages followed by uneasy silences, and subtly crackling field recordings laid atop Keith Berry style dreamscapes, but what we are left with is yet another well orchestrated tease, and not the half-decade opus I was expecting from Hutson and his Rale project.

If Hutson can expand on what he's created here, I wouldn't be surprised to see that opus come to fruition, and fit nicely alongside works by synth behemoths Bee Mask, Forma, and Mist on the Spectrum Spools label. Although truthfully, Rale's low profile has served well thus far, though I can't help but feel that his work needs more recognition. This is an essential 2011 purchase (as short as it is), housed in a deluxe blue jacket with striking silver stamped titles and art.

Secret Pyramid 'The Silent March' CS C36
(Nice Up International, 2011)

Awesome to see new work by fellow Vancouverite and friend Amir Abbey, who makes music under the guise Secret Pyramid. This is easily the best work I've heard from the man – and that includes all of the handful of Solars' releases, who are now, unfortunately, defunct. The Silent March consists of a number of short tracks, which suits the Secret Pyramid style well, as Abbey shows off a variety of guitar based styles like shoegaze, ambient, drone, and neofolk. Flying Saucer Attack , Barn Owl, and My Bloody Valentine are obvious comparisons, but I also hear a Stars of the Lid element in a lot of the more minimal movements along with Tim Hecker on the second track, and probably most of all, the German guitar drone two-piece Troum (though I'm not sure if he would site them as an influence).

Personally – and my bias is surely going to shine through here – the best tracks on the album are the more nuanced ambient movements, as opposed to the heavier shoegazy ones. There is, however, no disjointedness between stylings because the transitions between tracks are flawless, and the movements are mercurial enough in their own right. Jangling bells on the B side feel a bit cliche, or maybe I just feel they went out with early Six Organs and James Blackshaw albums, though that's a minor miss step in an album that's both a sprawling epic and a great achievement. Someone release this on vinyl! Great stuff.

Outside by Secret Pyramid