clicking down the delta: paul margree on mikroton recordings

September 10, 2017 at 6:05 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

MKM – Instants//Paris (Mikroton Recordings)

Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel -Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton Recordings)

Ease – No No No, No (Mikroton Recordings)

Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Miguel A. Garcia – Aq’Ab’Al (Mikroton Recordings)

Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt – Hjem (Mikroton Recordings)

The Holy Quintet – Borough (Mikroton Recordings)

 Kurt Liedwart’s Mikroton Recordings has been broadcasting dispatches from the outer realms of aural voyaging since 2008. Its discography takes in luminaries of abstract improvised sounds such as Keith Rowe, Jason Kahn and Burkhard Beins, as well as newer voices such as Lucio Capece or Miguel A. Garcia.

Mapping the label’s aesthetic would probably encompass the slow ruptures of Crypt-era AMM, the bruising subtleties of Berlin Echtzeitmusik and the glacial intensity of reductionism and its adherents. Electroacoustic improvisation is the phrase you’d reach for, I guess. But take a few steps into this Moscow label’s back catalogue and it becomes clear that this term is about as useful as mapping the ever-widening delta of these musicks as a paper cup is for boiling an egg.

Keeping up with Liedwart’s release schedule can be exhausting. But it’s rewarding, too. Time spent with a Mikroton release opens your brain and ears to the wonders of unconventional sound. Everyday objects are reconfigured into talismanic sonic generators and the orthodoxies of conventional instrumentation are subverted. Hurricanes in the bathtub. Prickles on the skin of a bubble. Scuffles in the grey dawn.

Most of the releases under review here came out earlier in the year. There have been several more since. But as entry points into Mikroton’s fascinating discography, they can’t be beat.

mkm

MKM – Instants//Paris (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

Back in 2012,the Swiss trio of Jason Kahn, Günter Müller and Norbert Möslang assembled in Paris for a lively session of hustle and grind. It wasn’t the first time they’d played together – their debut release was back in 2008 – but sufficient vitality remains here to counter any familiarity.

Kahn has since put his analogue synth and radio setup to one side in preference for longform vocal extemporizations, but this performance never feels like a museum piece. His contributions lock together with Müller and Möslang’s cracked consumer electronics to produce bursts of junkshop argy-bargy in which individual contributions are subsumed into the overarching grey drizzle.

Early sections are a bustling farrago, the collection of gritty burps and high, needling tones not dissimilar to ‘Valentine’, Kahn’s head-to-head with Phil Julian from a year or so back.

It’s chewy, tangible stuff, the irregular bursts of noise like some slo-mo Super 8 footage of a trio of dune buggies carving up the terminal beach. The crew swerve away from any kind of crescendo or manipulative sonic topography, instead allowing the vicissitudes of their kit and caboodle to create natural peaks and lulls. They can’t help building up a head of steam towards the end, though, with a full-spectrum chunter that would give a factory full of boiling kettles a run for its money, before cutting out for an appropriately deadpan finale.

Fracture-Mechanics

Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel – Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

An allusive take on multidimensional improvisation from this collection of veterans, most of whom exist as points on the Echtzeitmusik/reductionist/electroacoustic axis.

Where ‘Instants//Paris’ was rough-edged and impolite, ‘Fracture Mechanics’ is enigmatic and considered. Long, breathy saxophone hoots waft across a jittery bed of interference. Glottal clicks rattle between glassy tones like a spittle flecked metronome in a temple. In ‘Pebble Snatch’, two saxophones – Capece on soprano and Küchen on tenor – moan in prehistoric lament. ‘Pendentive’ sets a cavern of ritualistic percussion against lattices of frowning gurgles and hand-bell tinkles.

There’s a lot going on under these unruffled surfaces. A wide-ranging array of equipment – the usual speakers, iPod, radios and objects you’d expect from this milieu, plus saxophones, hand oscillators, e-bowed zithers, monotron, snare drum and, best of all, ‘air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware’ – yields a rich matrix of effects, but the space is never crowded. Restraint is as important as variety, the cumulative experience of the four players giving them an intuitive sense of when to hold back and when to push out.

Recorded in Ljubljana in 2014, ‘Fracture Mechanics’ is a prime example of the Mikroton aesthetic, with the slow-burn epic of ‘Transmogrification’ a highlight. An ear-rinsing squeal is a low-decibel, high-frequency endurance test, its groan as insistent as a fridge left open in the middle of the night. Godzilla rumbles drag themselves across a vast plain. Its 30-minute runtime resembles an aerial flythrough of a sleeping hive mind, occasional neuron flashes lighting up the dreaming nerve-centre. When it ends, you awake, refreshed.

Ease

Ease – No No No, No (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

I have a soft spot for handmade or custom-built instruments. They force innovation through defamiliarisation. Lacking history, tradition, convention, players have to bend their usual techniques into new shapes, or adopt new ones.

In electronic music, where easy-to-use interfaces combined with infinite variety results in comfort zone-produced cliché, self-made or hand-coded systems are an essential part of keeping things fresh.

And so it goes with ‘Ease’, a Viennese duo of Klaus Filip and Arnold Haberl, aka Noid. The pair uses ppooll, an open-source software tool, to create eerie and minimal computer soundscapes. Both musicians are programmers and are deeply involved in ppooll’s development community (indeed, Filip was one of the founders of the system) and so both are adept in manipulating their system to achieve astounding results – the compositions here are elegant, dense and compelling, moving with the unpredictable implacability of a weather system across a mountain range. There’s an occasional resemblance to fellow countrymen Farmer’s Manual’s live-coded suppleness in the constant, gradual shifts of these two long tracks. There’s also a gritty edge, recalling Kevin Sanders’ briefcase synth cosmologies.

In fact, of all Mikoton’s recent releases, ‘No No No, No’ is the one that fits best into the No-Audience Underground or Extraction Music taxonomies. It’s thanks mainly to the way in which Filip and Haberls’ individual contributions come together – the former moulding sine waves and high tones into beautiful forms, like a glassblower creating a set of skeletal, numinous sculptures, while the latter processes field recordings and natural sounds into rough, low-end rumbles and soft beachy huffs. An addictive, immersive recording.

aq-ab-al

Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Miguel A. Garcia – Aq’Ab’Al (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

If that all sounds a tad refined, Aq’Ab’Al might just be aggressive enough to whet your whistles.

These four chunks of intense cyborg aggression from this Iberian duo balance driller-killer vibrations with a seismically-potent low-end, all rendered in terrifying hi-definition clarity. Skynet tone-clouds meet earthmover grumbles in abrupt, dystopic visions of posthumanity. It’s thrilling, visceral stuff, brutal enough to shatter the gallery politesse of much art-music, yet retaining sufficient detail and ideas to keep you interested through repeated exposure to its tungsten surfaces.

The title comes from Mayan astrology and refers to opposites, change and renewal. While it is strange that something so unnervingly futuristic should take an ancient religion as its touchstone, Monteiro and Garcia are only the latest in a line of experimental artists reaching back through the past for inspiration. Think of Eliane Radigue’s ‘Song of Milarepa’, (inspired by the teachings of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist scholar), Morton Subotnik’s ‘The Wild Bull’(the title comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh) or Milton Babbit’s ‘Philomel’ (based on a myth from Ovid’s). In any case, listeners familiar with Mayan ideas about the end of the world – remember 2012? And Mel Gibson? – won’t have to try too hard to find the duo’s high-velocity screeches and catastrophic thunderclaps appropriately apocalyptic. These guys have seen the future. And it is murder.

Hjem

Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt – Hjem (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

The ppooll system makes another appearance here, this time in the hands of label boss Kurt Liedwart, in a trio with Norwegian tuba player Martin Taxt and St Petersburg violinist Andrey Popovskiy.

This is quiet noise of a superior kind, Taxt and Liedwart ganging up to create laminal extended horizons through which Popovskiy scratches rough and ready paths. Taxt’s tuba is great, its long brassy parps calling out like the mating calls of mysterious sea monsters, the affectless playing unable to banish the final traces of the instrument’s characteristic pathos. Liedwart’s electronics fizzle and splutter in parallel, muddy splatters morphing into frothy sploshes before emptying into micromanaged arpeggios.

If this were a duo, this would all be rather too symmetrical for me. Fortunately, Popovskiyis a wild card, his viola, electronics and objects adding welcome wayward notes to the meditative jam. At one point, a sound like a rusty gate cuts through the cool drones, soon followed by a load of bashing and banging, as if the janitor of the Dom Cultural Centre in Moscow (where this was recorded) has chosen the worst possible time to repair the central heating system. It’s a cue for things to get scrappier, with various rustles and clonks prodding Taxt into exhausted, erratic honks, while by nervy gusts of electronics chatter their support.

borough

The Holy Quintet – Borough (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

 Recorded in the Welsh Congregational Chapel in Borough, southeast London, this quintet of Johnny Chang (Viola), Jamie Drouin (suitcase modular and radio), Dominic Lash (double bass), Lazaridou-Chatzigoga (zither) and David Ryan (bass clarinet) takes on an appropriately spectral quality as their manifold creaks, strikes and crunches fade in and out of hearing.

Like a lot of Mikroton releases, the link between the players, their instruments and the sounds that we hear on the record are mysterious. Here the disconnect is even more pronounced. Sure, those stringy bumps could be Dominic Lash’s bow bouncing across his cello strings and that hollow, silvery tone could David Ryan’s bass clarinet. But, on the whole, sounds float free from their moorings, sonic manifestations divorced from their physical aspects. As a result, these two sets exist somewhere between possession and haunting, the personnel mimicking a Victorian spiritualist meeting, the attendees channeling the ghostly music of the aether even as they’re taunted by cheeky, restless spirits.

The uncredited sixth player in this quintet is silence. There’s a talk a lot about silence in the experimental music world – how much of it to allow in a performance or a recording, whether we can ever achieve true silence, how to banish it, even.  Yet we rarely acknowledge that silence is not a fixed, immutable entity. It can be blissful, mysterious, meditative, depending on the context. Here it is oppressive, claustrophobic, bearing down on these ghostly voices like a force field. Absence becomes presence, and sound becomes a last barrier against oblivion.

 Mikroton Recordings (news etc)

Mikroton Recordings (stuff to buy)

-ooOOoo-

are after the rain the best band in britain?

February 13, 2013 at 8:40 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

After the Rain – The Night Must Fall

(CD, joint release by ATfield, Memoirs of an Aesthete & Bang the Bore)

after the rain - the night must fall

…Phil Todd certainly thinks so and I suspect Seth Cooke agrees with him too.  Bold claims need striking evidence, eh?  Well, before I present my own findings you will have to endure a lengthy preamble.  Get that finger off the scroll button – I know the anticipation is killing but, as you can’t actually buy this yet, there is plenty of time for musing…

Sometimes it is embarrassing to think how little I know about music.  It has been a driving force in my life for 30 years and I have been recording, performing and promoting music for over a decade (well, on and off).  I can pontificate for hours about subjects within my area of ‘expertise’ – this blog tops 100,000 words in total – but if you were to say to me ‘yeah, and what key is that in?’ then all I could do would be to stare at you blankly and guess.  The black keys?  I dunno.  Despite years of experience developing a finely honed aesthetic I still know almost nothing about the technicalities of how this art form works.

My knowledge of musical history and the traditions outside of my field are similarly patchy.  Whilst I don’t agree with Noel Fielding’s Vince in The Mighty Boosh when he describes all music prior to Human League as ‘tuning up’ I certainly understand the joke and have a good, self-deprecating laugh at my own limitations.  With regards to ‘world music’ – if it wasn’t sampled by Cabaret Voltaire or encountered during the breathless couple of months I spent as a teenager trawling the libraries of West Sussex for gamelan CDs and listening to Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares then it is lost on me.

I’m not proud of this, I’m just being honest about the situation as it has a bearing on the review to come.  I readily admit that a grasp of historical context, of critical theory and a proficiency in the technical and formal aspects of composition and performance can add a layer of nuance, detail and sophistication to musical appreciation.  Just as a grasp of allegory and technique are invaluable in deciphering masterworks of art history separated from our current cultural idiom by time and/or distance.  Those prepared to learn are rewarded for their effort.

But is this always necessary?  Can’t I just like what I like?  Just get my groove on?  There’s a story about how a collaboration between Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix came to naught because the latter didn’t read music and thus could do nothing with the compositions the former sent over.  ‘Aww, man, tragedy!’ I thought when I first heard about it, then, later: ‘what a ridiculous waste.’  To nix a possibility as mouth-watering as this because Hendrix had no formal musical education is criminally dumb.  What does it matter?  Get in the studio and improvise – play jazz for fuck’s sake.

Away from music one of my other interests, as alluded to above, is art history.  I have been lucky enough to stand in front of some of the most striking products of human creativity – say, for example, Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, the most perfect man-made object I have ever encountered – and have found myself transported by an unmediated, awestruck reverie in which all ‘learning’ just falls away, irrelevant.  Can you imagine Titian providing the now ubiquitous ‘artist statement’ by way of explanation?  The idea is grotesque.

Thus with ground prepared – rock of theory on one side, hard place of intuition on the other – we come to The Night Must Fall by After the Rain. I want to convince you that it is wonderful but how to go about it? Well, first an infodump:

After The Rain was formed in 2009 in Southampton, UK, by instrumentalists/composers Hossein Hadisi (Iran), Ignacio Agrimbau (Argentina) and Joe Kelly (UK). They met at the University of Southampton, where they studied composition under Michael Finnissy. Originally emerging as the last mutation of The Hola, an eclectic ensemble founded by Agrimbau in 2005, After The Rain’s sound combines elements from electroacoustics, ‘free’ improvisation, and DIY aesthetics. More importantly, the group uses performance practices and creative methods derived from Persian classical music, which is at the centre of Hadisi and Agrimbau’s research projects.

This blurb accompanied the inclusion of the track ‘Distance III’ on one of those dreary compilation CDs that come with pointless snore-fest The Wire magazine – more on this track later. The description is as dry and cold as hotel toast but it will do to get the chronology and spellings correct. It also hints at the difficulties that lie ahead for an ignoramus such as me: “the group uses performance practices and creative methods derived from Persian classical music, which is at the centre of Hadisi and Agrimbau’s research projects.” Whoo boy – rumbled!

How much does this last point matter? Well, I don’t need to know (presumably) Farsi as the lyrics are helpfully translated into English in the booklet. Do I need to know anything about Persian Classical music or the band members’ research projects? Hmmm… it might help. I can get with the electroacoustic buzzing. That clatter-scratch is perfectly within my usual remit, but the ringing metal percussion, breathy, snorted flute (or flute-ish wind instrument) and guttural vocals – mellifluous or hacking in turn – are tricky. How much is rehearsed, how much improvised? I have no way of knowing. There is some exquisite violin playing on this but I find myself reaching for clichés such as ‘mournful’ to describe its beautiful, emotionally electrifying harmonics. I find myself humbled, discombobulated and wanting to learn.

But enuff of brains, what about guts? What does it feel like? Well, it feels great, thanks for asking. Whilst on the level of theory my ignorance is a hindrance, down here it is a positive boon. Never mind the subtle nuances and clever allusions of the musicologists, the alien nature of this racket is glorious and eye-opening. There is plenty of meditative content but nothing that can be slipped into like a warm bath, I’m kept on my guard, even when lulled. As well as the delight of being surprised I’m totally grooving on trying to figure this stuff out and then, when I can’t, just letting it carry me along. Like a wave washing me up on a shore full of unfathomable sea-worn objects and strangely knotted driftwood. Is it cheating to relish the rewards of not knowing what the fuck is going on? I hope not, because that is what I am doing.

So finally we come to the beginning.  The first track on this album is called ‘Distance III’ and is an indescribable marvel that works perfectly on both the levels I have been talking about.  It’s smart as a magic trick: a mysterious delight, a thrilling intellectual puzzle and it’s as visceral as a giant octopus attack.  It isn’t representative of the album as a whole (which, in general, involves a lot more percussive racket) but that is OK because it isn’t representative of anything, or at least anything that I currently understand.  Three minutes of genius.  No wonder that the band picked it for the Wire magazine CD, no wonder Seth Cooke used it to kick off Missing Nothing – his gargantuan, 6 CD-r, fund raising compilation for Bang the Bore.  On that website, which Seth co-curates, you can watch a video of the band performing this track live at a gig in Leeds that I was lucky enough to attend.  They split the audience – which you know is a good sign.

Sadly, this album is not yet commonly available.  Despite being completed last year it has been stuck in ‘development hell’ ever since.  If you’d like to find out more, perhaps help provide the finance so sorely needed to get it distributed, then email via Bang the Bore – bangthebore@gmail.com – and the caretakers there will happily put you in touch with the band.

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.