Cocooning time usually starts earlier in the month, as the good readers of this column well know, but this is a bad time to respect deadlines. Mea culpa. To those of us who are like abstemious vampires –but still hate the sun- these unforgiving temperatures make us useless and absorb our brains like a hungry zombie. A recent study indicated that the past month of June has been the hottest this planet has seen in over two centuries: if you don’t believe me, there’s science to prove me right. It’s also a very bad time for total social isolation, to hide under a shell of bricks and crystal clear textures, and even so the month has been generous with releases of which the aesthetic motivation is the same as the one this block of text wants to offer: sleepless introspection, sound bubbles, instrumental fragility, all the things that help to not be alone when there’s nobody around. I’m sure that these days you’re going out every night, getting drunk, burning in the sun, mingling yourself in many ways with strangers, but at some point you’ll have to stop and think about what you’re doing, or sleep. And that’s where we come in. Don’t fear. Reach out your hand.
Mike Oldfield: “Hergest Ridge” + “Ommadawn” (deluxe editions) (Mercury) Solar Bears: “Inner Sunshine Ep” (Planet Mu) Mike Oldfield was destroyed by drug excesses and the exaggerated greed of his label -Virgin, in the old days- who wanted to repeat, at all cost, the commercial success of “Tubular Bells”. It was then that they forced him to compose those irritating pop songs and forbid him to go back to recording records like “Hergest Ridge” and “Ommadawn”, half-hour suites, rivers of progressive sound with a folk background. The first seconds of “Ommadawn”, with a harp so clear you won’t even find it in Joanna Newsom’s most beautiful songs, are capable of consolidating the kaleidoscopic genius Oldfield was squandering at the time, between 1975 and 1977. The remastered versions of his second and third album are exemplary –with a new 5.1 mix added, the original stereo mix, demos and B-sides– but the real pleasure lies in going back to the bucolic baroque style of those albums, which now sound contemporary, full of ideas, and are allergic to minimalism or confinement to one style only. Mike Oldfield did it all without arrogance –at that time he wasn’t like the rest of the symphonic rock types- and his style on “Hergest Ridge” prefigures The KLF’s “Chill Out” –with harmonies and rhythmic crescendos but with the same pastoral rendition. And if some hypnagogic or Balearic adept incumbent denies the influence of Mike Oldfield, he’s lying: Emeralds’s latest record denies the first and Solar Bears’s new 12”, “Inner Sunshine Ep” –the new Planet Mu signing based in Ireland (AHA!) supposedly part of the space disco scene but with guitars that are pure Oldfield– the latter. And nobody’s ashamed of anything, as it should be.
Gilles Aubry & Stephane Montavon: “Les Écoutis Le Caire” (Gruenrekorder) Echospace: “Liumin Reduced” (Modern Love) I prefer the city at night because at night the noise falls and the secret sounds of people, buildings and plants come through. The mess and the chaos of traffic is substituted with distant voices, a starting car, the buzzing of the city lights and some solitary animals communicating with each other far away. The city at night (if it’s safe and you’re guaranteed not to get mugged in the small hours) – its peace is because of solitude, and its music is that of silence. Rod Modell, sonic artist and 50% of Deepchord, knew that the city at night had to be recorded, and taking advantage of a long stay in Tokyo he got a microphone and captured hundreds of found sounds in empty streets, full avenues, hotel receptions and shining canals. All that raw sound is what he has squeezed between hard, resonant ambiental frequencies and put it on “Liumin Reduced”, the bonus disc that comes with the first pressing of techno-dub odyssey “Liumin” and is ideal for walking with your hands in your pocket at sundown to experience the city to a hyperrealist extreme. I’ll save it for winter, like “Les Écoutis Le Caire”, another record parting from a similar idea: Aubry recorded, over the course of six weeks, the sounds of Cairo -markets, basilicas, graveyards, car parks- moulded them with ambient finer that Modell’s and paired them to the poetry of Montavon. Sonic postcards from the lyrical city.
Seasons (Pre-Din): “Occasionaly I Forget To Breath” (Thy-Rec) Christopher Hipgrave: “Slow With Pages Of Fluttering Interference” (Low Point)To be listened to at the same time – for example when reading a book would be the most suitable. Other activities occur to me but maybe they can’t keep the desired rhythm, like alternating the hot steam of the sauna with the cold water of the swimming pool. They complement each other, each one has what the other lacks. Christopher Hipgrave is the heat: the seventeen miniatures of “Slow With Pages Of Fluttering Interference” prolong the good sensations left by “Day” (Home Normal, 2009) and “Subtleties” (Under The Spire, 2009) in some kind of ambient mantra that comes to be like the description of the magic English countryside, almost druidic, from the extension without haste of synthesiser notes and glitch tangles, simulating the course of a river. At times it gets close to simplistic new age and that’s when you have to make the change quickly and move on to “Occasionally I Forget To Breath”, the new CD-R by Seasons (Pre-Din), the artist unknown who has been invading our home-listening experience for two years –from Thy-Rec and sometime from Type– with intoxicated drones, analogue density and the mastering of John Twells, aka Xela, which maybe is the same type of disguise as “I’m bored and I’m going to improvise ambient that will make you shrink inwards”. The first record is breathing in, the second breathing out.
Max Richter: “Infra” (130701) Philippe Petit & Friends: “A Scent Of Garmambrosia” (Aagoo Rec.)Some artists are gagging for soundtrack requests; others are offered them every day and sometimes have to bat them off like flies. Philippe Petit, who we know as the boss of the interesting electronic label BiP_Hop (and is nothing to do with the high wire artist), has been dividing his time between the computer and stringed instruments. “A Scent Of Garambrosia”was recorded with various musicians –his “friends” from the title: Richard Harrison, Helena Espvall, Raphaelle Rinaudo, James Johnston (yes the one from Gallon Drunk)– and with the aesthetic of ensembles like Kronos Quartet in mind. Petit composes almost scary soundscapes in which the strings tremble, the pianos sound dislocated, free jazz harmonies filter through and he holds everything up with a light layer of dodecaphonic scales, cracks of scratched vinyl and subtle electronica. It’s not exactly the joy of the party, but as an exercise of modern classical composition it stands its ground and it should draw the attention of film directors looking for scores. On the other hand, Max Richter has plenty of work. “Infra” is the music he composed for a ballet by Wayne McGregor premiered in 2008 at the Royal Opera House, very fragile, very tremulous, and in which Richter uses his two main aesthetic values: the electronic underlining of almost the complete score (the “Journey” segments are a clear example) and his debt to impressionist precision of Michael Nyman (all the parts called “Infra”). Max, always good.. Varios: “Brian 50” (Brian Records) Christopher McFall: “The Body As I Left It” (Sourdine) There are records that are uneasy for the shelves -because they come in a brown envelope as if they were phone or electric bills- but so necessary for the ears like q-tips. You’ll never be able to shelve “The Body As I Left It” alongside your other CDs –it’s several centimeters higher and it folds, so soft it is- but if you do, file it close the ones by Philip Jeck. Christopher McFall, the sonic artist from Kansas City, uses the cracks of scratched vinyl as the spine for a discourse that sounds like desolation, defeat and endless nights. Sometimes he joins those loop with gloomy, dragging piano notes turning the listening experience into something similar to the title: it’s like dying or freezing, becoming motionless, essentially. What have the collection of tracks called “Brian 50” to do with the bad vibes of McFall? In principal, the sleeve: it’s even more ostentatious and the edition more limited -200 copies- and the music is more home-made –a mix of lo-fi singer-songwriters like Dave, Roy and New Volunteer and new tunes by Peter Broderick and Machinefabriek. Just to show the format is nice, but only that what’s inside is what counts. I’m sticking with McFall.
Taylor Deupree: “Shoals” + “Snow” (12k) Giuseppe Ielasi: “Aix” (Minority Records) + “Tools” (12k) Since some time ago we’ve been able to see a substantial change in the aesthetic of Taylor Deupree, not so much because of how he is in himself but because of the kind of releases he’s been putting out on his 12k imprint: each time more elaborate, ambient and with a glitch aesthetic serving pop –and it comes from far, from Sawako and company. But he refuses to enter in some kind of light flow, highly efficiently releasing records with a dark twist like “Northern”, which invaded the territory of Tim Hecker –sharp drones with a snow-like texture. But “Shoals” seems to be a full-blown pull-back, as if Deupree finally decided to become even softer than the artists he signs, from Pjusk to Giuseppe Ielasi, who, by the way, returns to 12k with “Tools” and at the same time reappears with a collection of tracks between minimalist an pop on the vinyl “Aix”, limited to 400 copies and with a few interesting ambient exercises but in all sounds rather inoffensive and aseptic. Deupree wants to be more because “Shoals” is a record a-typically soft in his career: it’s cinematic and poetic –a bit like Solo Andata– and he adds gamelan harmonies to the background, an ethnic quote Deupree had never before made and nobody knows why he’s doing it now. To add to the confusion, the limited edition includes a 7” ( “Shoals Edition”) and there is also a download available “Snow (Dusk, Dawn)”, another piece of 16 minutes confirming that the New Yorker’s desire to put music to the maximum feeling of weightlessness. It sounds good, but the dangerous or cold subtext from before is sorely missed. Svarte Greiner: “Penpals Forever And Ever” (Digitalis) I’m stealing this phrase from a writer: “Penpals Forever And Ever” is like entering a very cold room. Visualise the sensation: even though it’s imperceptible, there is something in you that stops you, is scared, wishes it could step back. It’s a fear or a light rejection, resistible, but it has set off an alarm. There’s no need to call it terror, but discomfort, yes. This record is one of those you wish you hadn’t unwrapped and which cause bad vibes when played. Like Pandora’s box, you say? Exactly. This album by Svarte Greiner, whom we got to know some time ago as the owner of the Miasmah label and as one half of Norwegian duo Deaf Center, was originally released on cassette in 2008 and has now been published on vinyl with a new piece included, a more reddish design and denser mastering, but with the same restlessness as the original: bulbous, uneasy drones, with an almost doom-like undercurrent decorating the best dark ambient cracks of the last times, from The North Sea to Kevin Drumm. Svarte Greiner has the virtue of being more elastic and impressionist thanks to the use of medieval instruments, but this record will always be like entering a very cold room.
Ossining: “I Will Be Missed” (Digitalis) Radio People: “Radio People” (Digitalis) More Digitalis, and watch out for what’s cooking at the label from Oklahoma. Actually, nothing “is cooking”, because the passion for old school analogue electronics has been rooted in the label’s catalogue for some time, next to the dark ambient experiments, avant-garde noise with metal, hypnagogic styles and free-folk, but the two latest instalments –in the vein started not so long ago by new synthesists like Dylan Ettinger– try without a doubt to target fans of the similar Oneohtrix Point Never: gliding mantras which at the same time incline towards the “accessible and harmonic” – let’s call them pop, even though they’re not songs- that help you to get in a trance, that plunder the aesthetic of seventies cosmic music without a problem while at the same time want to situate the listener in a confusing mental space between hypnosis, somnambulism and floating in the air. Ossining are Brad Rose (The North Sea himself) and Kevin Danchisko (aka Sovetskaya Gone) and so far they have published tapes under that moniker: I have in my hands their first LP, and although they obviously copy from other artists, they also show personal details that can help them progress in the field of post-kosmische nostalgia. Radio People (Sam Goldberg) on the other hand, had only released tapes and he’s more orientated towards Emeralds -and not only because he also lives in Ohio and they are friends- pursuing an ambient simplicity in which there are no rhythmic shavings, nor double mirrors with noise reflections. The synth puppies are growing up, they’re reproducing and this scene is going places. Or did you expect otherwise, silly?