The hippies are coming!
And they’ve sure made me happy. With their analogue synthesisers, their knees touching the floor and their greasy tangled hair (what the hell do these guys comb their hair with, a ham bone?), not to mention their cosmic trips... I suppose that at this stage of the game, it’s no news to anybody if I say that the hippy thing has arrived, and seems as though it will stay around for quite some time to come. At the start it was almost funny, as a proposition. It was so iconoclastic and so out of context, yet, it might just work. At least it might shake things up. But over the past few months it’s got a bit out of hand, and Editions Mego has even signed Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never.
I suppose I’ll have to get used to their company. I don’t think I really have a choice: practically fifty percent of the File Under Experimental remit right now is in one way or another attuned to the retro vibe, whether it’s using a power meter and a switch or it’s a hairy jam. And since I know I won’t be able to beat them, I’m going to pretend I’ve also just discovered Klaus Schultze and Popol Vuh’s “Affenstunde”, and I’m going to try to join in with the enthusiasts, because later on Facebook people will call me “bitter”, “retrograde” –what a fucking nerve– and I don’t know how many other ugly things.
I’ll start, then, with praise for Lunar Miasma and “Crystal Covered”, an album that’s giving people a lot to talk about, and with good reason. You can tell that its maker, Panos Alexiadis from Greece (ex-Red Needled Sea, also drummer for a doom metal group), possesses a maturity as a listener that’s lacking in other neo-synthesists, especially the Americans. Alexiadis goes along with each and every one of the constants of kosmische without surrendering to the totems of the genre. He doesn’t imitate —at least not obviously— nor does he disregard the influence of other ambientalists of his generation, peppering his pieces with references to Fennesz, Tim Hecker or Aidan Baker. There’s a reason why “Crystal Covered” has been released by Basses Frequences, one of the coolest microlabels in the whole world, whose catalogue also includes super limited editions of Nadja, Nicholas Szczepanik, Culver or my favourites on the label, Bones Of Seabirds.
Two gentlemen and a guitar
Another person from the Adriatic (in this case a Cypriot, although he’s now based in Amsterdam) who has given me one of the joys of the season is Yannis Kyriakides. Lately I’d lost track of him, although some of his works –especially the stunning “Wordless” (Unsounds, 2004)– are among my favourites of the last decade. My encounter with this composer and sound artist couldn’t have been happier. On his own label, Unsounds, he’s just brought out two jewels: “Rebetika” and “Folia”. The works have a shared goal to revalidate traditional music. The first is popular Greek songs, the second is one of the oldest European musical themes known, and both are thanks to Kyriakides’ encounter with Andy Moor, the hyperactive guitarist from The Ex. Guitar and computer align in the same direction, feed off one another and generate common spaces with a delicacy that is seldom heard in these type of experiments. Guitar and electronic combos are starting to become a force. If you don’t agree, check out “Semi-Impressionism” (Spekk, 2009), by Tetuzi Akiyamaand Toshimaru Nakamura, and you’ll see.
Speaking of the Japanese, I am intrigued by Kouhei Matsunaga, who is one of those strange characters able to break the tacit norm of aesthetic coherence -that unwritten law by which an artist is measured according to his fidelity to certain forms- and who is able to navigate disparate, virtually incompatible genres, without getting lost. With a slippery style that’s disconcerting on record, this native of Osaka now residing in Berlin has been active for over a decade and has recently concluded a prolonged period of semi-reclusiveness. He’s only given us two reference points since 2007: one digital release for Wordsound as Koyxen, and another on vinyl for Raster-Noton as NHK. Now his joint venture with Toshio Munehiro has four works out in barely a month, under the patronage of Important Records. Each one is different and all of them are interesting.
Chronologically, the first is an untitled 12” shared with Mika Vainio, where the game of false clues starts off with two cuts that jump happily from electro-rock (“Purple Wind”) to experimental thickness (“Gappadiction”). This last register dominates “3. Thelepatics Meh In-Sect Connection”, a three-way game with a galactic line-up –Matsunaga, Mika Vainio and Sean Booth (Autechre)– and the second episode of the series. The galactic allusion isn’t gratuitous: as in football so in life, and the sum of stellar names don’t always guarantee results that live up to expectations. Presumably recorded live in 2008, neither Vainio nor Booth makes much effort in any of the three long electro-acoustic passages that total a seemingly endless forty minutes. But Matsunaga’s work with the contact mics is worth the trouble and breathes some life into the general drowsiness. It is best when they let him do his own thing.
Things liven up —and how they do— with “Self VA.” It’s an album of re-edits that has gained a greater stylistic homogeneity in the process. In reality, it’s the generous timing that allows you to detect at least three fairly defined threads of work. On one hand, there is the ultra-saturated breakbeat that reminds one so much of Techno Animal and Scorn, which at times drifts towards hip hop –raps by Sensational– and at other times into dub. There is digital noisiness: “3”, “Material Blah Blah” and “Telepathic 170708 From 18 PM” harsh and with maximalist inclinations. And finally there is the most interesting aspect, from my point of view, of Matsunaga’s work: brief electro-acoustic tests, barely sketches, where the Japanese musician links the process with an intelligent use of silence. This facet is attuned to the aesthetic of EAI (Electro-acoustic Improvisation) which is noticeably absent on “Special”, the fourth and, for the moment, final volume in the collection under the name NHK, which is also the roughest cut of them all. The two years that separate “Special” from its predecessor, “Unununium” (Raster-Noton, 2008), have allowed Matsunaga and Munehiro to refine their discourse and focus on their objectives. They continue to bring together rhythm and noise, but its moved beyond sounding like textbook rhythm’n’noise. They have made the form and the background more extreme and the result is madness: a thicket of breaks and bursts of aural racket that razes everything in its path to the ground and takes no prisoners along the way - and all in less than twenty minutes.
Weighing the components separately, the four Matsunaga pieces might seem fractured as a body of work, and more a whim than a real retrospective. But taken as a whole, and with the random activated –thank you, iTunes!– a single aesthetic emerges. There is a common denominator in all the Japanese musician’s production, which is his attachment to distortion. He reminds us of the distinction between noisemaking and “the noisy”. Matsunaga’s work, in any of his aliases, always returns not so much to the sound per se, as to its treatment. It doesn’t matter WHAT sounds, but rather HOW it sounds. And in this sense, his thing could be compared to the hypnagogic fever that’s invaded our ears, where the style is imposed on the substance. Nevertheless, Matsunaga does this without referents outside his own work, unlike the hypnagogic crowd whose main reason for being is precisely referential horseplay. It’s a highly attractive dynamic: making the form into an autonomous, singular background. McLuhan would be proud.
@c: “Music for Empty Spaces” (Baskaru)
The Portuguese artists Miguel Carvalhais and Pedro Tudela have been active for a decade. Ten years and not a sign of exhaustion. In fact, “Music for Empty Spaces” is their best work to date: a master lesson on the creation of spaces –geographical, emotional, sensory– with audio. The balance achieved between processed samples, raw field recordings, and synthetic asides is especially dazzling. All of the good that sound art can provide today is synthesised in “Music for Empty Spaces”. And what a sound, ladies and gentlemen, what a sound!
Sightings: “City of Straw” (Brah)
In an ideal world, all rock should be like this: dirty, daring, surprising and nasty. Planted on the spot where Wolf Eyes threw away their compass and Liars picked it up, this group from Brooklyn has remained impermeable to the pop varnish that has finally led its countrymen (Black Dice, Animal Collective) to get around, and they continue to do their thing, birthing monsters from the forced crossbreeding of industrial noise and punk. The big song: “Tar and Pine.”
Black Mountain Transmitter: “Theory & Practice” (Lysergic Earwax)
The Black Mountain College, the experimental school of artistic education whose musical department was directed by John Cage, exercised a decisive influence on the work of the parents of drone music. And it is also starting to do the same with those who seek to be their heirs. Eleh already rendered it homage in “Floating Frequencies/Intuitive Synthesis II.” The Irishman J.R. Moore does it with his artistic alias (in theory) and his music (in practice). Cassette in a limited edition of fifty copies. Run: there aren’t many left.
Jana Winderen: “Energy Field” (Touch)
Can field recordings move you? Yes, if they are processed by Jana Winderen. The British artist mainly uses recordings taken from the depths of the Baltic to compose three collages of beauty, obviously vast. They don’t have much to do with them formally, but they have made me to dig out Biosphere’s “Cirque” and Francisco Lopez’s “Azoic Zone”, if that gives you a clue.
Tim Hecker: “Apondalifa” (Room 40)
Tim Hecker is like Solac: what he does, he does well. But very well. There is no place in “Apondalifa” for surprise: an electrical storm, lyrical but muscular, in the usual line. Nothing new, but a year already since“An Imaginary Country” and we’re grateful he has shown signs of life. Let’s clear this up so that there is no confusion: the 7” vinyl edition includes a single song divided into two parts, one on each side. The same thing can be downloaded all together, on the Room 40 website for four miserable Australian dollars, which is less than three euros. Don’t get cheap on me.
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