Raagnagrok - Man Woman Birth Death Infinity
(Lotushouse Records LHRCD19)
The first time I played this CD I fell asleep. Not, you may think, the most auspicious first impression but it was a very nice sleep indeed - what wasn't so good was the bit where I woke up with my head slumped sideways over the arm of the chair with the worst pain in my neck. The sleep though, was deep and dark and profound. I'd got to about halfway through the album's 14 minute epic journey towards 'Infinity' and then I was gone. They'd taken me with them, entirely.
What we have here is a UK duo of Mark Pilkington on modular synth & electronics and Zali Krishna on electric sitar & guitar who have produced a set of intensely celestial kosmische jams; some live, some studio. The occasional presence of the sitar means that a vaguely Indian aspect is often shown (as is also implied by the bands name) but it is Germany in the very early 1970s that is most apparent.
With a running time of an hour and with a concise palate, many of the tracks, once the music starts to permeate the room, do run into each other and the whole becomes more important than it's parts as they paint a really rather glorious psychotropic colourfield. There are moments I'm not hugely enamoured with but even these parts often swirl by once it's achieved consonance with the room (and my head) and they are few and far between.
I've had this album here for just under a week now and it has pretty much dominated my ears since it arrived with the discs being carried from house to car and a rip sitting front and centre on my MP3 player. If big, bold Krautrock inspired kosmische excursions are your bag then really do hunt this down cause you'll love it. If they're not, hunt this down anyway because it's great and it may change your mind.
Rapoon / Relapxych-o - Split
(Droehnhaus / Psych.KG Drh#4.5 / Psych KG 035)
Split LP from the German label Droehnhaus with individualised covers each painted by a child with a learning difficulty of one form or another. Mine says ‘I Love You’ in big cheery silver letters with a stickered arrow that says ‘Important’ pointing at the words. It’s probably the best sleeve design in my collection. The sleeves themselves, I can’t help noticing, are the same ones that the labels previous LP release (Mystified’s - Pulse Ringer Pieces) came in with the text on the spine blanked out.
Almost inevitably, and by that I mean no disrespect to Relapxych-o, my initial attention turns to Rapoon. Robin Storey has been producing tantalising and enthralling music both as part of various incarnations of Zoviet France and as Rapoon for a considerable number of years. Whilst I’m not really a collector or connoisseur of his music I do have a real admiration for much of what I’ve heard. This short little track, ‘Lost Terrain‘, is a tangled trip that morphs from a sad and broken piano melody into a jagged and hallucinogenic panic before ending with some of his trademark loops. It’s a good track but it’s far too short to really take hold.
Relapxych-o, who I must admit to having never heard of until this moment, is the alter-ego of Anders Peterson. His music is a deep languorous series of tone and drone. The 17 and a half minutes of his ‘Amplified Transparency Reflection’ is a richly textured and thoroughly absorbing journey.
Under another pseudonym (A.P / spatialXpansion) Petersen is also responsible for the remix of the Rapoon track on the reverse of the LP. His remix is a little too reverential of it’s source material and predominantly allows the broken piano progression to run through his composition though he does take the opportunity to add some droning turmoil to the middle of the piece.
In all the album is a thoroughly enjoyable listen but it is a little innocuous. Rapoon completists will want it for his track but for me it’s Relapxych-o who steal the honours.
The Raw Men Empire - Elodie
(a TRME release)
We welcome the presence of another cracking Israeli combo in this months Wonderful Wooden Reasons (see the Albert Beger Electroacoustic Band) this time producing a gentle form of freak folk.
Clocking in at around 18 minutes Elodie is a short and concise dip into TRME's oeuvre. The songs are fun and often contain a lyrical tweeness that Belle & Sebastian would envy. There's a plethora of instruments on display and an engaging musicality.
I'd be lying if I said this was the type of music I play regularly but it is a fun place to visit and I'm going to be keeping this disc to hand for when I feel the need to return.
Jonathan Read - Volans
(Ephre Imprint EPH05)
The second of this months Ephre releases showcases the work of Australian droner Jonathan Read. Contrary to the Erik De Cordier release this one is (at least initially) a much more spacious and airy release of time stop drone music. By tracks two and three this optimistic lightness has morphed into weightier atmospheres and a more concrete sense of trepidation which is held through to the end of this intriguing little excursion.
Being only an EP of around 22 minutes it's difficult to be comprehensive or particularly effusive about this release but it does show a nicely restrained hand and a keen ear and is very listenable. I think there's more to come here and I'm looking forward to hearing it.
Pablo Reche - Paredes
(Locus of Assemblage)
At one point, about 3 minutes into the first track (Pared Uno) of this Argentine noisemaker's CD my speakers started to pop and crackle alarmingly as the beautiful, booming bass Reche has constructed this track on seemed to finally signal the death of my much loved (and much abused) stereo. Fortunately my worries proved groundless as the speakers rallied and soldiered on. Track two (Pared Dos) is for me the less satisfying as the bass that so marks out Pared Uno is subsumed in a mass of hissing noise. It's certainly not a bad track, it simply lacks some of the 'punch' of the former. Overall an interesting and diverting but slightly too short introduction to an intriguing musician.
Red Needled Sea - Signal Transmission
(Dirty Demos DirtyCDR 014)
I have no info on RNS but a quick look on Myspace tells me that it's the work of a chap called Panos Alexiades who deals in a form of processed guitar-scapes. This single track 17 minute mini-cd offers an intriguing insight into a soundworld of hissing, scraping, clanging drones. It's sedate, you might even say sedentary, and stately in it's pacing but sonically it is just a little one-dimensional until around the 14 minute point when Alexiades mixes things up a little. As is often the case with mini-cds there's not really enough music to make a fully informed decision but what is here is a diverting listen.
Red Needled Sea - Old River Blues
(Triple Bath TRB.005)
The last time I reviewed Red Needled Sea it was his 3" CDR on Dirty Demos. It was a nice little release but a little too brief to establish a firm opinion. This new release on Triple Bath rectifies that situation more than satisfactorily. Here Panos Alexiades allows his project a much wider scope accentuating his drones with guitar and piano flourishes that means the album as a whole feels less insular and more vibrant than it's predecessor (which was by no means a bad album). The drones are Mirror-esque in places although a far greater reliance on identifiable melodies and instrumentation allows Alexiades to explore his own path to a beautiful destination.
Re:dux tion - A Disordered Imagination
Dark, dark, dark, dark, dark ambient ... with the lights off. This is music that benefits hugely from being played on headphones in a dark room. That's not to say it doesn't work on speakers in the sunshine because it does - I tried, it's my job and my joy - it's just that the ambience conjured here is one of the darkest, bleakest night. It's flickering shadows on a grey wall, it's malformed figures running through the trees, it's a slightly maniacal giggle in the night, it's a breath on your neck in an empty room, it's all these things and more. Music for the darkest of hearts and the brightest of souls. Recommended
Rick Reed - The Way Things Go
(Elevator Bath eeaoa035)
Operating out of Austin, Texas, Reed is a composer of quiet note amongst people whose opinions I rather like so it was with curious ears I delved into my much delayed (a dead turntable) first listens.
The album contains the fruits of 10 years of work on Reed's part; 10 years of synthesizers (Moog & EMS), sine wave generators, shortwave radio and voices. It's been time well spent. The album is filled with sound that pours from the speakers in a continuous unrelenting deluge of fuzzy, contoured, textured goodness. Compositionally it's very much retained the characteristics of it's source material and invokes actinic colours and voltaic consistency.
In essence it's drone music of the most insistent and even fiery sort. This isn't drone that softly embraces you and gently shifts your perceptions. This is drone that stands in front of you, grabs you by the lapels and then launches you straight up and out.
It's an intense ride that rarely lets up over the course of the 4 sides and one I heartily recommend you take.
The Residents - Petting Zoo
(Euro Ralph CD 026)
For many people The Residents are the epitome of the 'love them or loathe them' equation. They have a tendency to polarise opinions in a way that many other bands would envy. Me, I'm the exception, I'm somewhere in the middle. This is only the third Residents album I've ever heard and of the other two I loved one and not the other. So, time to try again.
Petting Zoo is a compilation of the more 'ear friendly' (their phrase) compositions by this veteran band. Tracks are taken from Demon's Dance, Icky Flix, Meet The Residents, Duck Stab and others. It's intent is to entice new listeners into the fold so, as a, almost, new listener the question is, 'Has it worked?' The answer, 'Not particularly.'
It's not that it's bad as such, some of the songs are really good, but it all sounds so horrible. The production is really, really dated with an abundance of 'midi sound' that made me want to reach for the off button.
I'm glad I heard the album, a couple of the tracks I thoroughly enjoyed (particularly 'The Aging Musician') but I'm still not convinced. Equally though I'm still intrigued enough by the whole exercise to try again in the future.
Revenant - Zeltini
Revenant is a collective consisting of Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, John Grzinich, Kaspars Kalninsh & Felicity Mangan and this CD reflects a purposeful visit to an abandoned Soviet missile silo in Northeastern Latvia (although only the first 4 seems to have participated in the original on site recordings).
The order of the day seems to have been for each of the participants to explore and record separately before the recordings were amalgamated into a final hour long piece. Given the nature of the experience you'll understand that the prevailing textures here are of the rubbed, hit, dragged and dropped variety and for the most part they site together beautifully to create a rich and warm ambience to the piece. It really is for the most part and exquisite piece of sound art all the way up to the last 11 minutes of the piece when someone starts repetitively twanging on what I assume is a jaw harp - an 'instrument' deserving of the deepest scorn and most abject revulsion especially as it then precedes to dominate the end of this piece. It's a real shame as it really does take the edge of the listening experience for me and means that each time I've played this otherwise exemplary album my final thoughts are always negative because of the bloody twanging. If you hate the damn things less than I do though then really do yourself a favour and grab a copy of this.
Rez Epo - Phenomena
(Industrial Culture Records ICR020)
I hear a lot of noise albums each month. Most are so-so at best. Occasionally a really good one comes along but mostly they are much of a muchness. Rez Epo is unfortunately more the former than the latter. It's not bad as such. The intensity of the composition is maintained throughout, there are some real nice sounds in there and it's fast moving enough to keep things interesting and me listening for the 20 minutes runtime. It doesn't however do anything unexpected. It's working to a tried and tested formula, which is fine...it's a good formula....but, it's still a formula and that means it's a little unexciting.
Remember however that i only ever feature albums I like in Wonderful Wooden Reasons and this album is fundamentally likeable. It's just not very original.
Rhizomorph - Xenofilika
(Neurochemical Records NR-001)
For the most part this album is so far out of my usual listening preferences that for a long time I wasn't really sure what to write about chunks of it. At first I wasn't even convinced that I liked it very much at all. I did however keep listening and the more I listened the more I liked. Rhizomorph describes itself as ethno-ambient which inspires in me a cold shudder as visions of middle-class white kids with dreadlocks dancing to Goa style trance-house in the late eighties and early nineties come flooding back. It's a fair description though as even the fractal sleeve art harks back to this era. The music is eastern tinged and very rhythmic (I hear bongos) and opens to an inauspicious start. As it progresses however the ambient elements become more prevalent and the album gets better and better. As it loosens up from its rhythmic straitjacket the moods conjured become more absorbing and the sounds used more interesting. For those of you who like a reference point in their reviews then to my admitedly uneducated ears this reminds me of a less euphoric version of Boredoms spin-off group Aoa or some of the better Mulsimgauze releases. I'm glad I got to hear this.
Lasse-Marc Riek - Habitats
Habitats is an interwoven and bewilderingly complex array of field recordings primarily of birds recorded in Finland in 2009. Riek has documented the sound of these birds in their natural environs and then moulded the recordings into one long orgy of squawks, shrieks, caws and twitters alongside the ambient sounds inherent in each locale - water, wind, etc.
It's a fascinating audio journey and one which I've enjoyed very much indeed. I'll admit to being a little nonplussed by the several minutes worth of silence followed by a lesson on building a fire that end this disc although the recording of the fire itself is very nice.
I'm a fairly recent convert to the joys of pure field recordings - mainly thanks to the recordings made by my friend Banks Bailey - so I'm no connoisseur but I can tell when something has been assembled with aplomb and this is such a piece.
Lasse-Marc Riek - Helgoland
(Gruenrekorder Gruen 109)
Helgoland is Germany's only offshore island and home to (according to Wikipedia) around 1000 people and, if this collection of recordings is to be believed, a hell of a lot of birds and a colony of grey seals.
These recordings form part (all?) of Gruenrekorder's head honcho Lasse-Marc Riek's phonography of the island's wildlife and it is a truly fascinating collection of sounds. I'm no bird spotter, I have a garden full of sparrows, jackdaws and magpies along with an occasional great spotted woodpecker (he's awesome), but for the most part I'm happy to put out some feeders to help them along and then go back to my book and leave them be. I suspect Mr. Riek doesn't share my benign ambivalence as the selection of recordings he's produced here are meticulous, detailed and intimate as they document the various conversations and catcalls of the assorted critters with crystal clarity
and a curious ear.
Regular readers will know that I'm not the world's biggest field recordings fan. I like them yes but I certainly don't go out of my way to search them out. With that in mind please understand that it takes a lot for an album of solely field recordings to make me really sit up and notice and not to simply turn it down to ambient level and treat it as wallpaper. This album has never been treated in such a way; it's too full of life and to insistent to ever sit at the back of your attention. It's interesting and vibrant and compulsive listening and is amongst the best examples of the craft that it's been my pleasure to hear.
Rites of Dissonance - Ruins, not Monuments
Opening with a slowly swelling static hum Ruins, not Monuments transforms into a metronomic, glowering beast. Like Scorn but with the groove replaced with an unflinchingly relentless beat and some well placed shards of noise Rites of Dissonance have certainly created a beast worthy of the project name. It's industrial heart is surrounded by a mechanical, metallic body that they contort and manipulate into a variety of shapes, all individual and all worthwhile. They're unafraid of altering tempo or ambience and the album is stronger for it.
It's not the type of music that generally floats my boat but I'm always happy when something takes me pleasantly by surprise and this surely did.
RLW - The Pleasure of Burning Down Churches
(Black Rose Recordings BRCD 07-1009)
You could be forgiven if, like me, on first glance of that particularly naff title you were to assume that this album was going to be Scandinavian death metal. You'd also be, like me, wrong. Very , very wrong. Ralf (rlw) Wehowsky is a founder member of P16.D4 and collaborator with Merzbow, Jim O'Rourke and Achim Wollscheid to name but a few. Even with this impressive resume I must confess ignorance to the man's music and upon hearing this album it is a situation I wish to rectify. Rlw mixes razor-like electronic shards with field recordings and spiralling tones. Nebulous sounds emerge seemingly at random yet always feel immaculately positioned. Carefully constructed ambiences are almost carelessly shattered only to be rebuilt with a subtlety that belies any notion of carelessness and the album as a whole is permeated with an otherworldliness that makes thoroughly compulsive listening.
RMSonce - Reflections
(Medusa Music TSUCD27)
A few years ago there were two CDs released documenting the collaboration between Autechre and The Hafler Trio. I had high hopes for these CDs as both acts were regular visitors to my seedee player. To cut a long story short they were awful. All the sparkle of Autechre's music was subsumed into morass of the worst of The Hafler Trio’s music. I was expecting fireflies of sound dancing over a morphing scenery of fire and ice. I didn’t get it then but I think I have it now in the shape of ‘Reflections’.
RMSonce is the working name of Barcelona born mathematician, musician and artist Francesc Marti and ‘Reflections’ is his third release. The album sees him playing amidst shoals of sound. His relentlessly unorthodox rhythms twisting through aggressive, yet controlled, droning noise. It is a little too electronic for me to be utterly ecstatic as it’s missing some acoustic warmth but it’s still a dynamic listen.
For me though the absolute high point of the album comes on the final track as Marti tosses various jazzy samples into his glitchy mix to create a wonderful stumbling slice of lunacy.
Steve Roden & Machinefabriek - Lichtung
(Eat, Sleep, Repeat ESR201201)
It's been a while since I've crossed paths with Rutger Zuydervelt's Machinefabriek project. and as far as I can remember it's the first time Roden has graced these ears.
The first 8 tracks here are, with one exception, a series of solo pieces; tracks 2, 3, 6 & 8 are by Roden with Machinefabriek taking the others (along with cellist Aaron Martin on track 5). All are taken from a film by Sabine Burger that shares the album's title.
The two have produced a remarkably cohesive set that in both cases meld field recordings with instruments to create on understated series of miniature ecologies.
The album's 9th and final track is an edit of a live performance by Machinefabriek augmented with additional sounds from Roden. It is for me the album's standout track. It's slowly evolving drone littered with fireflies of sound that flitter over, around and through it, slowly giving way to soft bubbling water and the gentle absent-minded humming of a female voice.
I think this final track stood out so starkly for me as it displays a humanity and warmth that the others (with the possible exception of track 5) are maybe lacking slightly. That observation though is not meant to detract from what is a very enjoyable listen.
Roj - The Amateur's Attic (early tape work)
(Peripheral Conserve pH-19)
Former Broadcast keyboard player Roj's album of the other year released via Ghost Box, 'The Transactional Dharma of Roj', was a very fine set of atypical electronica that I've found myself returning to again and again each time finding something new and interesting. So, I jumped at this 7" release (also digital - see link below) on Berberian Film Studio director Peter Strickland's Peripheral Converse label.
Two tracks - the first an unsettling crystalline, effect saturated tone piece that slowly fragments and dissolves into the ether, the second a gentle, crackling, almost broken, rolling, melody - that sit together as a lovely little set filled with pensiveness and unease.
Vanessa Rossetto - Dogs In English Porcelain
(Music Appreciation mus004)
American electro-acoustic composer Rossetto has, on this album, created a thoroughly intriguing composition. Using electronics, field recordings, violin, viola, cello and acoustic turntable she has established a complex and turbulent soundworld.
For me it’s her use of field recordings (mostly, I suspect, sourced around her house) that provide the most interesting aspects of the piece and indeed they are often to be found underpinning and underlying the more ‘musical’ sections. These other sections have a welcome tendency towards primitivism that adds nicely to the ‘homemade’ ambience of the track. An effect strengthened by the choice of cover art.
It isn’t the most engaging of music. It seems deliberately cold and obtuse at times but then again so do I so I’m not going to lay too much negativity on there.
What it is though is a constantly morphing sonic diorama of Lynchian everyday life and is well worth a listen.
David Rothenberg - Bug Music
Quite a lot of the music I write about in Wonderful Wooden Reasons is decidedly insectile in nature filled with skittery and restless taps, creaks, rustles, scrapes, rasps and chirrs. Usually these serve as decoration, the texture to the main sounds of the piece. Here though clarinetist and saxophonist (and more) Rothenberg uses the sounds of various creepy crawlies (and creepy flyies) as a full and equal (if maybe unaware) collaborator on each of the pieces as he (and a few other collaborators) improvise around the songs of the various crickets, katydids, water boatmen, leafhoppers, beetles and many more.
The result? Well, it's beautiful. Rothenberg is a sympathetic and restrained improviser with a really mellow and melodic style that is a joy to listen to. Obviously his contributions cannot help but impart a certain ambience to the proceedings as often the sparsity and melancholy of his (and the other human participant's) playing complements but belies the furore of the insect noise he's accompanying but that, I would suggest, is perhaps unavoidable and also perhaps just in my interpretation.
What is for sure though is that 'Bug Music' is beautifully made and provides many moments of sublime enjoyment listening to these wacky chaps jamming with the beetles (sorry) and this is a beautiful set that had me transfixed from start to finish each time I pressed play on it.
RST - Axes
(Last Visible Dog LVD114)
New Zealander Andrew Moon has an impressive pedigree of releases on a variety of top notch labels (Ecstatic Peace amongst others), all of which I'd managed to successfully miss out on. So, my first listen came with expectations, all of which were exceeded. 10 tracks of guitar based drone pieces that are exercised with sublime control and finesse. Moon creates a set that can be felt as much as heard as it sets all your molecules vibrating to match the frequencies of it's own earth-levelling hum.
Mathieu Ruhlmann - Fourteen Worms For Victor Hugo
(Gears Of Sand gos46)
Inspired by his readings on the visions of French author Victor Hugo Mathieu Ruhlmann has produced a set of 7 (The Shortest Path From Pebble To God - parts I - VII) compositions using an unlikely assortment of natural (various insects, stones & plants) and artificial sound sources (kettle, tin can, toys, prayer bowl & piano). His constructions are concise and fluid and wonderfully earthy. They grumble, mumble, rustle, rattle and humm and as individual textures reappear across several tracks it retains a sense of cohesion throughout.
It's a little too darkly intense for everyday listening (for me at least) but if that's how you like your music (and who doesn't like a bit of darkness now and again) then this'll sit nicely with you.
Mathieu Ruhlmann - Tsukubai
Mathieu Ruhlmann - Funayurei
New imprint from the Mystery Sea label Unfathomless is, I quote, a 'series focusing on sonographies reflecting the spirit of a specific place crowded with memories, it's aura and resonances.'
Opening the series is Canadian soundscaper Ruhlmann who we last heard via his Gears of Sand release 'Fourteen Worms For Victor Hugo'. For Tsukubai Ruhlmann has made a set of recordings at the Nitobe memorial garden in Vancouver using a hydrophone (a microphone used for recording underwater). The final recordings are, I suspect, relatively unprocessed as the over-riding characteristics are of water (obviously) and the pressureit exudes upon the equipment. It this second characteristic that really defines what we hear as the whole Tsukubai experience has an intensity that grips and presses upon the listener. This isn't the comforting natural world of most field recordings as the sounds here are relentlessly chaotic. It's quite an achievement and as a noise piece it's way out in front, both in conception and realisation, of your usual distortion-mongers but for me it's a little too sonically unforgiving and a tad one-dimensional.
Funayurei is a limited edition (50 copies) accompaniment to Tsukubai. It uses recordings sourced in the same way as it's bigger brother but on this occasion they are accompanied by a set of hazy, lazy soft-focus drones that perfectly balance the sonically aggressive field recordings. This for me is by far the more successful of the two albums. I have a preference for 'music' over 'sound', no matter how well sculpted the latter is, and the added musicality of Funayurei is, for me, the more enticing prospect.
Mathieu Ruhlmann - As A Leaf Or A Stone
(AFE Records afe123lcd)
I have a fondness for Ruhlmann's compositions. On the whole they're cold, austere and decidedly brittle but they're made with such an ear for a compatible sound, with such an eye for an employable object and such a will for an intractable experience that you can't help but be gladdened at their existence.
On 'As a Leaf...' Ruhlmann continues his mission to utilise everything in his studio / house / street / neighbourhood / country / continent and planet on one of his albums at some time or another. I counted 32 separate sound sources listed on this album including, coffee grinder, cactus, tracing paper, dried sunflower, lamp and denture cleaner and that's without including whatever he's identified as 'various vibrating objects & strings'. As I've said the music is a pretty gritty affair that trundles along slightly faster than a snails pace. For Ruhlmann texture is very much king as tonally there's little variation here but texturally he likes to mix things up a little.
I'll be utterly honest with you and say music like this isn't someone I play very often - I find it much to stark to fully immerse into but on occasion it's this very characteristic that pulls me into it's clutches.
Rusalka - Underfoot
(Lisca Records lisca012)
I've no idea who Rusalka is and I've not really got any inclination to find out and that certainly is not to be taken as any sort of reflection on he, she, it or them because I'm really enjoying this album. I'm also quite drunk! I find drunk to be the optimum listening state for noise music. It's the 21st century equivalent of a three chord pissed up punk singalong an 'Underfoot' provides a cacophonic ecstasy of fuzzy, atonal happiness all wrapped up in a slightly perverse and grimy atmosphere evocative of low rent brothels and sullen, sticky people.
I like it, it's fun.