Monday, May 28, 2012

Ambient not ambient

Here is a post long overdue rounding up some recent ambient and electro-acoustic releases. Despite the fact that some of them come from the same label, they nonetheless represent an amazingly diverse pool of sounds, ranging from guitar driven Americana, neo-Classical and even pure electronica at the fringes of techno which is one way of highlighting the fertility of ambient music. Apologies and thanks to the many people who sent me stuff for review, particularly Experimedia and also Lawrence English at Room 40 and sorry I couldnt put it all in.

Santiago Latorre – Eclíptica [Foehn, 2011]

Barcelona-based Santiago Latorre’s album “Eclíptica” has been quite hard to get in physical format despite being one of the national albums of the year in 2011. Originally coming out on local label Foehn Records, it has now also seen the light of day in the US via Accretions, but still proves a little hard to get hold of outside of iTunes. The success of “Eclíptica” also means that Latorre has had some high profile shows, playing at this year’s Micro Mutek festival and later in June he will play at Primavera Sound and Sonar. Latorre’s take on ambient music is not so immersive as elaborate, fitting in nicely with labels like Type who mix ambient electronics with home listening classical tools. The results then are not surprisingly unlike film soundtrack material or even the more abstract fringes of indie rock where groups like Sigur Ros, for example, employ similar methods to great emotional effect. One of the strengths of “Eclíptica” is also its diversity, both in palette and choice of instrumentation, but also in composition. Latorre uses both short songs like emotional glyphs or longer, winding compositions to create the feeling of narrative. The whole is a concise and detailed journey through a beautiful sound world.

Celer – Evaporate and wonder [Experimedia, March 2012]

There is a great deal of sadness behind the beauty of Celer’s latest releases including “Evaporate and Wonder” on Experimedia and the handful of other albums and 7”s to sneak out this year, including several with Machinefabriek. The source material was recorded in May 2009 only two months before the untimely death Danielle Marie Baquet who was the wife of William Thomas Long and one half of Celer with him. Long has since then slowly worked through the wealth of material recorded before her death and will apparently close the prolific and tragic Celer saga when finished processing the material. The cover image of two still boats on a quiet shore somehow seems more poignant given the story. Musically the texture and mood will be familiar to fans of the duo, consisting of two side-long tracks of delicate synthesizer drones gentle enough to sleep too, but with still a lot of detail in the production and a plenty of emotive swells that stand up to closer scrutiny. In particular, the use of field recordings way, way down in the mix gives the shimmering surface a more tangible edge, like slowly waking from a deep sleep while having the room enter your dreams. The two sides do not differ greatly from each other, but are nonetheless a beautiful and elegant pair of tracks that bring with them a lot of peace and serenity.

Bvdub – Serenity / Don’t say you know [Darla, 2012]

Fans of Bvdub can be excused for feeling a bit overwhelmed with his recent output. According to Discogs Brock Van Wey has released nine solo albums since 2011 and one more with Ian Hawgood, not to mention his now annual track on Kompakt’s Pop Ambient series and even a 12” under the East of Oceans moniker. Such prolificacy has attracted plenty of doubters, but the truth is that it doesn’t take much of a scratch to see that below the surface Bvdub has changed quite a bit from the early days. “Serenity” and its companion album “Don’t say you know”, which were generously bundled together by label Darla for the first 500 copies, are a case in point. “Serenity” breaks with the poetic song and album names of the past, while both discs are remarkably more upbeat than some of the earlier albums. One way Bvdub achieves the lightness is by the addition of beats in nearly every track, giving a more up-tempo feel. The beats are not as heavy as his first techno outings, and are mostly slow techno rhythms, like on “Beauty”, but there is even one foray into the world of rollicking break beats on “My sun shines through your rain” off “Don’t say you know”, as classic rave as Zomby’s “Where were you in 92?” album. The length of tracks is also more variable from the relatively shorter 7 minute songs to longer opuses that push the 30 minute mark. There are also a lot more discernible vocals higher up in the mix diminishing the sense of isolation and loneliness that are so critical to Bvdub’s intimate sound. That is not to say that it is all feel good schmaltz, rather the opposite: the foundation of Bvdub’s sound is still a complicated well of slowly changing emotions, but now one in which there is someone else in there along with you.

ASC and Sam KDC – Decayed society [Auxiliary, 2012]

This collaboration between Sam Wood (aka Sam KDC) and James Clements (aka the prolific ASC) on Clements’ own Auxiliary label is slowly becoming one of my favourite ambient releases of the year. In many ways it is quite classical and conventionally arranged, yet it nonetheless retains the power to engross by adhering to some sense of vague narrative and by deluding and lulling the sense through this unfolding story. Opener “Lost negatives” sets the scene with its dark atmospheres and suspense, the title perhaps suggesting a take off point for some imagined story. As the track draws to a close, lost voices and fearful calls raise the spectre of some lurking menace which then carries through the album. The central track “Block 4” is the highlight. Burial-esque urban moods cross paths with a gentle downpour of metallic drones and prickly glitch all hovering over a whirlpool of bleak voices and dystopian sounds. The remaining tracks also have a lot of character embedded in their metallic surfaces. Timbral changes are wrought frequently, but steadily with magnificent skill so that each track seems to pass through several layers of sensation. It is a rather down beat tale they tell, but an absorbing and immersive one nonetheless.

From the mouth of the sun – Woven Tide [Experimedia, 2012]

“Woven tide” is the debut album by From the Mouth of the Sun, a duo consisting of Swedish musician Daq Rosenqvist and Experimedia stalwart Aaron Martin, known for his remix work for the collective Lüüp, who covered one of his tracks “Spiralling”, and for his solo album “Worried about the fire” which was one of the label’s highlights back in 2010. Extracts from “Woven tides” and some of Martin’s solo work will accompany a documentary and a short film by Ross McDonnell and Carter Gunn entitled “Remember me, my ghost” about the ill-fated Ballymun Towers housing project in Dublin.

The music is a pastiche of acoustic instruments, with different strings and guitars blending with piano, xylophones and chimes and at times processed through reverb and allowed to feedback to accumulate into crescendos of noise. Given the context of the film for which the material was intended, it is not surprising to find a certain emotional darkness and a sense of tragedy and ruin in the music and their accompanying titles, such as “Sitting in a roofless room” and “Pools of rust”. Collectively the album paints a picture of bare emotional survival, rather than hope. A good point of reference might be Deaf Centre, but there are a lot more folk elements to “Woven tide” that keep it somewhat grounded and away from the all-consuming abyss of “Pale ravine”, for example. A touching and beautifully realised album.

Andrew Weathers / Ancient Ocean – Split cassette [Rubber City Noise, 2012]

Maybe it is just what has come my way, but there seems to have been a fair bit of acoustic-guitar driven “ambient” music these days. One other example that immediately comes to mind is Mike Cooper’s “Distant songs of madmen” which was recorded live in Palermo, Italy in June 2011 and released as a free download  by Australia’s Room 40 imprint. The press release from Rubber City Noise for this split release between Andrew Weathers, originally of Chapel Hill, but now resident and studying in Oakland, and relative new comer Ancient Ocean from Brooklyn on the flipside describes it aptly as “ambient Americana”. Weathers’ work in particular is like a 21st Century version of “Paris, Texas”, where drones vie for attention from improvised finger picked folk-blues guitar. Ancient Ocean uses the guitar much less than Weathers where it appears more as an accompaniment to the drones, rather than the other way around, but he also has space to vary his style a bit more away from the limelight. Weathers music works by creating a sense of time across the duration of each track and the side as a whole, bringing the mood in and out of focus, whereas Ancient Ocean’s three shorter pieces are more like classic ambient vignettes. Each one works independently with an emphasis more on texture than outright mood. The addition of guitar gives each track a shoegazer feel, especially on “Seneca”, even where the guitar verges on flamenco style in “Castelwood”. Despite coming from two distinct artists, apparently on opposite sides of the US there is a strange fraternity between the two sides, both of which somehow purvey a greater sense of peace and exposed tranquillity.

Emptyset – Medium [Subtext, 2012]

It riles me a bit that Bristol's Emptyset get labelled as techno when there is scarcely a beat on any of the material of theirs that I have heard. Sure, they produced a nice piece that eventually wound its way into the hands of Chris Liebing and others, featuring none other than Cornelius Harris from Underground Resistance reciting a poem by Aleister Crowley.

But Emptyset have more in common with musique concrete than techno, working laboriously with samples to produce sounds that are deceptively simple and then arrange them in an uncharacteristic framework that has more in common with industrial music. “Medium” sees the American-English duo of James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas taking their obsession with method to new extremes. The primary material for the short album was recorded in Woodchester Mansion, a 19th Century gothic mansion in Gloucestershire that was abandoned during construction upon the death of the owner. The duos quest to generate new forms from sine waves, white noise and field recordings generated becomes extended to be a search for new spaces for these sounds to exist and interact outside the machine they are created in, as if the sounds were encouraged to haunt the house and the house invited to haunt the music in a feedback loop. The results are typically dry as most Emptyset releases, not to mean unapproachable or academic, but their music rarely give you much feeling or any sense of motion. It is music that seems to press directly for the unconsciousness, or the part of awareness that is never inscribed in memory. The enjoyment is in the atmosphere and the detail and is best listened to in the dark and even with head phones. This release in particular seems to implore you to head straight for the background to listen for voices and hear hidden currents of air and banshee yells in the distance. One added importance of this album is how it and the Crowley-influenced single neatly complement the trend over the last two years for occult-based electronic artists, from Demdike Stare, through Witch House, the Tri Angle label and so on. There is a thesis in there somewhere.

Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason – Sólaris [Bedroom Community, 2012]

One of the most enduring features of Ben Frost’s outstanding “By the throat” is its ability to convey a sense of story through abstraction and association, almost never resorting to simplicity, condescending sounds or obvious transformations. These skills make Frost the ideal choice to recreate the celebrated story of “Solaris” which is full of nuanced states of isolation and anguish and the need to convey an overwhelming sense of time and an ambiguous idea of life itself. The original story is based on the novel by Polish writer Stanislav Lem and immortalized on the big screen by Russian director Andrei Tarovsky who has proved a deep mine of musical inspiration over the years. For the soundtrack, which was commissioned for the 2011 Polish Unsound festival, Frost is joined by fabled Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason who has worked with Sigur Ros and Múm amongst others. The duos method was to improvise an initial score while watching the film and then recreate it in detail using samples of classical instruments plus, presumably, their own playing. In keeping with the story, the results are quite sparse at times, with a lot of detail occurring at the edge of perception or in the loneliness of silence. But while intricate and well-structured as an album, “Sólaris” does sometimes feel like there is something missing, which may be the dialogue or perhaps the onscreen scenery and immensity. In addition the detail is sometimes so microscopic that one wonders how it would work in the cinema and if it would be possible to listen so closely while also visually engaged? One final gripe might be the timing of the album which surely does not match the film, begging the question of what else is missing from the duos original commission? “Sólaris” is a fine example of neo classical and a rich work for home listening, but whether its significance is enhanced or diminished away from the film is perhaps a question of taste and interpretation.

Various Artists – Stellate 1 [Stroboscopic Artefacts, 2012]

When Stroboscopic Artefacts first announced a limited edition 10” series of experimental and ambient music to be housed in a unique metal tin box I couldn’t have been more delighted. Such augmentation of direction of labels is generally a good thing, especially one the calibre of SA which has already shown willingness to drift away from the campfire light. Couple this with the chance to own an objet d’art and I was easily sold. However, the final satisfaction of the whole “Stellate 1” has been slightly tempered, not by issues of quality per sé, but by quantity, which is a somewhat superficial reason in the end. But if I am already going to make myself feel guilty for spending a lot of money I don’t have and increasing my carbon footprint substantially to own this music, then perhaps there should be a little bit more music to make me feel a little more equilibrated. But in the end of the four artists, Lucy puts in a whole six minutes over two tracks, Borful Tang and Perc seven each, while Kevin Gorman’s 12 minutes feel almost epic. In all cases the music is great, but just not enough of it. Lucy’s short tonal works sound brilliantly realized and more so for the contrast with his steely techno. Borful Tang is the most subtle of the four, mixing radio voices with hazy classical veils and reverb, whereas Perc’s opening track “Paris” sounds remarkably like parts of Popol Vuh’s track “In den garten pharaos”. Kevin Gorman’s “Frequency phase” studies use processed sample loops that are set out of phase to create uneasy rhythms and timbral collisions. Gorman’s pieces also lead up nicely to the recent announcement of the second edition which will focus on loop based works.

Andrea Belfi – Wege [Room, 40]

If I told you that Andrea Belfi’s new album was based around drum improvisation on a modified rotating system to create feedback you might be expecting some kind of abstract noise piece or 40 minutes of absolute racket. But the truth is “Wege”, meaning path or way in German, is a highly restrained effort, where placement and accuracy are more important than power. The result is almost a pointillist ambient, where sounds are pushed outwards into space, which is then allowed to fold back inward and isolate the original sound. The bigger picture only emerges from a great distance, when all the tiny sonic zones blur together. But “Wege’s” four tracks are not just the Italian electro-acoustic musician and his Steve Reich-inspired machine alone. Belfi is joined by a host of collaborators who form the canvas as it were over which Belfi paints his sound. The numerous collaborators contribute voice, guitars, strings and electronics among other less recognizable sounds which stay carefully in the distance and by doing so add a persistent tension to the space and the unpredictable rhythms. The result is far more eclectic and engaging than words can convey especially for an album that almost intentionally shuns expression of recognizable emotion. In its place is a sense of ritual and of natural neutrality, a kind of harmony of being with a non-existent place, neither of which is ever fully described and are only suggested: echoing drone passages consume the silence and disappear suddenly, instruments scrap and scrape to efface themselves, or bells and gongs convey a sense of religious awe.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Recent gigs – L.E.V. Festival

In a few recent posts I made mention of the recent Laboatorio Electrónica Visual (L.E.V.) Festival in Gijon. My official review can be found at Resident Advisor. While I continue to prepare a general overview feature for Cyclic Defrost in Australia, a little bit more detail here of what went down on the ground.

Installations and visual art.

Given its name, L.E.V. is obviously half visual art and half music. This year there was an exhibition “Visualising sound” as well as two major installations by Japanese artists Ryoji Ikeda and Ryoichi Kurokawa.

Ikeda should need no introduction and presented this year a monumental work called “Data tecture” which featured several projectors firing synchronized streams of data onto a screen on the floor in a large room. The profundity of the work was obviously its size, but also its minute detail. It could simultaneously evoke the infinite and the atomic as it strobed black or white emptiness, flashed 0s and 1s and then the whole genome or a galaxy of mapped star data in patterns and streams to Ikeda’s characteristic glitch music.

Equally impressive was the eccentric Kurokawa who won the coveted Golden Nica Prix Ars Electronica in the Digital Musics & Sound Art category in 2010 for his piece “Rheo: 5 horizons” presented at L.E.V. in the church. Consisting of five screens with five accompanying speakers the work bares many similarities to Christian Marclay’s “Video quartet” where the music heard depends on the screen, or screens viewed. Kurokawa explained the piece in an interview as a study in asymmetry based on Japanese gardens. With five screens the observer has to choose between 2 and 3 or 4 and 1, but never 2 and 2, for example. Graphically, the screens displayed highly rendered landscapes that would shift from near-virtual to abstract in synch with the often climactic audio. The horizon line of the title was an interesting detail, obviously dividing each screen in two equal halves, but oscillating from white to red with intensity and thereby fading in and out of recognition.

Kurokawa also played live on Saturday night in the theatre, a 30 minute piece called “Syn” featuring two massive projections of some of the most mind boggling scenes imaginable: hybrids of human and animals, frayed edges and clear lines shifting uncontrollably.

Also on the theatre on the Saturday night was French group 1024 Architecture and their celebrated show “Euphorie” which like Amon Tobin’s ISAM show takes projection mapping to the next level, creating an interactive digital stage to perform in. While immensely entertaining it was somewhat let down by rather twee music at times.

It is also worth talking up L.E-V-s art credentials by mentioning one of the headliners from the 2009 edition which was none other than maverick English film maker Peter Greenaway who performed a live VJ called “The Tulse Lupper”. Greenaway manipulated three screens with a custom control while Serge Dodwell performed a live electronic improvisation. The results were, as you can imagine, quite spectacular and what Greenaway announced as “the future of cinema”. The first video shows an important introduction to the work by the man himself (with live translation into Spanish)

But better quality video and sound can be found here:

Local artists.

One of the important features of any festival is the ability to foster local artists and give them an arena to perform alongside bigger acts. The local Asturian and Spanish artists at L.E.V. made an excellent account of themselves and are worth highlighting a little more.

Perhaps the best was Asturian producer Komatsu or Hector Sandoval, one half of the hard techno duo Exium with Valentin Corujo who have released one album and many 12”s on different labels. Komatsu played on the first night with a sound that fell somewhere between dubstep and techno, using the latters fluidity of style, but the formers preference for more skeletal beat forms. Not as brutalist as his earlier Exium material (some of the newer stuff is more stripped down and reminiscent of Stroboscopic Artefacts, for example), but more nuanced and swimming in detail. An ep is due out soon I am told and will definitely be worth paying attention to.

Playing in the rainy Botanic Garden on Saturday afternoon was the all-girl group from Asturias Las Casicasiotone (translating as The Almost-Casio tones) who were musically somewhere between Thomas Köner and Windy and Carl and totally engaging.

Finally a few more sign posts, firstly to Arbol the new project by former Piano Magic member Miquel Marin who played an intricate show in the theatre with live cello, percussion and electronics and a lot of interchange between musicians. Vocal duty was covered by Lucrecia Dalt who starred at this year’s Micro Mutek festival and who is herself about to publish her next album on HEM (Human ear Music) Berlin. However, vocals on Arbol’s latest album “She read the wrong book” recently out on Barcelona-based label Spa.RK, were by a vast array of international guests. Lead vocal on this, the opening track, were by Brooklyn-based Evagelia Maravelias who is part of the duo Elika.

There were also two winners of the Scanner FM call for young artists, the Barcelona-based artist Adyo who has a vast array of experience with commercial sound design as well as performance-based ambient and IDM.

The other winner was Madrid-based artist JM or José Merinero who runs his own netlabel Artico where you can find his latest release “Broadcast” for free down load. JM’s approach is blacker and more intense than Adyo’s melody-rich and more uplifting style, but both equally good and showing a lot of promise for the future.


Just about everyone at L.E.V. produced a massive set with the exception of Prefuse 73, but here are four of the very best.

To Rococo Rot founding member Robert Lippock was a clear standout, playing in difficult circumstances in a crowded gazebo on the edge of a lake in the rain, but he easily triumphed with a techno set that somehow managed to combine old and new equipment, repetition and organic form, seriousness and humour. I haven’t heard his album on Raster Noton yet, but am very eager to track it down after seeing him play.

Byetone is now one of the most bankable names in techno and yet still seems unfairly lumped with the “art-only” side of things, perhaps struggling to escape the association with Raster Noton into pure clubland. But he dominated Sonar a few years back in the Raster Noton showcase and once again delivered an emphatic set of powerful rhythms and elegant visuals to close the first night. I have used this video from Sonar 2009 as it has better sound than the Youtube video from L.E.V. this year.

Anstam’s closing set was also magnificent. A master class of chaos and clarity, swerving from out-of-focus bass music fog to microscopic detail and hyper clear house sounds that never abandoned intensity or momentum in their forward trajectory. A new ep is out now on 50 Weapons and hopefully more soon, but a brilliant way to close the festival (sound is not great in the video unfortunately).

Finally, perhaps the most striking performance of all was young Austrian musician Anja Plaschg or Soap&Skin who shocked all present in the theatre on Friday night. She entered the stage in near darkness and sang over a pre-recorded track before moving to the piano and playing unaccompanied there in a style reminiscent of Tori Amos possessed by Diamanda Galas. She then returned to centre stage for several more electronic songs which she performed in way that was very particular without being easily describable. In particular her movement was uncanny, her arms gesticulating with a precision that was almost unmeasurable, while in between singing she would scamper and wander about the stage aimlessly and hunched in a manner suggestive of deep listening, deep introversion or one mad or lost or listening to voices. Indeed, I bought one of her records after the show and had to stupidly carry it around all night, but it served as a beacon for attracting people who wanted to talk about the show. Surprisingly the word most people used was “diabolic”, but not in the English sense meaning awful, but in the literal sense meaning she may have been possessed by some kind of devil. At one stage she heard a little bit of laughter from the audience as some applause died down and she immediately barked a single, viscous laugh into the microphone that silenced the audience. Her pièce de résistance was to perform as an encore a piano version of The Doors “The End” an interpretation that of course must evoke images of Nico who performed the song on an album of the same name. But at 21 years her playing and interpretation of the song were deeply impressionistic, being both profound and tongue in cheek. The only surprise is that the audience on the night (and in the video below) were unable to recognize the signature music of the song and only identify it once the vocals start. A brilliant performance.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Recent gigs – DJ Qu vs Floating Points (or playing versus curating)

Before we get back to the L.E.V. Festival, a brief roundup of two recent gigs to highlight the curious state of the modern DJ. Indeed, to take the full significance of the discussion one also needs to consider an overview the music of the L.E.V Festival in which all acts played live in some way with nobody DJing  and thus nobody playing anybody else’s records.

Of course both DJ Qu, who played at the lovely but cramped “players” bar beneath the 5 star Hotel Omm, and Floating Points who played at the Be Cool club, used both a mixture of their own and other peoples records. Hardly a big surprise. But the philosophical difference between the two artists in terms of their selection and by extension the technique necessary to draw out the music was quite profound.

DJ Qu was perhaps one of the best DJs I have seen for a long time using what I would describe as an almost old fashioned technique, one based on anonymity of the DJ and proficiency rather than a guy trying to inscribe his ego into the music. Indeed, so understated was the arrival of DJ Qu that I missed it having got caught up listening to the Monkey Bar’s Alfonso finish off with Lil' Louis “Lonely People” and not even noticing that DJ Qu had taken over.

Almost all of Qu’s changes were slow and gradual allowing the two tracks to blend together and build, just as the set was allowed to accumulate and break down in waves over time. After a while you could almost understand the tactic: a long repetitive track to create the urgency and expectation of a coming rise. Follow this with a heavier dub track to build the psychedelia, weave in a vocal or a catchy melody next, or maybe both, then try and lift it higher with a special number. If it doesn’t work then tear it down a little with something weird or out of focus, rebuild the tension and go up again. When the peak is over you settle for a repetitive track again and repeat the cycle. This works best with a guy like Qu who sticks to a narrower palette of dark and tense sounds as shifting between vibes can really topple a smooth set if you keep coming up against too many incongruences of mood.

The exceptional Resident Advisor podcast that showcases DJ Qu’s technique is now archived, but his recent set for PodOmatic is still a good one.

On the other hand Floating Points, or Samuel T. Shepherd to his mum, was a much more eccentric DJ, jumping around, raising his fist and working the controls with a certain aggression to chop and change or to hit the bass out. For a young guy he also had a lot of technical skills and he also had a lot of old records, lots of funk and soul as well as obscure and familiar house classics. This is perhaps the catch. What’s a young guy known for his dubstep and deep house styled tracks doing playing a classic funk and house set where most of the music is from before his time? Where is his music? Indeed, it took an age in his set before he finally played one of his signature songs “Myrtle Avenue”.

On one hand I have no problem at all with this approach to electronic music as we need to know our history to understand how and why we got here in the first place. Floating Points set was overall really enjoyable and light hearted proving that you can’t always be so moody and sombre in the shadows with DJ Qu. But at the same time it feels like this revisionist approach to electronic music has gone a bit too far if a smart young guy like Shepherd needs so much mojo from old wax to make his musical point. What happened to the evolution and futurism of electronic music? Is it really all “retromania” as Simon Reynolds would have us believe?

A critical issue then becomes the significance of the DJ as curator as well as music maker, to paraphrase Brian Eno again from Reynolds book. How important is the significance of obscurity versus familiarity in a curated retro house set versus the selection of DJ Qu? How much of the vibe comes from the music itself and how much from the way the DJ transforms it?

As a warning against curation and retromania, upstairs in Be Cool on the way to the toilet and cloak room is another little club playing 80s hits to young people, many of whom come in only to hear this kind of music. Walking to the toilet and watching them dance to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls just want to have fun” is a kind of disturbing extremity to retromania, but one wonders, what is the real difference between this and listening to late 80s house?

The obvious paradigm of excellence in retromania is Theo Parrish whose sets are the stuff of modern legend and rightly so, especially if I am to judge by the one I personally saw at this year’s Micro Mutek festival. Again, curation is critical for finding elements that then become unique to the DJ, but the telling of the larger story with these elements is perhaps the most important aspect still. DJ Harvey might be another positive example of this retro-style.

Much has been made of Theo Parrish interview in Slices magazine in which he discusses the art of curation, crate digging and how it relates to DJing as an art.

"I’m not comfortable with convenience replacing artistry. "

The context of the phrase is really about technology and not about selection, but perhaps this is really what Parrish means as why can you not do a DJ set from the same music on MP3 for example? Is it less valid than using vinyl if the music is the same? IBut are too many DJs relying on the convenience of cool that old school house and funk seems to give these days?

If his set’s weren’t so good you could almost accuse him of a little pretension in the interview, especially as he does not quite convince that he has a unique philosophy beneath it all, or a philosophy that is so different to other DJs. Clearly there is something in Parrish that makes his interpretation of the music unique, but perhaps he does not articulate it in words and it is better to let his music do the talking.

But one wonders what all this means, with so many new dance 12”s coming out all the time and yet many DJs still resorting to the past to make their impact.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Recent Gigs – Störung Festival

“The absolute arts are a sad modern impertinence. Everything is falling apart. There is no organization to foster all the arts together as Art”

-       Friedrich Nietzsche

 (quoted from Simon Shaw-Millers book “Visible deeds of music”)

The annual Störung Festival of isolationist and ambient music and digital art kicked off one of the best ten day periods of music I can remember, that took in also the L.E.V Festival in Gijon as well as a superb DJ set from DJ Qu. More on those later when time permits, but meanwhile, my official roundup of Störung can be found at Resident Advisor.

But to highlight and discuss some more details.

Last act on the first night was the Finnish duo Pink Twins formed of brothers Juha and Vesa Vehviläinen who are both visual and audio artists. Their set was accompanied by some extraordinary computer generated art, in particular the opening piece “Miracle” which can be found under the video links on their official website  (no sharing sadly). The music was different on the night, being denser and less comprehensible (in a good way) and sounds like it was largely derived from their recent collaboration with the Defunensemble. In this collaboration the duo recorded and processed different instrumentation to make 50 locked grooves on one side of a 10” record from which an art installation and several tracks were also derived (a megamix is available for free on their official website). Details of the release including some stills from the video are shown here:

Having been stimulated by this, and by thoughts of the upcoming L.E.V. Festival which bears many similarities to Störung, only on a larger scale, I wrote to the editor at RA and suggested that maybe there could be a semi-regular text and video feature focusing on the interaction of musicians with digital/video art. I mentioned Pink Twins as maybe too weird for RA readers (true), but mentioned plenty of other more commercial examples.

For example, Deadbeat collaborated with Lillevan, presenting the premiere of an audio-visual work at the 2011 issue of Canada’s Mutek Festival and they plan to continue the collaboration. The following video more or less totally encapsulates what I had in mind: and interview and a focus on not just the audio and neither just the video, but it also uses the video medium in itself which is a unique and powerful feature of internet-based journalism. I am also told that people don’t read things on the net, so perhaps they will watch videos instead?

In emphasising the growing importance of visual art in electronic music Deadbeat says in the interview:

“Things definitely had to progress away from a bunch of white dudes staring at their laptops on stage”

Deadbeat also mentions some of the other examples I offered in place of Pink Twins, especially Amon Tobin who’s ISAM live tour has become one of the most talked about shows in the last year.

As we shall see in an upcoming post, the L.E.V. Festival is also a fertile ground for such new visual technology initiatives in relation to electronic music.

But the sad conclusion to this was a curt and rather blunt email saying “no” with a rally against my proposed experimentalism. I will interpret this as a misunderstanding of what I was proposing and nothing else as it seems a little bit silly not to be considering this aspect of electronic music when other people are already doing it. I do, however, accept the relative technical limitations of putting stuff like this on the web. Some of the Pink Twins videos shown above are almost impotent when viewed on a computer compared to their sheer power on the big screen. But here also lies the dichotomy: the journalism is not meant as a replacement of the (live) experience, but an enhancement of it and also a way of respecting the arts, but is the technology up to it or not? In any case, a little bit of stimulation could go a long way and by that I also mean broader acknowledgement of visual artists.

One of the other aspects of the festival that became apparent was this need to have a more suitable space for listening to ambient music. This is for two reasons: one is the seemingly greater prevalence of ambient music in recent years and secondly, there is no architectural space that is suitable for it to create a comfortable and immersive environment. Standing in a noisy club is obviously unacceptable for quieter ambient music, whereas although the small amphitheatre where Störung is held is sufficient, it lacks a greater potential and is perhaps too orientated towards the stage, whereas the music essentially comes from all around, especially in Francisco López’s extraordinary set.

My idea is to create a new type of concert hall for ambient music and one that would also serve the community for general purposes. In this sense a model would be La Monte Young’s Mela Foundation Dream house   in New York, where people could enter off the street, almost as if they were going to church to pray, and escape the noise,  intensity and slavery to time by entering a floating realm of meditative sound.

Sound engineers would know better, but I would propose a circular structure with at least four doors one on each side to take away the orientation once inside the listening room. Obviously there would be a bias for entering the complex via one direction in particular, via a main entrance for example, but this is almost unavoidable. There will be no windows. The stage would be circular and in the centre of the room and speakers would be placed at the periphery facing inwards so that the performer would hear the same as the audience. Instead of seats there would be soft matting (vinyl covered mattresses for example) in several concentric layers descending to the stage so that the audience could sit or lie comfortably.

It would be mandatory to have no shoes and no possessions inside except clothes, with all objects (especially phones etc) being left in lockers at the entrance. The interior would be white walls, ceiling and floor lit only by fluctuating but dim magenta and blue lights. The white walls could also act as screens with a number of projectors firing outwards from the centre above the centre stage.

When no specific performance was being held, ambient or drone music could be channelled into the room. Visitors could come and stay for as long as they like and meditative practises could be encouraged.

Ironically I was talking about similar ideas to a Basque architect in the L.E.V. Festival. He was resident in Berlin now but a huge fan of Greek composer and architect Iannis Xenaxis and he was promising me that sound mapping technology was the future. Maybe one day the Roman-styled theatres we are used to will be for traditional concerts and theatre, but that specialist places for ambient and audio-visual music will one day exist? So to conclude by returning to Nietzsche’s quote, we will at last have a more total approximation of Art rather than the divisions that now exist.

Finally, should also show some love to Glacial Movements label boss Alessandro Tadeschi aka Netherworld who put in a lovely "classical" ambient set with some captivating scenes of the north pole and frozen tundra.

Rene Löwe aka Vainqeuer closed with a long set that was so gentle, uplifting and captivating. It was also a wonderful experience to hear a long beatless set of dub "techno" to really emphasise the textures and the potential of the music. Many thanks to all.