AMN Reviews: Ashley Paul – White Night

21ashleyAshley Paul – White Night  (Important Records, Cassauna series, SAUNA21)

By Dan Coffey

Ashley Paul’s latest release, before her upcoming full-length album on Important Records, is a cassette containing six songs. The Brooklyn-based new face on the avant-garde improv/compositional circuit has become quite prolific. Here she uses the cassette medium to create what seems like a suite in two parts, the songs tied together by explorations of loss and determination to find what has been lost. To that end, the music, all performed by Paul save for guest appearances by Eli Keszler on percussion on the title song and Greg Kelley on trumpet on another cut.

Paul plays quite a bit of guitar on these songs – deceptively simple combinations of three or four notes repeated at different tempos to anchor the chaos that she brings into the mix. Much of the guitar sounds muddled and distant, so that when another few crisp, clear notes are played on electric guitar, one suddenly gets the feeling that they’ve been in a sonic closet with Paul and her contraptions. The almost-claustrophobic nature of many of these songs don’t become apparent until this juxtaposition occurs.

The first song, “Dragon,” features Paul’s frail vocals over low-key sonic mayhem. There is so much bowing and scraping in addition to what sounds like all manner of mechanical objects being put into play, that one can imagine Tom Waits at Paul’s studio door, yelling “LET ME IN! LET ME AT THAT STUFF!” But Paul gives the contraptions center stage, moving her voice to the periphery – something Waits would never do. Another way of looking at what Paul is doing throughout the recording, but especially on “Dragon,” is to compare it to the second and third tracks of Sun Ra’s “Strange Strings”; there is a naiveté here, a sense that Paul is pushing herself out of her comfort zone, playing instruments that are not her strongest suit. Which makes the listening experience that much more transfixing.

The second track on side one, “I’m Finding You,” actually does place Paul’s voice in the forefront. It’s a much shorter piece with beautifully strained vocals that speak to a faith held despite certain odds that only the singer knows (“I’m finding you / I know you’re there). The guitar is much more prevalent in this track, reminding one of a combination of Derek Bailey-lite with echoes of Mary Halvorson.

The final song on side one is sort of a reprise of “Dragon,” but without vocals and with quite a bit more unrestrained mayhem. Side two opens with the almost ballad-like title track, again concerned with the themes of loss and finding. Paul pulls out some truly beautiful guitar work and vocals on this one. Since we’ve already mentioned Bailey, Halvorsen, and Sun Ra, one more analogy can’t hurt. “White Night” sounds like a dead ringer for much of the early 80s post-Henry Cow “Rock in Opposition” output, particularly Lindsay Cooper’s “News from Babel” project. One almost expects to hear Dagmar Krause or Robert Wyatt join in on the vocals.

The second track on side 2, “Goodbyes,” is also reminiscent of the noisier side of the Rock in Opposition movement. Fred Frith’s “guitars on the table” style of playing and the “Downtown” improv scene of the early/mid-80s is directly referenced here, to amazing effect.  The final track, “Run the Walls,” continues the RIO theme, sounding more like very-late period Henry Cow and Art Bears recordings. Paul really manages to go against the vocals heard previously, for a more cacophonous effect, reminiscent of what Dagmar Krause was doing in the Art Bears in the early 1980s.

All these referents shouldn’t obscure the fact that this is a distinctly original album by a multi-talented artist still finding her place in the musical world. After listening to this cassette, one might hope she never does find her place.

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AMN Reviews: Secluded Bronte – Secluded in Jersey City [pogus 21075-2]

Although this EP-length CD from Secluded Bronte was recorded live in the studio at WFMU in Jersey City, NJ way back in 2002, it still sounds fresh.

The creative process of Secluded Bronte—made up of brothers Jonathan and Adam Bohman and Richard Thomas—seems to be to take a kitchen sink miscellany of toys, objects, appliances and technologies, play them live, and then chop and channel the sounds into a collage. There is a kind of inspired zaniness to the results, but with a shadow behind it, almost as if we’re listening to toy pianos, metal utensils and other household objects being upended by a poltergeist with a dry sense of humor. And it’s this droll undertow that sets Secluded Bronte apart from much acousmatic sound art and lends a welcome splash of irreverence to the art of sonic mayhem.

AMN Reviews: Emiliano Romanelli – 333 Loops (Volume 1) (Terziruolo)

romanelli_333loops1_te02_bigThe longing for eternal concord is written into our DNA and is the outcome of our most optimistic philosophies, from the Torah to Kant´s still much-discussed perpetual peace. Thirteen years after co-founding T um´, Emiliano Romanelli has begun issuing documents of “sound events generated by the homonymous modular system” he designed in 2011.

As he explains, the system he constructed contains “an archive of 333 pre-recorded sound loops produced…by a sound synthesis software played in different acoustic environments… the loops are used as modules in a random process of juxtapositions.” Depending on how it is programmed, 333 Loops could run between 110,889 seconds and 110,889 years, according to Romanelli´s calculations.

This first volume, featuring three extracts running a mere thirty-five minutes combined, was recorded at a festival held on the grounds of a medieval Capuchin monastery in Italy. Despite being so hot-wired, generative music never sounded less artificial. It is a sublime ambience more absorbed than heard, the sound of all of us dissolving into our yearned-for innate amity.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: IKB Ensemble – Anthropométrie sans titre [cs263]

The IKB Ensemble is named for International Klein Blue, a kind of synthetic ultramarine blue patented in 1961 by French painter Yves Klein, which he used in nearly 200 monochromatic paintings. Klein was attracted to the color because he saw it as largely bereft of associations outside of sky and sea, and thus able to withdraw from the viewer into a kind of immateriality or intangibility. It seems fitting then that the ensemble creating this subtly developing long piece, recorded in Lisbon in February 2014, should take its inspiration from Klein’s color.

Although IKB is a large ensemble—it’s composed of thirteen members playing strings, reeds, brass, percussion, electronics and even voice and accordion—it steps very lightly. Much of its activity is spent exploring timbre outside of pitch—key clicks, bowed muted strings, unvoiced air notes, wordless vocalizations—at low volume. When a clearly sounded tone asserts itself in the mix, as it does on occasion, the effect is almost startling. Even as it builds slowly and almost unperceptibly to a crescendo, the music is meditative in the way that looking at a monochromatic painting can be meditative.

AMN Reviews: Ian Vine – Frieze/Static Form/Division [bandcamp]

Frieze/Static Form/Division is composer-guitarist Ian Vine’s tripartite essay into immersive sound for acoustic or electric guitar and electronics. The recording is somewhat deceptive in that what at first appears to the casual listen to be drone music in fact on closer consideration reveals itself to be music of deliberately slow harmonic rhythm. Frieze, the opening track, does indeed begin as a ringing drone, but over the course of its eighteen minutes it develops through gradual changes in color and texture as well as harmonic movement brought about by the backgrounding and foregrounding of different overtones. The rougher-surfaced Static Form follows with melodic movement in slowly descending tones, while the final track, Division, maintains a sense of tension by holding harmonic resolution dramatically in abeyance.

AMN Reviews: Tim Olive & Jason Kahn – Two Sunrise [845-3]; Tim Olive & Anne-F Jacques – Dominion Mills [845-4]

Two related yet contrasting duo releases from Tim Olive, a Canadian-born sound artist now residing in Kobe, Japan. On both CDs, Olive plays an instrument of his own making, a kind of radically reduced electric guitar consisting of a single-string and magnetic pickups.

The four untitled tracks of Two Sunrise, which match Olive’s electric monochord to Jason Kahn’s analogue electronics, represent a 35-minute selection from material recorded live and in the studio in 2012 in Japan. The harder-edged of the two releases, Two Sunrise is a collection of chirps and static, or irregular bursts of crackling energy riding a surf of feedback, the cumulative effect of which calls up images of the chattering internal monologues of fictional electronic devices or radios rising up in revolt.

By contrast Dominion Mills, with Anne-F Jacques on amplified electric motors, has a more subdued and evenly-spread dynamic overall and at times pulses with a regular rhythm. The three tracks, also untitled, were recorded in Jacques’ Montreal studio in July 2013. The result is approximately 30 minutes’ worth of a relatively low-tech sound made up of sometimes dramatic, sometimes muted contrasts in surface textures and the rhythms of timbral change.

AMN Reviews: Jim Matheos – Halo Effect (2014; Burning Shed)

large4212Jim Matheos is the leader of the seminal 80’s progressive metal group Fates Warning, and has lent his guitar and writing skills to a number of other efforts, including the notable Arch / Matheos album from 2011 (AMN review here). On Halo Effect, released this February on the Burning Shed label, Matheos dabbles for the first time with multi-tracked experimental guitar. He explains, “There are no keyboards or sound effects on this recording. All the sounds were created by an acoustic guitar (for those interested in such things, a 1973 Alvarez classical with very old strings) which has been digitally processed to varying degrees, sometimes minimally, other times until the original signal is unrecognizable.”

Freed from the formula of metal riffing and soloing, Matheos successfully explores ambient and electronic soundscapes. Perhaps a good referential starting point would be Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream, but with a modern lo-fi twist. On some tracks, Matheos lays down a simple, repetitive rhythm, and lets two or three voices drone or undulate on top of that. Other efforts are more ominous, with a late 90’s Robert Rich darkness to them.  Indeed, many of the sounds on the album do resemble that of a keyboard or synth, and the melodies are often thick, wavering and sprinkled with static.  On just a pair of tracks something reminiscent of guitar picking can be heard, but with appropriate weirdness intertwined therein.

Halo Effect could easily be the soundtrack to a twisted, cerebral science fiction movie, and is not something one would expect from a metal guitarist. But then, Matheos has never been the stereotypical headbanger.  This is a truly singular recording, with a freshness that is often absent from solo albums. The main difficulty to Halo Effect is its lack of availability. You can order a CDr from Burning Shed or download it from that label. It is not offered, so far, by the usual digital resources.