AMN Reviews: Lustmord & Karin Park – ALTER (2021; Pelagic Records)

Lustmord (Brian Williams) is the origin of much of the modern drone and dark ambient genres. While his work over the last 40 years has been groundbreaking, he is mainly known for rather sparse, low-frequency soundscapes. Karin Park, on the other hand, is a vocalist who is grounded in experimental pop. Putting the two together is the merger of a yin and yang of sorts – Park fills out the upper registers with ethereal vocals and keyboards. The result, however, does not stray far from Lustmord’s oeuvre.

There are cinematic qualities to the eight tracks of ALTER, which is not surprising given Lustmord’s film work. One could easily imagine these pieces being used in a soundtrack to a horror, science fiction, or dark psychological movie. But Park’s chants also invoke the sacred, though more in a pagan or ritualistic sense than what one would expect to hear coming from a cathedral.

Case in point, The Void Between begins with quiet rumbling and Park’s wordless vocals subdued in the background. The rumbling builds as strange sounds wend their way into the mix along with drones and heavy breaths. Further vocals from Park are layered in, singing over a chant. Lustmord provides subtle pulses and tectonic resonances.

This album is far from being happy or uplifting. But there is a sense of joy and wonder to be found, as Lustmord and Park explore the subterranean depths and fissures of both the natural world and human emotion. Their efforts come highly recommended to anyone ready to make such a journey.

ALTER will be released June 25 on Pelagic Records.

AMN Reviews: Matthias Puech – A Geography of Absence [NAHAL Recordings]

I’m glad to have the opportunity to hear this before it drops on 6/18/2021 because, in short, it’s really good and I feel it should be on more people’s radars so they can enjoy the entire album once it releases. Per his PR kit, Matthias seems to be no stranger to computer-generated music, being a researcher in theoretical computer science and an engineer at GRM. That being said, A Geography of Absence is not all about the bits and bytes of computer music. He skillfully uses environmental field recordings to layer over (or under) the more synthetic drones he spins up.

This very creative amalgam of natural and machine is really the secret sauce of this record. The synergies are quite unique and expressive and may be attributed to Puech also being a synthesizer builder. On this release, using such tech as the Oscillator Ensemble and the Tapographic Delay (yeah, I don’t know what it is either but I may name drop it at the next cocktail party)…machines that he has developed himself, he has conjured up something refreshingly outside of your standard dynamically increasing drone album.

Throughout this 37 minute release, the 7 pieces flow nicely and very organically into each other. As in most drone albums, the mood is somewhat somber and A Geography of Absence is no exception. What is a bit different here is the mood changes from piece to piece. Even though each song naturally connects to the next, I felt like I was dropped into a decidedly different soundscape, but done very smoothly, as if walking through an open door into the next tableau sans any jarring sound event.

I also appreciated the variations of field recordings used. Clanging cowbells, deep forest wildlife sounds, and other, more opaque events gave me a sense of a continuous night scene…made more threatening thanks to the electronic layer melded over these sounds. As most great drone albums do, these electronic sounds are initially mixed in at low levels only to be skillfully and gradually increased in volume resulting in some grand textures and tensions.

Finally, I should mention his use of beats. These are used very sparingly on a couple of the cuts and care was taken to not make them sound like easy to count standard techno-like rhythms. For the short period of time they are deployed, they succeeded in magnifying the dark and somewhat cosmic nature of the overall soundscape. I, for one, appreciated the somewhat jerky rhythms in the programming. Different, and welcomely unexpected.

The last piece of the album, Homeostasis, has been prereleased and can be heard on his Bandcamp page where you can also pre-order…or you can check it out at the link above.

As I said at the beginning of this write-up, this album comes very much recommended. If you are looking for a somewhat different take on a drone listen, A Geography of Absence does a great job of scratching that itch and is an artist I personally plan to get to know better.

Mike Eisenberg

AMN Reviews: Supervøid – The Giant Nothing (2021; Subsound Records)

Cosmologically speaking, the supervoid is a region of space that is remarkably less dense with matter than the rest of the universe. That notion of relative nothingness does not quite translate to this group of the same name, despite the title of their debut album being The Giant Nothing. While minimalist in a post-rock sense, there is plenty to pay attention to in and between its doomy, ponderous riffs.

Consisting of guitarists Eraldo Bernocchi and Xabier Iriondo, with drummer Jacopo Pierazzuoli and guest cellist Jo Quail, Supervøid lays down the heaviness (note: Bernocchi and Quail appeared together in a stellar trio with FM Einheit a few years back). Bernocchi and Iriondo grind out chords of various tempos with tuned-down guitars, while Quail overlays drones and wailing yet patient solos. Each piece centers around a few signature melodies, and there is the obligatory Black Sabbath nod. Nonetheless, The Giant Nothing manages to be appealing with its subtleties as well as sheer power. Quail, who is equally comfortable in a metal band as a classical orchestra, adds a level of texture and nuance to the album that lifts this offering beyond being just another heavy instrumental release.

It takes a bit of hubris to name your group after something as vast and mysterious as a section of the universe. But if the goal is to produce a commensurately immense sound, one could argue that Supervøid has attained that objective.

AMN Reviews: Beckahesten – Tydor (2021; Cyclic Law)

Swedish trio Beckhesten (Peo Bengtsson, Per Åhlund, and Viktoria Rolandsdotter) lurks in the gray area between Northern European horror-folk and dark ambient music. Deep, menacing drones are coupled with foggy, horn-like synths and martial percussion. Over this, Rolandsdotter speaks, sings, and chants expressively, while her bandmates provide occasional background gutteralisms in the form of throat singing.

While vocals are an important aspect of the Beckahesten mix, they are not a song-oriented outfit. The nine tracks on Tydor also include lengthy instrumental passages, with dark atmospherics, found object noises, and field recordings. Having said that, there is a strangely appealing lilt to the vocal melodies, Rolandsdotter in particular. They are catchy in a haunting and melancholy sense.

These pieces move at a deliberate pace, further reinforcing their primeval feel. Whether evocative of ancient forests, dripping caves, or unspeakable nightmares, Tydor is a beautifully written and performed album.

AMN Reviews: Alex Eddington – A Present from a Small Distant World [Redshift Records TK483]

The lyricist to the title track of A Present from a Small Distant World, a set of vocal music by Toronto composer Alex Eddington, is the unlikely James Earl Carter, Jr., the 39th president of the US. For the piece, which opens the album, the composer set the message Carter wrote to be carried into space on the 1977 Voyager space probes—a kind of greeting card from Earth to Whom It May Concern in the deep cosmos. In a nice bit of symmetry “to the makers of music, all worlds, all time,” the dedication inscribed on the famous Golden Record of music and other sounds from Earth that the two probes carried, provides the text for the closing track.

These two compositions and the nine in between span the nearly two-decade long period 2002-2020. The album, Eddington’s debut, features an eclectic set of electroacoustic sounds and texts by authors ranging from Shakespeare to an anonymous spam bot. But one constant running throughout is the remarkable voice of soprano Kristin Mueller-Heaslip, which can communicate meaning even with the absurdities of Scintillating (2008/2020), a world salad derived from spam, as well as with the earnest sentiments, transmitted through the electronic chaff of overlaying and processing, expressed in the Voyager statement. Her unaccompanied performance of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVIII, which Eddington set with dramatic leaps of register and dynamics, finds in this well-known text the austere, metaphysical dark cloud lurking behind the lyric’s evocation of eternal summer.

The highlight of this engaging recording is Time Will Erase (2009/2019), a twenty-minute-long opera for soprano and saxophone, the latter played by Jennifer Tran. Time Will Erase is a moving work based on the eventful, sometimes harrowing life of poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), who experienced some of the best and some of the worst aspects of Russian, and later Soviet, life. The composition features Akhmatova’s text along with supplementary text by Mueller-Heaslip. Time Will Erase is a forceful reminder that Eddington’s creative work has included acting and playwrighting as well as composing music.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Rick Sanders – Four Pieces (Nobeat)

For his debut recording, Rick Sanders of Nijmegen offers four pieces of “improvised and partly generative music.” As described by early champion Brian Eno, generative music is music created with materials and processes the artist specifies, resulting in combinations and interactions he or she did not. In theory, it could go on forever, without ever repeating a phrase.

For his part, Sanders chooses to curtail the duration of his pieces to just over eight and nine minutes each. Mustering a passel of electronic equipment, all carefully listed in the liner notes (which are encased in a plain cardboard package adorned with an austere but strikingly appropriate cover watercolor), Sanders built the album around three concise acoustic-guitar themes, sampled and looped, randomized and modulated, to which he adds elements percussive and elusive and blends in a single, synthesized take.

The final result is a quartet of transportive miniatures, textures that tumble delicately in clear, dry air. The first two pieces are exquisitely meditative, all lovely and round, while the third is suspenseful, offering no release, in a good way. For this listener, the fourth track is marred by a big ol’ bell being struck with a mallet at irregular intervals, which frankly distracts from the sinewy texture developing beneath.

Sanders writes that he has archived further themes for piano, flute and more, which hopefully will serve as the starting point for future explorations in this realm.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: Joe Morris and Damon Smith – Gusts Against Particles (2021; Open Systems Records)

Some genres of music require, or at least center on, certain instruments being played in certain ways. String quartets, rock bands, traditional jazz lineups, and so on are examples. What makes free improvisation an unusually refreshing stylistic choice is that it can be performed with literally any combination of instrumentation and styles. Case in point, Gusts Against Particles is a set of duets between guitarist Joe Morris and bassist Damon Smith that is both a compelling listen but also serves to buck the traditional music-making process.

Morris and Smith jump into each of these five lengthy pieces with little preplanned structure or melody. Instead, they feed back and forth against each other and let the music evolve with a stark lack of repetition. Morris’s playing features his typical spikiness and angularity, mostly picking clean notes on an acoustic. Smith trades off between plucking and bow work, the latter being both forceful and mournful at times. They fill the air with notes played at a brisk pace, carrying an overall sound that normally would require more than just two musicians. But they also both employ extended techniques in and about these efforts, with tapping, squeaking, rattling, and scratching.

Like the best free improvisation, Gusts Against Particles is nothing short of exhilarating. It lends itself to active listening, with one never quite sure where it is going to go. Its high points, of which there are many, is when Morris and Smith both appear to be independently soloing, but in a fashion that somehow works together and is complementary.

This is not the first meeting between Morris and Smith, but it does represent their first recording as a duo and leaves you wanting more. Gusts Against Particles will be released on May 15 by the new Open Systems Records imprint.

AMN Reviews: Colin Fisher – Reflections of the Invisible World [Halocline Trance HTRA017]

Reflections of the Invisible World is a seductively atmospheric, texturally rich solo work from Toronto guitarist Colin Fisher. Fisher multi-tracks himself on all of the instruments that appear on the album: electric guitar, or course, but also tenor saxophone and electronics. All six pieces demonstrate a clarity of form in which Fisher’s three instrumental elements each have a well-defined part to play. Guitar and saxophone trace lines that run rapidly over or stab into the languidly cycling chord progressions that Fisher spells out with electronics. As a one-person ensemble working from a foundation of electronic sound it would be easy enough for Fisher to solo over drones, but he doesn’t do this; instead, he sets down thoughtful leads over harmonic sequences that often take unexpected turns while making good musical sense nevertheless.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Various Artists – Anthology Of Experimental Music From Peru (2021; Unexplained Sounds Group)

In the coming years, we may look back at the Sound Mapping project from Unexplained Sounds Group as a watershed moment for making contemporary experimental music available from a wide variety of regions around the world. Or at the very least, we owe a debt of gratitude to Raffaele Pezzella, the label head who is the brains behind this operation. Spanning Latin America, Iran, the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans, and Indonesia, these releases are uniformly compelling.

The latest recording is a 75-minute set from Peru. The music covers a wide variety of sounds and styles, including drone, ambient, electroacoustic, folk, and experimentation with electronics. Árbol, Rodolfo Ontaneda, Qsn10​-​97, and Ian Duclos merge drones with various combinations of walled noise, static, oscillations, field recordings, and more conventional acoustic sounds. There is a rough texture to these efforts, and they take up various positions on the light / dark spectrum. The use of field recordings is either the focus of a track (as in the case of Vanessa Valencia Ramos), overlaid with percussion, effects, and processing (CAO), or violin and drone (Paola Torres Núñez del Prado). Some of this crosses over into folk, such as the piece from Ivanka Cotrina featuring percussion, flutes, and stringed instruments. And then there is a “weird electronics” category, with Marcelo Mellado’s lilting melodies, Kevin Salkeld & Juan Pablo Egúsquiza’s haunting atmospheres, and Brageiki’s static and synth lines.

Throughout Anthology Of Experimental Music From Peru there is a rawness – not in recording technique per se, but in the directness of emotion. If anything this adds to the charm and authenticity of these efforts, and leaves one wanting more from Peru, South America, and other parts of the world.

AMN Reviews: Natura Est – Real Seasons (2021; Cyclic Law)

Real Seasons, a fresh release on Cyclic Law, is a slab of hardcore dark ambient with earthshattering deep drones and sweeping waves of multi-layer textures. These synth-generated walls vary in smoothness without quite approaching the jagged. Those at the low end of the register rumble and shake with tectonic movement while remaining beatless.

These organic elements are combined with synth patches that resemble tortured voices or chants in the latter tracks. Case in point, parts of Midsummer sound almost choral. The longest track, The Trilogy of Harvest is a haunting eight-minute hellscape, rolling and boiling with restrained anger despite its deliberate pace. Throughout, there is a darkness that never lets up.

Natura Est is the duo of Tony Young and Andreas Davids. Real Seasons offers their version of nature as somewhere between uncaring and malevolent. Listen at high volume to enjoy the details.