On this release, guitarist Suzuki is joined by drummer Ikuro Takahashi for six long tracks of Krautrock-inspired improvisation. Suzuki’s guitar positively soars through driving psychedelia and space rock. But he also has a side that is more influenced by Derek Bailey. Teamed with Takahashi, who is known for contributions to Fushitsusha among others, Suzuki powers through heavy and dense swathes of feedback, echo, and delay. Not every track is all-out, however, and Suzuki does slow it down a bit to create textural guitarscapes now and again. Takahashi stays busy throughout, not unlike recent percussion work from Balázs Pándi.
The album ends with two tracks from a 2014 live recording in San Francisco. The overall result is a nice 65-minute slab of metallic distortion, and congratulations to Utech Records on their 100th release.
Happy Place is a two-drummer, two-guitarist New York based quartet, featuring the writing of one of the drummers, Will Mason. Mason’s Beams of the Huge Night was an AMN Pick of Year for 2015. Here, he is joined by Austin Vaughn on drums, Andrew Smiley on guitar, and Will Chapin on guitar.
With this unconventional lineup, Mason and team gives us a tour of eight neurotic tracks, most under four minutes, but with a centerpiece more than three times that length. Unlike Mason’s jazz-inflected Beams, Northfield takes a jangly post-rock route. Structurally tight, Happy Place boils with tension. While seemingly a simple layering of interlocked rhythms at first, later tracks on the album prove this initial reaction to be inaccurate. Particularly, Rupture! features start/stop patterns and complex guitar interplay, and Rapture! (the long piece) is a wall of sound punctuated with speed-picking. The latter also provides room for some controlled improv. Still, texture takes a role commensurate with that of melody.
Comparisons? Try Don Caballero, 80’s King Crimson, Battles, and – according to Mason – Scelsi and Beefheart as well. While you can certainly hear all of the above in places, Northfield is its own animal. Happy Place comes off as a band that would likely be superb live. Big Ears Festival, are you listening?
Northfield will be out in late October on Exit Stencil Records.
Some of the systems art of the late 1960s and early 1970s—for example, Sol LeWitt’s modular lattice sculptures or Mel Bochner’s number grids—embodied a certain regularity of form. A systematic regularity, one might say. A basic element might be repeated at constant intervals or an input sequence subjected to a defined operation. By contrast, some other systemic artworks—integral serialist compositions, for example–produced surfaces of unpredictable, irregularly occurring events from an underlying set of rules. In either case the systems generating the artworks featured a certain autonomy requiring little or no ongoing oversight from the artist. Chvad SB’s Phenomenalism Cartesian Doubt and Bomb #20, a long piece for modular synthesizer, leverages carefully crafted feedback loops into a soundwork that essentially plays itself.
With its collection of fragmentary musical gestures, Phenomenalism sounds something like the pointillist serial works of the mid-20th century—it’s possible to hear in it a refigured echo of Milton Babbitt’s compositions for the RCA Mark II synthesizer of the early 1960s, for example. Like those compositions, Phenomenalism aggregates individual pitch sequences and timbres into a kaleidoscopic sound of playful unpredictability. Also like those compositions, the pleasure of the surface sounds requires no knowledge of the systems underlying them.
The currents and riptides of Andrè Gonçalves’s two track release move slowly through a placed body of water. The twenty-seven-and-a-half minute Long Story Short, which in addition to Gonçalves’s modular synthesizer, guitar and Fender Rhodes features Pedro Boavida also on Fender Rhodes, is a slow, atmospheric track in which fragments of melody float above chirping electronics, electric chaff and crackle, and bass notes not quite coalescing into a line. Will Be Back in a Few, which adds Rodrigo Dias on bass and Gonçalo Silva on guitar, reworks a classic ambient sound by putting slowly rocking notes against a nearly stationary ground implying a major key. Both tracks seem to be dispatches from a horse latitudes of sound.
The atmosphere is an open field of communications, the air a chaotic meeting ground of audible sounds as well as a more recondite network of radio and television signals, radar emissions and the effluvia of various wireless devices. Steve Ashby’s Crackles and Codes and Winter Birds present two different but complementary portraits of the waves pervading the air.
Ashby, a guitarist, composer and electronics experimentalist in Richmond, VA, assembles sound elements sourced from field recordings and composed passages and constructs them into thick soundscapes suggestive of particular times or locations. Winter Birds, a five-track work based on field recordings taken during the winter of 2015, is evocative of the damp, grey winters of the Mid-Atlantic region. Ashby sampled birdsong, wind chimes and other sounds in the air and processed them into a sonic image that recalls those moments at twilight when birdsong becomes particularly salient. Crackles and Codes is a single drone-based track that seems to call up the ghosts of untuned radios. Over the course of its eighteen and a half minutes a slowly moving, foreboding melody on guitar emerges and disappears into a thick background of resonant, suspended harmony.
Drummer Discepoli teams up with bassist Barbiero for this series of seven duets on the Italian Acustronica label. Despite the apparent emphasis on instrumentation typically relegated to rhythmic duties, Discepoli and Barbiero provide layered compositions, with Discepoli contributing electronics and bass as well. As a result, the album does not sound or feel like the work of a duo.
Barbiero focuses on bowed double bass, setting forth slow-paced, sonorous lines. Discepoli’s rapid kit playing is in contrast to this nearly ambient approach. The drumming, however, is not a constant – Discepoli adds electronics to match Barbiero’s atmospherics from time to time.
The approach of this recording is also of note, because it is an avenue that is becoming more common. Rather than playing together, Discepoli and Barbiero recorded their parts in Italy and the U.S., respectively. They shared their works back and forth, with Barbiero providing the melodies and Discepoli adding layers and edits until they were collectively satisfied with the outcome. Through this process, the music is both improvised and composed, though the listener may be unable to discern where the composition drops off and the improvisation begins, or vice versa.
Is this what early Popol Vuh would have sounded like with double bass replacing piano? Perhaps. But comparisons are difficult. An Eclipse Of Images is an uncategorizable treat. It combines a haunting, electroacoustic feel with spacious drones and loose percussion. Not quite in the ambient, classical, rock, free improv, or jazz vein, Discepoli and Barbiero borrow deftly from each of these styles and combine them into new forms. Highly recommended.
Dan Barbiero is a frequent contributor to Avant Music News.
As a polytonal, chording instrument, the guitar—whether electric or acoustic—is incisively capable of creating textures and harmonies of all densities and degrees of dissonance or consonance. Two new releases of guitar-based, improvised music from Scandinavia reveal something of the instrument’s versatility in creating rough or refined sonic atmospheres.
Kölen, the third release from the duo of Sweden’s Anders Berg (double bass, electric bass and electronics) and Norwegian guitarist Tellef Øgrim consists of eight tracks inspired by the geology and topography of Scandinavia’s severe, far northern landscape. And it’s possible to hear in these largely hard-edged pieces an aural image of craggy stone thrust up into thin, twilit air. Both instruments’ sounds are altered, often aggressively so, into an overdriven, elementally gritty distortion. This may not be metal, but it certainly is the ore from which metal originates.
Unlike Kölen’s electronics-heavy ambience, Advances and Delays, a CD featuring the Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr along with Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs, Canadian-born bassist Joe Williamson and Australian percussionist Tony Buck, is an acoustic affair made up of two long improvisations. The first piece is framed by the dense, choric clang and jangle of the two guitars; within the apparently static outer shell of sound the music moves restlessly in shimmering increments. The texture of the second piece initially is as rarefied as the first is thick. Harmonics and stopped strings are plucked and left to linger and decay in their own time; spaciously-placed bass notes hit at a chord progression that gradually is realized in strummed guitar chords. Following a percussion interlude, chromatic patterns on one guitar overlay arpeggios on the other, creating a rich, resonant tapestry of sound.