AMN Reviews: Caldon Glover – Labyrintia (2022; Cyclic Law)

Experimental synthesist and composer Caldon Glover has released a handful of albums and singles in the last few years, mostly crossing the ambient, industrial, and doom realms. They make heavy use of field recordings and drones to embody disconcerting soundscapes of locations both real and from the imagination. On Labyrintia, Glover has created a cinematic, sonic exploration of a hypothetical portal through space and time.

The album features both acoustic instruments as well as rising and falling waves of deep, rumbling drones across its seven tracks, each track clocking in around eight minutes. Skittering and echoing percussion comes in and out of focus. The synth mimics haunting vocalizations. Metallic glissandos morph into sculpted static.

One of the most compelling features of Labyrintia is the sheer size of the sound palette. The drones are rich, spanning a wide frequency range, especially in the bass registers. This is enough to rattle the walls of your house if given enough volume (I speak from experience). Further, the textures of these pieces are gritty enough – almost grinding – to give them a feel that straddles the majestic, the mechanical, and the foreboding. This comes across as not unlike an aural version of H.R. Giger’s biomechanoid paintings.

Yes, there is a lot of dark ambient music around these days, and yes quite a bit of it is good. But Labyrintia is special and worthy of a closer listen. It takes the elements of the genre and mixes them in novel and clever ways. Glover seems like an ideal choice to create the sound architecture for a science fiction or horror themed movie, TV show, or video game.

Labyrintia was released on October 14 by Cyclic Law.

AMN Reviews: Ben Vida and Lea Bertucci in Chicago

This is not so much a review as a few brief words and some photos. Ben Vida and Lea Bertucci performed this afternoon in Chicago as part of Lampo’s Fall season. Both musicians sent their voices through effects racks. Bertucci also played sax and flute, and Vida the pocket trumpet, all similarly processed. In and around this, they generated walls of sculpted sound and loops. Ben’s shadow also made a prominent appearance.

All in all, a fun and engaging way to spend an hour in the city.

AMN Reviews: Mats Gustafsson & NU Ensemble – Hidros 8 – Heal (2022; TROST Records)

Large ensemble improv can go in a number of ways, ranging from sparse to chaotic. Mats Gustafsson’s NU Ensemble has been around in one form or another for 25 years. Members come and go, always changing. On this newly-released recording from 2016, we have Anna Högberg on sax, Gustafsson on sax and conduction, Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Per-Åke Holmlander on tuba, Hedvig Mollestad on guitar, Dieb13 on turntables. Christof Kurzmann on lloopp and voice, Massimo Pupillo on bass, Gert-Jan Prins on drums and electronics, and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad on drums.

Not unlike the constituency of the group, the music is also amoeba-like – without strict boundaries and constantly changing. Over two long tracks, Gustafsson leads his colleagues through dense guided improvisations, not completely free-formed but incorporating numerous open-ended passages. This is coupled with a thick sound, as horns and reeds lay down primary themes while the pair of drummers work around these.

To that point, the first track begins with a quiet, textural intro that evolves into a cymbal-laden interlude, and then breaks out into a main melody. But even when Gustafsson imposes structure, there is room for individual musician autonomy. The core of this melody is not particularly involved, but the players use it as a base for further exploration. As more and more layers come in, this piece takes on a more hefty nature, with deep tones and an urgent feel. But before this approach wears out its welcome, a quieter free section emerges with spurts of noises from the saxes and tuba. Polyphonic lines ensue with effects from the turntable and lloopp software, resulting in a pleasantly frenzied mass of sounds. Then there is a reprise of the main theme with wailing guitar from Mollestad.

The second track follows in a similar manner, mixing composition and improvisation. It begins with massive full-group walls of sound, Kurzmann has a lengthy yet unobtrusive spoken-word passage, Mollestad again contributes heavily, with jagged riffs, and the sax and brass sections provide angular leads.

AMN Reviews: Ahleuchatistas – Expansion (2022; Riverworm Records)

On its 20th anniversary, guitarist Shane Parish has resurrected math/prog rock band Ahleuchatistas as a trio for a new recording. Previously a guitar / drum duo between Parish and Ryan Oslance, the new lineup features Trevor Dunn on bass and Danny Piechocki on drums (as an aside, the group was initially a trio and remained so until around 2010).

Their modus operandi is deceptively simple – each track consists of a sequence of melodies, motifs, or riffs, that are repeated with or without variation some number of times until the next member in the sequence begins. This results in rapid tempo changes and a certain disjointedness ala John Zorn. To that point, most of these building blocks are angularly structured, dense, and move along at quite a clip.

Parish’s guitar is spikey, either with clean tones or minimal distortion. He employs multiple tracks here and there, with one focusing on a main riff and the other exploring the edges thereof. But do not expect stereotypical guitar-hero type soloing. Parish’s contributions are more subtle and rhythmic in nature. Dunn follows Parish’s leads or heads off in his own direction. This is no more apparent than on the 9-minute self-titled closer, with Dunn generating bowed textures on the acoustic bass. Piechocki more than keeps up with his two bandmates, producing interlocked structures with one, the other, or both. Alternatively, he adds his own accentuations and personal touches to these pieces, hinting at free improv.

Expansion is a wild ride, with breakneck pacing and enough complexity to thoroughly engage the cerebral cortex, while remaining a pleasurable and compelling listen. Just when you are getting into it, the album is over, making it a candidate for playing on endless repeat.

AMN Reviews: Monty Adkins – Mondes Inconnus (2006; empreintes DIGITALes)

Never to stay put within one musical style, British sound artist Monty Adkins’s music has shifted gears a bit over the years.  This write-up will be concerned with the album Mondes Inconnus, a collection of works he put together in 2006 (but has pieces dating from 1994).  At that time, he was associated with BEAST (Birmingham Electro Acoustic Sound Theatre) studying with fellow empreintes DIGITALes label mate Jonty Harrison.  He has gradually drifted away from the acousmatic style of that label into a much more lowercase, minimalistic sound with his recent releases. Interestingly enough, he did diverge into all things dark ambient under the name Skrika with one album called Fifth Nature (talked about here) on the Cryo Chamber label in 2021.

There may be future observations from me about his recent output, but let’s focus on the earlier acousmatic works of Mondes Inconnus.  The format is DVD-Audio so that allows for a lot of musical content (and 5.1 sound) …of which there is, almost 90 minutes worth.  Unlike some of the longer empreintes DIGITALes releases though, I didn’t get that feeling of vastness on this release.  There is no sense of an overarching grand sonic landscape or vision like I felt, for instance on Ned Bouhalassa’s Gratte-cité or Annette Vande Gorne’s HaïkusIn the case of those two, I often felt that after hearing them I just completed a long acoustic saga, and I was even able to tell myself stories as if there was some contiguous narrative logic happening throughout.  I’m not experiencing that on Mondes Inconnus but, I don’t necessarily miss it either because, just as alluring…my senses were mobilized in a different way.  A way that I was able to distill the eight tracks on this album (all in somewhat varied styles by the way), down to one commonality.

Smoothness (or polished, shiny, glossy…yes, a thesaurus comes in handy).

Reading the liner notes to Mondes Inconnus there are certain related touchpoints that present themselves throughout many of the tracks, and they all share a celestial, speculative fiction, cyberpunk theme.  This first manifests itself in “Deepfield” which was inspired by the Hubble space telescope and its ability to look back in time.  On the piece “Symbiont”,  Adkins straight out name checks H.R Geiger and William Gibson (this was composed in 2002 so…rather retro in our time) and “Cortex”, crediting Gibson again along with Asimov (and I can swear I hear a vocoder in there too).

The subject matter and more importantly, the general vibe on these works suggests to me, in a kind of synesthetic manner a sense of physical texture.  Thus, the smoothness, or glossiness mentioned above.  This is not some Ridley Scott Blade Runner grit, but something closer to Lucas’s THX 1138 or Besson’s The Fifth Element.  A sense of hard chrome-like coldness.  For another reference point, if they ever want to bring Æon Flux back to the screen…someone should give Adkins a call.

Even pieces like “Ariel”, “Mapping” and “Silk to Steel” that don’t share these retro-futurist themes bring out a tactile sense of running my fingers down a smooth, steel piece of sculpture with perfectly rounded edges and high reflectivity.  No seams, just a continuous metallic surface.

The exception is the one mixed piece on the album, “Still Time”.  This work has a wonderful flute performance by Alejandro Escuer which is equally paired and lightly transformed by Adkins well placed studio manipulations.  “Still Time” is much less frenetic than most of the other works on this album and allows for a welcome sense of natural earthiness, even amidst its acousmatic accompaniments.

In addition to Mondes Inconnus being another fine release on empreintes DIGITALes (a label that has a roster of fine releases so deep that I’m starting to take them for granted and I apologize to readers who are starting to hear the monotony in my words), I alluded earlier to the “way” I was able to experience the album. This very direct observation of sound inputs through my ears and outputting them as sensations of touch was never this sharply rendered for me.  At least where I was able to write down words about it and intentionally examine it.

I’m going to try and not fall down the trap door of being overly analytical, but I suspect many, maybe most composers and musicians have experienced something similar.  Now that I look back on the last few write-ups, there were certain descriptive comments I made that described the sounds I was hearing in a manner of using more than one sense.  When I talked about the Dave Kerman/5uu’s release I mentioned a “gossamer veil of dust” that inundated the sound field.  On a more recent write-up about the band Pox, I thought the overall sound environment on the album was “REALLY small”.  At the time, these were just simple observations.  For deep listeners though, this may be a good way forward to increase enjoyment on future listens.

Right about now, you may think…so what?  This is not really a new concept, but let me suggest that when it comes to the appreciation of acousmatic music it might have legs.  For a newer listener, or a listener that maybe wants to try and understand a little more about why the music has an appeal when, on the surface they just sound like stray and random “sounds”, an observation like this may be significant.

It might clarify the intentions of the composer in a way that wasn’t visible previously.  It might even enhance and bust open a new and fruitful way for your own personal listening.  Feeling the beat in your gut is one thing, but equating sounds heard through the ears into physical touch sensations sounds like something different…something that may inform future acousmatic experiences.

In that respect, Mondes Inconnus gets even higher marks than usual.  I think this is what acousmatic music in general excels at and I’ll certainly be looking forward to the next multi-sensory experience.

Mike Eisenberg
Meisenberg1@hotmail.com
Twitter: @bigaudio999

AMN Reviews: Austin Larkin – Violin Liquid Phases [Bandcamp]; Hannes Lingens – Nachthund [Umlaut Records UB011]

What can solo recordings for violin and percussion, two very different orders of instrument, possibly have in common? Just this: a willingness to explore the creative possibilities of sound production, wherever they may lead.

New Haven violinist Austin Larkin describes his Violin Liquid Phases, a long album of eight pieces for solo violin, as a treatise on his performance practice. And there is something of an etude-like quality to these contemporary sonatas for unaccompanied violin. Larkin’s approach is to establish a gestural or harmonic template based on bowing rhythms, string relationships, or drone-centered harmonies, and then to develop it through the introduction of gradual changes of generally increasing complexity. Larkin’s exercises are firmly rooted in pitch relationships that work through vertical stacking and shifts of single voices against constant foundations; the effects are often hypnotic but are endowed with enough harmonic movement to create dynamic moments of tension-and-release.

In contrast to Larkin’s pitch-based explorations, the three long tracks on German percussionist Hannes Lingens’ Nachthund are more purely sound-based. Lingens’ is a variety of minimalism that strips its raw material down to essentials: a single cymbal played with mallets or a bass bow. From these rudiments, which are put under a microscope through close recording and in one instance subtly enhanced by multitracking, Lingens extracts quasi-electronic washes of sound that expand and contract within the generous bounds of broad sonic fields.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews:  Timothy Crist – the long waves (2022; Bandcamp)

Based on my sojourn into multi-disciplinarian Tim Crist’s recent release, the long waves, I feel safe to say that he is someone you may want to put on your radar. I think “he be goin places” …if you define “places” as the crossing of perceptual levels from familiar to a previously obscured, peculiar.

A little background from his bio:

Timothy Crist is a Professor of Music at Arkansas State University where he teaches composition, electronic music, theory, classical guitar, and conducts/directs the ASU New Music Ensemble and Guitar Ensembles.

Perhaps more relevant to this release:

Since 1999, Crist has also developed an electronic music program at A-State that serves to build comprehensive skills in musical perception, maintain modern trends in music creation, as well as train and provide competency for future teachers in regards to the implementation of music technology in education

Stylistically, the long waves is grouped into two distinct parts.  The middle of the album has three generative modular pieces which give the impression of being unstructured, yet (on two of them) very melodious and, at times rhythmic.  The album is bookended with four other pieces that seem strictly acousmatic to my ears.  These two discernable listening experiences served to interact with my senses in completely different ways providing a varied, and very rewarding sound journey.

Ignoring the album’s chronological order, the modular pieces were striking because, per the composer…there was an element of probability injected into his more intentional control of spectral content. On both “in trust…” and “…not certainty” we have long, sinuous lines that seem to almost resolve themselves into hummable (by Western standards) melodies.  The generative aspect of these pieces provides just enough of an unsuspected and exploratory nature to prevent the music from getting to a “safe” (again, by Western standards) harbor.

I had similar observations with perceived rhythms.  They were there, then they were not…they were groovy, until they became an abstract notion of what happened immediately before.

The third generative modular piece, “a fiercer life because of our quiet” seems to throw all those Western music rules out the window.  This piece drops the listener in a kind of free-form synthetic playground.  I’ve noticed that with each listening, I was able to spin up different perceptual experiences dependent on environment, alertness, time of day etc.  Without that safe place of fragmented melodies and rhythms, the freedom of exploration was left wide open…a generative piece from both the composer’s point of view and the listeners.

In their lowercase way, it’s the acousmatic pieces that really thrill me on the long waves.  The album opens with “Bamboo”, a track that displays some incredible volume dynamics.  The piece runs the gamut from the sonically subtle opening to a penultimate flood of intense granular mid-range activity coupled with woofer damaging deeps…and then back again to the sparseness.  “Bamboo” provides opportunities to pilot the listener through a shifting lens of perspectives.

“the long waves on the surface and in dreams” is a black velvet acoustic painting that incorporates unknowable sounds materializing from depths of darkness.  Mostly quiet, the piece glides silently through uncanny and mysterious ecospheres.  Against the blackness, wraiths of shimmering, translucent sound objects appear, only for moments before fading.  Boundaries between shapes and void are revealed but again, only for moments.  (Let me say right now that the long waves would make excellent reference material to test good headphones!)

The shortest piece on the album, “Star” continues to demonstrate Crist’s excellent use of dynamics.  Stretched, granular sounds at varying degrees of rising and falling volume slingshot the listener through a cosmos of their own design.  A dramatic panorama of galactic shapes and a full pallet of colors are effortlessly suggested, but other senses are nudged into action too. For me, a feeling of size and place manifested itself as a tiny speck that hurtles through the cold/hot void.  For its brevity, “Star” is packed with cinematic content…Kubrick would have dug it!

The final piece, “riverride” returns the remote viewer to more earthly and aquatic domains. 

Maybe.

If a listener’s experience is influenced by song titles (and it’s hard not to be, see the above paragraph on “Star”), then I can see a possible ariel perspective alternating between low flying and panning out to a 5,000-foot view of the course of a river… hitting on tumultuous rage, slow-moving calmness, and even subterranean cave-like passages.

Sometimes I like to try and jettison the hints given by song titles and experience the sounds in the moment.  Granted, this may not be an easy task but one listening of “riverride” elicited a somber, lonely place.  M. John Harrison’s ambiguous city of Viriconium comes to mind.  In that light (and very much like Viriconium), I could not quite get a grasp on “riverride”.  I see a situation like this as more of a feature than a bug because, like I’ve said before in other write-ups…acousmatic music lends itself very well to multiple feelings, moods, and emotions with each revisit.

In the case of the long waves, I suspect a revisit will not be an arm-twisting activity.  This is an excellent first release from an artist who I hope to hear more from.  I hope some of you can check it out too…big thumbs up!

Mike Eisenberg
Meienberg1@hotmail.com
Twitter: @bigaudio999

AMN Reviews: Santos Silva, Nebbia, Alonso, Bergman Quartet – Ritual Para Acercarse (2022; Ramble Records)

At first blush, this quartet’s structured free improvisation is reminiscent of that of Anthony Braxton. It moves along the axis between composition and pure spontaneity, lingering at various points along the way. It is not clear from a listener’s perspective, however, whether they follow the “musical system” approach of Braxton. But ultimately that does not matter as Ritual Para Acercarse stands up on its own as a listenable yet challenging exploration.

Consisting of Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Camila Nebbia on saxophone, Hara Alonso on piano, and Elsa Bergman on bass, this outfit is not short on talent or adventurousness. Over 40 minutes split between three tracks (two long, one short), this foursome employs complex polyphonic constructs, open-ended passages, and extended techniques. But unlike some free music, there is a lack of directionlessness herein – not that directionlessness is always bad, but it isn’t this group’s modus operandi. Different melodies often come from two or more members simultaneously and they rarely repeat. But one gets the sense that there was some degree of planning involved. Maybe not much, but some. For example, there are no percussion instruments on this album but each musician contributes a degree of percussiveness from time to time.

Ritual Para Acercarse is the effort of a leaderless ensemble – a true democracy of sorts – in which each musician pushes and pulls the others. The outcome is a dense, information-rich set of musical ideas that flow easily from one to the other even as they exhibit a certain jaggedness. Santos Silva, Nebbia, Alonso, and Bergman don’t just play, they invent. Very well done.

AMN Reviews: Fractalyst – Watchtower (2022; Cryo Chamber)

This debut from Fractalyst (Dimitris Valasopoulos) is a heady and disconcerting mix of dark ambient drones and electroacoustic elements. In particular, background noises and effects accentuate and often are the focus of attention over the layered synth. These sounds include crackling and hissing static, strange vocalizations and animal noises, and twisted looping melodies that lilt and oscillate. They result in a cinematic soundscape that nonetheless supports active listening.

Valasopoulos’s manipulation of samples is quite compelling, as he uses them to build haunting stories and to give each track a distinct character. For example, Burial provides footsteps and background voices, as well as ebbing and flowing waves, some smooth, others gritty. This evolves into a wistful yet foreboding melody atop the aforementioned effects.

Imagined as a post-apocalyptic journey, Watchtower is a promising first release that comes highly recommended. It is also one of those albums that requires experiencing at a relatively high volume to fully appreciate its attention to detail.

AMN Reviews: Gianluca Becuzzi – Axis Mundi (2022; Bandcamp)

From religion and mythology, axis mundi is a pathway or bridge linking Earth, Heaven, and Hell. With that insight, its use as the title to Gianluca Becuzzi’s latest album makes sense. Becuzzi combines three distinct forms of instrumentation – synthesized drones, chanted vocals (samples from actual orthodox liturgical chants, apparently), and heavily distorted guitars. Thus, you have the landscape of Earth represented in the drones, Heavin in the chants, and Hell in the guitars. Becuzzi adds other less distinct samples and percussion into the mix, so maybe I am reading too much into this. But as a framing for exploration of the nearly two hours of material on this album, it works.

Interestingly, each of these tracks moves along points on the axis where the sounds of at least two, if not all three, planes can be heard. In fact, most of these points incorporate voice, synth, and power chords at various levels and lengths. One of these elements may be temporarily downplayed as the others take the fore, but all are represented.

Case in point, Hierophanies serves as an exemplary track. It begins with the ominous tolling of a bell, which is soon joined by background synth and massive walls of distorted guitar. The structure of this piece is more song-like than some of the others, as it has clearly-discernable patterns. One of these is a triplet of drumbeats, a high-pitched guitar motif, and the aforementioned chording that appears and reprises throughout. All this is coupled with subtle sampling and additional sparse percussion. Missing are the vocals, though they are well-represented on other tracks, many of which exhibit further abstractions as well.

Axis Mundi is yet another excellent addition to the Becuzzi oeuvre. Comparisons to Sunn O))) and drone metal are appropriate, but Becuzzi cannot be so easily pigeonholed. The album was released on October 1, so do not hesitate.