Before Erik Skodvin, this time performing as Svarte Greiner and Alexander Rishaug pack guitars, computers and their magical electronic equipment into the suitcases and start their European mini-tour, the duo decided to prepare some kind of appetizer for those who can’t wait to hear all of their tricks live. Simply called mini-album SGAR contains four (possibly improvised) compositions bearing all of the four combinations of their names which sound as preludes to something greater. These are fragments of their usual motives: Svarte Greiner’s quintessential oppressive darkness and Alexander Rishaug’s typical lush mistiness.
ARSG, the introduction into their first collaboration, sets a greyish, unreadable tone. A basic rhythmic pattern comes to a scene, accompanied by layered echoes and mild drones in the background. It won’t be a spoiler to say that the composition doesn’t evolve much during those seven and half minutes of mysterious nothingness: Greiner and Rishaug play a game of patience and uneasy monotony. However, even without an action or a pre-set plot, which are both missing, ARSG doesn’t fade into unnecessary flatness. Subdued strokes of percussion and manipulated, unnoticeable drones offer assistance to that indestructible, static rhythm and create a shelter for those scared of the omnipresent, foggy greyness. SGAR is an unexpected, uncanny, beautifully packaged (in a minimal and cryptic design typical to Sonic Pieces) and much welcome promise of something greater to come.
One of the bravest works this year is undisputedly a collaboration between two of Bedroom Community’s wizards (and musicAddicted’s beloved artists): industrial noise-maker Ben Frost and classical composer Daníel Bjarnason. This Reykjavík-based duo took Andrei Tarkovsky’s quintessential surreal classic Solaris and created a new soundtrack for it – for passion and artistic need. For this movie released in 1972 Tarkovsky originally used Johann Sebastian Bach’s organ chorale in several different places during the film (most prominently and fittingly opening the entire movie), accompanied by synthesizer-led arrangements by Eduard Artemyev. As much as the movie is sparse, claustrophobic and symbolic, its musical accompaniment is uneasily minimalist, appropriately cryptic and impenetrable.
Frost & Bjarnason took a heavy burden of exchanging these timeless, minimal, but often repetitive and incoherent pieces with their own score: richer, more dramatic, and most importantly, very different. Somehow avoiding the full challenge of exchanging the entire soundtrack, duo performs their work with cut, fragmented footage of the film which becomes more a pastiche of perceptions and hallucinations than a full story of danger and lunacy.
Reyja, the first composition released of the upcoming Sólaris (out November 7th) works in a similar modus operandi. Its sparse subtleness is as thrilling and uneasy as it is scarily void. These long periods of near silence, or just one note carried on by a bow lightly touching one string are difficult to approach and initiate a flow of images which may connect to the plot of the movie. Sudden burst of dissonance then hints a drama by the corner but similarly to the actions in the film, these are just flashes of delusions and puzzles of lunacy. And as soon as you get used to the graduated tense, it releases and vanishes into another period of nothingness. Reyja is an apparent omen of a darkness soon coming to swallow all around. But the truth is that it has already filled the listener from within.
Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia decided to record his first album as a trio in 2009 when the coincidence of Lugano’s Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera became available for this musical body and ECM's founder Manfred Eicher decided to produce this record. Battaglia, who debuted on ECM with exhaustively complex play between smart jazz and freer classical tendencies on Raccolto later went into more experimental waters documented on his collaboration with Michele Rabbia on Pastorale: valley between brave avant-garde and bounding sacred music. Battaglia and Rabbia magicaly pieced the best bits of these two anti-poles together and set a high standard for subsequent Battaglia’s records.
The River of Anyder flows in different times in different worlds. Battaglia, double-bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani escape into ever-green worlds of never-land once described in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, Tolkien’s self-invented Middle-earth or Sir Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis. Luckily, no worries are needed, Battaglia’s trio don’t swim in the waters of new-age. These reference points are more an ideologic framework which defines their approach and the overall atmosphere which ranges from sacred, noble calm to Eastern-spice movement. Both of these directions are complementary, rather than contrasting and set a warm tranquility of olde days so reminiscent of many pseudo-historic and silly-fantasy movies with surprisingly fantastic soundtracks.
One of the strongest pieces on The River of Anyder is free-flowing Ararat Dance, heavily influenced by Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet. Ararat Dance is self-fulfilling: the main motive is as repetitive and mixolydic as you might expect from Middle-east inspired melody. Battaglia’s musings around this seduction are effective: he presents best of his experience with night-bar, but also grand stage jazz, he modulates the rhythms and structures, augments the melody and varies the harmonies to present the ecstatic essence of dance. These are not just movements of fingers or hips; this is emotional catharsis of a mystic in a trance. Battaglia’s free-flowing improvisations are as affecting as Dani’s flamboyant percussion work and Maiore’s bubbling murmur of bass. The River of Anyder might not be the most impressive jazz record of 2011, but its particular fragments, such as this enlightening trip to mystic Middle-East, are satisfyingly blissful.
The concept of minimalism is old as the mankind itself. After every flamboyant, ostentatious and showy style came something simpler, clearer, more ascetic. As much as classicism freed baroque from its dark, heavy, exuberant ornamentation, 20th century minimalism simplified neo-romantic pretentiousness. Those antagonistic passions to simplify then pre-combine, straight-up and then round-off are somehow too interwoven with each other. But the stylistic unity, almost imperative of stylish omnipresence are gone and, fortunately, enable the art to go more ways than just one of inter-changing emotional complex.
Geir Janssen, who has been performing under his Biosphere moniker for more than two decades is making an interesting U-turn back to his minimal techno beginnings. It’d be inaccurate to say he comes back to his minimalist roots since the idea of sparseness and sonic austerity has always been the bottom line of his careen. The evolution dwelled in his desire to explore new areas of electronic music. His perception of techno – slow, monotone and serene pulse of supercooled body (Microgravity) – led to epic warmth of cinematic electro (Substrata), which was later stripped down to the clicks and clacks of highly unapproachable ambient (Autour de la Lune).
That “come-back” to minimal techno was surely catalyzed by the selection of his impeccable concept. Exploring the sonics, architecture and security of Japanese nuclear plants, often built on dangerous places by the sea, under clashes of tectonic plates. Given the list of Japanese disasters, the subsequent album might have been eruptive drone, a kind of frightening setback into the challenging, but simultaneously hazardous desires of mankind. Such aesthetics would be too heavy and predictable; Biosphere is a man of not just concept, but also very personal approach and smart capture. So it’s no surprise he goes deeper; not into the depths of earthquakes or into the statics of these nine selected n-plants. He dives deep into the sonic nature of the processes made in the plants.
The imagination on the level of atoms evokes abstract didactic movies filmed in 70s and 80s for the masses to see the exceptional progress of modern science. What was once an unimaginable sci-fi becomes now every-day routine. The mixture of naïve enthusiasm, informed coolness, dedicated curiosity and scientific detachment are best defined in one of the longest composition Genkai-1. The omnipresent beat below the electronic mass is as sharp as it is soft. As if Biosphere intended to say that the nuclear fusion is so common and ubiquitous that we barely percept its inner beauty. That beauty arises from its dangerousness and abstractness which catalyze fantasy in search of some greater force. Such is the appeal of the entire N-Plants which is imaginative piece open for many explanations and warm with Biosphere’s unchangeable signature. Minimal, sparse, exact.
When the Midnight City was released as the first single from M83’s latest effort Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, I was quite enthusiastic about Anthony Gonzalez’ new-old sound. The quintessential poppiness of the main hook unconsciously invokes happiness mixed with hopefulness, or rather, emotional buoyancy. The leading motive is simple but effective; what is easier to remember and whistle around than a simple and elegant melody with no unnecessary turns and fade-aways with a fluid and natural movement forward? That’s the essence of intelligent pop: smart simplicity and a simultaneous capture of the attention. The chemical and partly uncontrollable reaction of body and brain to a melody is a bottom line of pop music. Lyrics, layers and final sound are all vital, but the crucial role is an effective introduction and unforgettable chorus.
The first listen of the entire album (streamed at Urban Outfitters page) was a disappointing experience: Gonzalez was unable to go on the rapid and breathe-taking spirit of the first three songs, ever-evolving Intro with Zola Jesus on the climax vocals, above mentioned Midnight City and 80s-teens-on-ecstasy anthem Reunion. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming soon slows down and decomposes itself into intermezzos (Where The Boats Go), preludes (Another Wave From You), fragments of ideas, hymns (Soon, My Friend), poppy one-trick-ponies (OK Pal, Claudia Lewis) and so on. Especially the second disc is short of strong songs with the exception of bit saccharine Splendor and rapid Steve McQueen; the decision of releasing twenty-two songs on two discs comes as a slight shock after shorter, but much richer Saturdays=Youth.
However, M83’s sixth album ends as grandiose as it started seventy minutes before. The main motive of emotive piano, live, touching strings and loads of robust percussion is present in the DNA of many of these songs and Gonzalez builds it gradually undercover. The presence and in-built emotional scale is the pivotal essence of Outro. Its start is much anticipated and the evolution is made to the highest effect; the unchangeability of the theme and the structural permutation as well as the gradual evolution reminds me of Philip Glass’ blue-mark masterpiece Glassworks. Outro amazingly sums up the entire Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and enhances many of its pitfalls. Here Gonzalez nicely demonstrates his cinematic-leaning abilities and an ear for the emotion of tangible, genuine nostalgia. Such a pity he hasn’t evolved these qualities to a more consistent and bold work.
Acoustic chamber music is a tricky affair. It doesn’t have the immediacy or universality of contemporary pop music, nor can it count on the veil of electronics and other trickery to help disguise its fragile guts. The music offers itself formidable and bare, ready to experience close encounters of the intimate kind. Azita Youssefi, a Chicago-based artist with Iranian roots, has been working in this artistically challenging area since her 2003 debut Enantiodromia, which initiated a lengthy process of crystallising her soft approach towards music at the same time as building a solid and reasonable passion for experimentation with form and concept.
In the context of contemporary jazz-leaning singer-songwriters, Youssefi is perhaps most akin to the likes of Norma Winstone and the solo excursions of Julia Hülsmann. Disturbing The Air, her latest full-length, presents the artist at her most minimalist and austere; eschewing the guitar, drums and percussion which featured on her previous releases, here Youssefi sings about loneliness alone, backed only by her grand piano. It’s an exercise that not only proves that she is able to evoke an emotive, jazzy feeling without the help of saxophone, clarinet or double bass, but also her strong devotion towards making art that stands as a statement.
Disturbing The Air is partly about searching, or more specifically ascertaining an identity: Youssefi is a strong, emotional woman, and not afraid to show it. Most of the lyrics here locate her musings in the darkness of the night, conjuring a velvety, shadowy atmosphere with vocals ranging from a silky alto to a piercing (not altogether convincing) soprano. This nocturnal yearning and lamenting dominates the album, which flows never less than smoothly, almost as if the piano was the only acquaintance to whom Youssefi could relay all her sorrows.
Read the rest of the review on Wears The Trousers and listen to this touching song September.
Simon Scott come back into his early shoegazing period through lengthy turn-offs and years of silence. This blog is pretty much obsessed with all forms of his artistic expression: every one of them is fully consistent with his obvious inclination towards uncompromising, omnipresent concept. If it is an idea of a quiet, repetitive music made for falling asleep (brought on Silenne release), or an unexpected desire for singing out his sorrows (Depart, Repeat; first of Sonic Pieces’ seven special vinyls), he always captures the inner blueness, finds an appropriate harmony on one of his guitars or basses and builds a body of lines, echoes, reverberations, layered beauties. Bunny (out on October 7th), his second album for an excellent label Miasmah oriented on dramatic, droning music, follows this suite, but somewhat upside down.
The fragility is hidden under layers of drones, murmurs and resonances of his heavy, whirring sonorous guitar and bass. Sometimes there are fragments of vocals, present on the initial composition Radiances or Angelo Badalamenti-like dark mysterious dissonances in the opening AC Waters and Labano. But the closing song Drilla uses all of these tricks in a different order, with fresh perspective and interesting effect. It builds a pulsing droning mass during a penultimate track Gamma to peak in the first minute of Drilla and then dissolves into lighter, brighter and smoother emotion. It sounds as if Scott decided he had enough darkness and needed a change: dramatic in its initial delivery and appealing in the evolution. The echoing guitar motive is picturesque, almost like from a book of pastoral scenes. That smooth melodic line sounds more than familiar: half of it must have been inspired by The Little Drummer Boy. At least unconsciously. Its peak is a simultaneous defragmentation of the entire surreal scenery and not only Drilla, but also the entire album Bunny falls back into confusing mist which is intensified and abruptly cut by a quick fast-forward effect. Scott decomposes Drilla into its atoms and as he reaches the smallest particle, he escapes into silence.
Not only Bunny sounds cinematic and uncompromising, but it’s also a strange expression of escapism and in the same moment contrasting inner imprisonment. Most of the songs are murky and the only lightness is sarcastic humour reminiscent of Lynch’s or Trier’s movies. However, Scott’s come-back into melodic instrumental shoegaze is welcome and successful. Never mind the pace or regularity of his releases, the message is essential. And the delivery, not only the concept surely belong Scott’s artistic strengths. (Hear Bunny in its entirety on Miasmah’sSoundCloud.)