The latest edition of Intelligent Life features an inspiring photo essay assembled of Sebastião Salgado's breath-taking black & white pictures took in Ethiopia. The photo above, part of his gargantuan Genesis project, captures Alaska as a place untouched by a human. Awesome, indeed.
(10) Okkyung Lee - Noisy Love Songs
Just very few people can express more emotions through a single instrument than Okkyung Lee does with her cello. Equipped with few field recordings and loops of her playing, Noisy Love Songs finds her tempting the limits of the cello and testing the openness of her listener. These uneasy provocative, but at the same time elegant compositions are a must for a free-form lover.
(9) Kyle Bobby Dunn - Ways Of Meaning
If there was a record sounding like a great meadow of blue calm this year, it would be Dunn’s Ways Of Meaning. Dynamic in its inner constancy, sorrowful in the secret harmony of the organ, this album finds the glory in an unlimited time and space.
(8) Sandwell District - Feed Forward
Shadows are the nearest quasi-object expressing the unapproachable character of Feed Forward, a genius collection of four minimal techno LPs. No light, no stroboscope, no diodes of technics are seen in this dark place under the club. Just the subdued beats and conjuring basses sinking even deeper into a dazed mind.
(7) A Winged Victory For The Sullen - A Winged Victory For The Sullen
The first collaboration between Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie sounds as if they wanted to pair never-ending silence with the most beautiful single tone of some of their chosen instruments. This record is unashamedly spacious, offering a calm escape from the world.
(6) Daniel Thomas Freeman - The Beauty Of Doubting Yourself
The inner darkness and fear has two faces: it eats the human from the inside, but also stimulates his most hidden talents and imaginations. This release finds the author in post-darkness phase, reconciling shadowy essence of his own’s soul gloominess.
(5) Hauschka & Hildur Guðnadóttir - Pan Tone
Almost an hour of improvisation performed by a moving sound of cello and a craziness of prepared piano which often sounds more like a percussion belongs to one of the most daring releases this year. Its qualities lay in the carefree nature of its creators and their simultaneous challenge to come with new sounds with preserving the consistency. Like its name, Pan Tone is an oceanic morphing beauty.
(4) Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason - Sólaris
Reykjavík-based duo has made an ambitious, almost unreachable goal: to illustrate the psychotic difficulties of one’s mind in a extreme conditions of an astronaut being squeezed of his secret emotions by an undecipherable alien force. Frost & Bjarnason reached the odd scariness of such situation through spacey passages of silence and dense fragments of dissonance. Not only those contrasts made an icy impression but the uneasy nature and thoughtful structure materialized the fears of Lem & Tarkovsky at their best.
(3) Juv - Juv
There has hardly been a harder and more difficult album this year than Juv – debut which has been waiting for its release for 13 years. Document of the sufferings and pains of growing up and changing from a creative youth into a self-realized adult is just part of Juv’s success. It’s the desolate murkiness and imaginative hopelessness that wins a broken heart of the listener.
(2) The Caretaker - An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
One of the most emphatic works of last few years comes from the hands and mind of Leyland Kirby who imagines a fragmented and half-broken memory of patients suffering from Alzheimer. From frostiness to a touching absolution, this music is a full bliss beyond the grayness of the life.
(1) Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
Destruction of the art through the destruction of the sound as the underlying tool of music itself is a smart concept in an even smarter realization. As long as the synthesizers shiver and the church organ hums, one can’t get rid of those goosebumps that don’t want to go away. An impressive journey with a massive ideological basis.Tweet
It’s quite strange to have a band like Goldfrapp releasing a best-of their singles: a thing they were opposing for an entire decade of their career. Whatever you think of compilations – in this British duo’s case simply named The Singles – one can’t deny their career has been rich on surprising moments and inspiring turn-arounds. After the decadent imaginative utopia of Felt Mountain came even darker Black Cherry followed by top-notch pop of Supernature. Then came a calm and balladry Seventh Tree after which we were served with a 80s kitsch of Head First. From the release of best-of, instead of a studio album, I assume Goldfrapp are bit tired of composing, recording and coming with new genres that will be adopted by mainstream scene two or three years later.
Anyway, here comes a studio version of Yellow Halo, one of two fresh, new songs put to the end of The Singles (see tracklist). Based on the above-mentioned assumptions, Yellow Halo is a mid-tempo ethereal ballad which sounds tired and not as inspiring as their earlier songs. Alison’s soft whispery voice is incredibly warm and silky, but the lyrics are bit repetitive and flat. The arrangements follow the suite with celebratory, but minimalist pomp of something ending. As if they were saying: “we need a break and this is a temporary farewell.” Yellow Halo sits somewhere between Supernature’s ‘Time Out from the World' and pretty much half of Seventh Tree, including that autumn-like haze. The song itself is nice, cozy and reflective, but somehow weaker than Goldfrapp we've used to know.
Out of Sasu Ripatti’s many projects, Vladislav Delay bears the heaviest burden of minimalist darkness. One could argue that Luomo is that micro-house with poppy tendencies, celebrated by dance music-savvy listeners. Uusitalo is then an escape from colourful lights into an industrial murk of minimal techno. Then there is his occasional work as Sistol, his weird-glitch experimenting, and sporadic collaborating with Moritz von Oswald Trio. But what about works under Vladislav Delay, his most prolific and complex moniker?
This Oulu-born artist leaves his sparsest textures and the most daring rhythmic structures for strangely named Vladislav Delay. Whether you take his break-through glitchy Multila or subsequent Anima, consisting of just one single hour-long track, Delay has always been a playground for Ripatti’s most diverse creative thinking. The astonishing imaginativeness and openness to many other genres – from field-recordings-based ambient to IDM to industrial – was most prominently documented on his previous record Tummaa which incredibly emphasized the eclectic nature of his Vladislav Delay direction.
However, Ripatti is totally on a different place on his latest full-length Vantaa (Raster-Noton) named by a town which makes up the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and is on the verge of being autonomous from the capital city, but also being an integral part of it. Delay’s sonic Vantaa similarly oscillates somewhere in-between. Two worlds are forming around Vantaa, but inside of it even more. The moist, humid fogginess suggests a cold, but human touch: something you can really approach, touch and feel with parts of your body. Those sounds, as in watery Lipite, drizzle to the ground and soak into an already damp mass. Delay evolves these perceptions with patience and delicate detail. There’s neither sound which is unnecessary, nor is there a beat which would be meaningless – every note has a mission of intermediating this calm, wet wet world.
On the other side of the spectrum is a cold synthesis of computers, amplifiers, transformers and unnamable electronic toolkits which guarantee that everything sticks together. In Delay’s world these are not just the tools; electronic equipment is an equal member of his minimalist work. A perfect example of such technicality and industrial chill is the title-track Vantaa based on a simple slow-mo beat which thickens and gets more complicated and simultaneously artificial.
The abstract cold of Finnish minimal techno is best documented in subsequent Lauma (the excerpt streams above) built on stones of a challenging, but impressive beats which get denser and even more difficult to swallow. Lauma represents the most oppressive track on Vantaa and Delay gets extra points for the brave and terrific accomplishment of this uneasy task. The attempt of digesting those long eight minutes becomes more terrific with every new motive and becomes a terror as Lauma nears to its end.
Luckily, Vantaa is not about contrasts as simple as white versus black. Take tranquil, repetitive Narri which sounds everything from your uncle repairing his boat to a paddle stirring the surface of cold lake. Many moments on Vantaa are so beautifully smooth thanks to their ambiguity and numerous explanations of not only the source, but more importantly, the result. Vantaa is more a synthesis of various Delay’s musical spectrums than a patchwork of beat-driven ambient. The key element which holds his newest album together is an emotional and sonic integrity and the different tendencies suggest diversity. Strong and demanding piece of dynamic, imaginative minimalism.
In the world of iamamiwhoami you can never be sure what’s for real and what is just an invention of an overly creative mind of the Swedish project’s followers. But it seems that Jonna Lee & company decided to do their first interview with NYC-based Bullett Media. Or better, kind of interview. As expected, their answers are bit cryptic and bit unnecessarily meaningless with fragments of their well-known lyrics. However, they catch the meaning of their music and art generally in one of the answers.
“Who knows my world who shares my view?”
This is not only iamamiwhoami’s motto - this is one of the reasons why art exists. To express one’s uniqueness and in this exploring the creative mind finding peers who feel similar things in a comparable way. Art as an empathic exploration and also art as an invitation into new, undiscovered worlds. Nice. I hope there is much more waiting for us from them.
Steffen Schrägle is almost overwhelmingly fascinated by mist. This photo was taken at South Island, New Zealand in June 2009. Collection of his foggy pictures is published as an extensive photo essay in the latest edition of Intelligent Life.
Hearing the first notes of For, the sound of Nils Frahm's new composition comes strangely unexpected given his generally accepted image of a contemporary classical pianist. Along with his peers, Ólafur Arnalds, Dustin O'Halloran among others, Frahm prefers form above technical brilliance and swims in a flow of something what can be called post-minimalism. There are neither vivid and brave orchestrations in a vein of Arvo Pärt or John Cage, nor are Arnalds' or O'Halloran's arrangements as daring and provocative as John Adams' or Henryk Górecki's. Surely, the young generation doesn't call the elders to a battle; they evolve a concept of simplicity and emotional clarity – something needed in nowadays overcrowded world.
That’s why For and Peter, two improvisational compositions from limited vinyl Juno (released today on Erased Tapes), come bit unexpectedly. For consists exclusively of dark, organ-tinged analogue synthesizers imprisoned in never-ending harmonic loops and simple melodic loops. Frahm’s mind raises to a more hopeful, blue hills and descends back into sedated comfort of dusk. The reason why For deserves an attention is its liberation of all those clichés about synthetic music; Frahm preserves the composition from falling into cold, inhuman territories. I believe that he reaches this strange warmness either by the patience which is present in every harmonic modulation or in the calm evolution of the motive and in the very selection of the synthesizers which recall the embracing sound of pipe-organ. Finally, he has already demonstrated his affection towards electronics on 7fingers, his collaborative effort with cellist Anne Müller and Juno just follows the suite.
But this time, he’s alone with his synthesizers – no other instruments are put in the mix – and Peter Broderick as his recurring muse. After all, the mystery of the cozy nature of For may dwell in its devotion to a particular person and an underlying emotion: the classic source of beauty in music. You may perceive For (and the entire EP Juno) as a surprising experiment; but it’s rather an expression of a personal feeling through an automatized device controlled by human fingers and living, creative mind.
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.
It was a great decision to publish Vessel as the lead single of Zola Jesus' third album Conatus and, similarly, to create its video earlier than any other song gets its own. Even though this song is probably the least representative piece out of the entire album – somehow stuck in the era of her previous album Stridulum II – it’s the most pleasurable and emotive composition here. Zola portrays her inner prison via stark percussion and dominating beat which recalls Portishead in their post-Third period while the synthesizers remind of 80’s dark romantic wave, which presented a smoother and more feminine counterpart to post-punk and more poppier version of Krautrock. Luckily, these are just mere inspirations; some kind of framework within which Zola Jesus operates.
The video follows all these influences in an impressive way. Monochromatic and elegant, the beginning reminds me of iamamiwhoami's high-conceptual art. Vessel too portrays a being (you'll soon know what it is) in a womb rich on viscid black liquid. Soon Zola Jesus leaves her uterus to get know the world around – empty like a desert, dark as night, labile as an earthquake and dangerous as an avalanche. But the beautiful new-born doesn't know this; Zola slowly cruises through this void space and becomes a part of it: gloomy and fearful while imprisoned in her limbo. Hopefully, more thoughtful but minimal videos come from Zola Jesus' fresh Conatus.