Feature: Fals.ch

cd_slopper members and fals.ch founders Florian Hecker (left) and Oswald Berthold (right)

Fals.ch was a small mp3 label formed by Florian Hecker and Oswald Berthold (who released music together as cd_slopper) that focused on extreme computer music. With no concern for conventional album length or structure, the label’s output is quite diverse, from extended single pieces to releases with over a hundred minuscule tracks. Their last release came out in 2002, but recently the entire catalog has been uploaded to Bandcamp for name-your-price download. I’ve slowly been working my way through all of it, but here, in no particular order, are some favorites:

cd_slopper – eating aluminium (2001)

I was already into Hecker’s music when I discovered cd_slopper through their 2000 CD SaskieWoxi, but something about the pureness of the source material, how it truly sounded like they were sculpting (and slopping) bursts of unadulterated data. eating aluminium is quite short (it barely reaches four minutes) but contains some of the most mind-blowing digital creations I’ve ever heard. The duo’s other release on fals.ch, 1999’s ismurgTeNN4, is also excellent.

Voice Crack Taken and Changed (1999)

Though the work of Andy Guhl and Norbert Möslang often sounds like it was wrested from the depths of some complex computing device, but in fact the duo uses “cracked everyday electronics,” a large array of prepared objects and appliances that they often controlled via physical gestures. Some of the albums that Voice Crack has recorded with this approach are loud and raucous, like 1990’s Earflash, but Taken and Changed is some of their most pleasantly reserved material.

i.d d4ta corruption (2001)

This single 25-minute piece is definitely one of the harshest fals.ch releases I’ve heard yet. Sound artist Shunichiro Okada’s nightmarish glitch tornadoes are disorienting and hyperactive, but he also relies on stretches of punishing repetition to further overwhelm the listener, drills and jackhammers of grating noise. d4ta corruption is loud, exhausting, and—despite its cold and lifeless origins—quite cathartic. Holding on for dear life while everything else is torn apart by a digital vortex.

Poire_Z c’est juste (2000)

Poire_Z was composed of percussionist Günter Müller, abstract turntable virtuoso eRikm, and both members of the previously discussed Voice Crack duo. The group explored the meditative but alien worlds their unique sound-making palette made possible, and documented some of the most amazing electronic improvisations ever on their 1999 self titled CD. c’est juste is what seems to be a single 30-min live recording, and sees the quartet at their most muffled and withdrawn.

Ken Shoticker avatar toolkit (2002)

A very short release, but no less exhausting than any of the others about which I’ve written; Ken Shoticker injects so many bizarre samples and sound effects that it’s as if you’re listening to ten albums at once. This is the sound of the friendly and familiar being stretched, twisted, mashed, and ground into oblivion. Horrifying and anxiety inducing but I at least couldn’t tear my ears away.

Event: Lustmord at the COSI Planetarium (May 26, 7/9 p.m.)

This amazing event is being put on by the Fuse Factory Electronic and Digital Arts Lab. Legendary ambient composer and musician Brian Williams, a.k.a. Lustmord, will be putting on two performances at the planetarium of the Center of Science and Industry, located in downtown Columbus. Lustmord is famous for his trance-inducing ambient music and immersive accompanying visuals, and these shows are sure to be some of his most ambitious and incredible events yet. Tickets can be purchased here for the 7 p.m. show and here for the 9 p.m. show (one ticket will not grant admission to both). This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Clicking the image above will redirect to the event’s Facebook page, which has more information)

Event: Nick Keeling & Kaily Moon Schenker Live Performance and Demonstration (Herzog Music, Mar 17)

This Saturday, March 17, experimental musicians Nick Keeling and Kaily Moon Schenker will be performing at Herzog Music on Race Street, in downtown Cincinnati (full address in Facebook event). The duo just released a cassette called Marker on Torn Light Records (listen to a sample here), and to celebrate they will be performing as well as demonstrating and taking questions about their unique music made from cello, piano, and custom-built tape machines. If you’re anything like me and love to see the actual process behind such unique sounds and compositions, this will be fascinating and a lot of fun. I’ll definitely be there, so come hang out.

Event: Frequency Friday at the Fuse Factory (Mar 2)

On the first Friday of each month, the Columbus based Fuse Factory Electronic and Digital Arts Lab puts together performances from a variety of experimental musicians and artists, both local and worldwide. I was so happy to discover that such a place existed so close by, and I’ve been to one show so far and am planning to attend some of the workshops they offer. On the bill for tomorrow is Ava Mendoza, a solo guitarist and singer who is also a member of Unnatural Ways; Ann B Clorox, a performance artist; Istvan Medgyesi, an experimental electronic musician; and local Columbus artist Mike Shiflet, who will perform excerpts from his new composition Tetracosa. The latter I am most excited for, because Tetracosa, Volume One was fascinating and I just preordered the next two installments, but every act sounds worth the modest admission price. Stop by and hang out! (Adjacent image is of Wasteland Jazz Unit performing at the February Frequency Friday event, courtesy of FF’s gallery.)

Thoughts: Jürg Frey’s Weites Land, Tiefe Zeit: Räume 1-8, or, The Difficulties of Listening to Lowercase Music on a College Campus

R-2846496-1326746393.jpegIn contrast to many traditional figures of classical music, Swiss composer Jürg Frey is not exactly known for loudness or grandiosity. And while many works by well-known composers aren’t exactly short, Frey’s pieces often dwarf them in scope – take, for example, last year’s archival release of L’âme est sans retenue I by Erstwhile Records; this composition stretches past the six hour mark. Weites Land, Tiefe Zeit: Räume 1-8 is shorter, but by no means brief. Originally created to accompany installations by the late artist Mauser from 2001 to 2002 (Olewnick), the album was released on 8xCD by b-boim in 2010. It consists of eight segments, each titled simply “Raum” plus the disc number, that were produced through heavily processed field recordings gathered by Frey himself. The processing results in the original sound sources becoming mostly unintelligible, instead blurring into ethereal, layered drones. If you haven’t heard the album, at this point it probably sounds like a pretty typical ambient construction. However, as is Frey’s tradition, the music is so quiet it is almost imperceptible at normal volume.

This use of low volume and occasionally complete silence to emphasize sound is a cornerstone of the philosophy of the Wandelweiser Group, of which Frey is a key member. The compositions created by Antoine Beuger, Radu Malfatti, Michael Pisaro, and others are often categorized as “lowercase,” a moniker that references their scaled down palette. Though I am no expert in many of these artists’ work, what I have heard has been both fascinating and gorgeous. However, the quiet and sparse nature of these recordings necessitates a very quiet listening environment, something not easily found on a bustling college campus. So Weites Land… has been, for lack of a better phrase, my “guinea pig album” for prospective listening environments, as I investigate various libraries and secluded areas around town to find the optimal space. And today I think I’ve found it; I was able to listen to “Raum 3” in the geology library’s almost complete silence, a favorable setting that allowed me to truly appreciate the subtle beauty that Frey has constructed. Music at such a quiet volume level requires a lot of focus, which causes a significantly increased perception of even the most minuscule dynamics and elements. In the future, if no one who works here objects to me spending hours upon hours at a time just sitting with headphones on, I’ll be able to experience a lot of cool stuff.

Thoughts: Marika Papagika’s Greek Popular and Rebetic Music in New York

Setting aside the music itself, compilations like these are incredibly interesting because they provide a window into a completely different time. In a way similar to Washington Phillips’ The Key to the Kingdom or Robert Johnson’s The Complete Recordings, this collection of Marika Papagika recordings from the 20’s presents a portrait of an artist most likely unknown to many people in modern times. MI0000264383

Rebetika isn’t a genre with which I am at all familiar, so going into this album I really had no idea what to expect. I immediately noticed that many of the tracks were much longer and more developed than singles usually were at the time, often utilizing unique song structures. Papagika’s voice is captivatingly beautiful, mysterious and enigmatic in an enjoyable way. Interestingly, many of the scales and intervals used in her melodies were ones I personally associate with Eastern folk music, but they communicated a completely different mood than the spiritual mysticism often found in those compositions. The frequent use of harmonic minor intervals seems to contradict the friendliness of the music.

I’m probably going way too in depth with my descriptions here. Regardless of my analytical observations, the compilation was ultimately very enjoyable, and I’ll definitely be checking out more Greek folk music in the future.

Thoughts: No Sound Is Innocent by Eddie Prévost

The philosophy behind AMM’s music is usually somewhat controversial. Many people seem to be quite opposed to it, whether they object to the paradigm itself or to the fact that there is a paradigm at all. While I agree that music requires no intellectual backing or explanation, it is compelling that these musicians are so devoted to truly making their own unique form of music, and that they can justify it so thoroughly. This is what drove me to read AMM percussionist Eddie Prévost’s 1995 book No Sound Is Innocent, which collects several of the artist’s essays, articles, and musings about the group’s singular style of improvisation and the ideas behind it.

A main point of discussion across these various selections is Prévost’s concept of “meta-music,” a phrase that is often brought up when talking about AMM but is never really explicitly defined. As I see it, he essentially views every sound within a given performance to be important, even vital, to the overall impact of the performance. It follows from this that musicians who are participating in a collective improvisation should always be thinking about their sonic contribution, even if that contribution is extremely subtle or even just silence. In this way, the interactions between the musicians almost takes the form of a conversation of sorts, where no sound, including the absence of sound, is truly innocent. Also fascinating is the recognition of the audience’s impact on a performance, a view Prévost shares with guitarist Derek Bailey (whose book Musical Improvisation is also great). The people viewing an improvisation are just as crucial to its identity as the musicians or the sounds they produce. This identity is only partially maintained by making recordings of the event.

While Prévost’s prose is a bit arcane at times and he does tend to repeat himself, No Sound Is Innocent was incredibly interesting and provided very comprehensive insight regarding “AMMMusic.” He also comes across as much less arrogant than Rowe from what I’ve read (though they all have somewhat of a mystical attitude about them that occasionally elicits an eyeroll or two), and it was funny to hear him talk about their ideological clashes throughout the group’s career. A great book for sure, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s even slightly interested in the music of AMM or improvisational music in general.

Thoughts: Keith Rowe’s The Room Extended

Note: I promise it’s not going to become a rule that I only discuss abnormally long albums or songs on here. It’s just that a lot of times these works have a lot of content I want to examine. Maybe I’ll cover some abnormally short stuff next to make up for it (Yellow Trash Bazooka here I come).

British musician and painter Keith Rowe has recently become one of my favorite artists. I’ve loved pretty much everything by him that I’ve listened to so far, from his recordings with AMM to his various onkyo and free improvisation collaborations. But the records that have resonated with me the most are definitely his solo efforts, particularly The Room and its elder brother, about which this post is written. Rowe, commonly attributed to be the driving force behind the development of the genre of electroacoustic improvisation (EAI), works with an incredibly unique palette of sounds on these records. And when I say unique, I mean completely unique; there is really nothing else that sounds quite like it.

The Room Extended, like its predecessor, is an immensely intimate record for Rowe. The cover is a diagnostic scan of his brain, taken when it was thought he might have a tumor. Since then, Rowe has also been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. From this context, the personal significance of the album is certainly revealed, but not nearly as much as from the music itself.

Every sound within The Room Extended aches with loneliness and fatigue. It’s impossible to not consider silence to be an integral part of the music, as it occupies almost as much space on the record as the audible sounds do. Impossible collages and layers of unidentifiable frequencies, static, guitar, and objects breathe in and out of the quiet soundscape, rising to ear shattering climaxes before departing as quickly as they were introduced. Clocking in at over four hours, the record is quite long, but this dynamic structure makes it seem much shorter somehow – a phenomenon that puzzles me to no end. Then again, there are a lot of things that puzzle me about Rowe’s music, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Even more difficult to describe than the sounds themselves are the emotions they elicit. I found myself brought to tears multiple times throughout my initial listen, and I couldn’t really tell you why. It might be because the feeling of isolation is so palpable; frequently the bursts of sound are framed by distant recordings of human voices, cars pulling out of driveways, classical music, that all somehow serve to exclude the listener. It also could be the sheer exhaustion of the sounds themselves; the conclusion of the third disc is a prime example, where a piercing tone rises out of complete silence, growing louder and louder until it starts to waver and falter, eventually collapsing into nothingness.

Once again, Rowe’s music completely defies verbal description, so I hope I did alright. All I can really assert with confidence is that listening to The Room Extended was one of the most intensely emotional experiences I’ve had with music in a long time, and I certainly enjoyed it immensely. I hope you can too. Thank you, Mr. Rowe.

Further reading: Brian Olewnick’s fabulous review (certainly better than mine)an interview with Rowe by Paris Transatlantic.

Thoughts: “Fast Car” by Jim O’Rourke

I’m of the opinion that Jim O’Rourke is one of the most talented and versatile musicians of our time. He’s played with and produced countless bands, including a lot of well-known acts like Sonic Youth, Wilco, Will Oldham, and Joanna Newsom. His releases range from pleasant jazz pop to noisy free improvisation to soothing folk to meditative glitch and progressive electronic, and he shows no sign of slowing down with his eclecticism or prolificity anytime soon.

The section of O’Rourke’s catalog that most appeals to me, however, is his work with drone, mainly the warm acoustic style pioneered by legends like Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, and other members of the Dream Syndicate. A prime example of this is 1997’s Happy Days, a 47-minute composition that blends O’Rourke’s penchant for minimalism-influenced guitar playing with calming, meditative violin drones. This was my favorite thing he had done – up until yesterday, that is, when I first heard the song “Fast Car.”

It’s taken from an unofficial recording of a live set in Japan in 2002, during which O’Rourke was touring in support of his 2001 record Insignificance. The first five songs of this performance are great, mainly consisting of solo guitar and vocal renditions of tracks from Insignificance and Halfway to a Threeway, an EP from ’99. But nothing can prepare for the sheer beauty and happiness that permeates the closing track, “Fast Car.” Opening with a looping sample of Tracy Chapman’s iconic guitar motif from her song of the same name, it features O’Rourke’s own version of the lyrics as more instruments build behind the repeating sample. Subtly, to the point where I barely realized it was happening, the lively acoustic melodies are overtaken by impossibly lush layers of comforting drones. Nowhere else has music so perfectly captured the feeling of a warm blanket and a cup of hot chocolate after a long day in the cold (it could just be that it was freezing cold yesterday; I’d imagine this song would also be applicable during a sunny summer day). Towards the end of the piece, the melodies return, with O’Rourke beautifully tagging the chorus of Chapman’s classic before bringing everything to a close with soft guitar meanderings. It’s a perfect marriage of his folk pop sensibilities and his more abstract inclinations, and in the process it creates probably the most uplifting sounds I have ever heard. Highly recommended (click the picture next to this paragraph to go to a youtube upload of the track).

Thoughts: Claustration by Vomir

Harsh noise wall is a pretty controversial genre. The main argument I’ve heard against it is that it takes no effort or musical talent to fill up a tape with an unchanging, dynamic-less wall of sound. And I’d partially agree with that. But the thing that makes this music (yes, I’d definitely call it that) so fascinating to me is how unique its preparation is, even compared to other types of noise music. For most HNW artists, almost all of the creativity put forward to make walls is used to set up and make the sound, and not actually to sustain or change it. And these artists are judownloadedfile-15st as creative as any others, so they make some pretty amazing stuff.

Vomir is probably the prime example of this, at least for me. He has no ulterior motives, no pretentious explanation of what his music means; he just makes it to make it, because he enjoys it and hopes other people do too. And the process is much more involved than naysayers would lead you to believe. It’s almost dizzying the amount of pedals and effects he utilizes to meticulously craft hypnotic, psychedelic, crushingly heavy noise. The lack of dynamics isn’t a disadvantage; instead, I find myself getting lost in these darkly lush walls.

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This is taken to an extreme on 2008’s Claustration. Originally released as a 6-CD box set, which comprises five parts of the titular piece as well as five untitled tracks, the album runs for over five hours. Yes, five hours of unrelenting harsh noise wall. Is there anything more intimidating? I’m not sure, but I can definitely think of worse ways to pass the time I spent listening to the entirety of Claustration. The album was in my ears from 6:02 to 11:27 yesterday, accompanying me through dinner, homework, grocery shopping, almost getting run over by an idiot driver in the pouring rain, and sitting outside in the dark. It was a unique, confusing, captivating, and, ultimately, enjoyable experience. I’ve never felt so isolated by music before, the rumbling, warm noise wrapping itself around me and not letting go until the end.

I can’t say it’s something I’ll do very often, but I also can’t say I regret it. Maybe I convinced you that HNW is a viable art form. Maybe I didn’t. Either way, hopefully you’ll try out Claustration sometime. (If it really is too long I recommend either Black Bag or Portrait Series #6, two other excellent Vomir projects.)