French sound artist Anton Mobin’s primary approach to music-making is a distinct and memorable one; he (at least, most notably) improvises within a given space called a “prepared room,” in which modified instruments, trivial objects, and other materials are amplified by electroacoustic transducers and guitar pickups, providing himself with a freedom not often found in even the most extended uses of traditional instruments. Le Désordre is the latest document on Mobin’s label Middle Eight, which is dedicated to releasing his own various solo and collaborative endeavors, and presents a cacophonous interaction with Jean-Marie Onni, a.k.a. Ruelgo, from the long-running collective Le Syndicat. The recordings are hulking and rust-covered, with both participants using magnetic tape to exert control over a mass of industrial-strength bangs and clangs. The woozy, uneasy presence of the tape manipulations, along with Onni’s contributions via digital interfaces, provides an excellent contrast to the metallic din, sometimes tempering the noise with spectral treatments or high-speed dragging, other times melding in uncanny harmony with the clatter—like on “Bazz,” when Mobin’s rattling of an unknown object is accompanied by moisture-saturated fast forwarding and an array of diminutive glitch textures. The two artists’ creations are fast-paced and never stay in the same place for long, but they never fail to craft an amazingly detailed amalgam of sounds, even in the briefest of vignettes.
I think a lot of people would be interested to know what the hell goes on in the mind of Chris Douglas, the sound artist behind a staggeringly prolific multi-artist discography, collected under the Amhain moniker on Bandcamp. Since I heard k[:\y/b[4.g\, the first of Douglas’s releases I came across, a little over a year ago, he’s put out an overwhelming amount of albums under various aliases, but I finally seem to be catching up. Feall Beul, Douglas’s first material as SCLD, makes further forays into the realm of disorienting digital synthesis he’s explored on Reclats and Bytreqw, whipping serrated chunks of unruly data outputs and bulbous glitch globules into a whirlwind of seething electronics. Purposeful construction of music like this can result in a potently physical presence despite the insubstantiality of the source, something that’s definitely achieved with Feall Beul; almost mimicking the percussiveness of contact mic abuse, the dense electrical hodgepodges slam and crunch on “x8ud3h,” scrape and snag on “d3u9d7,” and slowly boil over throughout “f2q4f4,” in which some undercurrents of melody can be discerned amidst the erratic tendrils.
“Tale,” the opening track from Telmetale’s debut C20 that takes up the entire first side, rises from the darkness like a whirling spectral apparition, its ghostly form composed of skulking drones and hair-raising prepared guitar plinks. The newly formed duo consists of guitarist Jacek Chmiel and multi-instrumentalist Kamil Korolczuk, who here contributes a mixture of moody modular transmissions and live magnetic tape processing, and their chemistry is audible in the music’s consistently evocative milieu of smoke and shadow. When writing about recordings with a similar approach such as qb and Rural Tourniquet, I like to bring up the idea that small-scale collective improvisation can end up being a unified, unparsable pile of sound rather than a discernible musical conversation; however, in Telmetale, elements of both seem to manifest. “Tale” is a dense and harrowing amalgam of drones and AMM-esque nocturnal clatter, but on “Serotonin” the musician’s additions are separated in the stereo field, with plasticky tape frequencies butting up against tactile scratching. The duality of source is even more apparent in “Part II,” in which Chmiel’s guitar playing becomes much more sporadic. This promising duo’s first release is queasy, and unsettling, but ultimately an intoxicating document of atmospheric free music.
The only times I’ve encountered the Ciat-Lonbarde Cocoquantus, a very unique custom-built electronic instrument, is during a deafening set by harsh noise legend T. Mikawa and as an element in Dirch Blewn’s Care Work cassette, which came out last year also on Soft Error. Here, on Hoan Kiem Chess Team’s most recent release, the Cocoquantus seems to take on a much more audible role, its “self-reconfiguring spasms” aiding in the restless electronic simmers that bubble up throughout Paskal’s Dream. The tape is an ersatz love letter to nature, a synthetic pastiche of a lush, life-filled swampland, its dense, intricate collages of bubbling growls and scrabbling crackles evoking something robotic yet undeniably organic—not far from the spectral image that adorns the cover. Assisted by the unusual sampling abilities of the Cocoquantus, the artist makes occasional forays into palettes that incorporate more purely natural elements, such as the closely-recorded creaking wood around which “Sleeper” is based, but as a whole Paskal’s Dream presents a dedicated, consistent atmosphere of sublime imitation, and despite its length remains completely engaging for its entire duration.
Sounds of a Boiler Room and a Laundry Room (Polish: Odgłosy kotłowni oraz pralni), the newest work from sound artist and phonographer Maciej Wirmański, was entirely recorded in the “kitchen” of his home—the quotes are present because as Wirmański states, the room is not really a kitchen by the contemporary definition at all, and is closer to what would be called a boiler/laundry room or utility room. From just the artist’s description, it’s immediately clear that this place has a special presence: “In this place time accumulate[s]. It is a heart of the house clogged with lodgments of unwanted things.” But as the subtle yet evocative 36-minute piece unfolds, we hear the indescribable energy of a “heart of the house” at work, as the sounds of the makeshift hot-water stove and washing machine simulate the pumping of blood throughout an organic system. The sporadic hum and rushing water of the laundry cycle, the clinks and snaps and pops of the heating stove, the way in which the small room seems to muffle, even embrace, the sounds within—Sounds of a Boiler Room… is an intimate portrait of a home from a uniquely limited perspective (limited in the physical sense, at least).
Dario Di Francesco’s cryptic introduction for his newest release on Sono Space doesn’t shed much light on the actual sounds that are heard, but it does add an interesting element of unintentionality. Are the recordings that make up Sistema an inadvertent result of Di Francesco’s search for this “certain frequency”? Or is that frequency an unattainable end, which he recognizes and simply states it as an abstract purpose to cast what is actually presented in an unusual light? I doubt I’ll ever know for sure, but I will say that the sounds and textures collected to form Sistema do their fair share of “caressing”; the Italian sound artist’s quiet compositions are constructed from the barest of hums, rustles, and taps (with the exception of that jarring saxophone loop in “Cromo”), sketching out a frail and insubstantial yet undeniably physical environment. Interjections of soft clatters and sweeping scrapes act as hooks that prevent the more delicate drones from drifting away completely, which gives rise to interesting contrasts on tracks like “Cerio,” where a pillowy, tonal air current lurks behind a dainty din of clinking metal.
So far, both of the Butoh Sonics releases I’ve heard (I have yet to try their 2018 self-titled tape, and it wouldn’t align with this observation anyway) are amazing purveyors of the theme or query their title posits. May’s Flickers of Light, with its simple but unsettling artwork of a someone blindly reaching their hand through darkness—and the music’s completely oppressive evocation of that same darkness—was a terrifying but enrapturing denial of its titular promise. What Do You Grieve For? is a more direct conveyance of the question posed by its name, a somber and—quite surprisingly—occasionally gorgeous 43-minute piece. It’s not clear which way is up when looking at the CD cover, and the guy contorted in mourning doesn’t seem to know either; but the music itself implies otherwise, relieving gloomy, uncertain, tense stretches with sublime feedback melodies or hypnotic string drones, answering the title with a demonstration of the sparse beauty of despair. As is to be expected, the latest Butoh Sonics document is harrowing and shrouded in shadow, but many of its best moments are the most meditative and harmonic the group has been yet.