Recently I wrote about four recent releases of acousmatic music with very unusual sound sources. Julien Bayle’s new release, Violent Grains of Silence, might have all of them beat with its concept. Bayle recorded two hours of complete silence in the anechoic chamber at Laboratoire de Mécanique et Acoustique de Marseille, one of the quietest places in the world, and all of the sounds used to produce Violent Grains of Silence were taken from that recording. The album is anything but silent, however; Bayle focuses his attention not on the state of silence, but on the impossibility of it. He amplifies and manipulates minuscule errors and signals in the system he used to record, ghosts still present in what anyone would probably agree is the complete absence of sound, twisting them into cold, mechanical bursts and shifting piles of crackles and hums. Even if one isn’t aware of the album’s unique origin, small elements of the noises Bayle makes use of reveal that something is different; he propels these tiny glitches with disproportionate force and velocity, making even the most intense assaults of bass-y tones and high-speed clicks unsettlingly thin, even tenuous. Regardless of how much substance the sounds found on Violent Grains of Silence actually have behind their unforgiving facade, the album is ultimately loud, and Bayle declares victory in his war on silence despite being deep in enemy territory.
Somehow, armed with only a three track 7″ and a handful of singles, Portrayal of Guilt managed to make me anticipate their debut LP more than most upcoming releases this year. In my opinion, this is an album release done right; the only musical promotion for Let Pain Be Your Guide was a split single with Street Sects (“The Nihilist”) and the lathe picture disc “Chamber of Misery (Pt. I),” neither of which actually appeared on the record. Though I personally never listen to promotional singles anyway, it was a great feeling to go into the album with so much uncertainty about what it would sound like. That uncertainty doesn’t last long, though; Let Pain Be Your Guide starts strong with the vicious opus “Daymare,” the LP’s longest track and possibly the band’s most ambitious music to date. The vocals mine new territory with the low growls, accentuating the darker atmosphere and doom riffs with misanthropic fury. Industrial electronic textures that first appeared on “The Nihilist” are taken even further, adding to the already evocative songwriting; the outro of “Your War” with its noise contortions and pained gurgles is indescribably menacing, even alien. “Until We’re Dust” is a fittingly action-packed conclusion, thankfully subverting the tired cliche of an overlong sludge coda in favor of a driving build-up that culminates in the album’s most anthemic chorus. Really, my only complaint about Let Pain Be Your Guide is that it’s too short; and as far as problems go, that’s far from the worst one to have.
A few weeks ago, I was sent a generous selection of releases from the 2018 roster of French-Canadian label Empreintes Digitales. The label has been releasing CDs in the area of acousmatic and electroacoustic music for almost thirty years, and has introduced me to many of my favorite artists such as Paul Dolden and Michel Chion. I couldn’t choose which ones I wanted to review, so I decided to just write about them all!
eRikm – Mistpouffers (release date unknown)
French improviser and composer eRikm is one of the few artists whose work has been a consistent element in my journey into experimental music. His collaborative CD with Jérôme Noetinger, What a Wonderful World, was one of the first Erstwhile releases I heard and introduced me to the field of electroacoustic improvisation, and Zygosis made me realize the power of the turntable as an instrument in an avant-garde context. Mistpouffers, consistent with Empreintes Digitales’ focus on acousmatic music, collects three pieces that were composed and arranged from 2013 to 2016. “Draugalimur,” commissioned by the French music office, incorporates several spoken word segments within its immersive ambient soundscapes, including excerpts from traditional Icelandic folk writings. “Poudre” and “L’aire de la Moure 2” are both explorations into a very physical stereo space; the former’s treated recordings of firework explosions and the latter’s electric whirring and airplane engines are equally breathtaking.
Monique Jean – Troubles (Oct 16)
Troubles is Monique Jean’s third solo release, and its two pieces each boast an ambitious conceptual backing. The kinetic “T.A.G.” was inspired by rippling collective movements by crowds of people, an influence that is represented well by the composition’s litany of synthesized elements that progress with masterful pace and control. Jean’s sonic palette is dominated by the cold and artificial, with both actual recordings that are heavily processed as well as pure synthesis, but she commands this electronic orchestra with distinctly organic movements in mind. “Out of Joint” continues with that contrast, incorporating more recognizable sounds such as screams and the cawing of crows, but for an entirely different purpose; the piece is a sonic essay on the endurance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth throughout history.
Alistair MacDonald – Cabinets de curiosité (Oct 26)
The music on Cabinets de curiosité is just as colorful as the gorgeous artwork on the cover (painted by Shona Barr). Though each of the seven pieces explore different territory, the title of the composition that opens the disc, “The Tincture of Physical Things,” is a fitting unifier. MacDonald’s ‘cabinet of curiosities’ isn’t limited to just found objects; it includes any sounds that struck him as distinctive or significant, from the handmade glass instruments of Carrie Fertig used on “Scintilla” to the sounds of public spaces in “Final Times,” described by the composer as ‘cinema for the ears.’ MacDonald also pays tribute to Delia Derbyshire and early musique concrète on “Psychedelian Streams,” using more basic processing techniques on memorable objects from his childhood like Slinkies, wooden rulers, and wind chimes.
Åke Parmerud – Grains (release date unknown)
“Grains of Voice,” originally released more than two decades ago, is still one of the most powerful and conceptually interesting pieces of this entire selection of music. Parmerud’s own written summary of the work is fascinating, detailing his efforts to record different human voices from all over the world (the total duration of recordings Parmerud made during his journey approaches 20 hours!) and create a piece that ventures into several ideas, or ‘islands,’ amidst a continuous flow of sound. The composer’s treatment of the voices results in dark, sonorous waves, grounded by recognizable elements—for me, the most notable of these was an appearance of Ginsberg’s “Howl.” The other concepts are no less enthralling, what with the auditory riddles of “Les objet obscurs” and the philosophical musings of “Alias.”
“In the end, sound covered the face of the Earth.”
Derek Bailey and Han Bennink’s live album (1972’s aptly titled Derek Bailey & Han Bennink) easily has one of my favorite album covers. And after listening to it last night, I thought about something else that makes it great: that it’s FUN. A bit scary at times, with the screaming and whatnot, but in the end it is just two creative, talented improvisers having a grand time making noise. The second studio LP from the duo of Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt, Brace Up!, shares this quality. Corsano and Orcutt are not only experienced in the art of group improvisation in their own rights, but they’ve also been playing together since at least 2013, when The Raw and the Cooked was released. You can truly hear the wordless two-person language in which they have become fluent; Corsano’s frenetic, free-form flurries are always just slightly cursed with rhythm, and some of the record’s best moments come about when Orcutt’s torturous, resonant attack of the guitar strings retreats slightly and they tease out that tiny bit of order for even a second or two. But then again, there’s no sense of convention necessary in the beautifully organic “She Punched a Hole in the Moon for Me” (which I’m 80% sure is a reference to Scott Pilgrim). Plus the album cover is hilarious, and pretty representative of what the music sounds like—but don’t be fooled; there is some gorgeous stuff on this.
Buy the LP here.
Peter Keller’s long running project Bacillus takes its name from a genus of enzyme-producing bacteria and infectious pathogens, a fitting namesake for more than twenty-years’ worth of experiments with sonic decay. Serial Infector is Keller’s first recorded work in almost a decade. It focuses on the horrifying concept of people who intentionally spread diseases and infections to others, much in the same way as Bacillus’s gritty electronics worm their way into the listener’s unsuspecting ear. The tape comes in a medical biohazard bag, which I’m not sure is able to contain the relentless, gnawing sounds that threaten to break out of their red plastic shell at any moment. The first side’s maelstroms of decomposing industrial sound, blasts of distorted feedback, and pedal noise howls come to a head with the vicious centerpiece “Bulgarian Nurses Affair,” a deafening mass of pestilence whose edges crackle with piercing glitches. Side B starts equally loud with “The Deliberate Infection of Over 400 Children With HIV,” a song I hope is not based on actual events, and “Intentional Transmission,” both of which pummel the eardrums with merciless high frequencies and squalling loops of noise. Serial Infector never relinquishes even a bit of its energy, even on the short interlude “Stolen Syringes” that sounds like a buzzing horde of disease-bearing gnats.
The first side of Fragments of Consciousness, the new tape from Bruising Pattern (also known as Peter Stipsits) on Lost Light Records, begins rather innocuously with a thin wave of static dwarfed by a guttural rumble. But by the time the first thirty seconds of the track have passed, Stipsits forces the wall into harsher territory, rolling the crackles to the front of the mix until they merge with the lumbering bass undertones. The result is a formidable, roiling slab of noise, bubbling but harsh like a boiling pot full of cement, that commands the listener’s attention for its entire 29 minutes. Hiding high above the chunks of distortion, however, is the soft clinking sound of a delay pedal clock, an element that foreshadows the higher register of the second piece and adds a new dimension to the piece. Though still up-close and confrontational, side two of Fragments of Consciousness whips up the crumbling cacophony into a tight drone, the crepitating noise concealing a more recognizably tonal hum that sets the whole wall on edge. Stipsits uses his minimal palette to find balance between arresting abrasion and anxious tension, making Fragments of Consciousness one of the more captivating wall releases I’ve encountered this year.
The Portuguese title of Federico Durand’s new album, Pequeñas Melodías, translates in English to “Little Melodies.” I couldn’t think of a better name for this collection of soft music box twinkles and synthesizer drones, muffled and broken by the decaying tapes onto which they were recorded and manipulated. The opening pair of tracks introduce cascades of flickering tape loops, portraying a powerful sense of nostalgia and dusty beauty yet entirely avoiding cutesy-ness, an easy trap to fall into when those distinctive toy-like plinks are used. “Las Estrellas Giran En El Pinar” brings guitar into the mix, and “Los Juguetes De Minka Podhájská” draws unique emotions from its reliance on fragmented playback, with the stuffy melodies sometimes dropping out for as long as a second at a time. I should also mention that Pequeñas Melodías, along with all releases on the IIKKI imprint, is a collaboration with a visual artist, in this case photography team Albarrán Cabrera (Anna P. Cabrera & Angel Albarrán). Even before I had finished my first listen of the record I was skeptical about how these intangible, elusive feelings could be augmented or even matched by photographs, but that was before I actually saw what Cabrera and Albarrán had contributed (you can view a video preview of the photo book here). Their gorgeous shots are filled with rich darkness and film imperfections, evoking distant warmth in even the most nocturnal images. The accompaniments for the longest two tracks, “Racimos de Luz” and “La Tarde Ronda Por La Casa,” are breathtaking, and somehow handily complement Durand’s immaterial works.