Review: Marco Colonna – The Second Coming (Plus Timbre, May 13)

Last year, clarinetist Marco Colonna’s previous release on Plus Timbre, FORAMINIFERA, stunned me with its visceral explorations of extended techniques and the versatility of the player’s breath. Though The Second Coming continues Colonna’s delightful subversion of woodwind conventions, the forceful valve clacks and almost painful-sounding failed exhales are replaced by an approach that is quieter but no less unique. The most musical The Second Coming gets is probably in its opening track “Under Pressure,” a series of dainty, nearly melodic flurries that only hint at the affecting physicality that will come later. The artist approaches the clarinet a bit more delicately this time around, his breaths yielding unusual timbres due to their weakness rather than a blustering strength. Tracks like “Dust” and “Inside” delve into an uneasy balance between the presence and absence of actual notes; the tonal elements sometimes trade off with the airy noises of whispered breath, and other times share space in a volatile amalgam. Other pieces are much more abstract, with almost granular textures emerging on “Subinterference” and a percussive conversation between lever presses and rattling blows materializing in “Masque.” Though the introductory text on the album page makes it sound a bit more, erm, intimidating, The Second Coming is another humble and intimate sound adventure from Marco Colonna.

Review: Andy Ortmann – Eye of the Beholder (Meditation, May 15)

Andy Ortmann and the other musicians who have performed and recorded as Panicsville are no stranger to organic material; as is proudly stated on the NIHILIST Bandcamp page, “early shows consisted of pelting the audience with items like dry ice, meat, blood and insects.” The piles of raw, fatty meat and smattering of eyeballs that adorn the cover of Eye of the Beholder are about as repulsively biotic as you can get, but Ortmann’s interest in the often unsettling mixture of the artificial and the natural doesn’t end there. In a similar vein to fellow concrète collagers Rudolf or Dave Phillips, Ortmann’s restless, physical compositions occupy a sort of auditory uncanny valley, where mysterious and unidentifiable elements mimic the most undignified of human noises a bit too well. Sticky dragging textures evoke the uncomfortable but familiar sound of chewing; prepared guitar rattles clack like chattering teeth; saxophone skronks form wordless, despairing moans. The artwork already implies that Eye of the Beholder won’t be the most calming listen, but this dedication to such an abstract, disturbing sonic palette makes for some truly scary results, yet you’ll be unable to tear your ears away. Human life is noisy, and—as argued by “4’33” After Death”—the absence of that life is just as much so.

Review: Butoh Sonics – Flickers of Light (Lurker Bias, May 14)

The three extended improvisations on Flickers of Light find their footing in clunks, clatters, and caterwauls, conjuring erratic soundscapes shrouded in oppressive shadow. The mysterious group known as Butoh Sonics doesn’t rely on reliable structural elements such as drones or repeated motifs to construct their music; instead, it often seems that the only persistent presence to latch onto is the darkness that encases every strained prepared guitar coax or metallic rattle. Needless to say, this makes Flickers of Light quite a disorienting experience, and listening to it ends up feeling like a stumble through some terrifying abandoned junkyard. Each piece clocks in at around fifteen minutes, and though the performers seems to have quite the arsenal of sound-making devices available at their disposal, they stick with seemingly stagnant cacophonies that progress at a nearly imperceptible pace. It’s often only the subtle introduction of a new texture that pulls the heavy, lethargic body of noise along, slowly dragging it across a jagged floor of scrap metal, broken effects pedals, and who the hell knows what else that gets picked up along the way. Flickers of Light is an intense and immersive journey through Butoh Sonics’ subversive sensibilities, a ravaged landscape of crumbling machinery and rusting remnants harnessed through the ears and bodies of creative improvisers.

Review: Andrea Borghi – VHS (Misanthropic Agenda, May 8)

Italian sound artist Andrea Borghi’s music has always had its basis in the physical, much more so than the tendency of most music to be the auditory manifestation of real-world actions; from magnetic tape and electroacoustic devices to prepared turntables and the unconventional platters he plays upon them (which he calls ‘discomateria’), Borghi crafts his uncanny, spectral music using the interactions between tangible entities and his ability to influence them. VHS sees the artist working with the titular medium, but, unsurprisingly, he doesn’t just glue together segments of video tapes. True to form, Borghi works with the tapes and the recorder that plays them directly, manipulating the exposed mechanisms with the care and curiosity of a dedicated scientist. From the mass of circuitry and spinning reels he pulls electrical hums, rotary drones, and cascading clatter into the midst of his choice VHS plunderings, which include anything from fuzzy conversation snippets to distant howls of wind. As a result, the LP is a restless, shifting mass of both familiar and unrecognizable sounds, a unique chiaroscuro highlighting the precise moment that recorded media becomes perceived.

Review: Shane Aspegren & Jérôme Lorichon – Path Through Infinite Body (Ouvré, May 6)

Path Through Infinite Body is quite a departure from French musicians Shane Aspegren and Jérôme Lorichon’s last duo project The Berg Sans Nipple. On this short 7″ from Ouvré the two artists abandon the wistful melodies and cathartic electronics of that moniker and set their sights on a style that incorporates elements of drone and concrète music. Aspegren’s acrobatic, tribal drum work is still present, though, and both complements and tempers the outbursts of bubbling modular cells and other more abstract components. It’s this ongoing interaction between controlled rhythm and the more unpredictable electronics that makes the 12 short minutes of Path Through Infinite Body such a delight; in turn, the two bring each other in and out of sync with the steady pulses that often dominate each part. Part II weaves together flitting radio static and a meditative, metronomic throb with a pounding drum beat that steadily increases in complexity before breaking down into a minimalist motorik skeleton—and then all structure is abandoned with part III, whose fluid, arrhythmic improvisations have no regard for any of the careful escalations that preceded them. It’s always a good sign when a release that doesn’t even reach a quarter hour has this much going on. Path Through Infinite Body is always over too soon, but it’s perfectly paced and presents enough layers to make successive listens completely worth it.

Review: Darksmith – Poverty of Will (Chocolate Monk, Mar 22)

So, as you can probably see, this one came out quite a bit ago. Even though I prefer to review releases that are quite recent, sometimes it takes time for me to really mull something over or even find out it exists—or, as in this case, both of those. I have an ever-expanding appreciation for Darksmith’s work, a trend to which this album is no exception.

There are sections of Poverty of Will that are truly terrifying. On previous works like Total Vacuum and Gypsy the music occupies an uneasy gradient between the two sides of solitude—the sublime withdrawnness of it all, always in tandem with a feeling of crippling loneliness—but here there’s something much more frightening. The 36-second introductory track, “Now Try a Dumb Voice,” appears not to be hiding anything behind processing or manipulation, but in true Darksmith fashion it is nigh undecipherable, save for some muffled voices (maybe from a TV?); and in less than a minute a nagging dread creeps in. The hectic found sound collages of “Visiting Hours Are Over” are even further from anything recognizable, cutting and immersive and nightmarish, almost Changez Les Blockeurs-esque in their disturbing detachment. They end up acting as a tone-setter for the uninterrupted recording that follows, which strips the preceding squall down to the hum and hiss of tape playback and echoing footsteps, cast in smoky shadow by what came before. Poverty of Will is scary, I would definitely say that, but Darksmith’s music, more often than not, resides in a distorted sound-world far removed from the world I know, and much of the fear it brings is not at all concrete. Rather, this absolute isolation renders you helpless, completely subject to Darksmith’s eerily alien yet always familiar apparitions.

Review: Kassel Jaeger – Le Lisse et le Strié (Latency, May 5)

François Bonnet, who releases music as Kassel Jaeger, is an artist with an immense respect for sound. Apart from running the indispensable archival label INA-GRM, his book The Order of Sounds: A Sonorous Archipelago, published by Urbanomic earlier this year, contributed his ideas about the heterogeneity of sound and the lingually subversive way in which we process it to the global discourse. Bonnet’s reverence for the “shifting sonic territories” that surround him is communicated by the profoundly personal way in which he constructs his music; on Le Lisse et le Strié, he processes sounds with a defined idea of texture in mind, sculpting them into spacious, layered environments. It’s stated that the album was “conceived as an exploration of the two antagonist concepts of ​’smooth’ and ​’striated’,” a duality of focus reflected by how the multitude of hums and pulses occupy the stereo space; some restlessly flit from channel to channel, as if they are “enclosed,” while others expand and contract with the freedom of an organic entity. In the process of creating these abstract soundscapes, Bonnet finds himself in a world where sounds are not fettered by their context in the real world, and instead are allotted autonomy by the listener—an idea very much in line with Bonnet’s writings. Absent of concept, Le Lisse et le Strié ambles through sublime clouds of synthetic curves, electric crackles, and occasional hints of untreated recordings; but it’s also a study in how one person can creatively utilize their identity as an astute listener and processor of sound.