Richard Skelton - Green Withins Brook (from Landings 2010)
Alasdair Roberts - The Royal Road At The World's End (from The Wyrd Meme EP 2009)
King Tubby and Yabby U - Beware of God (from Prophesy of Dub 1976)
Etienne Jaumet - Entropy (from Night Music 2009)
Ikonika - Fish (from Contact, Love, Want, Have 2010)
Joe Henderson (feat. Alice Coltrane) - Earth (from The Elements 1973)
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
From a magician’s midnight sleeve
distribute all their love-songs
over the dew-wet lawns.
And like a fortune-teller’s
their marrow-piercing guesses are whatever you believe.
But on the Navy Yard aerial I find
for love on summer nights.
Five remote lights
keep their nests there; Phoenixes
burn quietly, where the dew cannot climb.
Artist: Nicholas Szczepanik
Album: The Chiasmus
This also appeared on The Line of Best Fit.
Something I’ve always wondered about with drone music is the methodology behind it. With more traditional music forms it’s no great imaginative leap to strip back the structures to the skeleton beneath. But with these long form creations, that have no skeletal frame as such, what’s the governing impulse? Are we watching the unfolding of a process, or exploration? Or is there a narrative core and does the creator obey some unseen (to us) internal compulsion? Is the best analogue with imaginary landscape painting, or abstract impressionism? And what of the weight of tradition and the anxiety of influence?
Lofty questions I suppose, but I’ve found myself asking them over and over when listening to Nicholas Szczepanik’s The Chiasmus, a towering album of huge soundscapes and measureless metallic drones. It’s the first release of Szczepanik’s I’ve come across, (though it is something like his 5th release), but it feels immediately like a huge statement of intent – ambitious, poignant and profound – and does beg the questions asked above, namely: what is being conjured here? In essence, the construction is minimal and the tracks are built from comparatively little, but they speak of vast things.
‘Temporary Inundation of Sleep By Open Windows’ is a case in point: huge, but built from very little, its rolling deep of metallic drones provides a backdrop over which faint outside sounds intrude – distant rain, insect stridulations, the hum of background radiation. The title points towards a simple re-creation of a state of being, the listener hovers in a hypnagogic state and simply transcribes the experience into an aural medium. In this sense, the track becomes an exploration of the epic in the everyday – the drone functioning as a descriptive apparatus. And Szczepanik’s method does have a very visual quality to it, with ‘The Silhouettes of A Winter Sunset’ having a particularly visual feel. Much like ‘Temporary Inundation…’ it has odd extraneous sounds penetrating the surface of the main drone, which in this instance is a series of plangent, broad and hugely affecting vibrating layered organ tones. The visual element may be partly to do with the suggestive track title, but there is something else at work, something that functions at the edge of the soundwaves, like a ripple, almost becoming solid. It may be purely suggestibility of course, the inner eye looking for purchase. Whatever the reason, it’s quite something.
The Chiasmus closes with ‘Lose Yourself, which is I guess largely self-explanatory. A warm drone slowly builds and recedes, yet as if beneath layers of land, or exuded from deep inside your own limbic system. It’s a simple primitive pulse, inviting and already known – both from convention and from some other deeper strata. As the track swells, it gathers the same sense of high vibration that ‘Silhouttes…’ exuded, and develops a metallic sheen. It closes with a heart-leapingly loud burst of static – the same burst that opens the record, and well, we’re back where we started. Dazzled, and still grasping for answers. And I suspect, from the almost Borgesian aspect of the title, that’s probably the point. It’s a record that asks unanswerable questions and there is much to be said for that.
You can stream 'The Silhouettes of A Winter Sunset' over at Nicholas's website.
Artist: Valgeir Sigurðsson
Label: Bedroom Community
This was reviewed for The Line Of Best Fit.
When you divorce a soundtrack from its source, there is a real sense that you’re placing it at a disadvantage. Created for a distinct purpose, and with sequences and shots in mind, a soundtrack stands or falls on its ability to accompany and enhance the visual elements you see on screen. Having said that, the best soundtracks do work as separate entities – the inherent drama and emotional resonances working as abstracted possibilities instead of particularities. Having now seen some chunks of Draumalandið, the film for which Valgeir Sigurðsson’s soundtrack of the same name was created, my impression is that the soundtrack manages to straddle both these outcomes – in situ it’s a powerful piece of work, managing to augment and mirror the immensity of themes explored by Andri Snaer Magnason’s and Þorfinnur Guðnason’s film; yet as a stand alone venture it retains its sense of drama and purpose.
Draumalandið is a film about fear and corruption, based around Iceland’s slide towards bankruptcy and the ways in which the government has manipulated the situation to expedite harnessing and brutalising the country’s natural resources to pay for the damage – primarily by encouraging the multinational Alcoa into making Iceland the largest producer of aluminium in the world. As Magnason puts it, ‘Iceland sacrificed two large rivers to Alcoa…Our government sold them cheap energy and doubled the energy production of Iceland – just to meet Alcoa’s needs. Alcoa needs enormouspower – about four times more energy than the whole nation uses.’ The double-bind behind all this is that generally speaking, the population welcomed the move (or at least were already saw it as a fait accompli) – seeing it as a way of securing the economic future of the regions involved, and the country as a whole. The film is as much about this tension as it is about the extraordinary sublimity of the Icelandic landscape and the pernicious behaviour of politicians.
And it’s this palpable tension that Sigurðsson captures so well. Generally speaking (‘Helter Smelter’ excepted) the score doesn’t attempt to overload the emotional content, preferring instead to use a more painterly approach, using the full Bedroom Community roster (including Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon and Ben Frost amongst others) to work a low-level drama and menace, and a sense of quiet sadness into the visual gaps. And Sigurðsson is no stranger to drama, both in his own solo work and in his varied production work – an impressive collection of talents that includes Bjork, Hildur Guðnadóttir and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy; but despite the subject matter he generally resists the urge to ramp it up here.
The soundtrack’s central motif is a simple repeated piano progression, overlain with glockenspiel and strings – it bolsters the title track and re-appears in ‘Draumaland’ albeit in a more subdued fashion. It embodies the soundtracks twin airs of sadness and vague peril, a pairing best explored on the last two tracks, ‘Nowhere Land’ and ‘Helter Smelter’, both towering tracks in their way – the former for its subtle sweep of strings, the latter for its near-bestial violence, driven by a growling Ben Frost drone. Outside of this, however, the mood is one of quiet and contemplation. As such, vignettes like ‘I offer prosperity and eternal life…’ ‘Hot Ground Cold’ and ‘Laxness’ are beautifully restrained and very simple creations made from little more than piano and buried fluttering strings. ‘Grylukvæði’, featuring Sam Amidon on vocals, despite it’s ominous backwards strings is similarly quiescent.
Overall, Draumalandið is a forceful and poignant piece of work, and as part of the larger film project its quite outstanding. Seek both out if you can.
Big Star - Stroke it Noel
Artist: The Moving Dawn Orchestra
Album: Dials EP
Label: Fluid Audio
This was reviewed for The Line of Best Fit.
The electroacoustic/post-classical/ambient (yes, I agree, it does need a new handle) field is currently about as overstuffed as any I can think of. There’s a wealth of established acts, and then a great slew of releases on smaller labels that seem to multiply infinitely into the distance – a fact that induces a kind of vertigo if you look too closely. Strangely though, there is a kind of comfort in knowing that there can be so much good and great music being made, and on such a small scale. It has its own kind of purity.
Into which comes Dials the first EP from The Moving Dawn Orchestra, the new project from Guy Andrews, sometime ambient creator with Iambic². Dials is released on the Fluid Audio imprint, an offshoot of the excellent Fluid Radio project that sits at something of a crossroads in the genres mentioned above, acting as a kind of node, drawing scene strands together. It’s released in a very limited run, and comes in exquisite packaging, featuring photographs (haunting scenes, featuring unnamed silhouettes in sepia landscapes), a parchment roll, and a hand made stitched fabric cover. My copy came wrapped with a handful of cloves, that singular smell acting as a harbinger of the music itself.
And that heavy hanging smell of cloves is a useful analogue, as the music on Dials does have a hovering presence. Thematically, the EP’s four tracks trace the passing of a year, and are built around Andrews’ simple piano figures, a deep cello undertow, acoustic instruments such as a xylophone, plus various washes of analogue synths. This exploration of the natural world is something Andrews has explored through his work with Iambic², but here, programmed beats are replaced with a more painterly method, the evocations more elegiac.
‘Keep Still’ (the track based around summer) is suitably warm and enveloping. It begins with a dripping glockenspiel, over which washes soft drones; an acoustic guitar picks out a lazy rhythm before Andrews’ hushed voice whispers ‘don’t stop, this summer to be’. It’s vaguely reminiscent of some of Keith Kennif’s work as Helios and has a similar sense of grace. ‘Silhouette’, the ‘winter’ track, has a more somber tone, built around again a simple piano progression, and a haunting cello line. Alongside the artwork, this track hints at something deeper within the work – beyond any abstracted sense of time passing, lived lives. It’s quietly powerful.
Dials is a strong release all round, and worth tracking down. Copies are available from Fluid Audio.
The Moving Dawn Orchestra - Dials EP (Sampler) by guy_andrews
Some astounding images of a dead Russian sea plane. (Spotted on a @eleventhvolume tweet).