Title: Liquid Light Forms
Artist: Koen Holtkamp
This first appeared at The Liminal.
Koen Holtkamp’s Liquid Light Forms has been around in digital format for a few months now, but the delayed vinyl release (out on Barge in early March) has meant a slow accumulation of experience – the record has kind of percolated into me over an extended period. My initial impression was that it was merely another appropriation of the firmly 70s-rooted kosmische sound, with all the attendant baggage that brings, but repeated listens have revealed it to be a subtle and thematically interesting recording. I guess part of it comes down to trust in the end: Holtkamp, as part of the duo Mountains, has always had an ear for the skilful blending (of albeit mainly acoustic) sounds, and it’s this that comes through on Liquid Light Forms. He might have changed the means (he’s using modular synths and sequencers, instead of say an egg whisk) but the sophisticated layering is there, as is the emotional engagement. Named after the Hudson River, and two of its tributaries, the 3 long tracks glisten and shimmer, readily evoking the play of light on water. There isn’t a traditional bassline undertow as such; instead the various modulated melodies intertwine and roll across one another creating an illusion of riverine gravity. The closing track, ‘Hudson Static (Live at Shea Stadium)’ is the most ebullient here, and almost crosses into punch-the-air Emeralds territory. The lingering sonic memory of the previous tracks and Holtkamp’s poise thankfully keeps this in check. Worth the wait, this one.
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
Entries tagged as mountains
We published a collective best of 2011 over at the Liminal. My choices are below, plus a link to those I or someone else at the Liminal reviewed...
1. Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres My short review and interview with Matana.
2. Liturgy - Aesthethica My review.
3. Hallock Hill - The Union My review
4. Corrupted - Garten der Unbewusstheit My review
5. Grouper - Dream Loss/Alien Observer
6. Petrels - Haeligewielle My review
7. Jenny Hval - Viscera My review
8. Altar of Plagues - Mammal My review, and a mix Altar of Plagues put together for the Liminal.
9. Julia Holter - Tragedy My review
10 - Michael Chapman - The Resurrection and Revenge of the Clayton Peacock My review
11. Roly Porter - Aftertime Andrew Bowman's review
12. Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest
13. Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage
14. Tim Noble - Diffaith My review
15. Andy Stott - Passed Me By/We Stay Together Andrew Bowman's review
16. Lawrence English - The Peregrine My review
17. Balam Acab - Wander/Wonder
18. Rustie - Glass Swords
19. Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
20. Asva - Presence of Absences
21. Meg Baird - Seasons on Earth
22. Juliana Barwick - The Magic Place My review
23. Pinch and Shackleton - Pinch and Shackleton
24. Mountains - Air Museum Live review by Scott McMillan
25. The Memory Band - Oh My Days
Mountains (picture by Mapsadaisical)
This was first up at TLOBF.
I’d not been to the Slaughtered Lamb before – a dimly lit hideaway on Great Sutton Street in Farringdon – and coming in, out of the damp of a London night, down a flight of stairs and into an underground music space was a little disorienting. There was a small bar, plush sofas flush against the bare-brick walls and a variety of cushions strewn about the place. It only needed some velvet drapes and some bearskin and the bacchanalia could commence. As it was, the only orgy of the night was to be sonic; and anyway, there were far too many bearded men about for it to be enjoyable.
Pausal began the night with a series of warm drones, the two artists sat to the right of the small stage area, one working a laptop, the other coaxing gentle drift from his guitar. The duo’s EP (reviewed here and out on High Point Lowlife) has garnered some praise (including us!) for its quiet, autumnal grace and live this came across as well, the venue gradually filling with quilted swells of sound. The drones were married to some brilliant visuals as well, with what looked like blurred footage from an Arctic expedition and some haunting pencilled drawings, painstakingly pieced together to form a strange accompanying narrative. The way the film pieces were projected against two hanging squares of white muslin also created a strange ghosting effect that doubled the imagery, further deepening the overall texture of sound and visuals. The band have an album out early next year, which should be worth getting hold of.
Mountains, to me, have always seemed a band that implicitly understand the structures of silence, or at least have spent a great deal of time observing the way sound layers swarm and piece together. From their earliest pastoral drone pieces, I’ve pictured them being from some wooded backwater, hermitic and devotional, delicately piecing together sound fugues. The fact that they are based in New York only marginally messes up this neat picture… At present, as on their recent beautiful LP Etchings, the duo are using the live situation to build intricate sound pieces from accumulated drones and looped acoustic instruments, and working their intimate understanding of sound-layers towards some sort of logical conclusion. The result is one of slow constructions, of managed build and release, of a kind of channelled ecstasy. They’re becoming quite something.
Tonight, Mountains are performing a piece that has been perfected over recent live performances. The single 40-minute track begins with a simple wheezing melodica that forms the cushioned base of the entire piece; this is gradually augmented by various percussive implements (I say implements because at one stage the soft click of an egg whisk against a square of treated metal is used, later a string bag of marbles is delicately scrunched in front of a microphone) and two acoustic guitars. Slowly, the sonic texture thickens, the ear searching for quieter elements, other elements seeming to phase from the mix only to return slightly louder, or altered somehow. And because of the nature of the venue – one that allows for a simple contemplative acceptance of the performance, and, because of its structure, one that enhances and at times seems to swell the available sound – at times, you find yourself leaning into the wind of the thing searching for the resonant heart of the sound, at others metaphorically swaying your ears backward as a percussive click seems to bounce from the walls.
At around the halfway mark, the duo recollect themselves before relaunching the track towards its towering, immersive climax, where they approach the ceiling-scraping epiphanies of Fennesz or Keith Fullerton Whitman – yet that extraordinary sense of control never leaves; and the fact that the two never seem to act from any visual cues, acting from some deeper level of understanding only intensifies the whole performance. As the track approaches whiteout you feel it might be possible to ride the thing out into the street and up, up… It ends much as it begun, a slowly devolution into the warm breath of the melodica and then, again, silence. Snapping back into the room, several people are still far-gone, eyes closed and wearing the faintest of smiles. A hell of a night’s work, that.
M*7 review of Choral
Download: Mountains - Etchings (Edit)
Download: Mountains - Choral
Label: Thrill Jockey
A good interview with Mountains over at The Milk Factory about their new record, Choral, set to be released in the next few days. The band have signed to Thrill Jockey so hopefully they'll have some promotional weight behind them now - to fit their ambition.
Sewn, the duo's previous album, was a sombre thing of gentle oscillations and live acoustic instrumentation. It culminated in the 12 minute epic, 'Hundred Acre' which grew like a vision into a wash of keyboards and fizzing oscillator drones. And despite the obvious technology it felt organic. Choral has taken this element of their sound and sent it heavenwards. Much of the album was recorded live, and this feels like a duo reborn - indeed at times you might just be listening to the rebirth of a relationship. Gone are the sombre tones and instead there is a thrumming uplift to the whole album. At times it verges on a kind of muted ecstasy.
'Choral', the album's opening track - another 12 minute epic but this time a pulsing wall of drones, overlain with a what could be a dance rhythm if the band were so minded, all washed by a treated choir of voices reminscent of Music for Airport's 2:1- has been made available by Thrill Jockey.
Download: Mountains - Choral
The Cairngorm Massif
Cracking edition of the Guardian Review yesterday:
A beautiful piece on Nan Shepherd - the keeper of the Cairngorms - by the, at present, untouchable Robert Macfarlane. Shame the cheapest copy of the book I can find is for £30... (Edit: make that £60 - the power of a good review...)
Iain Sinclair moves a step closer to ubiquity with this great piece on Robert Camberton, an obscure writer about the denizens of London...
And, finally a companion piece by Robert Hughes to the huge Bacon show that is imminent at the Tate Modern. See also Peter Conrad's revealing biographical melange on Bacon from a couple of weeks back.
Mt. Everest, moon
Into Thin Air is an account of the disastrous Everest assault by various teams of climbers in the May of 1996 during which 15 lives were lost. Krakauer, a renowned climber himself, had joined Rob Hall's Adventure Consultant's team as a reporter for Outisde Magazine initially only to report from Base Camp on the team's progress and also to focus on the rampant commercialism which had turned Everest into part playground, part rubbish dump; but Krakauer eventually managed to get himself a place in the full climbing party and took the chance to fulfil what he admits was a lifetime's ambition to stand on the roof of the world.
The book, written as both an attempt at catharsis and as a more complete account than was possible in the already long article which had appeared in Outside magazine, is a troubled, troubling gaze into an abyss. Written from under a dense blanket of grief, Into Thin Air attempts to honestly portray what Krakauer saw and how events conspired to bring about the calamitous death toll: too many climbers, too much ambition, weather of unbelievable ferocity and the debilitating effects of the harshest of environments and extreme altitude all combined to create impossibly cataclysmic conditions. The narrative, divested of any of the joy of climbing or rapturous descriptions of the surroundings so common to much mountain literature, is a horribly compelling slow, graphic descent into a nightmare so horrific as to seem beyond the bounds of possibility. You leave it shattered.
The initial article and the book that followed created a deal of controversy on publication as many people (including relatives of those that died on the mountain) felt that Krakauer had harshly treated some and apportioned blame where none was merited. This was partly due to the amount of speculation Krakauer was driven to indulge in to fill in the gaps in his own story, but also because in many senses, beyond a certain point, Krakauer was the archetypal unreliable narrator: severely physically debilitated and half mad with hypoxic dementia could any of the recreations of the later stages of the climb be in any way considered reliable? The exchanges that followed are available on the Outisde website and are worth a look to get some idea of the controversy involved. Anatoli Boukreev, a guide on Scott Fischer's team whom Krakauer criticised for what he saw as went as negligent behaviour to clients he was supposed to be looking after, went far as to write a book in response - The Climb.
Mt. Everest, storm
Whatever you think of the integrity of Krakauer's account there is no denying its elemental power and there is a certain macabre allure to the whole thing - both in terms of the events on the mountain itself and in the threshings of a mind coping with the awful workings of trauma. It is a book that stays with you, and even now looking through the swathes of images of Everest available on line, in books, there is a screaming horror just below the surface of things, encased in the immensity of all that blackened rock and in the creakings of the deep, tense ice.
Mt. Everest at Summit Post
Radio interview with Krakauer at NPR
Salon piece on the controversy surrounding Into Thin Air
I'm fast becoming a Robert Macfarlane fanboy. After reading the moving and inspiring The Wild Places (more of which sometime soon) I've recently bought his Mountains of the Mind and, on his recommendation, Waterlog by the sadly deceased manifestation of the Green Man, Roger Deakin (it was this beautiful elegy for Deakin that first alerted me to Macfarlane's writing, and subsequently Deakin's). Now I see this in Saturday's Guardian - an account of his journey to the massive Minya Konka mountain on the Chinese side of the Himalayas. Macfarlane is an academic at Cambridge, teaching English; he's also already got a wide history of exploration behind him, both local to Britain and otherwise. All this and he's only 32. The swine.