Category Archives: Electronica

Aphex twin: Computer Controlled Acoustic Music Pt. 2

Aphex-Twin-Computer-Controlled_Computer_Music_Pt2Aphex twin: Computer Controlled Acoustic Music Pt. 2
Warp Records (2015)

The internet went into meltdown when a blimp appeared over London bearing the Aphex Twin logo……blah blah blah. Well, here’s the follow up to his first album in 14 years. Computer Controlled Acoustic Music Pt. 2 might not be a proper ‘follow up’ – in fact  it’s a collection of odds, ends and experiments also collected over the previous fourteen years – but that doesn’t make it any less cohesive.

It may not be as musical as Syro. In fact it sounds completely different to its predecessor. It may not have the downright creepy weirdness of his earlier works, but what it doesn’t lack is funk. Yes, funk. You might never have associated the word ‘funk’ with Apex Twin, but it’s here. Clear as day. It’s in the head-nodding, old-school hip-hop rhythms. It’s in the bouncy, acoustic bass lines. It’s in the percussive clunk of the live instruments all of this is based on.

Those percussive vibes are what separates Computer Controlled Acoustic Music Pt. 2 from all the other ‘funky’ instrumental music that exists in the 2014. The instruments might be acoustic but they sound ‘prepared’ in a subtle nod to the sonic world of John Cage and his ilk. The pianos are clunky and stunted. The snares are all fucked up and tinny. The beats are sprinkled with tings, plonks and random off-shoots of sound. I’m not naive enough to think that Richard D James actually interfered with all thee acoustic instruments before recording them. I know full well that he’s a studio boffin who must have spent weeks twiddling knobs to get this recording sounding as it does. But that’s the intrigue; like the 30 second interludes of super-speed piano lines that sound ‘real’ even though they could only be played by a robot. And if you can accept Computer Controlled Acoustic Music Pt. 2 on its own, outside of the all baggage that comes with the second Apex Twin record in 14 years, it’s fucking fun.

Exoteric Continent: Primera Norma


Exoteric Continent: Primera Norma
Hospital Productions (2014)

Dominic Fernow continues to harness his support for techno’s deepest, darkest Industrial caves with the release of this limited edition cassette by Exoteric Continent on his Hospital Productions label. And it’s stronger than the recent Vatican Shadow output.

Everything about Primera Norma is dark and throbbing. From the thickened drum loops to the pulsating bass lines. Strange whirring sounds, like helicopters or spacecraft gearing up for take off permeate all four tracks. The vibe is dangerous and claustrophic. The threat of violence is real. The listener waits anxiously for something to explode. Nothing ever really happens though, and it’s this facade which ensures you don’t hit stop.

This is the sound of a drug fucked nightclub in a basement deep below the city, where only the weirdest freaks hang out. Everything looks like a scene out of Bladerunner. No one dances because everyone’s either too cool, or too wasted. Probably both.

Exoteric Continent is actually one guy, Arnau Sala Saez from Barcelona. He’s released a bunch of CDrs and tapes under various aliases on loads of small label, including the buzzworthy Opal Tapes. Here’s hoping he releases more of this stuff because Prima Norma is fucking excellent.

Jar Moff: Financial Glam


Jar Moff: Financial Glam
Pan (2013)

I loved Commercial Mouth, Jar Moff’s first release on PAN. We chatted about it on The Antidote where David wasn’t so keen, but goddam I think it’s a fun record. Financial Glam is even better and I can’t believe it’s taken me a full year to write about it.

Greek born Jar Moff trades in a style of abstract ‘sampledalica’ championed by the likes of John Weise, but his aesthetic also shares a musicality with artists like Jason Hammer. Composition is significant to Jar Moff, and the result is a sound collage that feels smooth and purposeful, never disparate. The point isn’t to come up with shocking juxtapositions. Instead he arranges unusual combinations of sound into dynamic shapes that morph around eachother. This record feels like it has strong narrative, and based on the title it’s easy view the work as a response to the economic desolation of his homeland.

Financial Glam lifts off with a gentle, electronic pulse like a subdued Wolf Eyes jam. Swathes of gnarled synths and strings begin eating away at the perimeter. Electronic clatter slowly takes over and we’re off on a Willy Wonka ride into a sonic jungle. Jar Moff’s knack for composition is what keeps this melting pot of samples from blending into a muddy, brown soup. He builds a forward momentum rather than slamming you with whiplash inducing dramatic turns. Moff’s collection of sounds rise and fall in smooth complexity; often dischordant but never jarring.

In fact, the over all effect is similar to a free jazz improvisation, potentially enhanced by Moff’s tendency toward fractured saxaphones and other reed-fuelled debris. Combined, all the disparate elements feel like part of a greater whole, and the snippets of ‘real’ instruments breathe life into what could easily be an electronic shit-sammy (at times, you can literally hear the muscians taking a breath before firing off a brass blast).

The B side is a more musical trip. A damaged guitar groans in despair over an off kilter drum beat, while an arrangement of out-of-key synths hovers around in the background. Eventually Moff introduces a more desolate arrangement of samples including irrationally triggered drum pads, something that sounds like a hammer drill, an annoying buzz, cheap feedback, spastic high hats and other musique concrete effects. hold on to your hats, kids.

This record should be a stomach churning, motion sick trip, but Financial Glam never feels like a road to nowehere. Everyone should take this ride.

Roly Porter: Life Cycle Of A Massive Star

Roly Porter_Lifecycle of a Massive StarRoly Porter: Lifecycle of a Massive Star
Subtext (2013)

This year I’ve listened to more great music than I’ve been able to write or think about.  Perhaps it’s my involvement in the Antidote Podcast, perhaps 2013 has been a great year for weirdo music, more likely it’s a combination of both. This Roly Porter record is one of those gems that almost slipped me by.

It starts off slowly, rising from the murk in a swirl of synths. It’s like the soundtrack to a thousand alien spacecraft descending on earth while its population stands mesmerised in disbelief. From there we wander through fragments of deconstructed Jungle and Rave references, calling to mind Lee Gamble’s sonic experiments. Rhythm is eschewed for ambience penetrated by blasts of noise and sonic shrapnel. The entire monster moves at the pace of Doom but the feeling is one of meloncholic catharsis rather than crushing defeat.

If there’s a noise scene at the moment it’s dug it’s way back underground (probably hibernating for a revival helmed by a new cast of misfits), and instead we get artists like Porter applying the aesthetics of noise to an electronic world with closer ties to rave culture and chill out rooms. Pete Swanson, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement and a large chunk of Pan’s amazing catalogue are pursuing similar interests. Roly Porter is another fantastic example of this shift. Don’t let Life Cycle Of A Massive Star pass you by.

Rashad Becker: Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I

Rashad BeckerRashad Becker: Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I
Pan (2013)

Over on The Antidote Podcast, Dave and I have recently found ourselves pondering the definition of Noise, spurred on by a mesmerising record by icelandic Sound Artist Bjarni Gunnarsson. This has coincided with a book I’m reading at the moment called Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation which suggests that Noise music as a genre is defined by loud, relentless and ‘harsh’ slabs of sound.

I’m not sure I agree, because the first thing anyone who isn’t familiar with this sort of ‘music’ would think upon hearing Rashad Becker’s positively weird record, is that it was noise. And you know what? They’d be right. IT might not be harsh or loud but there is nothing recognisable on Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I. It’s synthetic and bizarrely composed. There’s nothing to sink your teeth into except a fluctuating molasses of micro tones. Melody? Natch. Rhythm? Depends how many drugs you’ve consumed. Is it loud and relentless? Nope, but it’s definitely noise.

Imagine the cut n’ paste nature of John Weise, but slowed wayyyy down and based on non-sensical sounds rather than field recordings and samples. Throw in a pinch of the gloopy bleeps favoured by the likes of Black Dice and you’ll get a vague idea of the soup that Rashad Becker has cooked here. When I listen to this record I find myself thinking of soft, soapy bubbles floating around and then quietly bursting. Every track on this record is composed from little bubbles of sound, each one individually pulling itself free from the whole and spinning off into it’s own orbit where Rashad manipulates them until they disintegrate. Sometimes they fizz out into black holes of delay; sometimes they pop and splutter into nothingness; sometimes they gently fade away…..

Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I isn’t an easy listen. It’s up there with the truly abstract Rene Hell record also released on Pan this year. But Becker’s expertise as a sound engineer makes this a nerdgasmic experience for fans of the experimental. Since the late nineties, Becker has developed a fine reputation as a recording engineer, having racked up credits on something like 1200 Electronic, Dance and Experimental records. His experience shines through on Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I; every individual sound is unbelievably crisp and clear, existing in its own little dimension. Even the space between each ‘note’ shines in a way that only a professional can master. The precision adds to the curious nature of this strange little record without dipping into academia. Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I might not be loud but it’s definitely not ambient. It might not be harsh, but it’s definitely Noise. A beautiful noise.

Fuck Buttons: Slow Focus

Fuck Buttons Slow FocusFuck Buttons: Slow Focus
ATP Recordings (2013)

It’s funny how time can change your outlook on a record. Sometimes it’s circumstance, sometimes it’s the quality of the music itself but there are occasions when a record you love loses its shine or an album you forget about suddenly becomes mind-blowing. In the case of Tarot Sport, Fuck Button’s last full length release, I was totally into it for a while but eventually its candy coloured glow became sickeningly sweet and I lost interest.

So I was a little sceptical about the arrival of Slow Focus. But after hearing good things about it from a number of people I gave it a crack and was pleasantly surprised. The boys have done themselves a service by pushing aside the techno flourishes and replacing them with a grimier, dubbier palette. This isn’t quite bass music, but the focus is on deep grooves and lolling rhythms, densely layered drones highlighted by intricate melodies and spidery wavelengths of noise.

Perhaps best of all, the tracks on Slow Focus evolve and mutate as they play out, often finishing somewhere completely different to where they kicked off from. In the past Fuck Buttons have happy to ride out a concept for 10 minutes,  using repetition to lure the listener into a zen-like state. On Slow Focus, they’ve matured enough to take us on a series of psychedelic journeys into swirling miasma of distortion. The bombast of Tarot Sport has been paired back to reveal more of the experimental expeditions that caused so many of us to fall in love with Fuck Buttons in the first place.

I’ve had this record for quite a while now, and so far I’m still listening to it. I’m still interested and excited by it. Will I still feel this way in a year’s time? Who knows. For now, Slow Focus is a fun ride and I’m totally psyched about seeing them play again at the Melbourne International Arts Festival in October.

[PHYSICS]: Spectramorphic Iridescence


[PHYSICS]: Spectramorphic Iridescnece
Digitalis (2013)

Things start off all hipster cool with Casio beats and plastic synths sporting faux Pompadours and Buddy Holly glasses without lenses. Two minutes later we’re in a K-hole with Aphex Twin, and by track 3 things are getting decidedly weird. A rhythmical bass line drives odd electrical fuzz and hiss through sleets of reverb, turning everything into mush like an R&B My Bloody Valentine. Before you get comfortable it’s back to another 80s Sci-Fi fantasy soundtrack with echoey electro snares and cheesy arpeggios. What the hell is going on here?

This dreamlike record is experimental for its manic ability to veer between various digital music tropes of yore and somehow spew out a cohesive experience. But the Now is never far away. Like Emerald Forest, where creatures bubble and toil in a way that calls to mind the more tribal sounding moments of Black Dice. One can see Grace Jones gnashing her teeth and eating a man whole while listening to this.

There’s plenty of digital revival stuff going around at the moment but you’d be hard pressed to find a record that does as good a job of meat grinding retromania as this. The beauty of [PHYSICS], whoever they are, is their ability to take this sound into contemporary spaces. I could reference Oneohtrix Point Never but that would be selling [PHYSICS] short.

I bought this record for the cover art. Fuck you. It proved to be totally worth it.

Autechre: Exai


Autechre: Exai
Warp (2013)

I’ve been a huge fan of Autechre for a number of years. Autechre have taught us that rhythm is not only for dancing. Their sound is an unsolvable Rubik’s Cube, a constantly changing atomic mass of particles unable to merge into a cohesive whole. I keep coming back to Autechre because I’m desperate to solve their puzzle.

I finally got see Sean Booth and Rob Brown do their live thing a few years ago, at the time of their last proper release, Oversteps. Their live show was fucking horrible. They played in total darkness, the only light in the venue came from the exit signs and the bar fridges. The stage was somehow rigged up so that even Booth and Brown’s laptop screens didn’t light up their faces. The live set had none of the delicate nuances of their recorded output; instead they blasted out a never ending stream of collapsing percussion. For all I know they weren’t even on the stage. I gave up and left after 30 minutes.

At that time, Autechre had put out three mediocre releases (Quaristice, Oversteps and Move of Ten) which all veered towards middle-of-the-road synthesised trip hop and after that disappointing live show I thought it was the end of our relationship.

Thank god that Exai, a two hour double album, has redeemed them. Exai is like a trip back to 2001, and while I’m not normally one to celebrate musicians looking backwards I’m thrilled that the boys have returned to form. After 11 albums and numerous eps, I’d say most fans of weirdo music have chosen which side of the Autechre fence they’re on. I’m not going to try and convince anyone to give them a go, but if you’ve been a fan at any point in their career now is the time to rediscover them.

Where Quaristice (2007), Oversteps (2010) and Move of Ten (2010) were records that downplayed percussion to highlight drone and melody, Exai finds them merging that phase with the non-sensical beats they’re famous for. Early on, melody was important to Autechre and their rhythms were somewhat conventional, danceable fare. By the time Confield was released, melody was being buried beneath prickly shards of percussion. On Exai, the two sides of Autechre are in constant friction with each other and the tension is palpable.

Exai explodes with frenzied blasts of angular data, underpinned by suitably doomed synth washes and Nueromancer style nightmares. It makes me want to live in an apocalyptic future where battered Drones swoop through decayed cities and we’re all plugged directly into the internet as food for machines.

Mind you, I don’t think I’ll ever bother seeing Autechre live again.

Vatican Shadow: Ghosts of Chechnya

Vatican Shadow: Ghosts of Chechnya
Hospital Productions (2012)

I’m going to kick this off with a shameless plug. Dave over at Ducks Battle Satan and I have started up a noise and experimental music podcast called The Antidote. Check out our site or download the first episode from iTunes. Expect discussions about new records, and even some older ones, along with interviews and other junk.

Dave and I live at opposite sides of Australia, so we’re recording via Skype which means one of us is always going to sound a bit tinny. But you know, if you’re a noise aficionado then I reckon you can handle a bit of digital decay, right? Especially when two eloquent and though provoking individuals are waxing lyrical about music from the outer fringes… umm, yeah, whatever. Check us out.

Of the three records we chat about in our inaugural episode, Ghosts of Chechnya is the one that’s ended up staying on my mind. Vatican Shadow is the new incarnation (another one!) of Dominick Fernow, he of Prurient fame. But if you’re expecting feedback screwed, hellish emo noise……don’t be disappointed. Vatican Shadow is like dance music for vampires in dank basements with mouldy walls and overflowing sewage drains. Ambient rhythms pound aimlessly, while synthesisers and aural scuzz float around in blackened clouds. Industrial percussion enters the mix at odd intervals and gives things a Warp-label edge.

Fernow’s change of direction isn’t all that surprising when you think of his involvement in Cold Cave, and some of the latter Prurient records such as Cocaine Death, Rose Pillar and especially Bermuda Drain. Instead, it was the military imagery that confounded me for being so at odds with his past aesthetics. We discussed this on The Antidote and afterwards I did a little extra research, which encouraged me to pay closer attention to Vatican Shadow’s track titles. “Snipers as a Breed tend to be Superstitious“, “Voices Came Crackling Across a Motorola Hand-Held” and “Chechnya’s Ghosts Loom Large in the Death of Former Spy“. The Vatican Shadow aesthetic stems from the media’s portrayal of war in the Middle East. The absurd way that war is horrifying, but also somewhat glorified. Fernow wears Middle East Camouflage gear when he plays live as Vatican Shadow.

I realised the synth lines and metronomic beats, which I originally thought were borrowed from 80’s horror films, are actually the soundtrack to some fucked up first-person warfare computer game. Lets all connect online and virtually shoot the shit out of the bad guys, who ever they are. Lets blow all those motherfuckers up, and dance a little while we’re doing it. Dominick Fernow isn’t angry and depressed about his insides anymore, he’s not making noise as a form of self-harm. Now he’s very aware of what’s happening in the world around him. He has made this shift very subtly, without any blatant statements. Does that make him some sort of weirdo artistic genius? I don’t fucking know. But there’s a whole ream of Vatican Shadow releases out there, and everything I’ve heard so far has been pretty great. So go buy some

Laurel Halo: Quarantine

Laurel Halo: Quarantine
Hyperdub (2012)

Exploring the world of noise the way I have in the past four years or so, you start to forget that your definition of ‘noise’ is probably quite different to that of people who might not listen to music with an experimental edge. My partner heard me listening to Laurel Halo’s gorgeous Quarantine recently and he was confused. “It’s just noise with a girl singing over the top.” I guess on some level he’s right, but for a moment I was shocked at his reaction because I actually think this record is quite beautiful and mesmerising, and while it might have ‘arty’ overtones I’ve never thought of Quarantine as noisy.

But then, I’ve survived (and enjoyed) Merzbow’s Pulse Demon, and records by the likes of Cherry Point and Lasse Marhaug. In comparison Laurel Halo sounds like fucking Bambi trotting through a forest filled with butterflies and daffodils.

When I first started seeing Laurel Halo’s name I was hesitant to take on someone who on the surface might be seen as playing with a craze that’s getting a bit stale. It seems Oneohtrix Point Never is the new black, if you know what I mean. Until the day I happened to see Quarantine reviewed on yet another blog/music site and noticed that the record cover, which I thought depicted some cute, hyper-coloured cartoon rip-off was actually a group of school girls committing Hare Kari with Samurai swords. Blood and rainbows spraying everywhere.

I realised there was something more going on here.

Quarantine is a gelatinous creature. Each time you manage to grab hold of it, the music oozes through your fingers and forms a new pool of pink and purple goo. With the synth as her base instrument Halo builds soft clouds of drone and rhythmic melody heightened occasionally by her slightly out-of-tune and somewhat monotonous voice. The songs are shapeless for the most part, and although motifs and lyrical lines reoccur within each track there’s few identifiable verses and choruses. Often, tracks end abruptly or segue into a hazy mist before simply fading away.

Wow sounds like her voice has been sampled, pitch shifted and bent into a creepy avant choir. Carcass rides a throbbing bass surrounded by watery keys and strange alien computer rings with Halo occasionally interjecting something about a carcass in a non-human, squeaky voice.  After four minutes thirty three seconds the tune simply stops. Earlier on, Thaw kicks off with an atonal hum as some sort of field recording bubbles to the surface and gives way to a pretty, triadic tune while Halo asks whether it’s raining and warns you not to get addicted to anything.

Laurel Halo makes curious music, it’s warm and fuzzy but weird. She’s being lumped in with the hypnagogic pop and synthesiser detritus gang, but Halo is  definitely doing something all her own. I had three wisdom teeth removed a few weeks ago and Quarantine was my saviour. I didn’t need pain killers to float away in a haze.