Category Archives: Experimental

Oren Ambarchi / Crys Cole: Sonja Henies Vei 31

Oren Ambarchi_Crys Cole_Sonja Henies Vei 31Oren Ambarchi / Crys Cole: Sonja Henies Vei 31
Planam (2014)

Wow. I can’t remember the last time a record affected me the way this one has. It’s an uncomfortable experience, and definitely not something that anyone would find themselves listening to on a regular basis but as a field recording specimen and stunning example of sound art, Sonja Henies Vei 31 is a must have.

Promoted as a deeply personal record that places the listener into the most personal of spaces, I bought a copy of Sonja Henies Vei 31 almost on a whim. Perhaps it’s that element of surprise which made this such an intense listen for me, and for that reason I almost don’t want to give too much away. Which makes this a difficult record to write about. What ever you read in relation to Sonja Henies Vei 31, it’s no lie that Ambarchi and Cole invite listeners into an incredibly private space. The listener takes on the role of voyuer in an uncomfortable and awkward way; we learn that real life can be stranger than fiction. This private (head)space is cleverly balanced out by an allusion to an outer, public space which heightens the sense of being privvy to something you shouldn’t be.

I’m curious about why Ambarchi and Cole decided to make this record. It’s a gutsy move that leaves them vulnerable to all manner of judgement. I’ve poked around the internet and can’t find much written about it. Thankfully both artists are experienced at making challenging work; a record like this couldn’t be pulled off by just anyone.

Fans of field recordings will definitely appreciate onja Henies Vei 31. Truly an unusual, and unforgettable listen.

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.

Body/Head: Coming Apart

Kim Gordon-Body-Head-Coming-Apart1

Body / Head: Coming Apart
Matador (2013)

I’ll try to talk about this record without going into some sort of sentimental Sonic Youth meltdown.

I was nervous about this Coming Apart. The hype was intense. And I treated it with great scepticism at first, almost like I didn’t want to believe it could be  decent. And yet I listened to Coming Apart twice in a row today. Not because I felt like I had too so I could write about it, but because it’s actually quite good. Oh yes, it’s a challenge and it’s unlikely that you’re going to succumb to its charms on the first listen. Coming Apart is too sparse and aimless for any of that. But like all truly great music persistence is key.

Kim Gordon and Bill Nace serenade each other through improvised guitar work. They complement each other beautifully, one ratcheting up murky soundscapes while the other plays snaking melodies that create a misty atmosphere that’s difficult to see through, weightless and floating around all stoned and beautiful. The fact the guitars were recorded analogue style – Kim comes out one speaker while Bill haunts the other – adds to the disorienting nature of proceedings. When someone stops doodling, the audio world suddenly falls lopsided and for a second you’ll wonder if your headphones/speakers are on the fritz. I love that about Coming Apart, that it’s so human sounding and raw. There’s a lot of similarities between this and Sonic Youth’s SYR releases (dammit, how can you NOT reference that band?). Partly in the (seemingly) unedited and live sound but more so in the aimless guitar noodling, the lack of resolution and if that’s not your cup o’ tea than I suggest you look elsewhere for kicks. But me, I love this sort of stuff.

The most striking thing about Coming Apart is Kim’s vocals, in particular the honesty of her lyrics. She whispers, croons, scowls, yelps, yells and even barks about mistresses, actresses, murderesses and girls pissing like dogs to mark their territory. It’s nothing new for Gordon to sing about the Femme Fatale  but this time her lead characters aren’t using their sexual prowess to fuck over white, male, corporate America or being subjected to the clammy gaze of a lascivious male audience. This time her female characters are sinister, predatory, praying mantis-like and conniving. I’m amazed that she’s allowed her personal life to shine through like this, but to be honest it’s fucking refreshing and she sounds more confronting and powerful than she has in years.

Despite Gordon’s abrasive (at times) vocal performance, Coming Apart is a very dreamy experience. It’s a complex maze to get lost in, largely because it demands your attention. there’s no dipping into and out of this record. You’re either in it for the long haul or you’re not. People with short attention spans should move the back of the line. Everyone else, have some patience and enjoy.

Mohammad: Som Sakrifis

Mohammad_Som SakrifisMohammad: Som Sakrifis
Pan (2013)

On the other end of the Cello spectrum to Okkyung Lee, is this stellar release on everyone’s favorite label right now, Pan. Mohammad is comprised of three Greek artists Nikos Veliotis, Costantino Kiriakos, and ILIOS. I know of ILIOS through his Antifrost label but can’t say I’m familiar with the other two guys, however that may change.

What we have here is a brilliant example of the power of drone, illustrated by the haunting, deep beauty of Cello and Contra Bass. Where Okkyhung Lee attacks her instrument, Veliotis and Kiriakos coax long and considered notes from their muse while ILIOS takes a backseat, colouring the background with skittery electronics.

The Cello is the perfect drone instrument. In many ways, Som Sakrifis is like an acoustic Sunn O))) trip, but darker and more melancholic (don’t ask me how this can be darker than Sunn O))), but it is). Som Sakrifis is mournful music for solo listening at night, with the lights off.

My favorite moments are when Veliotis and Kiriakos violently and suddenly shift notes, their fingers and bows scraping against the strings like they’re actually tearing sound out of their instruments. The hairs stand up on the back of my neck every time. There’s also great beauty in the way they often play in harmony, each musician following their own narrative, settling on the same note for a few beats and then sliding tones and semi tones apart which creates a restless energy.

When this sort of music is done right the effect is completely immersive and deeply personal. It’s no coincidence that drone forms the basis of various religious ‘musics’; it can be a spiritual experience. Anyone with even the remotest interest in drone and minimalist music needs to check this record out. In a genre filled with Souncloud and Bandcamp mediocrity, Mohammad are the real deal.

Kareem: Porto Ronco

Kareem Porto Ronco DroneKareem: Porto Ronco
The Death of Rave (2013)

It begins by oozing out of your speakers, and gently simmering in a murky puddle. Bubbles of radio miasma drift off and burst quietly in the shadows. The atmosphere is warm but airless and desperate. A series of electronic groans takes over and leads us towards a beautiful Kevin Drumm style drone, power lines crackle in the distance while feedback rings in and out of consciousness. The drone becomes more menacing, discordant, rattling. It mutates through crushing distortion, a static-y hum and detuned television reception before quietly drifting away on a single, ringing note.

This record is fucking amazing. Seriously. Patrick Stottrop, aka Kareem has been around since the 90s making spooky hip hop riddims and damaged industrial techno but it’s this drastic change of direction that’s grabbed my attention. Apparently inspired by a deceased relative and named after small European town where his grandfather lived, Porto Ronco is void of rhythm but overflows with ambience. It’s a unique record but if you think of Mike Shiflet, maybe a little of Ben Frost and the least menacing moments of Haxan Cloak you’re somewhere in the same shadow as Kareem on Porto Ronco.

I’ve been listening to the 45 minute mp3 version of Porto Ronco, but there’s also an edited, 30 minute version available on vinyl. Would this shorter, broken up version lose its effect? I don’t know, maybe. You can pick up both for the one price on Boomkat. Do yourself a favour.

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.

Helm: Impossible Symmetry


Helm: Impossible Symmetry
Pan (2012)

Sorry. I’m going to be writing about 2012 records for months to come, I believe, because it was just such an amazing year for music. Especially experimental music. And fucking hell what a year it was for the Berlin based label Pan; Eli Keszler, Lee Gamble, NHK’Koyxen and that kick ass Aaron Dilloway/Jason Lescalleet collaboration. And then there’s this creepy record.

Helm is one Luke Younger, formerly a member of Birds of Delay. This is the first Helm record I’ve heard and I don’t know why I still haven’t chased down the two preceding this one. Impossible Symmetry trades in the same smoked out, eerie minimalism that former and current members of Wolf Eyes are dealing with in their solo projects these days. But Helm sounds more calculated, less DIY. Younger’s other career  as a sound artist is an obvious influence here as he reconstructs the Industrial vibes of his London birthplace in delicious stereo sound. Machines clank along cobblestone streets and dislocated voices chitter-chatter in the distance while city-scape ambience hums gently in the darkest corners of shadowy lanes and alley ways. In Helm’s world life and urbanisation are present but always out of reach.

Occasionally the clutter slips into a rhythmic shuffle which segues into the next lonely  passage. Or vague vapour trails of melody seep out of sewage grates. These tiny details are perfectly placed to tantalise us.  Impossible Symmetry is a great example of the Noise’s recent shift beyond DIY bang-stuff-to-make-new-sounds aesthetic of the 2000s. More and more artists are taking the fundamentals of Noise and using that to toy with traditional musicality – be it dynamics, tone or composition. If you enjoyed Mike Shiflet’s absolutely stunning The Choir, The Army from last year, then Helm’s Impossible Symmetry will be right up your alley.

Burial Hex: Book of Delusions

Burial Hex: Book of Delusions (reissue)
Cold Spring (2012)

It kinda concerns me when I want to describe a record that I really like as Gothic. Thankfully I’m not talking eyeliner, capes and teased hair. No.

Originally released on vinyl, and now re-issued on cd with additional tracks from an earlier split with Zola Jesus, there’s something distinctly Gothic in the sense of art history and architecture about Book of Delusions. It’s in the choirs and violins that drift through the record. Its cavernous sound, as if it was recorded in a giant, 12th Century Church. Decaying altar pieces and frescoes come to life. Shards of dusty light sear though stone rose windows.

My only other experience with Burial Hex has been the four track drone epic, Initiations which I quite liked at the time, but fuck me this is so much better. The tracks on Book of Delusions are noisy but song-like in structure, at one point even slipping into a Public Image Ltd style jam. They’re painful and cathartic. Like Prurient with less synths. Main man Clay Ruby does some seriously anguished howling throughout on this record, which somehow merges nicely with the choirs and strings. The occasional drum beat, glacially paced and doom ridden, heightens the drama and adds to the gigantic sound.

Is this what Burial Hex sounds like on on other releases? Someone please confirm. Book of Delusions is almost a prefect storm of horror noise, drone and post-post rock. Most recommended.

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.