Rashad Becker: Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I
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.
Mohammad: Som Sakrifis
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.
Helm: Impossible Symmetry
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.