Electronic Noise Shootout, Winter 2024

Friday 9 February 2024

I feel like I’m rating different grades of sandpaper when writing listening notes on these. They’re all deliberately awkward music made from digital electronic synthesis and/or processing. Andreja Andric’s two Pocket Electronic Symphonies (Are-Verlag) use filtered and reprocessed noise as their sonic basis, with each piece performed by the composer using a combined variable sound generator and score coded into a javascript app loaded onto a smartphone. Conceptually, it’s irresistable: a lightweight and accessible source and interface without needing to rely on additional material stuff. Andric’s method resolves issues of live performance and those of determining form and structure through the use of the generated score, nudging the audio software beyond being little more than a noisy toy of a type often encountered in this genre. If the smartphone’s audio output is attenuated, Andric makes up for it with some dense and complex sounds. This complexity means it tends to the harsh side, but each piece carries its own compositional concerns well enough and makes a decent job of differentiating between passages with contrasting tones and textures. The two performances here were made some three years apart, inviting comparisons in approach while suggesting the basic setup could be expanded in different ways.


Release numbers four and six from Party Perfect!!! continue in the same vein of the label’s other releases with a maximum of noise and minimum of compromise (I’m guessing as I haven’t heard two or five). Ryu Hankil’s Envelope Demon is a lengthy, scratchy suite for digital synthesis, rolling back and forth over small bursts of sound that are subjected to various intensities of strangulation. It’s a piece worked on over several years but, even as it has reached a heightened state of refinement, some of the initial excitement may have been lost. With many unique electronic setups, their ingenuity is offset by inherent limitations in their premise, and so they end up with realisations where it seems as though every possible option has been worked out until the premise is exhausted; the question is thus rasied as to whether what we’ve heard is in fact a musical composition. I don’t know if that’s the case with Envelope Demon but after forty minutes it feels like it, something Andric’s Symphonies manage to avoid. Michael Speers’ four short pieces For David Stockard, on the other hand, suggest boundless invention concentrated into a very precise form. Very different from his earlier Green Spot Nectar of the Gods, the pieces exploit his canny observation of the similarities between percussion and electronics. It’s an area which still seems to be insufficiently explored, how these sound sources share common attributes of timbral and harmonic complexity as well as indeterminacy. Speers focuses on the roles of contact, friction and touch and how they influence each other in different media. Part Perfect No. 6 consists only of Stefan Maier’s piece Nervous Systems, which is unsual compared to his previous release and the PP label in general in making some concessions to the listener, with sounds given more gentle attacks and everything wrapped in a soothing cloak of reverb. Without the edginess it can’t help but be slightly disappointing, as the basic materials come across as much the same. Perhaps I’m disappointed this particular release doesn’t come with a zine or recipes.


What’s the dividing line between ‘art’ and ‘pop’ with this stuff? Why am I pigeonholing the next two as the latter as opposed to the former? Not because it’s all short stuff; definitely not because it could be considered remotely popular. Perhaps because there are discernible remnants of ‘deconstructed’ popular idioms, but then these pieces have reached such an advanced stage of disassembly that it’s a moot point. It’s probably the attitude behind it, as the motivation shifts from technical considerations to affective consequences. A glimmer of demotic, late romantic transcendentalism still peeps through, faint but as recognisable as in a love ballad or movie soundtrack. GAŁGAŁ describes his Ich schw​ö​re ich hab Angst (Abstand) in terms of ideas – freedom, individualism and vision. The eleven short tracks are constructed from edits of live improvisations with samplers and synthesis, and they start out feeling suitably scrappy and spontaneous but after a while settle into something more consistent and serious. I kept waiting for a change in direction to recapture that open-ended impression from the start, but once a certain type of anti-groove locks in GAŁGAŁ stays put. Reincanto / Real Bwoy (Artetetra) on the other hand keeps hopping back and forth between ideas as a way of preserving momentum. It’s a split release (it’s also available on cassette so I guess the concept stil makes sense) between Kinked and Señor Service respectively, apparently dealing with storytelling and ritual-type stuff. I’m hearing a nice little set of hyperactive sonic globs pulled from various corners of the electronic repetoire and repurposed into bite-sized morsels. The lack of consistency and continuity becomes their strength, appealing in the manner of kinetic junk scupltures with commensurate irreverence and insolence. Their purposeful refusal to groove just makes them seem even more arty. To tell them apart, Kinked works mostly with noise while Señor Service throws in mass media and kiddie sounds.

Takuroku Shooting Gallery: End-Of-Year Edition (Part 1)

Sunday 27 December 2020

Cafe Oto’s Takuroku imprint has now released over a hundred albums of new music made during this year’s pandemic lockdown, with more promised for 2021. (Presumably it will end sometime next year, as will the pandemic.) Faced with such plenitude, it’s impossible to do them all justice in a substantial review. My occasional brief notes on them run the risk of making these releases seem like minor works or casual throwaways, but in most cases the artists have contributed significant statements or made bold experiments that cast their work in new light.

Along the way, Takuroku has pulled off some firsts such as, incredibly, the first solo album by Maggie Nicols. Her Creative Contradiction release has given me a better view of her work as an artist in the round than any single gig of hers I’ve witnessed. Nicols’ music often falls into the realms of improvisation and song where I feel less inclined or qualified to comment. My reviews here have tended to shy away from Takuroku’s jazz, folk and improv releases, which have made it and Oto’s live programme seem less diverse than they are. The download catalog extends even further, to film (Tori Kudo’s Archive) and their often overlooked coverage of poetry and spoken word.

Phoebe Collings-James’ Can You Move Towards Yourself Without Flinching? and Roy Claire Potter’s Entrance song; last time present us, or rather confront us, with dialogue and monologue respectively that unfolds in ways unlike a narrative and more like a Hörspiel, establishing a state of mind in the listener. Caroline Bergvall’s Sonoscura collages together a set of meditations on poetry, language and place. Michael Speers’ Green Spot Nectar of the Gods takes up language and the speaking voice as a source for music, with electronic processing transforming its sound, rhythm and informational content (instructions on how to make the piece). Nour Mobarak’s 3 Performance Works is a different proposition: stereo documentation of multichannel performance pieces and installations that document and scrutinise idiomatic uses of phonemes and phrasing. The last of these can’t help but lose a little of their impact in this format.

We’ve had previous excursions into psychedelia in this series and I would have said that Kelly Jayne Jones’ the reed flute is fire had capped the lot. In addition to the record, a accompanying limited edition of art boxes is also for sale. They contain a drawing, incense, a small pyramid, shiny stones and gold velvet, which should help give an idea of the music. Jones’s voice and flute are processed and overlaid with melting drones that can make you feel the need to crack a window and let some fresh air in so the walls stop moving. It all pales in comparison to Nakul Krishnamurthy’s Tesserae, a pair of works that draw upon Indian classical music theory and techniques. Anyone expecting patchouli-scented pabulum will quickly have their mind tied in knots by the undulating orchestra of shruti boxes and voices in Anudhatthamudhatthassvaritham, which steadily gains in psychic power through its refusal to make nice, giving the consequences of its theoretical foundations free play. Ten Thousand Dancing Shivas shows that it’s no fluke by forgoing the textural overload and still making a poweful impact on the listener, weaving together vocal phrases and instrumental responses that evoke without ever mimicking traditional practice.

(Continued in Part 2)