Wednesday, 27 May 2009

ARC – The Pursuit Of Happiness


The trio of Sylvia Hallett (violin & electronics, voice), Danny Kingshill (cello, voice) and Gus Garside (double bass & electronics), Arc were born in 1988 but only in this, their third album, chose to use additional enhancements as the previous two releases - 1992’s Remembering on Uneasy Listening and 1993’s Out Of Amber on Slam – were completely acoustic, then as now exploring the “collective language that draws on the European textures of the violin family”. Every operation and (more or less premeditated) occurrence that this recording introduces appears to have been seriously considered: there’s no question about an almost total lack of light-heartedness and joviality in favour of something that echoes the creative uncertainties (typically leading to great discoveries) and the limitlessness of the field of research probed by three artists who sound like participating in a first meeting, in a positive sense.

Even in absence of excessive smiling the record manages to steer well clear of pretentiousness and intellectual obesity. The musicians’ complete adherence to a credo of darkish melodic elongations and textural proficiency, the extensive treatments of the material with classy instrumental dignity – no preparations really detectable, just the uncontaminated tones of the whole gamut of bowed strings vibrating – are enough to establish an atmosphere whose severity is counterbalanced by the diverse contrapuntal permutations that these improvisations show. Hallett, Kingshill and Garside are concentrated yet never self-centred, the see-through quality of the final result the perfect evidence of a honest attitude, a will to accept any consequence for what they decide to play. This is beautifully speckled music that can’t be possibly approached without razor-sharp attentiveness: you must follow its uncertain lines, evaporating contradictions, corpulent resonances and dissonant flights while getting rid of the presumption of having understood the mechanics at work. Only through this method one realizes how handsome these creations are.

Saturday, 23 May 2009



The luminiferous flock of Peter Wright’s guitars has come again to rescue this poor listener, forced to the ropes by the attack of dwarf clones whose inconsistency is directly proportional to the consideration they receive. Snow Blind, for good measure, is a double CD (hooray!) that sends the magnitude of the quivering signals pretty high in the scale: nearly two hours of blissfully deafening roars, succulently plangent drones and disturbed ringing tones. Depurative, febrifugal, unreasonably suggestive stuff designed for your personalities to develop as angelic children in dissolute adult bodies. And that’s not all, folks.

Ever since the initial and splendidly titled “The Drunken Master In His Crumbling Citadel”, Wright incites the listener to the contemplation of a murky ecstasy through a self-explanatory urban commentary: a field recording of a bona fide drunkard, muttering his own truth (incomprehensibly for this scrutinizer) amidst metropolitan echoes and gradually swallowing walls of wailing axes depicting an idyllic harmonic tissue. A stark contrast, nonetheless suggesting something that sounds, for lack of a better adjective, divine. The discriminating acumen shown by the New Zealander in the assemblage of superimposed distortions (frequently sounding particularly consonant) is in this case counterbalanced by various recourses to extremely rudimentary, yet devastating melodies (check the first disc’s final episode “Follow The Leader”, the very title hinting to a concept that makes me recoil in horror) which should ideally encourage a brighter vision of a decaying materialism but in the end elicits a peculiar type of quiet desperation, to say the least.

As always, the guitarist looks especially interested in changing the gradation of timbres via altered varieties of equalization, a knowledgeable processing that literally disintegrates chords and lines into sparkling smidgens of gritty idiosyncrasy. And those drones: the best on the market for over a decade now. Amplifiers at 11 are not enough to emulate what this man manages to achieve with a simple arpeggio surrounded by thousands of mashed-snail reverberations. Let me tell you once and for all: people like Wright and, on a different playground, Aidan Baker are the initiators of this kind of modern-day six-string painting. The rest are for the large part cheap imitators that occasionally strike a mere ounce of gold with an appropriate choice of colours, nothing more.

Therefore save your money - thus preventing some pathetically incompetent, tinnitus-inducing retrograde from impersonating the god of hermitic thaumaturgy in a valve-amped Walhalla - and support those who have been walking the walk after talking the talk for decades, barely noticed, utterly enlightened. The grief-stricken broken illusions portrayed in this gorgeous release might fight a bit with the witty cleverness of their creator’s real-life attitude (perceivable even in his website and email updates); still, they’re undoubtedly the nearest thing to a representation of guitar-based endlessness that I can think of. A bulletin like this is a good reason to be grateful.

JACK WRIGHT / ALBAN BAILLY – The Harmony Of Contradictions

Sort Of / Abstract On Black

The border separating gregariousness and complacence is a subtle line that, once trespassed, usually introduces that kind of improvisation where sense of humour and joyfulness appear excessively at the forefront, thus diminishing the overall artistic value. Luckily this does not happen in The Harmony Of Contradictions, a nice set of intelligent acoustic duos, recorded in 2005 and 2006, juxtaposing the unhesitant, only apparently disconnected omnivorous concentration of saxophonist Jack Wright - his frolicsomely illegitimate erubescences as always welcome as a helping of exotic fruits amidst a chain of double cheeseburgers - and the placid yet non-rhetorical politics of Philadelphia-homed French guitarist Alban Bailly, never met before by yours truly, whose style has been marked by rock, Arabic and gypsy Balkan influences.

This is a collection of bastard dialogues that nevertheless bear the stigmata of familiarity, of course being “familiar” an adjective that will come handy exclusively to those in the know. Duets that reveal a penniless brightness, a constant regeneration of finely tuned wisecracking and unprejudiced misshapenness at the basis of a tête-à-tête involving two honourable representatives of erratic graciousness. Wright’s phrases are a journal of nomadic rambling, a multi-sided slapping of reed-based premeditation. Outbreaks, excrescences and good-looking abortions that form a vocabulary as peculiar as a sticky liquid that somehow smells fabulously: one doesn’t care dipping the finger again and again for more sniffing. Reilly operates the instrument with the same lucidity of a John Russell - sparkle and modesty in equal doses - yet he’s also notable for his determination in trading information without taking disproportionate stances. Neither foolhardy nor too respectful, he stands exactly in between, furnishing the music with a well-received balance of zinging metal, threadbare footnotes and plucked indiscreetness, the occasional “sproing” appearing in the mix when the time is right.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

TL0741 – Back To Minus


More good news from Pat Gillis, whose aural fantasies make great use of synthesizers, effects and tape manipulation to achieve results which many knob-tweaking nerds can’t even daydream in terms of creative fantasy and inventiveness. A couple of titles here should give an idea about what to find: “Orchrustra” and “Morphantasia” are precisely what one would expect while travelling across the lands where the reshaping of human discernment is a daily practice. Large portions of this material were recorded directly onto two tracks during live performances, yet there’s a specific structural design in what we hear, typical example of a mind ready to catch the most infinitesimal signal to transform it into striking figurations coloured by unhinged, often plain amazing timbres.

Synthetic morsels of deeper perception, intoxicating diffusions, corrosions of remote harmonies and ringing-around orbiting bodies let us recall different exploratory eras at once; we notice an evident respect for earlier-period pioneers and an attentive ear on the evolutional side of electronic music. Gillis knows what he’s doing and Back To Minus is a highly enjoyable demonstration of the development of his sonic ideals, a perfect proportionality between the chaotic activities of contradictory anti-patterns and the intricate mechanisms that – miraculously - preserve an ideal “galactic equilibrium”.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

CRAIG HILTON – Craig Hilton


As it happens, discretion does not pay in terms of artistic recognition until the decision is taken to let someone know that you exist and do something positive, possibly not implying the standard level of overconfident egotism hiding a desperate superficiality. Craig Hilton, a composer who shows an undeniable ability but is probably too humble for his own good, is a man whose art I felt respect for since the first instants. He sent me a few of his releases a considerable while ago, as usual approached with culpable delay on my behalf, and one struggles to determine which is the best. This unassumingly packaged CDR – an entirely white sleeve, except for the titles - contains three splendidly diverse samples of this artist’s talents, each generating that sort of inner fluctuation and existential uncertainty that will never be experienced by listening to Mozart, and that is the fundamental spur to keep living selflessly.

The magnificent opening track - “Guzheng Improvisation 4” - bestirs the previously sheltered idealization of a stable mesmerism through a congruous exploration of the natural reverberation of a room; the instrument gets outrageously animated, ominously dissonant resonances alternated with turbulent contemplations of unreachable galaxies, echoes of a past reality ricocheting all around the place in an unprejudiced exhibition of open-minded creative acumen bathing in orchestral instantaneousness in one of the most absorbing music pieces heard in a long time. “Untitled Collaboration” also features Ur and, although decisively altering the scene’s characteristics, once again denotes an originality that’s there to admire. The palette in this case excludes sources of blissful entertainment almost completely, as the artists privilege vocal maledictions underscored by wavering drones and electronic morphing à la Roland Kayn, a palpable tension emerging to transform the soundscape in a paralysing demonstration of inadaptability, any sense of redemption cancelled by the awareness of a toxic incontrovertibility. “Untitled Piece For Strings” is a worthy conclusion, a wrapping layering of semi-static chords that, more than strings, seem to be born from a huge harmonium. The processing work is subtle yet effective, its foremost quality an intrinsic slow oscillation that sounds like a slight detuning, the very reason of further moments of cruel emotion.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

THOMAS BEL – The Birds Are Still The Monarchs


From Toulouse, France Thomas Bel is the mastermind behind an artefact whose undertones revolve around "poetical texts dealing with the fundamental question of time fleeting but never really settling down". In reality, the record is almost entirely instrumental - honestly, a couple of sung segments are very much inferior to the rest - moving along the coordinates of a homemade-tinged ambient containing reiterative fragments of undemanding melodies, hesitant electronics and various kinds of dirtiness in the mix, either hiss or just digital dilapidation, not to mention “classic” glitches and the likes. Bel plays a quantity of unspecified instruments: definitely guitars and piano, different keyboards, cello. Other sources exploited are - you guessed it - field recordings.

All in all, the typical "one among the hundreds", right? Not really. Let’s face it, this kid might not be the reincarnation of the messiah of discreetness, yet his music possesses an indisputable candour that allows us to welcome it without excessive questioning. And the raison d'être of the unrefined loveliness of some of these tracks is spelled "weird resonance": there's always something that jars with the concept of accurate tuning, and which renders even a basically worthless snippet sounding acceptable, when not melancholically connecting. This uneven kind of processing is reasonably functional, the man is adequately receptive, the pieces are OK if one doesn't expect miracles. A marvel this collection surely isn’t, but a non-invasive, nearly soporific, timid aural caress? Yes, no problem. As far as deeper implications are concerned, it looks like I missed at least part of them.

STEVE RODEN – Ecstasy Showered Its Petals With The Full Peals Of The Bells


When creative inspiration gets precisely embedded in an artist's brain, there's no risk of failure even in a short proposal like this 3-inch, whose marvellously out-of-time cover reveals - together with the title - the only source for the music: a small bell that someone gave a while back to the composer, who proceeded to exploit its resonating traits according to his celebrated ability to convert the simplest items in mesmeric milieus for the resurrection of long-forgotten interior sensibilities.

By utilizing the authentic voice of the bell and processing the relative emanations, Roden manages to reach that state of half-gaseous, half-liquid timbral instability that permits the enjoyment of a mental edge more than the recording per se, which is saying something given the brilliance of the piece. Loyal devotees and seekers of metal-derived magnetic attraction will not want to miss this one: it's plain dazzling in a semi-hypnotic kind of quietude that sounds at the same time incomparable and innate. Impressions that are constantly there, helpful for a stealing a look at infinity even when one’s unable to immediately understand this kind of magnitude.

Friday, 15 May 2009



There are points in time in which a writer simply becomes exhausted from the perpetual effort for finding the accurate collocation – or, even worse, a sticker – for something that causes a type of unadulterated gratification which needs no words or definitions to be savoured at any time. When those moments come, just let the music do the healing and everything’s going to be alright, as a little dreadlocked man used to remind.

As soon as one spins Only Moment - the latest offering from Rozanne Levine’s Chakra Tuning - the room is pervaded by presences resembling spirits of well-being. Right away, the clarity of every note played, the consistency of the amalgamation among the musicians and a sense of shared endeavour for the abolishment of narrow-mindedness contribute to a private feeling of enjoyment which is absolutely not based on something “easing the nerves”, or plain silly. With each listen we find ourselves perseveringly intent in attempting a veritable penetration of every sound, like if the completion of the experience depended on a full understanding of any single acoustic event. The music comes out smoothly and extremely physically at once, influenced by so many things – natural occurrences, bird talking, native Indian chants, theatre – that the tracks might represent different segments of a being’s life cycle, and I’m writing this without the fear of sounding nonsensically hippy or esoterically lost in nowhereland, my skill in distinguishing between counterfeit illuminations and sober practices of inside connectivity rigorously trained as ever.

Levine is flanked by Perry Robinson, Mark Whitecage and Rosi Hertlein. Listening to these artists reveal their fundamental nature through the full command of the instruments is just amazing. All kinds of clarinet, saxophones, ocarinas, bird whistles and percussion are utilized by the nominal leader and her long-time male companions, while Hertlein - a mean violinist – also sings and handles additional percussive chores with the same nimbleness. The artists’ technique might be admirable, and indeed it is. But what really wins for me is the sort of opposition to hopelessness that this gorgeous recording generates as early as the circulation of the first notes in the air. Coming from a hard-boiled mankind-disparager like yours truly, this should give you something to chew over.

TILL THE OLD WORLD’S BLOWN UP AND A NEW ONE IS CREATED – Till The Old World’s Blown Up And A New One Is Created


As a rule, Christian Fennesz (electric and acoustic guitars, computer), Werner Dafeldecker (double bass, tape delay, computer) and Martin Brandlmayr (drums, percussion, vibraphone, computer and piano on a track) are scarcely compromising musicians who let us stare - not infrequently in awe – at excellent designs. The hopes in this circumstance were high, especially considering that it took “over four years of intermittent activity” to complete this music, which was recorded starting from regular improvisations that each member of the trio edited into distinct short episodes from which, in turn, snippets were taken to manufacture a longer composition (circa 34 minutes). All of the above is enclosed in a pair of discs, although the one with the three separate tracks lasts 15 minutes minus: a collector’s item but not a real creative statement from this point of view.

In regard to the method, this stuff sounds a tad stylish and probably colder than expected, even if there are moments in which the correlation between the parts works particularly well, for instance when abrupt oxidized roars by Fennesz’s axe get fractured and garbled in tiny bits, perturbing Dafeldecker’s deadpan composites of bass and unhealthily processed paradoxes. Two significant hues are Brandlmayr’s vibes, a constant factor in the sonic palette, and the interspersed silences that grant additional authority to the improvised sections. Sparse appearances of wooden touches and anaemic arpeggios dilute the overall tone in part, thus altering the elegance-to-disorder ratio.

All things considered - and class being always class – this is a good-looking album of mainly manipulated materials which in any case sounds quite blasé when compared to the participants’ customary output. If ECM decided to open their doors to EAI, here’s a recording to look at with interest. My reactions are mixed: there’s no question about the sincerity of the artists’ try to stumble on new expressive ways; yet they succeeded only to some extent, despite the attractive exteriors.