reaching down: a 2011 mix

February 11, 2012

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0:00:00 / Kreng: “La Poule Noire”, from the album Grimoire
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Belgian sound collagist and theatre composer Pepijn Caudron’s book of magic casts a mesmerising spell over the listener, conjuring a Grimm world of shadowy threat and decaying beauty. Its dark universe becomes, at times, so oppressive it leaves you caught between seeking escape and welcoming surrender. Delicious. (Listen for yourself.)

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0:03:41 / Hana: “Tate”, from the promo Wire Tapper 25

Low key, simmering techno from Greek duo Thanos Papadopoulos and Thanos Bantis, culled from the April 2011 edition of the Wire magazine’s promo CD/download series. To date, Hana have just one album of austere analogue electronics to their name. More please.

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0:07:15 / Daphni: “Ahora”, from the single Ahora
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Daphni is none other than Dan Snaith (Caribou, formerly Manitoba), so you know what to expect: lush electronics, organic rhythms, skewed melodies, solid grooves.

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0:12:41 / Hauschka & Hildur Guðnadóttir: “Cool Gray 1”, from the album Pan Tone
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In Pan Tone, German pianist Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka) and Icelandic cellist Guðnadóttir collaborated to produce one of the year’s most satisfying additions to the modern classical canon. The two musicians seem to interact and play off each other like seasoned jazz partners, recalling in places the meditative improvisations of The Necks. A fine addition to the wonderful Sonic Pieces label’s catalogue. (Listen here.)

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0:19:09 / Tim Hecker: “In The Fog II”, from the album Ravedeath, 1972
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2011 saw not one but two outstanding releases from Canadian noise-whisperer Tim Hecker: centrepiece Ravedeath, 1972 and a curated selection of out-takes from those sessions, Dropped Pianos. Despite being recorded in Iceland (with Ben Frost contributing production duties), Hecker’s harmonic drones on Ravedeath evoke shimmering heat mirages, tantalising yet unreachable.

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0:23:55 / Chris Watson: “El Divisadero (The Telegraph)”, from the single El Tren Fantasma (The Signal Man’s Mix)
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Sound recordist Chris Watson’s output has tended to focus on the natural world, revealing new dimensions to our environment  that can only be experienced once you close your eyes (see previous posts). El Tren Fantasma (“ghost train”), Watson’s 2011 album and accompanying single – based on recordings made for a BBC television programme – mark a departure (if you’ll  pardon the pun) as it reveals the industrial grind, strain and toil of Mexico’s railway system.

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0:29:52 / Kangding Ray: “Or”, from the album Or
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Kangding Ray’s (David Letellier) latest album fuses minimal techno, bass and industrial to create a kind of, well, minimal industrial – the pistons, hydraulics and drills are still there but now they operate in sterile conditions, to nanometre precision, under the control of remote CPUs. Yet the machine has a heartbeat, as the title track (featuring the ubiquitous Ben Frost) amply demonstrates.

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0:35:00 / Answer Code Request: “Escape Myself”, from the single Subway Into
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It’s fortunate that this fairly obscure (apparently German) garage/electronica ditty found its way onto Marcel Dettmann‘s highly recommended minimalish techno mix, Conducted. Otherwise its pleasingly propulsive shuffle wouldn’t have slotted into this mix, right here.

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0:39:15 / Pinch & Shackleton: “Rooms Within A Room”, from the album Pinch & Shackleton
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I didn’t know dubstep could sound like this, bristling as Pinch & Shackleton is with exoticism, intellect, imagination and emotion. On their self-titled collaboration, Rob Ellis (Pinch) and Sam Shackleton brought renewed clarity to the normally submerged soundworld of the genre, in doing so moving its narrative away from the streets and into the mind.

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0:44:32 / Regis: “Blood Witness”, from the EP In A Syrian Tongue
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Erstwhile member of the apparently-defunct (and, if so, sorely missed) Sandwell District label, Regis (Karl O’Connor) exemplifies that collective’s uncompromising, muscular take on the techno ethic.

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0:50:00 / Jacaszek: “As Each Tucked String Tells”, from the album Glimmer
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Polish musician Michał Jacaszek’s seventh album sounds like it was assembled by a magical tinker or watchmaker – a multitude of tiny components that combine to become one living, mechanical organism. Blending baroque, ambient and jazz, Glimmer lives up to its name, a flickering lightbulb in the musty gloom. Captivating.

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0:53:33 / Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Naono”, from the album Summvs
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Alva Noto‘s stark digital backdrops are the perfect foil for Sakamoto‘s melodramatic piano melodies; it’s no wonder they found each other. Summvs is their fifth collaboration in ten years, and retains its predecessors’ blend of fire and ice. The sonar motif of the beautiful “Naono” evokes an imaginary underwater journey beneath a frozen sea.

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0:59:27 / Roly Porter: “Arrakis”, from the album Aftertime
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Bristolian Roly Porter’s visceral debut took analogue synthesisers, including an ondes martenot, and field recording sources and systematically mangled them with the kind of noise generators and filters beloved of the other drone connoisseur in this mix, Tim Hecker. And like Hecker, Porter’s distorted musicality is both unsettling and affecting.

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1:02:48 / Petrels: “Winchester Croydon Winchester”, from the album Haeligewielle

Oliver Barrett (a.k.a Petrels) drew on somewhat obscure historical inspiration for his solo debut (he is also a member of Bleeding Heart Narrative): pagan water sources (“haeligewielle” is the Anglo-Saxon antecedent of “holy well”) and the life and work of William Walker, a renowned diver who shored up Winchester Cathedral in the early 20th century. The result is a surprisingly coherent blend of folk, field recording and post-rock, a deserving soundtrack for a biopic yet to be filmed.

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1:05:37 / Nils Økland & Sigbjørn Apeland: “Belg Og Slag”, from the album Lysøen: Hommage À Ole Bull
[eMusic] [iTunes]

Sometimes I wonder if I should give my listening entirely to the output of the ECM label. Its studied simplicity and singular worldview brings harmony, even in dissonance, to the disequilibrium of modern life. This tribute to Ole Bull, the 19th century Norwegian violinist and composer, was recorded in his home on the island of Lysøen. The two musicians – voilinist Økland and organist Apeland – tread the line between recital, composition and improvisation so gracefully you almost feel the Nordic wind in your eyes.

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1:08:20 / Khyam Allami: “Individuation”, from the album Resonance/Dissonance
[eMusic] [iTunes]

Syria-born Londoner Khyam Allami arrived at the oud as his instrument of choice only in 2004, after playing violin, drums and bass guitar in various settings since childhood (he’s now the ripe ‘old’ age of 30). His debut album betrays the startling proficiency and intuition in both composition and performance he has accumulated in less than eight years.

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1:14:17 / ends

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Album cover for Mimikry by anbb

anbb: Mimikry (Raster-Noton, 2010)
£4.20 from [eMusic] (requires membership) – £6.99 from [Boomkat]

From the moment the cacophonous screeching that greets you at the very beginning of Mimikry enters your ears you know you have embarked on a journey, destination unknown.

ANBB is Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai, founder of abstract electronic label Raster-Noton) and Blixa Bargeld (Hans Christian Emmerich, founder of Einstürzende Neubauten and Bad Seeds guitarist), a partnership that began back in 2007. Though Bargeld’s voice delivers most of the emotional pull, the album is a genuine 50-50 collaboration between these two artists; Mimikry‘s mix of glitchy, pulsing (yet emotive) synthetics and Teutonic, industrial found-sound should come as no surprise.

The two forces at work in these pieces – improvisation and abstraction – create a sense of drama throughout the album, though one that jump-cuts rather than flows between its key scenes. From the miniature opera of opening track Fall to the cinematic backdrop of Bersteinzimmer, from the nervous apprehension of Once Again to the pummelling intensity of Berghain, ANBB shift between different modes of storytelling with each track. Whether deliberately or otherwise, the effect is often disorientating (a feeling exacerbated, for this mono-linguist, by Bargeld’s swapping between German and English) and, as such, not always successful.

There are great moments, though: the interpretation of folk standard I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground, in which Bargeld’s gentle recital sits on top of a glitch-ridden saw wave backdrop that repositions the song in a subversively clinical setting; the hydraulic release of white noise on Ret Marut Handshake (about the alleged anarchist alter ego of mysterious novelist B. Traven); and, in particular, the existential conundrum posed by the title track (“You, as an insect, mimic yourself”). On this track, the duo are joined by artist-model Veruschka, who is also the subject of the stunning cover photograph.

Mimikry has received universal acclaim since its release last month, so it feels a little unnerving not to follow suit. There’s no question that it is genuinely original throughout and a few of the tracks, in isolation, are wonderful. Maybe I’ve come to the record with too much of the (positive) baggage of following the artists in their separate endeavours, but its disjointedness and incongruity too often left me wanting. The absurdist playfulness of Bargeld’s lyrics and delivery undermine – and are undermined by – Nicolai’s sublime though humourless electronic backdrop so that the music’s drama either dissipates or grates.

Though Mimikry‘s journey is a stimulating diversion, you’re glad to have arrived – destination still unknown.

close to 94 rating: ★★★★★★★

This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews one album from the eMusic catalogue every week from a selection refreshed every month.