freeze/thaw: a 2012 mix

March 10, 2013

The now-traditional companion to my annual compilation, this time themed to match the endless chill this winter has brought. Click on the Mixcloud embed above to listen.

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0:00:00 / Thomas Köner: “Novaya Zemlya 3”, from the Touch album Novaya Zemlya
[eMusic]

Köner’s meditation on the eponymous Arctic archipelago marked his return to the frozen climate of his 1990s trilogy Nunatak Gongamur, Teimo and Permafrost (reviewed here). The intervening decade or so has done nothing to diminish his unexplained affinity with this landscape. Surrender to its cold embrace.

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0:02:20 / Loscil: “Collision Of The Pacific Gatherer”, from the Kranky album Sketches From New Brighton
[Boomkat]

Another track with a strong sense of place: this time New Brighton, a coastal quarter in Scott Morgan’s (Loscil’s sole member; previously on close to 94) home of Vancouver. The tidal rhythm of “The Collision Of The Pacific Gatherer” aptly reflects the aftermath of the event it seeks to evoke: in 1930 a barge named “The Pacific Gatherer” ran into the Second Narrows Bridge, causing a section of the latter to fall into the water it spanned.

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0:06:59 / Shackleton: “Music From The Quiet Hour, Part 1”, from the Woe To The Septic Heart album Music For The Quiet Hour/The Drawbar Organ EPs
[eMusic]

Dubstep grandee Sam Shackleton (previously on close to 94) continued his journey into the remoter regions of the genre with his double release Music For The Quiet Hour/The Drawbar Organ EPs. The former set is a foreboding, cinematic exercise in dub, with his now-trademark take on African drumming timbres and rhythms adding to its potency.

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0:11:00 / Kangding Ray: “South”, from the Raster-Noton EP The Pentaki Slopes
[eMusic]

After making (in this blog’s opinion) possibly the finest electronic track of the past few years in 2011’s “Or” – featured on that year’s close to 94 annual mix – it was a racing certainty that, if David Letellier released anything in 2012, it would make the cut here too. He did, so it has.

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0:18:57 / Diamond Version: “Empowering Change”, from the Mute album EP1
[eMusic]

A glitch music supergroup comprising Raster-Noton label heads Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto) and Olaf Bender (Byetone), Diamond Version sounds every bit as assured as you would expect. The sparse, driven power of “Empowering Change” comes from the first of five planned EPs on Mute.

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0:25:21 / Silent Servant: “Utopian Disaster (End)”, from the Hospital Productions album Negative Fascination
[eMusic]

I was fearful that the demise of the Sandwell District project would spell the end of key artists in residence like Function and Silent Servant. Thankfully not. The latter re-emerged on Hospital Productions with a typically solid set of industrial techno in Negative Fascination, including the concept-encapsulating and ultra-hypnotic “Utopian Disaster”.

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0:33:08 / Monolake: “Hitting The Surface”, from the Imbalance Computer Music album Ghosts
[Boomkat]

Robert Henke followed up 2009’s excellent Silence with Ghosts, a companion of sorts to the earlier album according to Henke’s own commentary. While not quite as successful as its predecessor overall, the uptempo “Hitting The Surface” bubbles along very nicely.

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0:39:22 / Valgeir Sigurðsson: “The Crumbling”, from the Bedroom Community album Architecture Of Loss
[eMusic]

The second movement (the thaw, as it were) of this mix starts with a beautifully tortured piece from Icelandic composer Sigurðsson’s third album, Architecture Of Loss. As the ice cracks, the crumbling begins.

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0:44:25 / Moon Ate The Dark: “She/Swimming”, from the Sonic Pieces album Moon Ate The Dark
[eMusic]

0:49:19 / Insa Donja Kai: “End Silence”, from the Sonic Pieces album Insomnie Joyeuse
[eMusic]

0:52:44 / Dictaphone: “The Conversation”, from the Sonic Pieces album Poems From A Rooftop
[eMusic]

This trio of acts from the consistently rewarding Sonic Pieces label (previously admired by close to 94) generate, in their individual ways, warmth and contentment in these (still) cold and harsh winter months. Moon Ate The Water pairs Welsh pianist Anna Rose Carter with Canadian producer Christopher Bailey on a flowing hymn to days by the river; Kai Angermann, Insa Schirmer and Donja Djember conjure the reverie of childhood memories; and Dictaphone (Oliver Doerell and Roger Doering) seemingly rework The Cure’s “Lullaby” as meditative improvisation.

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0:57:21 / Bersarin Quartett: “Zum Greifen Nah”, from the Denovali album II
[eMusic]

Thomas Bücker’s second album honed his reputation for rich, even epic, ambient composition. “Zum Greifen Nah” (“Within Reach”) is a typically cinematic piece, painting an aural picture of the search for a tantalising truth.

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1:02:58 / Jóhann Jóhannsson: “The Cause Of Labour Is The Hope Of The World”, from the Fat Cat album The Miners’ Hymns
[eMusic]

“The Cause Of Labour…” is taken from the score to The Miners’ Hymns, filmmaker Bill Morrison’s eulogy for the coal mining industry of north east England (watch the trailer). Jóhannsson’s stirring evocation of the tradition, dignity and pride inherent in the subject and its people shines through unequivocally.

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1:10:13 / Matthew Bourne: “Juliet”, from the Leaf album Montauk Variations
[eMusic]

On his Montauk Variations, Bourne turned his back on his hitherto mischievous, quirky take on contemporary jazz. As “Juliet” charmingly demonstrates, he has replaced it with a pastoral minimalism that provides the perfect end to a cold, cold winter.

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1:13:35 / ends

See also:

 

Album cover for Permafrost by Thomas Köner

Thomas Köner: Permafrost (Barooni, 1993; re-released by Type, 2010)
£2.52 from [eMusic] (requires membership) – £5.94 from [Boomkat]

Originally released in 1993, Permafrost was the final work in sound artist Thomas Köner‘s seminal arctic ambient trilogy – the others being Nunatak Gongamur (1990) and Teimo (1992); both excellent.

The two earlier works (Köner’s first CD releases) sought to locate and reveal an underlying musicality in the frozen landscapes of the North Pole. Nunatak explored a sonic analogy between treated gong recordings and the crystalline, waterlogged drifts to sometimes disturbing effect, while Teimo divined meditative harmonies from the subsonic rumblings of centuries old glaciers.

Permafrost saw Köner going deeper into the ice to find its core, its essence. In it overt musical language is sublimated by an unrelenting sound climate that creates the eponymous permafrost: throbs, hisses, gusts and a strange kind of audible silence.

The effect, simultaneously unnerving and comforting, feels profound.

The music hasn’t been excised entirely. On “Firn”, for example, the crackling hum is joined by a distant, intangible choral harmony, and the final piece’s (“…”) drone resolves to a tantalisingly tonal state. But music is perhaps present only as a memory of what came before.

The album’s titular centrepiece captures its true form most persuasively – its overwhelming emptiness leads you to grab at any hint of musical sustenance as if your life depended on it. The sense it leaves behind, as it disappears like melting ice, is one of sublime hunger.

In Permafrost (and its companion albums) Köner manufactured the sound – the entire atmosphere – of a world perpetually frozen so utterly that it almost transcends experience of the real thing. (Though not quite; see my review of Chris Watson’s “Vatnajökull”.)

As a genuine work of art it requires silent, undisturbed contemplation and focus to fully appreciate it. Take the trouble to immerse yourself in its habitat and the rewards are substantial.

Long out of print, Köner’s trilogy was re-released on all formats last year by Type Records. Not only that, it is available to listen to for free via Type’s SoundCloud presence. Bitter, beautiful cold is but one click away.

close to 94 rating: ★★★★★★★

This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews releases from the eMusic catalogue.