Over the last, say decade or so, labels such as Time Released Sound, Fluid Audio and Lost Tribe Sound (to name a few) have been bringing back an emphasis to the presentation of music with their hand-made, special and intricate editions. This you can see as a deliberate push back to the way that music is received and considered these days – a potentially disposable product that it is freely shared. What these labels have done is bring back the essence of joy that buying a piece of music seemingly once felt like. The attention to detail, craft and presentation has returned, bringing with it an added value. Another label that has been responsible for this resurgence, as well as a return to ethical musical practices is Gregory Euclide’s Thesis Project. Split into a variety of different series such as “Thesis Project “, “Print/Track”, “Arrangement” and “Drive”. Each of these represents a different modus for creating art.
The “Thesis Project” has two artists/musicians collaborating, “Print/Track” involves artists either being asked to create musical works that then influence the art which becomes the cover, or two pieces of art are given to two musicians to influence their musical compositions. “Thesis Arrangement” sees a group of artists rearranging an existing composition, while “Drive” involves lengthy compositions designed as being a soundtrack to travel. All these projects with the exception of “Drive” (which comes as an handmade USB + subscription) come in limited edition (300 copies) 10″ records with laser cut hand-made packaging. There has also been two “Thesis Collected” cd compilations.
Label boss Gregory Euclide is an artist whose works have graced the likes of releases by Bon Iver, Seabuckthorn, From The Mouth Of The Sun, Lubomyr Melnyk, Hotel Neon and others. The latest batch was available for pre-order in November and includes such artists as Hotel Neon, Endless Melancholy, Derek Hunter Wilson, Rauelsson, Simon Scott, Mike Weis, Chris Adams and Oliver Doerell.
Derek Hunter Wilson contributes “A New Way Of Thinking (In Three Stages)”. Wilson is a Portland based musician whose works (like the flipside artist Rauelsson) have appeared on the Beacon Sound label. His piece alternates tension between almost electrical hum like drones, screeching noise and a combination of cello and violin. After building a moody tension, drawing on the depths of the string instruments, piano and roughly strummed and plucked string instrument (possibly the cello) enter the fray. The music changes after some vicious strumming (with a tone reminding me of Jo Quail), where piano goes through a funk but not funk vein into full-blown modern classical mode. At this point the sound pallet increases with additional piano, violin and a percussive mallet played instrument. A sweeping second of rippling piano keys creates a swirl or vortex of sound that entrances the listener in (and is worth the price of admission for this part alone). Wilson creates a rich, deep piece of music that, with crystal clear mastering (by Martyn Hayne), is a vibrant and engaging listen. Broken into three movements, the final one that centers on the piano becomes the highlight for me as the playing and sound created make you sit up and take notice. Some artists you think of as musicians and some you think of composers and Wilson definitely sits comfortably in the latter. Totally recommended.
Rauelsson aka Raúl Pastor Medall is a Spanish musician whose previous work has appeared on the Hush and Sonic Pieces labels. He describes his music as “Gently textured and crackling ambient pop embers and cinematic downbeats.” His side of “Print / Track 03” “A Room With Three Windows” opens with a beginning that reminds me of Einsturzende Neubauten’s “Ich Bins” with its furious pounding percussion before moving in a more electronic and ambient swathed sound. The ambience comes on pulsing waves caressing the beats. For a completely different flavor industrial-esque sounds and brass change the texture of the piece, leading it through a section that gives you images of street scenes in Blade Runner – particularly the drizzle and atmosphere. A rumbling drone, choral/operatic vocals and a mixture of organic and synthetic sounds (including breathy pipes or blowing on bottles) lead the music through a section that feels somewhat unhinged, but flows on from the claustrophobia of the Blade Runner feel. After field recordings of children playing, storm sounds and ephemera, muted piano leafs through to the final movement of the piece and takes it in a direction completely separate from where it come from. There is something to be said about the closer recorded, natural piano recordings that bring out a certain quality to the playing and of course the music. Intimacy and minimalism prevail bringing with them a sense of being right there in the room. Rauelsson for this piece of music takes the listener on a journey few could foresee. Taking the title literally in comparison with the music, each window represents or shows a different environment from frantic percussive/ electronic through to experimental cinematic soundscapes through to intimate piano. For fans of music that can lead you potentially anywhere.
Endless Melancholy and Hotel Neon pair off on “Print/Track 05”. Both should be household names in the Ambient/Modern Classical underground with Endless Melancholy’s music being released on imprints such as Preserved Sound, Hidden Vibes, Twice Removed, 1631 Recordings and Dronarivm to name a few. Endless Melancholy is Oleksiy Sakevych whose most recent full length “Fragments of Scattered Whispers” (Dronarivm) featured cover art from Gregory Euclide himself. It’s fair to say I have yet to hear something bad from Sakevych. I still have his most recent album to explore, but prior to this th last I heard from him was his drone album “The Vacation”. It’s a delight to hear him back behind the piano. At this stage of his career he has under his belt, the talent and experience to create multi faceted pieces of music that aren’t just based around one instrument. The music for this piece nicely transitions this orchestral, modern classical, ambient and Synth washed sections that flow effortlessly to create a piece that belies its close to eleven minutes in length. With a title such as “Elusive Movements ” I wonder how literal it is as the music doesn’t conjure the feeling of something being elusive, rather that Sakevych has captured whatever it was that he was seeking. Recommended.
Hotel Neon first came to my attention with the re- release of their self titled album. Further releases from the trio on labels such as Fluid Audio,Archives as well as solo and duo variations, have made them one of the more memorable groups in the current ambient scene. The trio of brothers Andrew and Michael Tasselmyer and Steven Kemner, describe their music as “Together they create immersive and atmospheric soundscapes aided by projected film and images. Known for its heavy emphasis on enveloping walls of sound, Hotel Neon also injects subtle melody and improvisation to create a rich musical experience, one that rewards any level of listener scrutiny.” Their track “Gleó” is a moving soundscape that infuses field recordings with a mixture of sound sources and moods. The track opens up with rain sounds, swirling sounds, but with a cloak over them giving them a muted feel. The drones are dark and weighted which brings in feelings of introspection which the outside rain and tiny fragments of guitar lend to this feeling. The track is full of long drones that move it continuously in slow motion, bringing with the music ebbs and flows. At times it feels more present and others distant, but never the same – always moving and changing its texture. Due to its murky/ moody sound it pays to be an intent listener to draw out the shapes and colors creates within. For people who enjoy a great droning track that is not all bombast, then “Gleó” will be perfect for them.
Thesis 14 pairs the talents of UK artist Chris Adams of Hood and Bracken fame and Brussels bred, Germany based, Oliver Doerell of Dictaphone and Swod. The three tracks of their collaborative release skirt genre restrictions to mix in electronica, ambient, experimental and pop influences into their compositions. “Ni Mairtre Ni Dieu” opens the release with ambient, crisp beats, percussion that sounds like water running down a bamboo water feature, hints of horns, washes of Synths, bass and vocals combining to create an organic electronic pop track that is bathed in light. Adams is a member of Hood and this reminds me somewhat of them through the times I have tried to (unsuccessfully) get into the band. There is a certain Sunday morning coming down vibe to the track with its fluid mix of electronics, bassline and atmospherics. The vocals with slightly off kilter layering are gentle and relaxed, fitting the feel of the piece, which is also relaxed, but with a bit of swagger. The second track “Ni Mairtre Ni Dieu (reprise)” feels like a different sort of beast. Sounds rumble, stretch, glitch and flow over each other. If you weren’t aware of the source of some of the sounds of the original track, you may have thought it to be an entirely different composition. Which it is to an extent as it has a more experimental/ electroacoustic feel with snatches of the original recontextualised.
The opus of the release “Fragmented Stasis” hearkens back to the first track in its feel of electronics meets ambient meets experimental. Headphones assist in absorbing the claustrophobic, at times under water feel of the track (like being under a wave and the sound before it crashes), that feels like it heavily influenced by rolling storms. Field recordings of water, dark slightly harsh drones and a Vladislav Delay inspired dub framework add to the feel of the track, which ties all three pieces together with similar sound sources. The track is not listless and is forever moving in a style akin to an audio travelogue that morphs into a minimal beat laden piece as the sound cleans up slightly. The track finishes off with a static soaked bassy loop that fades away to silence. What Adams and Doerell have done is create pieces that share a DNA rather than have three different tracks. They don’t all sound the same, but by listening to them as a whole and focusing in on the elements, you can see where they all tie in.
Simon Scott is probably best known as the drummer for Shoegaze legends Slowdive, but is also a revered solo artist (with releases on 12k, Miasmah, Sonic Pieces and others) and label boss (KESH) in his own right. Mike Weis is one part of Chicago’s Zelionople and a solo artist in his own right (with releases on Type, Barge and Digitalis Recordings). Interestingly they are both noted drummers. They split their record with a lengthy track on each side.
“For John Cage” is a metallic piece in that it sounds industrial is in its sound design. Metallic drones, rhythmic machinery, percussion that sounds similar to gongs being struck, makes way for electronics that weave their way through with cut up techniques and soaked in static and drones. There is a feeling of degradation in the sounds, sort of like the oxide coming away from tape and changing the sound. After the briefest respite the piece opens up again sounding like its recorded in a foundry with sharp screeches of sound, distant rumbles and bass hums. Cymbals come into play creating a clattering sound over which a chugging electronic pulse like rhythm starts to build in intensity. The music becomes hypnotic and tribal as Scott and Weis lock into tight polyrhythms that have a feeling of a form of traditional world music warped through experimental contexts.
“Yujengi” while “For John Cage” was led by rhythm “Yujengi” strips that away to focus on section of ever-changing soundscapes of the noisier persuasion. Tectonic plates of sounds fold over each other sometimes coated in scattershot electronics that pulse, throb and disrupt the more linear sections of sound. The music consistently shifts from foreground to background as if an interrupted transmission or something that has worn let over time. I was trying to work out whether it was Scott or Weis that was probably leading the music in the direction it took. So, I went back to each artists respective solo works and while initially I thought it was Weis leading the way, I have come to the conclusion that it is a straight 50/50 collaboration as Scott (as well as Weis) has headed into noisier territory before and Weis has, with his “Don’t Know, Just Walk” album focused on percussive loops. A contrasting record to the others of the set and more appealing to those that like it noisier.
It is inevitable when reviewing four records you will have some that strike a chord more than others, which will be different for each person. The two tracks that standout the most for me is Derek Hunter Wilson’s “A New Way Of thinking (In Three Stages)” and Endless Melancholy’s “Elusive Movements”, both of which draw me in . The Set is due for shipping in late January/ early February and is currently available as a pre-order.
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