With the year and decade coming to an end, I rush with a flurry of blog posts. Shorter than most I normally do, there will hopefully be 22! done before the year is over , nicely tying up everything and clearing the decks before next years releases (which has already got close to double digits). Here are some releases from the Consteallation Tatsu and Beacon Sound label’s and a self issued release from Ard Bit.
The first of the 2019 Constellation Tatsu Fall batch, Thyme lines are a French duo of Sébastien Durand (Percussion, Analogue Synths, Oriental Keyboard) and Pascal Nyiri (Flutes – Bass, Tenor, Soprano and Overtone & Oscarina) who describe themselves as “Vague ambient lo-fi musik duo which plays electronics & flutes.”.
In a way they do and they don’t fit the bill of what you have become familiar with the label. They certainly have a sort of new age feel to their music being bathed with synth washes and the the hippy aspect of flute being included, but they also feel a bunch of other things such as retro sounding with hints of prog, science documentary sound tracks and ethnography. The album whether intended or not is best listened in a continuous flow as the pieces seem to be part of a whole over reaching concept or philosophy. Indeed the title of the release, if not the title of tracks may hint at this as “Geodesists measure and monitor the Earth’s size and shape, geodynamic phenomena (e.g., tides and polar motion), and gravity field to determine the exact coordinates of any point on Earth and how that point will move over time.”
I am not sure whether or not it was their intention to take the title as theme for the music, but you will find pieces that engage differently musically, but with an experimental exploratory feel throughout. “Geodesists” is available on cassette and digital and as part of the three release batch.
Hakobune is the prolific Japanese artist Takahiro Yorifuji who for the last twelve or so years has been mapping out his own section of the ambient underground with a catalogue that includes such labels as Hibernate, U-Cover, Patient Sounds Intl., Dronarivm, White Paddy Mountain amongst others, with “Rain Studies” being the sixth for Constellation Tatsu by my count.
If you were to classify his music it is definitely more on the drone side of the Ambient/Drone equation with an emphasis on slowly unfurling, at times linear drones which are tightly packed and that offer variation within their restricted sphere. If you were to skip ahead in sections you may think that nothing is changing, but if focus on the pieces and look at them in isolation you realise that the changes and movements are they, they just are very subtle.
A piece like “Tenkyuu” has an early morning, slowly unfurling meditative feel which is worth the price of admission alone, while Yorifuji increases the sonic intensity with “Kouu” which retains the tightness of the earlier pieces, but with a more radiant vibrational drone that cast hope over the listener. With the final track “Seiu” Yorifuji makes a piece that is as much meditative as it is introspective and melancholic. Some droners can be one dimensional which can make the music quite boring to listen to and their is a tendency to churn out releases. Indeed you need to be in the mood sometimes for it to truly speak to you. An artist like Yorifuji is one where you can sucked in with thinking how simple the music is, but in truth there is much going on and he has a handle of a) how to drone, b) how to make it multidimensional and c) how to add a human presence to the music. If you look to be a drone artist, then look to Hakobune as your textbook.
“Rain Studies” is available on cassette, digital and part of the Fall 2019 batch.
“Rich collages of ambient, dreams and electronic hardware. The Copehagen-based composer Sofie Birch recalls blissful melodies and synth tones with swirling harmonies that subtly softens the ear. Exploring music and sound through improvisation, voice experiments and electronic hardware the Copenhagen-based composer Sofie Birch creates blissful soundscapes through her peculiar work with performances, installations and art films.
Sofie Birch is educated with a bachelor degree in sound design from where she has collected a great amount of technical knowledge to combine with self-taught skills in guitar and piano and years of vocal training. Since releasing her first cassette EP Sketchy Commodity and the subsequently vinyl Doldreams under the alias Birch on the Danish imprint Infinite Waves, she has most recently released music through the Frankfurt-based label Seil and contributed to various experimental and ambient compilations. She has performed at venues such as MONOM and Roskilde Festival and has a distinctly interest in working with visual artists on creating interdisciplinary formats.
When performing Sofie Birch uses her surroundings and the impulses from her audience, building organic live shows that are as improvised as they are structured. Sofie Birch makes a virtue of producing peaceful and spiritual spaces that leaves her listeners attentive and spellbound in a continuous vacuum of unpredictable audio collages.”
Following on from her Seil Records release “Planetes”, “Island Alchemy” has already gained a positive review and a 7.5 via taste makers Pitchfork. The album has an exploratory feel as Birch moves through different styles across the six tracks, with her tracks being both playful and confident. The tone is set by the opener “Driving Towards The Deaths Mycelium” which marries drones and ambient tones with synth prog explorations. The album’s longest piece the ten plus minute “Myg” has a crystal clear sound and separation of levels as chimes and static appear in the foreground while synth progressions in loop forms have a muted an very gentle feel. It shows Birch exploring territories in an almost free form sort of feel. “Loph” initially sounds like a modern classical piece through the electronic lens with synths and clarinet making up the bulk of the sounds before it changes tack and has synth like glitches which give the music more of a mysterious feel and affected guitar twangs away. “Net (Neverendingthing)” mixes up rapid synth progressions that weave together creating a pulsing sort of feeling as they are off kilter. As the piece goes the synths move more into a regular rhythm as lead work is place over the top and gives the piece a double rhythm which slowly brings the parts closer and closer together. It is the musical equivalent of seeing two things vibrate out of sync and slowly together they find the same rhythm.
“Mu Evans” has a woozy dubby rhythm while chimes offer an innocence over the top. What I would consider classic New Age (with a rich, melodic approach) sounding synths then share a dominance with the woozy rhythms, but acting in an opposite fashion being longer in form and more relaxed than the almost frantic sounds that run the core of the track. Minimalism tends to be the focus of the finale track “Slow Piru”. The track offers different styles from glitch to a jazz feel, prog synth flourishes and aquatic dub. Again, it feels rather free form and exploratory than being tied to a particular style or intention. You get the feeling that Birch likes to experiment with juxtaposition, sound styles, mixes up retro with futurist and musical influences coming together .
“Island Alchemy” is available on Cassette, Digital and part of the 2019 Fall batch.
“Floréal is a collection of songs written and recorded all over the temporal and spatial map. “Photographs” and “Floréal” were recorded by Seth Manchester at Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Laura Naukkarinen recorded her own vocals at home in Kimito, Finland. “Plaid lines” was recorded by Sontag Shogun at home in Montreal, QC and Queens, NY, and Ora Cogan’s vocals were captured on tape by Jeremy Young in Amsterdam, NL. “Lament” was recorded by John Hull in Greenwich, CT and assembled by Scott Solter in Durham, NC.”
Sontag Shogun have previously appeared on these pages with releases on the Home Normal and Youngbloods labels and now find themselves on the fine Portland based label and store Beacon Sound. Apparently the Ep is the result of tracks from their library and ” is about slow change, forced change, and longing for what we may have left behind in the process of change. Floréal combines recordings made all over the spatial/temporal map.”
One of the apparent things about the band when listening to their music is the clarity that their pieces possess. For a band that is as much about electroacoustic sound sources and treatments as well as diversifying their sound, you get the feeling that this is less about ‘songs’ and more about creating an audio snapshot. Some people within the ambient community have this ability to make their pieces more than just the sum of their parts or their constituent sounds, and this trio are definitely cut from this cloth. All the ingredients are their field recordings, piano, found sounds, vocals and other instrumentation, but its the way that they construct their pieces which makes them stand out.
The opening track “Photographs From A Moving Car (With Lau Nau)” has an open feeling where it’s constructions and sounds are balanced between the electroacoustic forms I mentioned before and a more Modern Classical feel. As the title suggests the piece feels like a travelogue of sound, rather than a cookie cut shape piece of music. This approach gives it an openness and freedom while allowing the listener to better absorb it all. The title track “Floréal” nicely marries experimental flair, modern classicalism, ambience and vocal touches into a piece that sounds weathered by time with a ghostly touch. The piece leads into “Plaid Lines (with Ora Cogan caught on tape)” which takes their experimental approach to the next level and is more of a sound collage art piece than music. “Lament” which is featured below (and was premiered via Stationary Travels) encompasses the stylistic treatments of the previous three tracks and ends the EP on a high point. Largely piano, based the track features manipulated field recordings, electronics and layered voices and accentuates at the trio compositional and sound source talents. While others using a similar template could easily get bogged down, Sontag Shogun have this way of making every different sound feel like it is meant to be there. There is no padding or overloading, just a strong sense of what needs to be heard and where it is to be placed.
“Floréal” is available on cassette and digital via Beacon Sound.
“A couple of weeks ago i had a lovely time in the studio. No random thoughts and no distractions, just me and the music. Suddenly it was there, this drone, noise, ambient piece. It was probably simmering for a while… I am really happy with the result and maybe this can be a series, we’ll see.”
Ard Bit aka Ard Janssen was last on these pages with his “Six Scores One” ep and he returns with the recently released the “Amazing Bubble” Ep. For those new to him “Ard Bit (Ard Janssen) is a Rotterdam-based dutch composer and sound designer. He has several releases on Lowriders Recordings, Shipwrec and Symbolic Interaction and has been included in several electronic compilers over the years. Ard studied electronic music composition at the institute of Sonology at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. His musical forms arise by free improvisation and systematic composition with the focus on minimalism.”.
While “Six Scores One” was more electronica based it did have the more experimental flourishes that come to the fore on “Amazing Bubble”. In a way the release is a bit of a flip side to his earlier ep. Two of the tracks in “Memories of the 14th” and “A Seat In The Sun” are more structured than the two pieces that are sandwiched between them in “Towards The End” and “Things I Could Say”. There is a continuation in his work where you can see it is from the same artist, but his approach, admittedly in an almost improv sort of way, is to veer more towards ambient sounds with brief electronica touches. There is an openness and the music is not tied down, but as a listener that these days prefers a little more structure, I kind of crave for it, especially with the synth ambience that exists at start of the final minute of “A Seat In The Sun”. I personally would love to see this as a building block for a track. However, if more experimental electronica like Autechre or say early Vladislav Delay, then this will be right up your alley.
“Amazing Bubble” is a digital only release with the kind pay what you want option.