Following on from the last post, I cast my eye and ears over a diverse collection of releases that came out between August of last year and January of this ear.
““Ghosts of Electricity” is a soundscapes/ambient/hauntronica collaboration between experimental musician Dean Richards (who played in the seminal late 70’s Australian post-punk electronic act Whirlywirld, and now releases music under the “Disturbed Earth” moniker) and ex-pat songwriter Michael Plater (solo artist, GhostShips, Northern Lighthouse Board, Cornish Wreckers).
Their new album, “The Guildford Tree” is an aural exploration of landscape and memory, inspired by the myths, folklore, legends and countryside around their homes in Guildford, Victoria and Bodmin, Cornwall. The album also features crucial contributions from Tony Millman (Cornish Wreckers, Tony Millman Band) on piano. This is the first release of a planned two volume set.”
There are a lot of cues to what this release is going to sound like. There is the duo’s name, track titles like “The Haunted Dance Hall” and “Cannards Grave”, the genre descriptor I have not come across before – hauntronica and to a lesser extent, the cover art. The cover reminds me of some of the compilations that came out in the 1970’s on the World Record Club who would release bizarre medieval box sets and other older forms of music. Showing your cards straight away is not a bad thing because you know where you are going to go. If you don’t get where you are expecting, that is when it becomes a bad thing. With this release the duo of Richards and Plater set about creating a pure drone record that exists in the darker side of the genre. There is a doomy, smog covered feeling of the opener “The Fabled Isle” which is built around symphonic like synth lines with the colour mostly sucked out of them, producing a piece which creates a thick atmosphere.
While not duplicating this style with each successive track, the duo definitely have a sound and feel in mind which they work with throughout the rest of the tracks. Rather than just being dark and gloomy the music brings out their cinematic side making the music feel that it is more about atmosphere than anything else. I wouldn’t be surprised if either Richards or Plater are big fans of underground horror/sci-fi and B movies. The pieces feel as if there are environmental pieces for specific places. The interesting thing is that despite the numerous instruments and effects listed in the recording, field recordings are not in their arsenal which probably makes the music more effective than if they were using obvious cues. The tracks have a glacial pace and move from the more squalling near noise of “Cannards Grave” to the rusty metallic and distant drones of “Saint Martin’s Land”. The densest pieces are the previously mentioned “Cannards Grave” and the opener “The Fabled Isle”, both of which feature Plater’s Cornish Wrecker’s band mate Tony Millman and are the most claustrophobic pieces on the album. One of things I noted in my last reviews of works by Andrea Laudante and Boris Salchow was the attention to creating a vibrant sound and I can’t help to think that a clearer, more defined sound could add and emphasise the pieces on this album a bit more. That depth and separation of instruments would be a more dramatic result.
“The Guildford Tree Vol, 1” is available as a digital release.
“The Japanese term “sumi” means “black ink” while “e” means “painting”. The philosophy of Sumi-e is contrast and harmony, which express simple beauty and elegance. Sumi-e attempts to capture the subject’s “life” or “chi” by painting it in the language of the spirit. As in Zen practice, reality is expressed by reducing it to its pure and naked form. Sumi-e offers simplicity and spontaneity that directly affect the sensitivity of the spectators. The music of this EP is an attempt to capture this concept through simple piano compositions.
The song titles reflect “The Four Gentleman”, the first four subjects that students must master. They use the four basic brush strokes used in the Sumi-e technique. Each subject represents one of the four seasons.”
Age is no barrier to be written about in this blog. It seems like as in most styles of music Youth triumphs age with the attention that a young artist can gather to those further on in their lives journey. But as a middle age person I naturally gravitate to older artists in the same way I did younger artists in my twenties – we have similar experiences. I have no idea how old Davis is, but by his bio he has been involved in music and theatre since the mid 70’s. His five track, seventeen minute EP has the title track and four season themed pieces – “Bamboo Summer”, “Chrysanthemum Fall”, Plum Blossom Winter” and “Orchid Spring”. In regards to what Davis states above with the reducing things to it’s naked form – a solo piano release does that as it strips back anything that is obscuring the instrument and exposing the listener directly. What you will find on this release is that it is not a pure close microphone recording, so that distraction of hearing the nuts and bolts of the instrument is removed and you can focus on the keys themselves.
Tonally there is not to much separating the pieces. They are cut from a similar cloth what, but Davis doesn’t do is to make it such an obvious thing when you listen to the pieces with keeping the seasons in mind, you can categorically state “Oh, this is the Summer piece, this is the Winter piece”. What you notice is the slight variance in playing which is either reflected by mood of the music or the intensity of the playing. “Bamboo Summer” has a hope filled way of gentle rolling of the fingers over the keys, while “Plum Blossom Winter” uses a lot more contrasts in sound and tone of the piano with a little bit more space between the notes. “Orchid Spring” feels like tentatively coming from the darkness with an inquisitive look, while the title track which opens the collection feels like a standard that uses the meanings of the words “Sumi” and “e” to highlight the contrasts in the piano sounds and tone.
With such a highly competitive scene getting heard as a pianist is quite difficult, but the music on this EP, while not re-inventing the wheel is beautifully played. Davis has a real sense of what he wants to convey to the listener and it doesn’t feel like an arduous listen like some piano releases can be these days and is worth checking out.
“Sumi-e Shadows” is available Digitally. You can buy the EP here.
Jesús Vergara is a Mexican sound artist whose piece “Sulphur” was created as part of an audio video installation at the Heart Ego Gallery In Monterray, Mexico in 2018. Vergara created the piece by taking well known top 10 pop songs and edited out the best known parts to leave just the, as he calls it, “the extra, the uneventful transition, the breath before the singing, and all the other things present, but non deserving of our attention.” These sound sources which he calls the “inverse of selective memory” became the sound sources for the drone-ambient composition. The re-arranged version finds itself released as a single and carrying on with the artistic/installation side of things when you download the piece from bandcamp it comes with a pdf that contains a cypher which when deciphered reveals a link to the edited non-memorable song parts and the artwork contains a link to a list of all the songs used. Phew!
So what does it sound like? Well, if you think because of the origins of the piece that it is going to be a plunderphonics or some sort of Jason Forrest like piece then you will be mistaken. The piece is a soaring, searching droning track that exists in noisier spectrum of the style. Vergara creates a piece that is at times jarring, exploratory, ghostly, contemplative, calm and haunting. Waves of drones roll across, some shimmering, some circling which results in a piece that you cannot pin point just where it came from or where it is heading to. Definitely for the fans of darker and more experimental fare, but enough for the regular drone fan to enjoy, “Sulphur” has a very impressive depth of sound and contrast of soundscapes, with just that bit of mystery about its sound sources, which ever so briefly reveal a bit about themselves around the eight minute mark.
“Tria Prinicipia” is a name your price digital release.
“As reflected in their titles, these live, solo improvised pieces are inspired by bodies of water, whether it be swimming through surf, the reflection of the moon, tidal interactions with the shoreline, ice, or the temporal nature of both the topography of water’s surface and our thoughts.
Each piece features the 6-string donso n’goni (Bambara hunter’s harp) and/or an African thumb piano (likembe and sanza), altering the acoustic source instrument(s) with limited variations of spectral processing, reverb and other digital filters.
Liquid Terrain represents the musical and visual work of Tim Wolf, a musician, photographer and graphic designer who describes his work as fluid landscapes. He has studied Indian classical music, performance art, practised disciplines of improvisation in music and dance, and worked as an audio engineer and music and live performance producer.”
As the title of the release, project name and the artwork suggests, there is a somewhat calm feeling to the music on “Tidal”. That is purely because of the glacial pace that Wolf uses throughout the album. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t all gentle and mellow. The music on “Tidal” is one of a highly processed nature which strips the instruments of their traditional sounds and creates pieces that move from the meditative sounding title track through to ice cold noisiness of “Waterpainting” and the unnervingly calm, but not too calm “Life Under Ice”. Glacial music can either be a calm form or one that is also abrasive as it relies more on the shape and peaks of the music than the tone or intensity. You can have a calm glacial piece with light and melody or one that investigates the darker corner of the music. With “Tidal” Wolf makes sure the music is not one dimensional with the feel changing from track to track and also during the pieces. With “A Thought” he reveals the clearest indication of the instruments used in the pieces with a rhythmic approach that is also featured on “Watermoon 2”. These tracks offer a nice change and even a slight new age sort of feel to the music. The majority of the other pieces remain in the processed droning side of things with the final track “Ocean Swim” showing Wolf in an epic mood with a dark, ominous, threatening and somewhat symphonic sound.
In defining his project name Wolf states “Terrain typically refers to topography, or the surface area of a landscape. Liquids, such as bodies or channels of water, have surfaces that are like terrains, albeit fluid, dynamic and more obviously impermanent.” With this definition he does more than reference the reasoning for his recording name, but also the influence and importance the name Liquid Terrain has on in creating his music and the way that it changes. “Tidal” is for fans of the colder and darker styles of ambient.