Although it is only a few months ago, in the music world it could mean a life time ago. These releases, spread over two posts, comprise the offerings of May 2020.
“”In this unprecedented album, entirely conceived using only the legendary instrument Ondes Martenot, the composer Christine Ott tells a cosmic journey with cinematographic colours, which rubs shoulders with electronic stars and caresses incandescent planets. A sonic and sensual magma produced by Paul Régimbeau (Mondkopf) & Frédéric D. Oberland (Oiseaux-Tempête), radiant, as if weightless….Chimères (pour Ondes Martenot) was born out of the desire of NAHAL Recordings and Christine Ott (virtuoso ondist and multi-instrumentalist teaching at the Strasbourg Conservatory) to offer an unprecedented album, entirely conceived using only her Ondes Martenot…A nebula of layers of waves superimposed and triturated by effects that make her songs sometimes robotic, sometimes celestial.”
Christine Ott most definitely takes the listener on an at some time, a haunting journey on “Chimères (pour Ondes Martenot)”. Ott is a renowned ondist as well as pianist, vocalist and composer whose background includes collaborations with the likes of Tindersticks, Fourde! and Yann Tiersen. Her instrument of choice is quite possibly one of the most exotic of early electronic instruments. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia “The ondes Martenot can be played with a metal ring worn on the right index finger. Sliding the ring along a wire produces “theremin-like” tones, generated by oscillations in vacuum tubes, or transistors in the seventh model… A drawer allows manipulation of volume and timbre by the left hand. Volume is controlled with a touch-sensitive glass “lozenge”, called the “gradation key”; the further the lozenge is depressed, the louder the volume. In his preface to Jeanne Loriod’s Technique de l’Onde Electronique Type Martenot., Olivier Messiaen explains that the “gradation key, struck by one or several fingers of the left hand, gives at the same time the sound, its intensity, and the attack itself. The intensity ranges from an almost inaudible pianissimo to the most terrible and painful fortissimo, passing through all intermediate gradations. The conceivable attacks are more numerous than those of the piano, violin, flute, horn or organ – they range from an absolute legato and glissando to the sounds of temple blocks and membranophones. Somewhere beyond the absolute legato exists an extraterrestrial, enchanted voice, and beneath the dry staccato attack may be found sound effects such as cracked bell, a crumbling pile of sand, or an aircraft motor.” The end result is an instrument that by itself at times sounds like a full orchestra.
The music created by Ott on “Chimères (Pour Ondes Martenots)” certainly reflects the title. The translation of “Chimères” is phantoms, silhouettes or shadows. The music on the album has this otherworldly presence with a heavy dose of nostalgia provided by the theremin like sounds that the instrument can generate. With production help from Paul Régimbeau (Mondkopf) and Frédéric D. Oberland (Oiseaux-Tempête) who assist in manipulating the original sound waves through effects boxes and sonic modulations, the pieces on the album sound like nothing else I have possibly come across before. The instrument has a history in the score world for largely horror based or whimsical tales and in the hands of Ott it is used more in the experimental style.
Where the music ends with the Ondes Martenot and moves into post production to vary these sounds is a mystery to me, but the noticeable feature is the change in timbre and tone and the way that each piece feels largely derived from another source instrument.They are times where it feels like many layers of sounds are in action and others are more focused on a particular sound. I find myself being more drawn to those pieces that are probably the less experimental and sound like a mini ensemble. Pieces such as “Comma”, “Darkstar” and “Burning” suit my taste more than the more abstract explorations of “Todeslied” or “Pulsar”, but for other people those kind of pieces where the envelope is pushed more may just be what they are looking for.
If music that sounds slightly unusual and you’ve grown tired of familiar sounds, then “Chimères (Pour Ondes Martenots)” may be what you are seeking out. The album is available on LP, CD and Digital.
Post Global Trio
“This immersive, explorative album presents the listener with two long-form pieces by Macedonia’s Post Global Trio (Toni Dimitrov, Dimitar Dodovski and Martin Georgievski). In the words of the artists themselves: “Since the beginning of humankind, our planet’s global ecology has never been in such a critical state as it is today. In this context we should call this epoch the Anthropocene rather than the Holocene Epoch, due to the ways in which human activity is drastically altering global ecosystems. We must understand that going back to the primordial, to the natural, to the infinite essence, to God, thus creating a Utopian paradise, is our only hope. With ‘Naturans, Naturata’, that with its name refers to the Spinoza’s ethics syntagm – Natura Naturans and Natura Naturata – we invite you to participate in this creative process.”
Post Global Trio offer up two long tracks (or sides) on this limited Cd-r on the Swedish Lagerstätte label. The trio create pieces of music that are more like sound art pieces than anything else. The two pieces infuse field recordings, drones, percussion, electronics and a variety of sounds I can only guess at their origin. The music moves through such genres as New Age, Ambient, Electroacoustic, Experimental and even dubby beat filled parts. Of the two tracks on offer “Side A” is probably the more conventional of the two as it for the most part remains within this New Age meets Ambient meets Field Recordings style, while “Side B” is all over the shop with it’s sound styles and influences. “Side B” sees the trio exploring more sounds and textures as well as temperature in the piece as it moves through it’s various movements. On the bookcase of the cover art is a copy of the classic Luomo “Vocalcity” album and you can hear some of that influence of that albums dubby qualities in the track’s final third.
Because of the nature of it’s free form approach to genre and the direction of the sounds, this may be a challenge to the more uniformed ambient listener. But if you are prepared to take a journey where you just don’t know exactly where you are heading, then “Naturans, Naturata” will be right up your alley. “Naturans, Naturata” is available as a limited CD-R (50 Copies) and Digital.
“A re-interpretation so often comes from an impulse, even if subliminal, of one-upmanship – let me do better, wait ‘til you hear it my way. Sometimes though, and it happens too rarely, the cover is an act of devotion in which a musician’s humility produces something more beautiful than bravura could. When Erik Hall undertook his painstaking reconstruction of Steve Reich’s 1976 masterpiece of minimalism, “Music for Eighteen Musicians”, it was as much an exercise in modesty as ambition. With its repetitions and complex constructions, the piece makes great demands on stamina and concentration, and Reich himself advised that these challenges meant it should probably be performed with more than eighteen musicians. Hall, however, recorded every part himself in his small home studio, playing instruments he had on hand, in live, single takes. Here, then is the ambition. But here too is the modesty: by doing one section a day, one instrument at a time, he made his way through this monumental piece, building a faithful and loving re-creation, one sonic brick at a time. Xylophone becomes muted piano, violin becomes electric guitar and so it is that music for eighteen becomes music for one.”
There are certain pieces that have a sense of revere around them and Steve Reich’s “Music For 18 Musicians” is one of them. Originally composed in the mid 1970’s the release of it on ECM in 1978 cemented it’s standing and it’s influence has been rippling outward over the past forty plus years. Erik Hall was entranced by the CD on a car ride while a student in the early 2000’s and after a move to rural Michigan his wife suggested to him that re-creating it be his next project. The major difference between Hall’s version and Reich’s original is the instrumentation. The original piece had violin, cello, voice, marimbas, xylophones, clarinet, piano, metallophone and maracas in it’s instrumentation. Hall’s version consists of muted piano, electric guitar and Moog. He closed recorded the instruments with room mics to capture the air around each instrument and began the process “of recording one section a day, one layer at a time in live, single takes, painstakingly cobbling together a loving interpretation of Reich’s 1976 masterpiece of minimalism.”
Now, despite my above claim about the importance of the original work I am barely familiar with it. I have heard it before a long time ago, but don’t have it for cross referencing purposes. What I can say though is that Hall’s version is a seamless and staggering version when you consider the way in which the original piece was constructed and recorded vs a single musician laying doing the sections one by one. The intense musicality of a piece like “Section V” shows the degree by which Hall captures this music all by himself. The album is such an intense and focused piece I half expected an exhalation at the end from Hall as a triumph to what he has achieved. As Hall states “I’m aware of the inherent audacity of the project, but I couldn’t resist the simple joy of getting to participate in this music I’ve loved so much for so long. Subsequently, as the layers piled up and the piece started to really take shape, that feeling was joined by utter humility towards the composition.”
“Music For Eighteen Musicians (Steve Reich)” is available on LP, CD and Digital.
“Isolation” is a nine track, nine artist release from the Archives sub label Faint. As mentioned in the interview that I did with label boss Agus Mena he mentions that the idea for this compilation was before the Coronavirus pandemic. Faint is the label that is more geared to the exploratory side of Ambient with also a tip of the hat to more electronic strains. This compilation features the likes of Faru, Christina Giannone, Powlos, José Soberanes, Lauge, Robert Farrugia, Midnat, Javier Marimon and SLVBRD.
I am not sure which came first, the album art or the theme as the music seems to tie nicely in with yet another stunning Alexander Kopatz image. The pieces have a certain coldness in their core with melody and colour sucked out of their existence. That is not to say that this is a collection of bleak piece, in deed all nine artists and their respective pieces definitely have a handle on constructing pieces removed from these sources without a sense of being one dimensional or lacking in ideas. Stillness and a glacial pace is de rigueur, but the artists expand on this by the likes of textures and tones with which they work with. Christina Giannone is a new name for me and her piece “Kaleidoscope” is very close to the dark ambient/noise nexus while still having a composed feeling while cold, glassy drones move around endlessly. José Soberanes, the one time Huixtralizer, contributes an alien field recording meets suspense soundtrack and Robert Farrugia continues his fine vein of musical form with the closest track to melodic, the almost new age-y “Unfurl”. Midnat beckons us close to the dance floor with “Alene” with it’s synth pulses and barely there beats and bass line. Agus Mena in is alter ego to his Warmth project SLVBRD, brings the collection to a close with the swirling, bark but rich “Ensomhet” which exists in a similar world to Midnat with his use of beats buried so far down in the mix that they exist more as crackling sounds than percussion.
The sign of a great label is that the person/people behind them have a great taste when it comes to the curation of their imprint. This is the case with the Archives and Faint labels. Agus Mena has a strong artistic and stylistic sensibility when it comes to either his own music or those that he works with. This shines through on “Isolation” which is a great all round compilation that has shone a light on some artists for me to check out in the future. “Isolation” is available on Limited CD (70 copies) and Digital.
“The birth of “abandoned forest” goes back to a childhood dream. As Vaghy comments: “When I was little I used to have this dream about wandering aimlessly around in a forest, all the while looking for something and humming this melody. The melody remained the same and it repeated on and on, remaining in my subconscious, and even as an adult I could easily recall it.”
Vaghy is the Hungarian multi instrumentalist Tamás Vághy who co-organises the Hungarian Piano Day event. After some time in hiatus, Vághy is back with a full length to drop in the second half of the year, which will include “Abandoned Forest”. The beginning of the track reveals a naturally recorded piano piece with all the creaks and movement of the instrument captured alongside it’s introspective sound. Slowly but surely darker synth lines start revealing themselves ans slowly build up with a slight ominous feel to them. The piece dies down ever so briefly close to the two and a half minute mark before the piano returns with an intensity and conviction not heard before the piece returns somewhat to the first movement. This time the gentle nature of the beginning is replaced by an ever so slight increase in the presence of the synth with more of an ambient feel and a less ominous outlook. The piece ends ever so nicely with a handful of notes that mark themselves as a full stop accompanied with one final gesture from the synth. You get a strong narrative feel to “Abandoned Forest” with a feeling that the way the piece constructed reveals the change in the dream as to a child’s point of view versus the confidence from the adult looking back.
“Abandoned Forest” is available digitally and marks (yet another) name for me to be on the look out for in the future.