2017 : Twenty of the Best List.

 

TWENTY GREAT RELEASES OF 2017

I have to admit a sense of dread in compiling this list. These lists can be seen as from arbiters of taste and start well before the year ends. Sometimes it seems in competition to be the first to decree which album/label etc to be the finest of the year. I am not an arbiter of taste at all by any stretch of the imagination. This is a simple list of twenty releases I liked this year. There is no ranking, no breakdown into genres or sub groups (sorry, no best Winter albums as well, it’s not winter everywhere). Just a plain old list. My apologies go to those that had sent across material that has yet to be reviewed, but I endeavor to review them all. There is a supplementary list of three re-issues that also caught my attention this year. Without further ado and in no particular order….

 

Lorenzo Masotto “Aeloian Preocesses” (Dronarivm)

“Although I have not heard Masotto’s two previous releases and cannot compare this release to them (nor ascertain if the music matches the title of the album), what is striking is the use of electronic elements and instrumentation that compliment the solo piano. Such is the skill that this could sit comfortably in the Erased Tapes catalog.”

Toàn “Histós Lusis” (Eilean Rec)

“The album has a feel of a well crafted cinematic mix of elements like every single structure, instrument and style was carefully thought out and executed well. This is not an album rushed or one to rush through. The pace of the album is very gentle and it flows smoothly.”

Emilìa “Down To The Sadness River” (Rottenman Editions)

“Yi and Peh construct the album using only bowed guitar and piano to stunning effect. Recently I have been listening to music composed with lots of different elements and instruments, so it is quite a refreshing change to listen to something constructed with such few instruments that is so rich in sound.”

Giulio Fagiolini “Dietro a un Vetro” (Home Normal)

““Dietro a un vetro” is quite a stunning record especially as debut’s go. There is a great range of material and the fact that Giulio shows great restraint in his playing shows that he is in total control. The field of Modern Classical solo piano is one that is full to the brim, but Giulio easily adds to the field without it being simply ‘another piano album’. Totally recommended.”

The Green Kingdom “The North Wind and Sun” (Lost Tribe Sound)

“The production, performing and mixing were all done by Michael Cottone. I can only assume that the recording was done at home as there is no information to where it was recorded. If this is the case Cottone has done an outstanding job with such time and care put into this album which was expertly mastered by Taylor Deupree at 12k Mastering. If you have been a The Green Kingdom you will love this, if you are new to his work go back and get accustomed to his outstanding back catalog. Totally Recommended.”

Francesca Giannico & Giulio Aldinucci “Reframing” (Eilean Rec)

““Reframing” is a work that could be classified as Electroacoustic Ambience and has more than enough depth and variation for sustained listening. It is a perfect headphone listen to pick up all that is happening in the tracks. A mention should be made of the dynamic master of Ian Hawgood.”

Sontag Shogun and Moskitoo “The Things We Let Fall Apart” (Home Normal)

“On this single Sontag Shogun and Moskitoo have ably demonstrated how to collaborate. The way they have been able to fuse their music together and construct it results in an enjoyable listen. Hopefully this is not the only collaboration that the four of them come up with. Totally Recommended.”

From The Mouth Of The Sun “Hymn Binding” (Lost Tribe Sound)

“From The Mouth Of The Sun have delivered a stunning album and have carried on Lost Tribe Sound’s outstanding the Prelude to the Decline series. They show how to make deeply textured music seem effortless and reward the listener with an album to enjoy endlessly. Totally recommended.”

Roberto Attanasio “Behind Those Eyes I Rest” (1631 Recordings)

“As Roberto mentioned in our email exchange in regards to his method of writing /recording his music “The only thing I had to do was transcribe I had in mind, and that was incredible because what you listen to is exactly the song I played in my mind. I didn’t do any change respect to my music thoughts and maybe this is the beauty of the Ep : spontaneous and intimate.”

I think the last word of that quote best sums it up this Ep and the recording style of it. – intimate.”

Bruno Sanfilippo “Lost And Found” (AD21music)

““Lost & Found” sees a collection of material from a wide span of time be collected to form a cohesive album. Some work better than others, my personal preference would be “Soltario” to be shorter, but the album is an enjoyable listen for people looking for more than just a solo piano album.”

Crisopa “Transhumante” (Sound in Silence)

“There are no standouts on the album for me. That is because it is consistently good. There are elements that appear several times over (like the affected vocals) which can make the music a bit samey, but that can attributed to a fair amount artists. What Lizón has created here is an enjoyable, bright listen. It’s the aural equivalent of opening the curtains and letting the light shine in. If you like the artist references at the start of the review, then you will enjoy this album.”

Aidan Baker/ Thor Harris/ Simon Goff “No Place” (Gizeh)

“It is quite amazing to think that this was recorded in a short period of time on one day, edited and re-assembled and then some six months later sounding like a fully formed album from an established group. Aiden Baker, Simon Goff and Thor Harris have produced a very enjoyable, rich album that thanks to Gizeh Records we are able to appreciate.”

Adrian Lane “Playing With Ghosts” (Preserved Sound)

“To say he has achieved something jaw dropping is an understatement. Any concern you have of it being derivative of The Caretaker are easily forgotten.A special mention should go to his collaborators especially Bryan Styles’ Clarinet, which helps formulate many of the albums tracks. This album was released on August 18 in an edition of 150 copies, I urge you to check it out.”

Ghost and Tape “Var” (Home Normal)

“Over the course of four albums in seven years, with the others appearing on Schole  and Slaapwel as well as Ep’s on Rural Colours and Hibernate, Heine Christensen has created his own place in the ambient scene with his thought out minimalistic, micro glitches and melodic tones. Expertly mastered by the former experimental grindcore practitioner Plotkin, “Vár” is a trip down the sun soaked dappled miniatures of Ghost and Tape and lives up to both his history and that of Home Normal’s class of 2017. Recommended.”

Jason van Wyk “Opacity” (Home Normal)

““Opacity” refers to the lacking of transparency or translucency which can be compared to the pieces on the album where there are multiple elements. One of the synonyms of Opacity is haziness which can be occasionally heard in tracks like “Clouds” and the beginning of “For Now” for example. For “Opacity” van Wyk has taken on some of the elements of “Attachment” added some from his previous work and taken it further. The shorter pieces that come across as Soundtrack-esque is a something that would be interesting to see van Wyk detour into as I think he would pull it off with aplomb. A mention should be made of the cello and violin of Brittany Dilkes, Gavin Clayton and Lynn Donson for their important contributions to the album. Recommended.”

Polaroid Notes “Unsung Memories” (Whitelab Rec)

“A thoroughly enjoy album from someone who would easily craft a great soundtrack in the future.”

The Prairie Lines “Eyes Down Slowdown” (Whitelab Rec)

“A thoroughly enjoyable release especially if you like your ambience coated in thick haze with layers to peel back and investigate.”

Astrïd & Rachel Grimes “Through The Sparkle” (Gizeh)

“The playing and compositions of this album give you the feeling of a long-standing band, not a band and a collaborator. The way Astrïd and Grimes fuse together is so seamless with each others influences forming together to create something their own. Elements of Grimes’ sounds developed in Rachel’s come through and fit nicely within the Astrïd framework to provide an enjoyable and cohesive piece of work. The label describes it perfectly : “Through the Sparkle is a record of miniature symphonies, of elegant restraint. A gracious and generous offering from a group of musicians at one with each other and at the top of their game.””

Dominique Charpentier “Esquisses” (Self released)

“It would be easy to see this ep as something more than it is. It could easily be part of a soundtrack to a feature film. The length of the tracks are perfect and make great little vignettes. For an artist that is used to being self released, he could easily slot into the roster of say 1631 Recordings.”

Totally Recommended.

Akira Kosemura  “In The Dark Woods” (Schole)

“Throughout the album Kosemura has demonstrated why he has such a following. For some a strictly solo piano album could be too much of a same thing, but for Kosemura he knows how to construct an album that can sound familiar but you look back to the other tracks you cannot pin point which track it is. Naturally with a genre like Modern Classical /Solo piano that is fast becoming a saturated one, it helps to be a great composer and this is what Kosemura has on his side. Add to the fact that Kosemura doesn’t just rely on Piano and you have an artist that sustains the listeners interest and keeps them engaged.”

 

THREE GREAT RE-ISSUES OF 2017

 

Vargkvint “Brus” (Soft Recordings)

“It is fairly easy to see why Soft re-issued this and fits in well with their stable of releases that have included Darren Harper, Kate Carr, EUS and of course Linear Bells. This release is just simply one of those that come along and captivate you from the start and you hope that more than a limited audience gets to experience it.”

William Ryan Fritch “The Sum Of The Parts” (Lost Tribe Sound)

“Throughout these albums Fritch shows his musical chops in the form of composer, musician and recorder. His strength lies in his ability to construct multi layered pieces with an attention to, structure and how the instruments work together. If I were to chose between these two albums Would pick “The Sum of the Parts” purely because my taste leans more to the cinematic feel than the more rustic Alt-Folk that his is familiar with. However, both albums are recommended.”

Jakob Lindhagan “Skorheten” (1631 Recordings)

“Overall this is an impressive album with miniatures that would be great if expanded. It shows of Lindhagen’s talent and flexibility and a composer to use different elements to the tracks so it’s not a case of “same same”. I look forward to what he brings us on his next release. Totally recommended.”

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My Home, Sinking – King of Corns. 

“King of Corns” is an ensemble piece constructed by Italian experimentalist Enrico Coniglio (last seen on these pages with his collaboration with Mateo Uggeri on the Dronarivm. This particular release on double LP, CD and digital saw the light of day through the US label Infraction,  hone to the likes of Offthesky & Pleq, Celer, Northern and others. It features outstanding art and layout from James and Heginbottom and Chris Bigg with deft mastering by James Plotkin.

According to the label “The My Home, Sinking project is one that has been in the works for well over a year. Enrico Coniglio is the artist behind the MHS name. He collaborated with a multitude of other artists and vocalists on “King of Corns”. It is a combination of Talk Talk’s latter-day “Spirit of Eden / Laughing Stock” style of restrained tension, experimental chamber music akin to Rachel’s, chilling vocal deliveries, Finnish Folk and windswept ambience”.

I will admit being bewildered by this release. Some records have tracks that sound familiar with the artist having their ‘style’, others have tracks that have their own feel, some follow a narrative, while others can be quite experimental where it is not easy to put your finger on what the artist is doing. This album falls in the latter category and requires, for me, repeated listening to get my head around it.

On the album Coniglio plays Guitars, Melodica, Harmonica, Horn, Electric Organ, Synthesizer, Psalter, Tapes & Vinyl, Found Objects and Field Recordings. As well as individual artists on particular tracks he is joined by Elisa Marzorati on Piano and Piergabrielle Mancuso on Viola.

“Bird’s Eye” starts with bell sounds, static, warped drones that sound treated, arching drones, Melodica and minimalist piano. There is a rumbling sound to the drones and straight away that Spirit of Eden influence comes through via the Melodica and the starkness of the piano. The drones feel like they are cut up as they intersect the sound palate and have a feeling of like being generates by a train on tracks, not that they have the sound, more like the undulations of sound that you would expect on a train track. In a way the sound palate for the album is introduced slightly with this opening track, but by no means defines what the rest will sound like.

“D’automne (The Sobs of the Violin)” has a repetitive guitar piece accompanied by piano stabs, sounds similar to those of a cash register and lamenting violin sounds. The elements are in a way are disparate as while the piano and the violin occupy a similar musical tone, the guitar playing is off kilter and rolls like a drunken man. There is a very folkish feeling to the track, but one that is sinister and slightly unhinged. Even though it is off kilter, it is the guitar with its rollicking playing which gives the track its rhythm, however off-center for the other elements then to attach themselves to.

“King of Corns” featuring Jessica Constable on vocals is a dark and sinister piece with Constable’s eerily almost indecipherable falsetto vocals that remind ever so slightly of Diamanda Galas along side a filmic soundscape of horror like suspenseful electronics that lurk around the tracks darker areas before revealing themselves towards the end of the track. Marzorati’s piano is used sparingly, but effectively adds to the sinister menace of the track.

“Animating Old Postcards (Aikaa ei Ole Olemassa)” features Violetta Päivännkkara on vocals, glockenspiel and effects. The acoustic guitar surrounded by a summery hum accompanies Päivännkakara’s childlike innocent vocals and the wispy drones of the Melodica. Shuffling, almost brushed percussion effects are added as well as chimes, glockenspiel which add to the vocal quality and give it a totally different feel to the previous tracks. Where the title track as all dark atmosphere, this one is the flip side of pure innocence, but still inhabiting a folk territory.

“Love Scene” features Peter Paul Gallo on vibraphone starts with a backwards loop effect, affected guitar and slow long violin lines which are lyrical in their playing. The vibraphone adds a crystalline sound which goes well with the backwards loops and provides a totally different texture to the violin. The guitar varies from being strummed, to plucked to being manipulated which works well with the loops. If this was a soundtrack to a movie I am not entirely sure what the visual representation for a love scene would be based on the sound of the track.

“Bird’s Eye (Interlude)” dark drones, distant violin, field recordings of blown air and static, piano form the sound elements to the track and are like the opening track, but one that has been stripped of its elements and reformed using not all the constituent parts to form a ghostly version. Not a remix or a reprise, but like a reduction of the opening track.

“The Day the Earth…(Clock is Ticking)” echoing electronics that sound like sonar blips and acoustic guitar and distant sounds that are looped, but then seem to come out as this growing drone from which scraping and long bowed violin appear and work in staccato fashion. The acoustic guitar has short, but repetitive pieces which act as like a metronome. Clicking glitches, minimalist piano stabs, horns and a plucking sound add to the noir-ish quality of the piece which sounds experimental,  but at times both modern and retro it its styling.

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“Rachel on the Beach” fractured field recordings or tape loops that are shuffling in nature are joined by acoustic guitar which is paired with piano alongside drones and the sound of detritus or shells rubbing together. The piano that reminded me of the sound of Spirit of Eden is back to the point where I am expected minimalist Mark Hollis singing and horns wailing. Instead violin that is layered joins in and has a slightly subdued, but reflective quality.

“I can’t help it (But this is the end)” features Chantal Acda on vocals and features Peter Paul Gallo on vibraphone starts with an ambient drone, guitar, vibraphone, piano and electronics. There is shimmering quality that is brought out of the vibraphone that adds to the track. Harmonica enters the sound just before Chantal Acda transcendent vocals enter the track. I could happily listen to Acda sing the phone book such is the quality of her voice. The harmonica that enters where she sings “This is the end” brings the track up to another level. As well as the piano, the electronics of an unknown nature steer this unconventional conventional track to its end. Probably the highlight of the album.

“Along the Pipeline” features James Murray on Organ, Vocals and Loops starts with field recordings, strummed drones which radiate outwards, piano stabs heavy in sound and minimally spaced, with ethnic sounds and low pulsing electronic loops that start pulsing metronomically. Ethereal vocals briefly enter and depart and enter again, but it is the stark minimalist piano that is the instrument that is the key to bring on the other elements. It feels like it controls the mood and the pace while giving space for the other elements to find their position. The track is like an experimental chamber piece with a noir-ish, but electronic edge.

“Full Blank (No Stars)” featuring Jessica Constable on vocals and James Murray on Electronics starts with tape loops and Constables layered falsetto and emotional singing over distant sounds of piano and violin, drones and scattered electronics that have a storm ravaged like quality. There is a dark underbelly of electronics that are indistinguishable, but add to the menacing quality of the track. I have to admit not knowing what Ms Constable is singing about, but her vocal delivery is truly frightening.

As I stated before, I am totally bewildered by the album. When I think I have a handle on it, I am thrown into left field. But, by not being able to easily pigeon-hole it, it is open to more interpretation and revealing of all the layers. I would describe Coniglio as an experimental composer with an ear for construction and also for layering and working with disparate sound sources. If you like going down the rabbit hole, this album may be for you.

 

Ghost and Tape – Vár.

The fourth Ghost and Tape album was released on the nomadic (Japan/UK/Poland) Home Normal label and it is a perfect fit for artist and label. Mastered by James Plotkin with photography by Hitoshi Ishigara and layout design by Jason van Wyk and label boss Ian Hawgood, “Vár” sees Heine Christensen inspired by nature. According to the artist “This album is inspired by and a tribute to Nature, in all its wonderful chaos; pure and forceful with mystifying, beautiful patterns. The word ‘Vár’ itself means spring, and originates in Old Norse, symbolising a new beginning, a chance to start fresh.”

“Sprout” opens with slightly distorted melodic tones and shimmering hum-like ambience. Buzzing bee like electronics starts scattering around the fringes of the tones threatening to over power them, but manages to come close to the intensity of the melodic tones. A third electronic source, a drone enters in the final minute of the track which over powers the tones and electronics and leads to more ambient territory with broken tones still being slightly heard giving a feeling of the sound of water running in a creek.

“Eostre” is the Germanic goddess of Spring and Dawn (and the apparent name for Easter) sounds like a dawn chorus with micro clicks, glitches, field recordings that sound like noise of nature (earth sounds, movement of things) and layers of drones. The drones have the feeling of hazy warmth with a bed of fuzz throbbing underneath while soaring drones cascade over and melodic tones reverberate out. Although no instrumentation is listed, the feeling is manipulated guitar tones, synths and samples are used. There is a warmth to the piece which makes me think of dawn and the early increase in heat of the day.

“Monarch” opens with a drone which ripples out and oscillates before being joined by others of various intensities and colours. Granular sounds enter the fray exhibiting the same qualities as the drones and are washed over with beds of ambience and tones which are spindly and soaring. Guitar is a welcome addition with its gently strummed strings giving a deep dimension of sound. The sounds converge and wash over each other with a hive like intensity which is best noted at just over five minutes into the track which leads the track to its ending with layers of electronic spluttering.


“Hatch” field recordings of wind, bird song and someone or something walking through tall grass or scrunching things are joined be delicate and minimally spaced melodic tones which shimmer and hold drones as they radiate out. The track reminds me of Australian artist Cornel Wilczek aka Qua who can produce melodic tones that also sound like they are degrading, much like they do in this track. It’s almost as if something is breaking down which is noted by the way the track just stops.

“Anemone” looped tones with cascading transmissions that circle around your ears are accompanied by meditative guitar that sounds as if it was recorded on cassette and the tape came out and got warped when it was wound back in. Train like rattling sounds in the background give as close as you are going to get percussion on a Ghost and Tape album, but give a rhythm for the looped tones and guitars to sort of anchor to as they pulse in and out.

“Solsort” references the Blackbird, a territorial bird known for attacking other males. The track, while not attacking has the darker tones than those that have preceded it. There are scattershot electronics that jag around, Eon-esque soaring sky like ambience, shimmering electronics that chug in certain places,  long guitar tones which radiate out and electronics that remind me of Morse code tones.

“Vár” returns to the field recording/ environment feeling previously heard in the likes of “Eostre” with the sounds feeling they have come from a lake area early in the morning. Chimes and synth ambience are joined by well spaced out electrical pulses and glitches. This is as close to electronics as Ghost and Tape will get to. Tones are manipulated and semi looped as not to be predictable and offer a focus for the listener while the other elements wash over each other. Towards the ends the field recordings and glitches tones remain after the other elements have dropped out. These are then joined by distorted shortwave radio-like transmissions which lead to the end.

“Seabird” field recordings of storm like wind sounds which are gentle and joined by warm drones, degrading glitches, swathes of ambience and delicately played minimal guitar. There is a high quality of ambience as if looking down surveying the ground below you, which may be why the track is called “Seabird” and why the elements sort of undulated like waves. The music is meditative and slow taking its time to unfurl and gently reveal itself with a depth of layers.

Over the course of four albums in seven years, with the others appearing on Schole  and Slaapwel as well as Ep’s on Rural Colours and Hibernate, Heine Christensen has created his own place in the ambient scene with his thought out minimalistic, micro glitches and melodic tones. Expertly mastered by the former experimental grindcore practitioner Plotkin, “Vár” is a trip down the sun soaked dappled miniatures of Ghost and Tape and lives up to both his history and that of Home Normal’s class of 2017. Recommended.

A.R.C. Soundtracks – DERELICTION // MIRROR.

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The first time I came across A.R.C. Soundtracks was via their submission on “The Pomona Comet” on the “Sequence 8” compilation. This, their third release following on from “Archive: Volume 1” (Little Cracked Rabbit) and “From a Shattered Beam” (Sacred Tapes) finds them on the Gizeh label which is well suited to their dark, experimental, post industrial sounds.

A.R.C. Soundtracks are an audio/visual duo comprised of K. Craig on Synth, Percussion and voice FX, alongside David Armes on Lap Steel, Electric Piano, Samples and Synths. On this release they are joined by Elizabeth Willow on voice. Created during a residency at Salford’s Islington Mill, a home to a variety of noise, experimental musicians and labels, the work is inspired by semi derelict spaces and the notion of ruins.

According to the label “This new film and soundtrack takes us into a bleak auditory realm of post-industrial structures and traces the role of the body within these liminal spaces. Strained harmonics and industrial, discordance mesh with veiled rhythms and spoken-word narrative to create a heavy static energy to both sound and visuals”.

“DERELICTION//MIRROR” the title track opens up the album with double bass like percussive moments, gongs, drones fusing together to build atmosphere but to be open to where the track will go. It’s intention is revealed when swathes of synth and piano enter the fray and start taking it in an ominous direction with pounding piano keys adding to the mood while becoming another percussive element. Screeching and pulsing electronics take the track further to the maelstrom before it reaches tipping point. The track has a definite post industrial feel to it.

“FIELD//TRESPASS” starts with soundtrack-esque clanging metallic drones that lay a desolate environment where sounds clash, reverberate and buzz. Minimal tribal percussion builds up at a subdued pace raising the intensity while arching drones scatter about filling up the sound scape with dark ambience. The elements drop out to change to a more distant disjointed ambient feel.

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“RUINS//RITUAL” shuffling sounds, distorted noises as if in a tunnel, what sounds lap steel effects are joined by a narrator who talks poetically over the track whose rhythm feels like a train is moving on rickety tracks. The narrator talks of dust and decay and as sounds enter and leave the field, with shuffling and random percussion plod along til they start clanging and banging under spluttering drones, synth bursts and applause like noises.

“INTERIOR//STRATA” film projector sounds that flicker and loop around are joined by Oscillating drones, random bright keys and Elizabeth Wilson’s narration which comes as a post industrial world view about Ruin and Decay.  Wilson’s voice is not as bleak as the previous narrator, but shares the similar theme. The looped material works well in that it doesn’t detract from the narration.

“DUST//SURVEILLANCE” transmissions from the other side with cymbal crashes, loops, repetitive lap steel, metallic foundry like drones, tribal percussion form the basis of this track which leads on a free-form direction before the elements get sucked into a vacuum and a form of distorted silence takes over.

“TERRAIN//VAGUE” cutting and screeching drones, backwards cymbals, bass drum beats, distorted electronics that pulsate on and out give the track, at the beginning of a horror film like feeling.  The drones cut across at various levels with some having that metallic sound which is quite sharp, while others have a more traditional bassy drone sound. The electronics give it the post apocalyptic feel with their dark pulses that with volume would shake speakers.

“FOUNDRY//CORE” the factory feel to this track is created by ominous drones, whip like sounds, industrial style percussion of metal bashed, treated distant electronics that sound like a broken transmission from another world. Elements enter and disappear as soon as they have entered the fray while others buzz around giving off the feeling of decay and destruction. The looped elements during the last-minute and a half are the breakdown of the transmission.

“HYBRID//AGENCY” (as heard below) is as close to a conventional drone track that you will get from this duo. Distant metallic percussion clangs, bubbling, gurgling electronics, sharp melodies and a delightful synth progression are joined by K. Craig’s narration talks of fragments and decay is joined Elizabeth Wilson to overlay double narration while oscillating sounds and arching drones weave about the sound scape.

“IMPERIAL//NOSTALGIA” sounding initially like the intro to Gary Numan’s “Cars”, the tone is changed with ghost like spectral sounds, pulsing electronics, affected vocals, ghostly presences, synth layers take their time to add to one another and build up with the parts forming a noisey drone. This drone is joined industrial percussion and screeching drones creating an environment of both desolation and destruction which is subtly counterpointed by a melody towards the end.

A.R.C. Soundtracks have built an album that is difficult to fully classify.  Is it Drone? Is it Experimental?  Is it Post Industrial? Is it a concept album? The answer to these questions is yes and then some more. By being essentially genre-less it is hard to classify and may not interest from people who like easily pigeon holed music, but for those who like it noisier, genre fluid and unclassifiable will find layers of interest in this album. Currently the album, limited to 175 copies as part of Gizeh’s Dark Peak series is on sale now here.

 

https://youtu.be/8fZmCeztXTs

https://soundcloud.com/gizeh/arc-soundtracks-hybridagency

Interview with Hayden Berry – Preserved Sound.

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I have been a fan of Preserved Sound and was lucky to discover them early on and have several of their releases in my collection. Over the years they have maintained a handmade aesthetic while producing releases over a variety of genres while cultivating a roster that includes Vitaly Beskrovny, Tess Said So, Adrian Lane, Ales Tsurko and label boss Hayden Berry’s own Visionary Hours project. Hayden generously answered the questions I sent to him.

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What were your intentions in starting the label? Was it to release your own music or document an artist(s) or scene? 

Preserved Sound was started by a small group of friends in Krakow, Poland, in 2011. Between us we were in four different musical projects producing music in the post-rock and ambient genres, and we felt that we needed some kind of platform to promote and release our music. We put on a concert by all four artists played and gave away a free 4-track sampler. This was followed by releases from Visionary Hours, New Century Classics and Lights Dim. At this stage, Preserved Sound wasn’t so much of a label, as a collective of artists who believed in strength in numbers and that we were better of promoting our music together than individually.

 

Shortly after this, we had an idea to release a compilation of ambient artists from Ukraine and Poland, and worked with our friends at AZK Promo in Kyiv to pull together some of the most important ambient artists working in both countries. We released this as a hand-made, limited edition double CD called It’s Not Boring, It’s Ambient, featuring artists such as Emiter and Pleq from Poland, and Heinali and Endless Melancholy from Ukraine. The compilation can still be downloaded for free from our website. On the back of the success of the compilation, we started receiving loads of requests from artists asking us to release their albums. And so Preserved Sound was born!

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You’ve developed a catalogue by putting out several releases by Vitaly Beskrovny, Tess Said So, Adrian Lane, Max Ananyev and others. Is it important to build a catalogue as opposed to being a destination label (by that I mean a label that has releases from artists who release on many other labels)?

Preserved Sound has always been about building a family of artists, rather than being a “destination” label. When we decide to release a particular artist, we do so with the understanding that the artist will develop, and we hope that he or she won’t just create the same album over and over again, but will deliver something new. Our artists understand that Preserved Sound won’t make them rich, but they also know that they are contributing to building a space for them to grow and develop their work. This is why it’s important for us to be loyal to our artists. We don’t use contracts, and our artists are free to take their albums elsewhere if they choose. Like many small labels, we operate on a good faith basis.

What are the fundamental requirements in putting out a release? Is it purely the music, the relationships formed or are there also economic considerations?

The only requirement for Preserved Sound to put out a release is that we like the music. This means that we’re prepared to take the hit if an album doesn’t do as well as we expected. But at the same time, it’s important that an artist is prepared to help promote their album. We’re all in this together, and it’s important for us to know that an artist won’t just sit back and expect everything to happen, but will be fully involved in the process. The more an artist is engaged in promotion, the further the album will go. Like Richard Knox from Gizeh Records mentioned in one of your previous interviews: “The only thing I’m concerned about is; are the people involved nice and is the music good.” This sums it up really!

 

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Labels have come and gone in the time you have been running Preserved Sound. What has kept you going while others have stopped?

 That’s a difficult question to answer. Running a small label can be a lonely pursuit, and I question why I do it on a fairly regular basis. I have a full-time job and a young family, and the time I can dedicate to running the label is pretty limited. I suppose the one thing that has kept me going is the belief in the music Preserved Sound releases. I enjoy the process of developing a release, from initial contact with an artist through to sending out the product. There’s something quite addictive about it! I also like the idea of giving a platform to unknown artists

 You’ve released one vinyl LP in Richard Youngs’ Red Alphabet in the Snow. Is this a format you would return to?

Yes! I’ve just released Beyond the White by my own Visionary Hours project as a limited edition vinyl of just 99 copies. And I’m releasing a new album on vinyl by Richard Youngs called Arrow in late spring 2018. I’d love to release more on vinyl, but the cost is quite prohibitive. It’s important for a label to be accessible, and unfortunately vinyl isn’t the most accessible format. How many people under the age of 25 can afford to regularly buy vinyl priced £15 or more? Not to mention the postage costs!

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What does the future bring for Preserved Sound? How far do you plan into the future?

 I never used to think we planned very much into the future, but when I look at what we’ve got lined up for 2018, I suppose you could call it a plan. Other than the Richard Youngs vinyl, we have a new album by cellist Aaron Martin coming in January. We’ve also got a couple of albums by new artists to Preserved Sound—more on that to come soon. Tess Said So and Poppy Nogood are also recording new albums.

Omrr – Devils for my Darling.

Omrr is Egyptian musician Omar El Abd. Based in Cairo his music is “based on glitch, noise, micro-sounds, sampling and field recordings. He uses a variety of instruments and software to create free form, dynamic and dense sonic landscapes. After previously releasing “Music for the Anxious” on Eileen Rec he has joined Russian label Dronarivm for his latest album.

Designed as an imaginary love story, the album was recorded, mixed, mastered and all instruments played by El Abd in 2017. And what a sonicly dense and clean release it is. For the amount of sound sources being used there is no feeling of claustrophobia, with sounds being crisp, vibrant and allowing a lot of space.

“Quicksands” sets the tone for the variation of sound sources to be heard across the album. Granular glitches, Electroacoustic sound sources, field recordings, some sort of hand played instrument, possibly kalimba being semi-randomly played. The broken beat nature gives the track a start. Sounds whirl in from the nether, pulsing around as the (let’s go with) kalimba starts playing out an off kilter looped melody that brings on Synth pulses which usher in a more composed glitch section that swirls around the listeners ears, chimes clang, metal sounds shimmer, the Synth pulses continue, ambient layers float, bells are struck, cornet blows and it’s almost like a storm is blowing around the kalimba loops. Sonically there is much to take on, such is the richness of sound sources, but this engages the listener and gives them elements to focus on and the rest to explore over repeated listens.

“Ink we Spill” glitch sounds and field recordings begin this track with an assortment of electronics, bells, buzzing drones, cut up fractured recordings, acoustic guitar slowly building up with the glitchy electronics and field recordings dominating the sound palate while the acoustic guitar plays a reflective piece. The construction of the many electronic layers makes it quite easy to miss when elements drop in and out. The acoustic guitar stops around when the electronics have gone from alarming to a more field recording storm like drone sound scape which washes out the remainder of the track.

“Illicit” dark drones, field recordings of nature, ominous tones, industrial like sound sources, static come together piece by piece to take the album in a different direction. This is pure drone that had not truly been heard before. The levels build up slowly creating a wall of sound and noise that becomes a mixture of drones, static squall and some sort of distant repetitive alarm that is warning people of something. If this is a love story, maybe this track signifies that something is wrong or is breaking down.

“Aquiver” brings the tone slightly lighter than the previous track. The drones are sharp, but not overbearing. The pattern percussive glitches sounds pop in out of the field of listening, electronics pulse and scatter to leave piano that is accompanied by very subtle mixtures of glitches, static, electronics and drones. The focus is the piano, but the other elements tease in another direction which surprisingly goes where you don’t expect. Big drones reminiscent of some modern classical drone pieces fill up the sonic landscape with the every present broken glitchy electronics scattering about. We return to the piano, this time accompanied by static and field recordings which take over the sound scape and leads the track in another direction. Mutated ambience with a melodic edge floats around recordings of presumably downtown Cairo with a percussive edge to them with beats, people clapping and sonic degradation.

“Your Heartless Sky” old age melodies, maybe from a 78, make way for manipulated electronics and bell sounds, while glitches flicker in and out, vocal snippets vanish as soon as they appear. Mournful melodic drones float above while the sonic landcsape has been joined by guitar, shakers, fragments of horn like sounds, cut up sections that sound like some sort of transmissions. The track comes across as an a Electroacoustic collage of sounds. I cannot personally put down a theme for it, but then by not achieving that, the piece remains open-ended for interpretation.

“Rotten Sky” a fusion of granular glitches, scattershot sounds, echoing noises, reverberating sounds leads on to a piano motif that is short before pulses and field recordings intertwined with drones swirl around creating levels of sounds before the piano returns minimally. The contrast between the minimalist piano which is gently played and the sonic ephemera surrounding it is noticeable. The dark ambient/Electroacoustic mix is the primary focus. As the album has progressed along it has gotten noticeably darker with this being the darkest track.

“Eloquent” acoustic guitar mixed with field recording, string like drone sections, glitched recordings, looped recordings of a person panting, kalimba, chimes, build up for the majority of the track before the music switches to a more kalimba – like melodic section still paired with the looped panting, drones and metallic electronic sounds that sound like metal shavings being swept up. If you take away the majority of the instruments for the most part of the track the string drone and ambient sections would be for some enough.

For this release Omrr has created a deep Electroacoustic release with elements of Glitch, Ambient, Drone and Modern Classical. While I am not sure I follow the narrative of the love story, the release is engaging with its great amount of sound sources within each track. It would be interesting to see what Omrr could achieve with a restriction on the amount of sound sources at his disposal and how that would affect the construction of his music. For a Sonically rich album it would be hard to find something as vibrant as this album. A mention should go to the great artwork of Francisca Pageo.

 

Aidan Baker / Simon Goff/ Thor Harris – Noplace.

When I think of improvised music I tend to think that it falls into 3 groups. One – The group of players are doing their own thing and are seemingly unaware of the players around them, Two – The players are inhabiting their own world but interact with the other players weaving in and of each others sphere much like The Necks do and, Three – Those that are so attune to each other that you’d swear that this is music that was written by the group and tightly rehearsed. The music of “NOPLACE” easily falls into the third category.

Noplace is an improvised collaboration between Aidan Baker (Nadja / Caudal / B/B/S/), Simon Goff (Molecular, Bee & Flower) and Thor Harris (Swans, Shearwater, Thor & Friends). Having known each other for a number of years and previously contributed to one another’s recordings this trio finally came together as a whole on May 7th 2017 at Redrum Studios in Berlin. In a short, improvised session of just a few hours they set about laying down as much material as possible which was then subsequently edited and re-worked (without overdubs) to form this album.

The album art was done by Christopher Hefner another musical artist they have worked with before. Gizeh Records describe the music as a hypnotic and deep listen. Kinetic rhythms pulsate throughout whilst the guitar and violin jostle and weave around the metronomic beats, creating a cathartic and all-encompassing experience. The very nature of the instrumental repetitions give it an immediate avant/krautrock feel but the whole record is coated in a wonderful psychedelic atmosphere that’s both melodic, textured and innovative.”

Using a simple sound source of instruments such as Guitar, Drums and Violin the trio create a world of sound. “Noplace I” opens the album with the center being Harris’ tribal jazz-like drumming that is hypnotic and gives Baker’s guitar and Goff’s Violin a base to attach to and allows them to run across weaving lines of guitar and violin in drone like and feedback fashion. The violin and guitar aren’t used in typical fashion and use more in a melodic colorful way.

“Noplace II” takes the music into the more experimental realm with minimal cymbal dominated percussion, spindly guitar work and arcing violin cutting in and out. There is a hypnotic loop feel to the track that also comes across assoundtrack-esque. With the first piece being centered on drums, the change see the guitar and violins become the focal point of the track. There is an ominous edge to the instrumentation with sharp sounds being created by Goff welding to the darker tones conjured by Baker and Harris’ exercise in subtlety. You can image a track like this being extending into a solid hour hour piece.

“Red Robin” starts with Baker’s guitar that has a looping insistent almost art punk/post punk feel to it, with a classic drum section from Harris that could easily sit in either trip hop or post rock circles while Goff surveys the top section of the soundscape with barely reminiscent violin. This track comes across as the most layered. While the guitar and drums remain the same through out (with some subtler variation), other guitar section, effects and layering of instruments appear appear. There is a futuristic appeal to the track that leads it other directions than just the “rock format” that is its foundation.

“Noplace III” comes across as an ambient techno track , but one done without synths. The bass beat shuffled cymbals give the track it’s feel, but the guitar drones, spindly section and violin drones gives it the ambient element. The drones have both light and dark feel with the darker end have a bass feel vaguely reminiscent of an instrument like the didgeridoo. The fact that this is constructed without synths shows the way that the players can use their chosen instruments in a way to create textures that are not always ascribed to their instrument. If you told someone they would be listening to music constructed by Guitar, Violin and Drums, they would be pleasantly surprised by this.

“Tin Chapel” sees spindly Asian style guitar working alongside post rock style jazzy percussion with violin that makes me think of a combination of Egyptian and Jazz music. The drums drive the track and the guitar adds an intensity to the piece which is a swirling one, but the focal point is the violin which is used as the lead instrument. There is a section of stacatto violin playing which is in contrast to the drones built up and the and krautrock motorik percussion which drives the track. There is a balance of the structured and unstructured music in the track which comes across in a way of a power play in which element will win over.

“Northplace” starts with ominous affected fuzz guitar, pounding fluttering drums, long arcing violin drones and distorted shimmering guitars. The foot is definitely entrenched in the avant scene as the elements pound away, cutting in and out, building up and disappearing. The focal point changes early on from the percussion being the focal point to the guitar lines and distorted violin that is either droning or cutting up the sound leading through to darker ambient territory, albeit with conventional instruments.

“Nighplace” brings Dirty Three vibe to the with the brushed drums, southern style violin and minimal guitar lines (with maximal sound). It makes sense that this is the final track as it is more reflective than to those that have preceded it. The drums have a rustic feel while Baker and Goff work in tandem to color the piece with drones that at times are widescreen in their coverage. A section of distorted guitar gives a dirty bass element which gives an extra bottom layer to the track the introduction of this appears just before the intensity of the drone element increases to the point where it threatens to take over the track and for a moment the drums get lost in this sound.

It is quite amazing to think that this was recorded in a short period of time on one day, edited and re-assembled and then some six months later sounding like a fully formed album from an established group. Aiden Baker, Simon Goff and Thor Harris have produced a very enjoyable, rich album that thanks to Gizeh Records we are able to appreciate.