Home Normal – An interview with Ian Hawgood.

HOMENORMAL_LOGO

I Don’t think there has been a label that has influenced my listening quite like Home Normal. I came across the label relatively early on and have been following them since eagerly picking up their quality releases. Label boss Ian Hawgood took time out of his busy schedule to kindly answered my questions. 

In March it will be 9 years since the label started. Over those years a number of labels have shut their doors (or just gone to digital only eg: Line). In that time the label has moved from the UK to Japan, back to the UK and now based in Poland (with a presence in the previous homes). Its quite an achievement to last this long. What propels you to keep going in this ever changing environment ?

Home Normal actually started when I was living in Japan, and I fully restarted the label when we moved to Poland again after a little bit of a break while my wife studied in the UK. Home Normal was founded on the idea of what ‘home’ and ‘normality’ meant and sounded like whilst living in a country other than where I grew up in the UK, so it has always made more sense and been inspired by my experiences living in homes beyond. Without a shadow of a doubt, the move to Poland and my constant contact in Japan (where we are still mostly distributed and based), have kept things fresh and alive in this vein. Music that connects to me deeply and makes wherever I am at that moment ‘home’ is truly inspirational on a spiritual / auditory level.

The other side are the people involved, notably the artists right now. They are all friends, supporters, and we have a bit of a family now with the work we do together. Working on a physical package together really is a joy, and seeing an end product that you can hold in your hands makes all the work worth it. I do understand labels closing or going digital, and we are constantly on the edge really as we don’t break even on most releases. So we produce work very carefully. The simple truth is that certain small things can happen that can deeply impact the funding of a label, and we have to be aware of that. I would never go digital only for Home Normal as it just wouldn’t be worth it at all as it would be too limited and limiting without any physical end product or reason. I love physical formats and that has to be the end of the creative path as it has a permanence to it. And I love the idea that when the digital age passes, when things are lost and forgotten, someone will come across this disc of music they’ve never come across before wherever that may be, and it connects to them as it does to me each and every day. That’s what keeps me going. Discovery.

You have become an in-demand mastering engineer with your credits appearing on numerous releases. As well as running a label and mastering how do you combat listening fatigue?

That’s a really good question. I’ve been doing sound engineering and mastering for 20 years now, so before I started the labels. The labels were in some way a reaction to some of the work I did in the past that was commercial and quite tiring to work on each day. I’m lucky in that I can pick and choose my projects now, and that the label and mastering are not my day to day work. However, I found myself feeling incredibly exhausted listening to almost any music earlier in the year, as if I had finally peaked and my ears couldn’t take anymore. I started meditating and minimising the flow of my life in Warsaw, and when flying (which I do a lot for work) I chose to not listen to music nor watch films, but instead quietly read books or just relax / meditate. That might sound weird, but I learnt how to slow down my life when not switched ‘on’ for the label and engineering works. I now no longer listen to anything outside the studio or my home, no headphones on the go, and I have come to massively enjoy walking slowly and absorbing my surroundings. The listening fatigue I felt kind of saved me really, as I never feel rushed or tired, and I come at music in a fresh way each time as a result. I enjoy the mastering I do so much now as well because of this.

Beyond the music I work on in whatever capacity, I’ve also taken to really enjoying my old records and cassettes again. I listen to mostly old Folkways recordings and old Blues music. The music keeps me connected to something real when I listen to quite a lot of digitised work, and keeps my ears fresh in a way. It sometimes feels like I am giving my ears a sound bath when listening to some crackly old harmonica record for example.

How mindful are you when selecting music to release? Does being aware of musical trends and the sudden influx of music such as the Modern Classical  resurgence influence your decision making?

Not at all. If the music has soul, is true and connects, that is all I need. Whilst we are very careful in our scheduling, we’ve released a wider variety of genres than many people seem aware. The one connection to each album is a sense of identity and self; something organic and timeless. Trends are too limited to a certain time, and I have no energy for the modern trend of music artists and labels that seem solely focused on getting on playlists through any means necessary, and ignoring the art they should really be creating with their undoubted talent.

From the outside the label appears to foster a family approach with a regular roster of artists (as well as newer artists) and collaborators such as art and design. How important are the relationships to the success and longevity of the label?

Massively. I wanted the label to release works by new artists, and we’ve tried to keep this up for the past 9 years, I think fairly successfully. But the simply truth is that a label has to have an identity and group of people that keep it going, and financially and energy-wise, you can’t keep releasing new artists. There are so many people who I am personally connected to, so whatever the storm (not many to be honest), we survive and thrive based on this. Jeremy Bible and Christian Roth are still friends who are always there for me, Ben Jones is still my best friend and sounding-board for the label. My friends in Japan always help whenever I need to step away for a bit, and this keeps me sane. Hitoshi Ishihara and Eirik Holmøyvik are amazing photographers and always there to support, constantly appearing on the label. And then the artists…I am in regular contact with people like Stefano Guzzetti, James Murray, Giulio Aldinucci, Danny Norbury, Stijn Huwels, Federico Durand, Moritz Leppers (Altars Altars ) and many more, so it is enjoyable to work on artistic projects with them. It is collaborative and inspiring, and this is so fundamental to running a label I feel, and without this I wouldn’t have carried on far as long as I have.

 You have dabbled with vinyl for the Pimmon and Fabio Orsi & Sontag Shogun and Moskitoo releases. Is this a format that we will see more releases on HN?

Sadly not. In Japan we just can’t sell vinyl really, and less people buy it than you’d think outside, no matter what the press say. We put everything into the former release, and only the CD edition we sold ourselves saved the label, as we never received anything for the vinyl sadly. It was just a bit of a nightmare, despite being such an amazing release. We actually had to put the label on hold for a long time just to make up for the losses. The Sontag Shogun and Moskitoo release was a 7″ and was made by the group themselves. We just helped to release it with them really as I’m a big fan of Jeremy Young’s various projects, and even then people didn’t grab it from us, with quite a few people asking why we didn’t put it out on CD. So I’m content in the knowledge that we are set-up as a CD label now, and that seems to be the best thing for us for better or for worse.

I still mostly buy vinyl myself though, and I have been working on a vinyl and cassette label for a few years now which should see light of day later this year. It is only for the odd reissue, and these are mostly just Japanese classics that many people outside Japan might not know. I’m mostly doing this because I want to own the vinyl of these amazing albums, so this is really for my own benefit really!

The Tokyo Droning and Nomadic Kids Republic labels have been quiet for a while. Will we see them revived at some point? 2017 and 2018 has seen you release on the label. Will we see more collaborative releases between yourself and others?

Tokyo Droning was based on using local paper and objects from where we lived in rural Saitama (Japan). The paper company closed down after the Tohoku earthquake so we stopped the label sadly. NKR was always supposed to be limited to a set of ‘polaroid’ style releases which we stopped in 2012. However, whilst TD focused on more experimental sound design, NKR was always intended to release works from various artists we have come across on our travels and lives around the world. We were supposed to re-open NKR last year but have been mapping out the best way to do this with friends in Japan as I don’t have time alongside my own work. Both labels should be re-opening this year as digital labels with the odd physical releases, and these will help to finance the future of the Home Normal physical packages and promotion in turn which is good.

In terms of collaborations, yes we will release more. I had been working on a bunch of collaborations over the years that I stopped working on a couple of years ago due to some personal stuff. After releasing some piano sketches last year in ‘Love Retained’ (my first solo album in 4 years by that point), it somehow cleared a path to return to these great collaborations and I realised just how special they were. It brought me back to music-making after a long hiatus, and I now have some secret projects coming out this year on amazing labels and some really great collaborations on HN and some other labels. The first of these will be my collaborations with Danny Norbury and Giulio Aldinucci respectively. I’m also currently tying up a monolithic work/s with James Murray. Our work together is ongoing now on a daily basis and is a huge surprise in how perfect it is coming together really.

What does the future hold with the decade anniversary not too far away?

A decade…phew. I’ve been asked this a number of times but the simple truth is I can’t think in those terms really as I am just enjoying the day to day creativity of working with friends. We’ve got very special packages coming out by Stefano Guzzetti and Federico Durand in the first half of the year, then a whole series of collaborations featuring Stijn Hüwels, a new Chronovalve, a reissue of my favourite Altars Altars album, a couple of other collaborations between various artist friends…and a lot more going up to 2020 at least. All I can really say is I am so excited to be releasing some truly special, subtle, magical works over the next year before we reach our ten year anniversary. Once we get there, I’ll probably just invite some artists and friends over for a road trip, go to a mountain, climb to the peak, and feel at peace in the quietude of these friendships I’ve made, and the amazing people they are…then climb down the mountain, go home, and start on with the next musical package to send out into the world. That would be a pretty fitting.

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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.”

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.

 

Theo Alexander – Palliative.

Theo Alexander is a Plague based London composer who has appeared on labels such as Blank Editions and 1631 Recordings while also releasing music himself with cd, cassette and digital release. “Palliative”  is a standalone digital single that will appear on his forthcoming “Broken Access” release which was inspires by various live performances throughout 2017 including Piano Day and as support for Agnes Obel.

Alexander states “Palliative features an extended tape loop droned which guides a developing piano motif into a thickly textured harmonic apex“.

The piece opens with the sounds of a taped performance, glitches of technology breaking down and a repeating tape loop of piano which becomes the central rhythm of the piece and sounds like it’s ebbing and flowing. As mentioned on Alexander’s bandcamp page this was constructed using just a piano and a Tascam 414 tape recorder.  The loop is joined by Alexander’s piano playing which is full of restraint. Where needed the emphasis on playing is gentle and when a bit more immediacy is required it is there as well. A long form drone joins the sound mix acting as a middle layer between the tape loop and the piano playing on top. It sounds horn like with a long duration and its fluctuations work well alongside the loops.

As the track enters the second half of its almost seven and a half minutes the intensity is increased with more layers of piano joining just as Alexander stated in becoming entwined in a textured harmonic apex. Towards the end the layers appear to mix together to form an almost jangling end.

I have to admit being unaware of Alexander and his music, but note his use of tape and loops in other releases and can see that he is quite adept with this technique. For essentially a solo piano piece the length of seven and a half minutes can be occasionally tiring, but not with this particular track. It will be interesting to see how the rest of “Broken Access” turns out when it is released.

Bruno Sanfilippo – Lost & Found / Doll.

In the last decade Modern Classical has soared in popularity for both releases and artists coming through the genre. Credit can go to the likes of Frahm, Arnalds, Richter, Johannsson and labels like Erased Tapes and 130701 in helping popularize the music. You can add Argentinian Bruno Sanfilippo to the list. His earliest release dates back to 1991 and although described as New Age his Modern Classical stylings came through circa 2000 “Suite Patagonia” album. It’s fitting that this release covers his two most recent release, one “Lost & Found” is an archival compilation and the other, “Doll” is a single coming out on January 1, 2018.

According to the label Ad21 music “the artist takes four songs that were once buries and lost in other collections, curating them together to create a new sound and feel. This re-imagination allows the listener to discover each piece as if for the first place. The songs have the power to pull memories from us, of real or imagined experience and the ethereal sounds, are at once familiar and an exploration.

“Lost & Found” features collected music released between 2006 and 2015 with a recently discovered track on the studio hard drive.

“Peter” first appeared on Ambientblog “Tenth Anniversary” usb collection from 2015 and is presumably named after the blogger in question, Peter Van Cooten. It starts of with electronics fused with piano and drones that appear joined to the piano in that they radiate out over the light electrical hum in the background. Initially appearing as a drone track or changes to focus more on the piano accompanied with field recordings of children playing. There is a slight improv feel to the piano, but after a brief fade out the piano playing becomes mote strident and controlled and introspective nature as if the piano is alluding to the field recordings of a longing for the innocence of youth.

“InTROpiano” originally the fourth track from 2006’s “InTRO” album follows the theme of additional elements to the piano with darkened drones (with a very, very slight Industrial feel), electrical buzz, field recordings of water sprinklers and crickets and deep rich spaced out Piano which if front and center in the track. The use of the non Piano elements allows the Piano to breathe and makes the track less stark than if it were Piano only. As the music starts building and evolving in the background, the piano maintains it’s pace, tone and texture and comes across with a feeling of experimentation mixed with a sense of reflection and reservation.

“Piano Texture Found” originally from Laverna net label release of the same name in 2012 starts with muted piano keys and static like glitches that force their way into the sound scape, seeping in and enveloping.  The Piano has a very distant, submerged feel to it as if from a dream such is the cloudy, hazy feel to it. It alternates from more forceful playing to shimmering qualities as it keeps a steady ebbing and flowing feel. In the final two minutes of the track the piano escapes from the shadow as the static glitches have started to fade and removes the shackles of haze to reveal a clear piano section. I am not sure of Sanfilippo’s thought about this track, but to me it is coming from the past (with the muted sound) into the present (as if everything has revealed itself).

“Soltario” also from “Piano Texture Found” is the albums epic with field recordings of someone walking in what I imagine to be in an underpass with water, gravel under foot sounds, pops,clicks and an electrically treated piano sound. There is a dark edge to the track, like it has an underbelly. There is a feeling of unease which is brought about by the additional sounds as well as the minimalist treated piano. An excerpt of this track would suit a science fiction film.

“What I Dreamed” recent studio hard drive find and exclusive to the CD and bandcamp release which is reason enough to buy the album. A beautiful pairing of layered minimalist piano, waves of ambience and string drones that circle around your ears, there is a certain degree of relaxed joy as the piece slowly unfurls in a loop like fashion with elements entering and departing gently, weaving their textures. It’s slightly different to the preceding tracks in its omission of field recordings or glitches, but has the similar tone as shared by the other tracks. If this is a case of lost material, we can only hope of more found material.

“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.

 

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“Doll” is Sanfilippo’s first release for 2018 coming out on the first of January on all digital platforms. Mastered by Home Normal boss Ian Hawgood (who also mastered “Lost & Found”) the track is a meditative rolling piece that has a beautiful tone alongside its controlled playing that, while conveying an intention it is never forceful nor laid back. There is an organic feel to it with the slight sound of the parts of the piano (possibly hammers or dampers – being a non musician I can only guess). There is a certain degree of romance to the music, but also a feeling of hope. At no times is it melancholic, but just a pleasure to listen to. The feeling is of a musician in control of their art and this ease that he has comes across in the enjoyment for the listener.

If this, Sanfilippo’s first entry into 2018 is a representation of what is to follow, then it should be a great year of music ahead of us.

 

Lorenzo Masotto – Trees (video).

One of my favourite albums of 2017 was Lorenzo Masotto’s “Aeolian Processes” on Dronarivm. I was excited to see a new self released album, his fourth, arrive in my in box a short while ago. While it is in my (rather large) review queue, this video for the album’s fifth track “Trees” is a nice taster.

The track which features Laura Masotto on violin and shot by Stefania Avolio, is probably led by the violin with its changes in tones from mournful to more experimental touches such as using the bow to beat against the strings making percussive sounds. The video features scenes of winter loneliness with no other people seen other than Lorenzo (and his dog). 

Scenes change from ice caps on mountain tops to frozen lakes to misty fields and of Lorenzo taking field notes.  The motion in the footage matches that of the music where the speed of the footage is slowed down to be consistent with the well tempered music.

I am looking forward to delving into the full album. You can check out the video or stream the track below.

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.