Josco & Spheruleus – Folded Distance.

If you are a fan of Ambient/Drone (you probably wouldn’t be here if you weren’t) the name Harry Towell would be one you were quite familiar with. Harry records as Spheruleus (and also Magnofon) and has appeared on labels such as Home Normal, Hibernate, Analogpath and Time Released Sound to name a few. He also runs the Audio Gourmet, Tessellate, Whitelabrecs and Warehouse Decay labels and started the Irregular Crates blog/label.

Josco (aka Gerard McDermott) is a writer, photographer, curator and sound designer from the Republic of Ireland. He is currently based in China. He has previously released on the Somehow Recordings label and has created compilations devoted to Irish music.

“Folded Distance” which was recorded between March 2011 to March 2016 “is a record about travel, but it is also about staying where you are and staying where you feel you belong. One of us moved around a lot and the other stayed relatively still; although we were geographically separated, we could communicate instantly across the incredible land mass between us -the more we set about weaving Josco’s drones and the exotic sounds of Asia with the sleepy rustic fields of Lincolnshire and Spheruleus’ instruments, the more the concept of “Folding Distance” became apparent to us, and the more it became realised by us.” The album was influenced by distance and the artists ability to communicate and collaborate weaving their sound recordings (from Turkey, Ireland, UK, Morocco and Thailand) to their own experiences. The album was mastered by Home Normal boss Ian Hawgood.

“Samila” presumably influenced by the beach in Thailand opens with the squall of a storm with static billowing and wind like drones that emerge from the dying storm. The drones are layered giving different tones and are looped with an almost exhaling like sound. The field recordings of the environment return as the storm/wind pans from side to side with granular sound before acoustic guitar comes in gives the track a different feel, one of contemplation. By the end of the track the ebbing storm has taken over and it fades to silence.

“Kilis” presumably after the small town on the Turkey / Syria border features acoustic guitar over field recordings of conversations (possibly workers at a market?) while Synth drones soar above and below. The elements pan from side to side with the occasional field recorded music entering the mix. The drones dominate the track but don’t convey the tortured recent and past history of the place. That said there is a mournful quality to them.

“Tungsao” containing field recordings of the market place of the same name is an environmental sounding drone piece, with wind like drones that are cut up, utilization of field recordings to form sounds, recorded traditional percussion, delicate piano, cooking sounds like glitches all thrown into the mix. You get the feeling of something similar to the Freeform albums that came out on the Quartermass label back in 2001/2, like this piece is an audio diary to a specific experience.

“Praterstern” named after a station on the line U1 and line U2 of the Vienna U-bahn is the noisiest track on the album thus far. Opening with low-frequency noises, static, some sort of indefinable noise like things being dragged (but with effects), vinyl crackle, short intertwined drones, a very low bass noises and electronic rubble noises.

“Kru Ze” the longest track on the album starts of with what sounds like an airplane getting ready to take off, joined by sounds of decay, electronic bells, guitar like feedback drones, static dissonance, jarring drone. But while there is a darker element to the track, it is not too bleak.

“Solva” a fishing town is on the lower west coast of Wales and this track is a welcome respite to the ferocity of “Kru Ze”. It contains looped vocal drones alongside traditional ones. There is almost warped pastoral feel, like if a piano accordion that was broken was being played in short bursts of sound. As the track progresses there is a wash of noisier environmental degradation with the looped vocal being the counterpoint to the growing storm and clattering noises.

This album is different to one that I was expecting. I was expecting a rather straight forward pairing of two distinct sound sources in a more ambient fashion. What we get is a more environmentally born album that is open to the interpretation of each listener. There is a lot of depth to the tracks and the density is apparent. For listeners who prefer the noisier end of the Ambient/Drone spectrum.

Toàn – Histós Lusis.

​Once more Eilean Rec has found a gem. Toàn (real name Anthony Elfort) is a French electronic musician based in the UK. As a beatmaker, he has produced several albums mixing jazz and hip hop influences under the pseudonym of Qiwu Selftet. With the change of name to Toàn the focus is now on freer musical forms, close to ambient and modern classical. His first album “Histós Lusis” (which translates to “He Played Histos”) was constructed without using any synths and entirely composed by samples found on old records, live instruments and field recordings. The album was composed between 2015 and 2017 in Angoulême and Cruguel in France.

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.

“Inland” combines water sounds with chimes, clips or fragments of sounds, drones, violin, horns and bells to create a percussive mix of elements that mold together and overlap each other in a flowing motion. The mix of field recordings including the water work well amongst the more mysterious sounds that are generated from both the fragments and the violin.

“Post Tenebras”  (“After Dark”) opens sounding like something from Canadian duo Hanged Up, before vinyl crackle and piano are joined by bells, triangles, oriental sounding wind instruments and strings to give the track a very cinematic feel. The pace is relatively slow, with elements slowly filtering in and out with the strings steering the track through the elements.

“Une Touche De Pluie” (“One touch of Rain”) naturally starts with a storm clattering on pots and pans catching the rain with this long dense drone with a sound that reminds me of Marconi Union. The drone is elongated and fills out the sound with waves and pulses and is overlapped. It’s like a pebble being thrown into water and as it ripples out, the next ripple starts forming.  Slow cutting violin intersects with micro elements of percussion before martial like free jazz drumming and mournful noir violin and scrapping percussion bring the track to the end.
“Ghostly Ballet” starts almost like the previous track ends with a scrape of a gong, brushed cymbals, clattering noises, alarm noises, static noise, piano alongside horns, violin and a muffled shimmering drone that rises and keeps building up with a variety of percussive devices creating a cacophony of sound before dropping out. The sound landscape becomes formed with the sounds of running water, harp, violin, plucked Asian instruments, bells, chimes, drums and humming underlying tone. Elements collide with so many sounds that the track covers many genres from free jazz, ambient, sound art, Electroacoustic and bears the artist’s Jazz and Hip Hop past.

“Plume” adds piano over broken beat looped crunchy sounds, scraped metal sounds, field recordings, bells and violins. The piano segment has a ‘running feel’ which is joined by fragments of jazz drumming, growing string drones, metal Neubauten-esque percussion and the regular paced bell. There is a post apocalyptic feel without it degenerating into an industrial pastiche. There is a strong feel of loneliness and isolation, but with out total melancholy that would render the track bleak.

“अरोड़ा” ( Hindi for “Aurora”) mines the Basinski territory with subtlety crafted ambient loops that are then joined by static, mournful flute, with buried micro elements like strings, percussion, harp, glitches that slowly build over the languid pace of the loops. There is something relaxing listening to something that appears to be growing organically while you listen.

“Unsolved” stabs of piano travel out in ripple effect over vinyl crackles before muted horn punctuations, waves of ambient Synth, glide above the piano. Asian percussion and string instruments change the feeling of the track from a smoky droning jazz track to one colluding with Chinese classical music down a dark and mysterious alley way.

“Une Si Délicate Tempête” (“A Stunning Storm”) is the longest track on the album clocking in at 12:43 and the sound pallet matches the title with its volume and its depth of sound. What appears to be a kaleidoscope of grainy sounds, violin and field recordings clatter and glitch about with ebbs and flows much like a real storm where there is a a break before the template changes to a more Electroacoustic ambient sound and then veers into broken piano and strings with the granular drones and sounds returning before the calm is over. At first the track tends to lead you to an expectation that is turned on its head around the four minute mark, which in a way sums up this album as a whole.

While quite different to his Jazz/Hip Hop work “Histós Lusis” shows Toàn’s ability to create vibrant sounding records that show a richness to sound, which in this case was expertly mastered by label boss Mathias Van Eecloo.  Although physically sold out at the label it is available via the artist and soon Stashed Goods or Experimedia.

Bill Seaman – Erasures And Displacements.

Bill Seaman returns to the fictitious island of Eilean with “Erasures and Displacements” (Eilean 78) his first since 2015’s “f(noir)” (Eilean 33) and is joined by Owen Sidney Richardson on Contrabass and Electric Bass Library,  Craig Tattersall with Synth Bass Library, Robert Ellis-Geiger on Trumpet,  Cornet and Flugelhorn Library, and Jonas Braasch with Horn Library for the track “The Sea’s Enfolded Signatures”. Seaman who has released on the Cotton Goods label and collaborated with Craig Tattersall on The Humble Bee & Players and The Seaman and the Tattered Sail could be, as hinted in the press release a musical librarian than a musician solely.

“I often work by making libraries or asking people to contribute a library. With the contributed library I often give the players simple verbal instructions, or sing notes I am interested in including. With the piano, I sit down and do a series of improvisations. I then go though these and edit my favorite parts, building a series of fragment libraries, some with little or no abstraction, some greatly abstracted with Ableton Live. To make the library I basically “erase” most of the recording, and “displace” it by building up a new set of musical relations in Live (hence the title of the album) [although there are many readings to these two terms]. I compose in a very sculptural manner with Ableton, dragging things in from the libraries and trying things out often exploring chance related juxtapositions. I build up structures, cut/copy/paste complex layered sections, erase sections that are not working, loop things, and slowly construct a track going though many iterations. I often later cut away at the built up tracks, and edit the piece down, further articulating a structure. I often finish with having between 30 and 50 tracks. In the final set of passes I fully articulate the psychoacoustic space, working with panning, eq, distortion, abstraction, and reverb. I further edit and structure the parts that begin to “work”.”

“Erasures and Departures” is a double CD that clocks in just under 85 minutes over its 14 tracks. Expertly mastered by label boss Mathias Van Eecloo, the release is a lush piece of work which covers many genres and sold out it’s label stock of the limited (180 copies) in 3 days of pre-order availability. 
“A Visual Record of Scratches Reflecting on time” features emotive piano playing, multi layered glitches, drones, microsounds samples, washes of sound and on some way has a slight feel of The Necks, I guess in Seaman’s piano playing and the use of space. Even there are a decent numbers of elements going on, they don’t cloud or pile over each other. The piano, drones and glitches compliment each other while having their own space.

“A Structured Removal, The Balance of the Pulse” follows on in a similar vein with the construction of the track. The multi layered glitches are the focus of that is piece with layers of sound underneath, such as drones, piano, percussive sounds. Sounds whirl and pan left to right and the emotive drone ends out the track. Due to Seaman’s editing and redefining process the drones could be from any of the libraries such as Synth Bass or Cornet. The standout feature of the track is that despite the various different elements the coalesce into one quite nicely. 

“Collections of Relational Introspections” starts off highly edited with backward pieces of sound, glitches, drones, layered piano and the sounds of machines whirring and breaking down. The track is rhythmical, but not in the way that any loops or parts of it are repeated in such a way as to be predictable and timed. 

“Altered Instruments, The Removal of Time” starts with sounds of decay. Chimes, Glitches and Drones contribute alongside mournful piano to a sound of things breaking down. Rhythmic loops with the complex highly edited music of unknown source (maybe Seaman himself would be the only one to identify specific sounds?) make for a post apocalyptic sound with some some sort of Eastern feel which reminds me of some of Dead Can Dance’s instrumental tracks.

“Entering the Library of Collapsed Moments” features metallic glitches, Distorted Cornet, Piano and despite its name doesn’t fall apart. There is a lot of space in this track which allows it to breathe and evolve slowly with each instrument unwinding clearly and pleasantly with not one element overpowering another.

“The Somber Space of a Word” has affected Cornet that phrases in and out, Piano and drones that are joined with an almost orchestral sound, possibly elbow guitar. Unlike the earlier glitch tracks this is the first with a filmic sound to it. The track has a sinister suspenseful edge to it with a feel of noir. Some of the sounds  are punctuated with a percussive edge. The layering of drones and piano makes the track.

“Watching from Within The Library of Melancholy Gestures” sounds like a continuation of the previous track  with some of the previous elements with what sounds, in sections, electric bass. The piano with elbow guitar driving on top of it, the hiss and the drones continue in the filmic vein. For someone who works with piano improvisations,  they come across as well planned, but this could be the art of the editing.

“A Circulated Compendium of Machinic Thoughts” sees the decaying glitches return with a rhythmic clock like loop, sounds crawling over each other and fall apart. Sharp soaring drones cascade and screech while the machine breaks down.

“The Lie of the Perfect Empty Seat” sees low level wind noise accompany piano, before drones and multi layered orchestral like pieces come in, electronic pulses flitter in and out. The parts come in and out, just when you get a grip on the track it changes. The electronic pulses become semi percussive and leads the track out with drones and a final piano stab.

“Slow Motioning Through Scattered Reflections” sees the horn library come to the fore with piano and drones accompanying the horns (presumably the Flugelhorn) making for a mournful track. Layers of instruments come in an out and sections can be quite minimal , while others can be full of sound. Ebow darts in amongst piano stabs, while drones hover. The horns created almost vocal feel as if someone is singing and work well with both the piano and Ebow guitar.

“The Reflections Inherent To A Chosen Room” sees Cornet blow over a minimal beginning with low level hiss/glitch and piano while highly processed loops scatter about and field recordings fade in and out. This is one of the more experimental and improve like of the tracks on the album. 

“The Machinic Exhale” begins with piano, drifting drones, glittering glitches, shimmering Ebow and has a somewhat beat less post rock theme to it. The elements work together smoothly and the track doesn’t wear out its welcome and could be enjoyably longer.

“The Sea’s Enfolded Signatures” harmonic drones starts off with field recordings, foreign vocal/speech sample, piano and glitches with Jonas Braach’s Horn Library being used and giving a haunting long lasting drone that curves around the other elements and also giving a counterpoint to the piano that punctuates the track.

“The Illusive Space of A Thought” begins with rattling glitches, cornet, mechanical sounding loops, field recordings, broken electronics, plaintive sound and panning scattershot sounds. 

This album is not one that can be easily pigeonholed.  Is it Ambient, Drone, Glitch, Experimental or Electroacoustic?  It is all these things, but not all at the same time. With 14 tracks and 85 minutes there is alot to take in. Some tracks work  better than others (“The Somber Space of a Word”) coming to mind as a highlight), but all are worth repeated listening to get all the layers, textures, nuances and effects.

While it has sold out at the label, it will be available through Experimedia (July) and Stashed Goods (later in June).