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.”

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.

Jason Van Wyk – Opacity.

The second release of 2017 from Jason van Wyk, after the re-issue of 2016’s “Attachment” is “Opacity”. I enjoyed the former, but am very much impressed by the follow-up album again released by the flawless Home Normal label.

Label boss Ian Hawgood has this to say about both the album and artist “Whilst he continues to be known for this work, his most recent output has seen him focus on his beautiful piano playing, intertwined with his subtle sound design and wide open soundscapes. It is an album of such incredible beauty, patience, openness, soul, and subtlety, that we can’t think of a comparative album by anyone, on any label, in years that comes close to the calming serenity of ‘Opacity’. Whilst this might seem like hyperbole to some, I just ask you to sit down, let go, and listen to this pure work of art as it really is very special indeed. Alongside the alluring dusty-starred photography of Gregory Euclide, Jason has created an album that is timeless and bold; a freeing work of piano-focused tenderness, and huge luminous pads.”

That is a big call for a label boss to make and while every listener will have his or her interpretation about the album, in this case Ian was right and this is simply a very beautiful piece of work that is a pleasure to listen to.

“Shimmer” slow unfolding ambience descends upon the listener building up incriminantly with shimmering drones and understated minimal piano which starts to give the melodic tone to the track. The piano is understated as the listener’s attention is focused on the drones and electronics that are bubbling around. Once the drones drop out the bubbling electronica and piano are all that remain and fuses the organic elements with the purely electrical ones. A subtle opening track that doesn’t show its hand too much, but hints at what is to come.

“Blinded” eno-esque drones of a grand scale float with a siren like sound are supported by lower drones giving depth which lead into the plaintive flowing piano, recorded in the same style as the “Attachment” album with soft padding. A rather brief track that conveys much emotion and could easily take on a ‘epic’ life if the piano line was followed further.

“Until Then” another delightful brief track that has a beginning that utilizes silence between the keys which gives the track a feeling of hope with a hint of melancholy. The pace of the track picks up gently with the playing in a flowing style with more of an emphasis on the lower notes that are joined by thoughtful higher notes that provide this melancholy/hope hybrid, but seem not to tip in either favor.

“Recollect” is where van Wyk’s trance background begins to show its influence. A collection of weather – like Synth drones are joined by short prog like Synth stabs with a percussive edge briefly enter the sound scape before being replaced with orchestral drones that bring swells of sound. Minimal piano enters into the track for a short section before the track has another short Sci-fi/prog Synth section. For a piece running a little over four minutes, there are several movements that divide the track up, but don’t give it a split personality.

“Glow” comes across a soundtrack piece. Distant Synth drones awash with ambience slowly unfurl with piano entering the mix with a feeling of reflection to it. It’s almost as if in a scene from a movie a person is looking back on things that have happened in their life. The piano is the center of the track, but the tone is a perfect accompaniment to the drones and vice versa.

“Clouds” solo piano that paints a picture of gentle melancholy that has drones that start attaching themselves to the piano and teach out to take over the track. A grainy, storm – like muted drone provides the environmental feeling of the track as if you are leaving earths atmospheres and heading through the clouds mentioned in the track. There is static buzzing with an icy drone befitting the title.

“Beneath” this start to get almost symphonic with the opening of this track. Grand drones arc across an undercurrent of semi-buried noisier drones which leads into the soundtrack composer realm once more. There is definitely a widescreen approach to van Wyk’s construction of tracks. The levels and depth are shown with introduction of the piano which sits center aurally surrounded by swirling ambient drones which flesh out the sound and light flickers of electronics that are best suited to headphone listening.

“For Now” a brief interlude of a track that manages to include several elements in it’s all too brief seventy-four second length. Glitchy clicks and cuts sounding like detritus of broken down electronics meet string drones and trance like keyboard progressions alongside swathes of ambience, padded piano keys and some sort of crunchy field recordings. The track could easily go in many directions, but is more like a vignette than a full track as it’s almost over as it has just begun.

“Weightless” wall of drones ushering in Synth prog progressions that oscillate in an ambient fashion before fading to almost silence. Siren – like haunting drones cloud the air with melody before the synths return with urgency (slightly reminiscent of the soundtrack of Stranger Things) and with progressions that change in tone and colour, becoming more relaxed before fading and have a feeling of virtuosity that traverses the piece.

“Clearing” there is an under current to the drones which gives you a feeling of an extreme environment with a haunting tone to it. Like a glacial or frozen area where everything is seen through a sepia tone, blurring the vision and almost removing or at least affecting one of the senses. The drones fill up the sound, but have the variation to be more than one-dimensional and have an almost sing-song melodic feel to their sections.

“Hidden” glacial undertones, darker drones, field recordings and emotive strings bear weight to the piece. The glacial sections give an austere feeling under the strings which are striking. There is a definite haze to the track that contours up a storm or something impending. The darker drones have weight and support both the strings and glacial elements like a bookend where parts are nicely sandwiched between.

“Eyes Shut” controlled and solo unfurling the track begins growing with drones before pulsing prog Synth changes the focus of the pace of the track. The Synth flutters about left and right with muted drones, static haze joining it before a drop out section dramatically changes the electronics to a loop based section of electronica joined by ambient drones and prog Synth with static returning and increasing in its presence. This section leads to a more Synth based ambient section returning with an electronica feel with bass elements that drive this section. The pace of the piece alongside the haze is what makes this track laid back and dare say, introspective in nature.

“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.

Sontag Shogun and Moskitoo – The Things We Let Fall Apart / The Thunderswan.

Home Normal return to the vinyl format for the first time since 2013’s Fabio Orsi and Pimmon LP. This time around it is a collaborative 7″ by New York trio Sontag Shogun and Japanese sound artist Moskitoo. The 7″ designed for the Portugal/Spain tour of Sontag Shogun comes in an edition of 500 copies and Digital and is released on November 15.

For the uninitiated (myself included) Sontag Shogun is a Brooklyn based “collaborative trio that makes use of analog sound treatments and nostalgic piano compositions in harmony to depict abstract places in our memory. Textures built from organic materials such as sand, slate, boiling water, brush and dried leaves, both produced live in performance and recorded to weathered 1/4″ tape, warm up the space between lush piano themes. All of which is abstracted coolly in the reflective digital space of treated vocals and a live processed feed from the piano.” Moskitoo is a Japanese sound artist and vocalist. So far she has released two albums on Taylor Deupree’s 12k label as well as collaborating with FilFla as well as contributing a number of remixes.

Home Normal describe this release as Post Classical / Electronic Ambient and that is truly what this release is, a combination of both those genres. With the exception of Ian Temple’s piano playing and Moskitoo’s vocals it is hard to attribute who is creating the remaining sounds. Jeremy Young uses oscillators, tapes and piezo mics, Jesse Perlstein on laptop, field recordings and Moskitoo on organic instruments. But together the four artists create something quite special and fluid.

“The Things We Let Fall Apart” – The track starts out with an oscillating drone that is joined by minimal piano before manipulated electronics and field recordings join in to give the piece a real feel of the fusion of the genres. Leading up to the introduction of Moskitoo’s vocals, the level of ambient drones and crunchy electronics increases, with the vocals being initially manipulated like the electronic component. Moskitoo has a breathy vocal style that has a distant feel and nostalgia to it which allows it to appear of floating above the music. The vocal section itself is not long (it is roughly the final minute of the piece that the singing really takes place) and could probably have music either side of it, but it works perfectly with the mix. Piano, electronics and field recordings add extra innocence to the track (especially if you are not fluent in Japanese). Listening to the track you realise that all the elements contained in the song are all included for a reason, there is nothing superfluous in the piece.

“The Thunderswan” starts with Temple’s solo piano with its rich melancholic tone that is accompanied by fragile electronic glitches and pieces of manipulated piano. Moskitoo’s vocals float in as the electronic filigree increases in its presence. The tones from each part – the piano, electronics and vocals are all separate in their mood, texture and color. The electronics start filling up the sound with a grainy, glitchy swarm like feel. The piano increases in intensity as does the manipulated sounds which are presumably processed via laptop. The ambient component comes from Moskitoo’s vocals which eschew words for a section to created stunning vocal drones, before returning to conventional singing with the vocal drones accompanying the singing. The electronics start to become noisier in nature and come from a different perspective to that of the piano which has become grander in nature and has started to be played in a rolling style. Musically this track is quite lush, epic and uplifting.

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.

Sontag Shogun

Moskitoo

Home Normal

https://soundcloud.com/homenormal/homen106-sontag-shogun-moskitoothe-things-we-let-fall-apart-the-thunderswan-album-sampler

Jason van Wyk – Attachment.

Home Normal have brought about the re-release of Jason van Wyk’s “Attachment” that originally came out on the Eilean Rec label, alongside his new album “Opacity”. Jason van Wyk is a Cape Town, South Africa based electronic artist who has predominantly released Trance and IDM. The newly remastered album comes eighteen months after its original release, this time as a 500 run edition as opposed to the original 130 copies.

Home Normal boss Ian Hawgood had the job of mastering the original release. He had this to say: “One of the great joys of being a mastering engineer is when you come across a release so special, that you simply feel an innate privilege in the process, and unadulterated joy in helping something in the final stages of its fruition. Jason has been releasing electronic music since the tender age of just 14. Whilst he continues to be known for this work, his most recent output has seen him focus on his beautiful piano playing, intertwined this with his subtle sound design and wide open soundscapes.

’Attachment’ was his first foray into an ambient / post-classical piano cross-over, and it was met with acclaim, selling out of its limited edition immediately. Quite apart from being a breath of fresh air with its flowing and soulful piano elements, the sound design and lush melodious pads just had me absolutely hooked. After creating a very clean master of ‘Attachment’, I felt there was another layer to be told in the work, with its close recording techniques, dusty piano tones, and overall warmth. After inviting Jason to release his follow-up on Home Normal, we also agreed that a complete remaster using tapes would be a lovely way of approaching ‘Attachment’ again.”

“Kept” opens with a natural sounding recording of piano with the ambience of the room being recorded as well. The piano has a padding on the hammers which gives it a bristle like percussive sound as the keys are played. Walls of windscreen Synth drones slowly start creeping in the mix as the piano playing starts to have a sense of urgency and the drones start building up and vanquish the piano. Some clattering sounds like a flag blowing in the wind appear before a quick piano reprise is swamped by the drones and a slightly throbbing Synth line.

“Before” field recordings , airy drones, piano and acoustic guitar combined create a track that at the start has a Message to Bears like feel before the electronics and percussion arrive to take this in another direction that fuses folktronica and post rock influenced electronica, but then abruptly changes to a solo piano modern classical track. Circulating Synth drones compliment the piano till the tracks end.

“Coherence” cinematic drones gently ease the listener accompanied by the sound of decay before the music picks up in grandeur with medium paced piano and complimenting strings. The track feels like it is just getting started when it finishes. Being a little over two minutes, it could easily and gladly cover three times that length and be equally enjoyable.

“Unsaid” has a similar natural recording to kept, however this time the piano playing has more of a sense of romantic urgency as van Wyk fingers gently glide across the keys. With a length of one minute Abdi two seconds it is a nice vignette.

“Return” much like “Kept” and “Unsaid” features that ‘natural’ piano recording technique which gives it an authenticity sometimes missing in Modern Classical where it is more about the feel than the sound and the feel of the piano. The music has a slightly melancholic feel which ever so subtly paired with drones that make the sound feel fleshed out, but still make the piano the lead instrument.

“Stay” is where the electronics and drones come into focus create a tapestry of sound with some backwards effects and field recording like augmentation. The piano with its strident playing in a driven fashion provides the transition between the two drone sections, the second of which is accompanied by regular glitches, soaring sections and a more overall noisy feel than its predecessor.

“Red” deftly played solo piano that shares some of the same emotion as the others and the same style of recording.

“Found” a long spindly drone starts becoming joined with an almost accordion like drone before a single piano key signals them to retreat to the background before the quickly paced and complimenting piano is joined by a long haunting violin piece as the drones hover and attach themselves to the piano at certain times which expands the sound making it fully, but at no point taking it away and changing the feature of the track which is the playing if the piano. All the elements work well and thus shows van Wyk at his best in the way that the track is constructed and the placement in the constituent places work so well.

“Evanesce” Grainy static mixed with a funereal drone that shares an icy feel and church organ touch dominates the track. The track is mammoth with its drones that come across like Brian Eno’s classic “An Ending (Ascent)” in the way that they convey that floating on air ambience that when achieved results in a stunning listen.

“Outset” sees van Wyk return to his more trance based past with bubbly electronics with a Tangerine Dream feel roll around joined by string drones and minimal piano stabs. The sound builds up quickly and dramatically falls away to a distant drone version of the track, like it is buried deep in the ground. There is a feeling of experiencing the music from up high. The electronics bubble at low volume almost out of hearing while field recordings , the piano stabs and minimalist drones lead to another slightly less dramatic stop. It would have been great if the ending straight away brought back the intensity of the start with the electronics to make it come full circle.

“Away” starts off slowly with piano and matching drones before the theirs movement changes thirty seconds in and brings the intensity up in the playing. The mood changes slightly around the one minute, 7 second mark with turn to melancholy.

“Depart” takes the album to the end with an almost pure drone track that changes ever so slightly two thirds into the track with the addition of the piano. Up to this point you feel you will be taken away to the drone-scapes, which are as cinematic as they get augmented by field recordings of some sort of wind disturbance/static, before the focus is the desolate piano which is paired perfectly with the timbre of the drones.

“Attachment” is an enjoyable listen and for me works best when the songs are fuller, with the drones or electronics added. The solo piano pieces are enjoyable, but as the recording technique is the same, they can across as similar sounding on first pass. You can see why Home Normal saw fit to re-release it. Recommended.

Original 2016 master:

Giulio Fagiolini – Dietro a un vetro.

Over the eight years and almost 103 releases, the Home Normal catalog has released a variety of music genres that are vaguely under the ambient umbrella. One related form that has not seen a lot of action on the label is solo Modern Classical. With the exception of Stefano Guzzetti and the first release on the label by Library Tapes, Modern Classical has not seen a footing until now with this release from Giulio Fagiolini.

According to label boss Ian Hawgood “most modern piano ‘music’ leaves me (personally) a bit cold and detached. I generally feel there is a huge lack of soul in the music.” Giulio’s album arrived when Ian was engineering a bunch of Noise artists and needed something calm to listen to. What Ian also needed was an entry point or reference and his reference for this album is the work for Studio Ghibli by Joe Hisaishi (aka Mamoru Fujisawa).

As Ian states “The music is so simple, so direct, and just so childlike, it imbues the films with a certain old-world (or at least, not of this modern world anyway) innocence. The line between sickly-sweet and this is very fine indeed, but Joe Hisaishi always matches the mood and gets just the right amount of innocence in such a beautifully restrained way. To say the music of Giulio Fagiolini strongly left me with the same feeling as Hisaishi-san’s music, says as much as you need to know.” For an overview of Hisaishi’s work check out the Pitchfork feature here.

“Libello nell’ aria” (“Libra in the air”) opens the album with a muted playful piano piece that is slow-paced, minimal and not overly melancholic as some solo piano can be. The recording is not stark and has a warm edge to it. The music fuses high lighter notes with darker bass notes using them in tandem and then combining them. The lighter notes have a melodic almost whimsical feel to them, while the bass notes give the track depth.

“Vivere allo stato liquid” (“Live in the liquid state”) the first thing I think of when listening to this is that it reminds me of German/British Pianist/Composer Max Richter and it would fit perfectly on an album of his such as “Infra”. It is large-scale Modern Classical solo piano that is gently paced and registered in lower keys that builds up a more frantic motif in juxtaposition to the original introductory section. After a brief burst it returns to the more sedate speed and then starts up the layered section once more, this time adding a melodic section on top. The feeling for this sort of track is one for soundtrack using the piece alongside some drone or Go-pro footage taken high in the sky.

“Mentre nuoti” (“While Swimming”) there is something romantic going on with the recording. There is a distance to the recording in where it doesn’t sound right on top of the listener. You get a sense that Giulio is quietly in control of his playing and there is no need to rush, just letting the music flow. There are moments of minimal pace at the beginning and at the end. The pace starts picking up, but with a relaxed gentleness as the sections flow together. It is almost bittersweet as well, as if it’s about lost love.

“Magneti” (“Magnets”) the feel of this piece to me, feels of regret. The chords feel like that are well thought out and chosen with the utmost care and to relate the feeling that they will convey. Much like the tone to the rest of the tracks, the piano with its minor reverberation gives a warmth and melody that comes across earnestly.

“Dietro a un vetro” (“Behind a Glass”) sees a similar style to that of “Vivere allo stato liquid” where the chords are quite strident and epic. While other tracks you feel that Guilio is gently caressing the keys, you get the feeling this time around that his playing has more urgency and drive to it. This is best illustrated in the runs of keys that pick up speed that are paired with the slowly caressing style to emphasize the urgency and epicness of the piece.

“L’attesa” (“The Wait”) we return to the romantic modern classical style exhibited previously on “Mentre nuoti” where the opening section sets the tone and provides a hook or anchor for the track to return to. The pace is slow and minimal with use of light and heavier playing of the keys that help build up the mood and in a way at the end with the final section gives it a sort of resigned feel of something that is over.

“Suprema” (“Supreme”) sees a more strident opening and an initially different feel of recording, a bit more intimate, like you are in the room. This is a slight ominous feeling of dread mixed with equal portions of hope and resignation. After a brief section of silence the tone and playing of the piano change to a more quieter one before the hope briefly comes in an a melodic section before the strident playing (even more so than at the beginning) returns and leads the track back to the grounds of resignation once more.

“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.