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Online journal devoted to (un)popular culture's murkier regions. Began as Grim Humour magazine in 1983 and lasted eighteen editions until 1993. Took a break until 2000 when it was relaunched as Adverse Effect magazine (which continued with the old numbering system). Four editions published until 2005, then compromised into being available via the internet, where a barely maintained website exists. Grim Humour itself is presently slowly evolving into a book dedicated to various highlights and low points from the magazine, whilst two record labels, Fourth Dimension and Lumberton Trading Company, hover very closely like needy cousins. Send review material to: ul. Krolowej Jadwigi 133/5 30-212 Krakow Poland

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reviews: Number Three (Part One)

Note: Part Two will follow very shortly. And, yes, I'd welcome a couple of others to join me in this. Please contact me if interested...

LUCIO CAPECE & MIKA VAINIO Trahnie CD (eMego, Germany, 2009)
Following a somewhat disappointing opening track comprised of nothing but vast, industrial-strength textures, this collaboration between Argentina’s improv/jazz musician Capece and Pan Sonic’s Vainio comes over like a perfect match. Sax blasts are hammered to the point of becoming new, almost alien, sculptures given to changing shape according to Vainio’s monolithic proto-rhythms and hints of violence, and occasional sonic tendons are exposed to reveal an intricate underbelly to the proceedings as beautiful as they are awe-inspiring. Track four, ‘Hondonada’, with its combination of subtle knocking sounds and sparse bellows, may well shuffle quietly towards some of Capece’s own background, but the majority of the album sounds exactly like what I’d want from two such artists being thrown into a furnace together. Fair to say I wouldn’t expect anything less from Vainio, though. Both his work as solo artist and in Pan Sonic rarely disappoints, and this collaboration, perfectly illustrating how the gap between such disparate artists can narrow when likemindedness is afoot, only adds to the canon. Fucking wonderful. (Richard Johnson)

ERDEM HELVACIOGLU Wounded Breath CD (AuCourant, USA, 2008)
Possibly Istanbul’s finest electroacoustic music export right now, Erdem here delivers his third album and proves precisely how much he’s made a name for himself by dedicating it to five pieces collected from a selection of prizewinning pieces performed at international festivals. Unlike a lot of his other material, the guitar is not a focal point this time, either. Instead, like electroacoustic artists such as Eric La Casa or Eric Cordier, a variety of sound sources (such as marbles, fire, water, etc.) are utilised and teased into forms far removed from their natural forms, mostly creating an unsettled yet atmospheric setting where what might be otherwise readily dismissed ‘noise’ is afforded a smoother hue. Although a lot of conflicting sounds are lulled into view, and the overall effect is one of an uneven, haphazard soundbed of opposing ideas learning to live with each other in a calm environment, there are still, however, elements of both surprise and foreboding kept afloat. This music is not all about being easily swallowed, or sweetness and light. In a number of ways, it bears similarities with some work by, say, Colin Potter or irr.App.[ext.], for example, as much as those operating either at the more comfortable end of things or purely in the world of electroacoustic composition. I think the fact Erdem’s background also takes in rock music may be partly responsible for this, and indeed the deeper understanding of dynamics necessary to keep his own work alive must certainly owe something to this school of thought. Whatever, I’m all for it. I far prefer those artists who can bridge the gap between different worlds than those who close themselves off in their hermetic bubbles. Erdem’s work succeeds completely here, and I hope he continues to maximise what I personally feel is an extremely rare and adept handle on such matters. (Richard Johnson)

KENNETH KIRSCHNER Filaments and Voids 2CD (12k, USA, 2008)
I have to ‘fess I’ve long loved the type of harmonic drone or tonal music evident on this latest release by prolific New York composer Kirschner. Throughout both these discs, fantastic and lengthy shimmering sound-drifts sweep and gently roll into each other, at once leaving room for each to breathe without losing sight of a clear objective to colour space and silence with a little meaning. All three pieces that make up the first disc assume a melancholic position where loss and absence are rendered positive via abstract forms, evoking a place where one can blissfully and peacefully contemplate the subjective and objective completely undisturbed, not unlike staring at a lake’s ripples on a remote planet. Kirschner’s main instrument, the piano, provides a clearer source for the fourth (and last) track, ‘March 16 2006’, but all 72.37 minutes prove themselves an exercise in a bleakness as healthy as one of Bela Tarr’s lengthy camera shots. Grainy and sparse piano chords rarely sound so downright absorbing and, if anything, the feel of this piece compares with some of William Basinski’s work; in tone and texture if not the actual execution.
Over the years, Kirschner has released a number of albums and collaborated with 12k’s own Taylor Deupree. I urge you to investigate. (Richard Johnson)

In a way, I suppose it was only a matter of time before these two artists amalgamated their respective interests in both field recordings and relationships between normally hidden sounds and their being taken to new levels of perception. Whilst, however, Australia’s Lawrence English usually transforms his own interests in such soundworlds to heights often melodious or at least accessible, Spain’s Lopez has long had a reputation for crafting pieces that one must strain their hearing as far as possible in order to derive anything from. On this album, each artist contributes a field recording piece and then adds an additional reworking of each other’s piece whereby the source material is hammered into new forms that at once remain respectful of the originals and delve into more musique concrete realms. Birdsong, drifting hiss, chirrups, a buzzing fly, near-silent textures, occasional swells and various studio-concocted sighs and creaks all add up to four pieces that shake hands firmly together on the conceptual soundmap. Interesting to the usual point with such releases, of course, but lacking the necessary emotional attachment I personally crave. (Richard Johnson)

IAN MIDDLETON Aural Spaces LP (Swill Radio, USA, 2008)
‘S funny how some things turn out. I relocate to Poland a few years ago, lose touch with a whole bunch of people (due, largely, to my now being heavily dependent on the ‘net in order to maintain contact) and then still receive the occasiional surprising package out of the blue by one of these very same people that’ll knock me for six. Ian Middleton is one such person. Used to be in fairly regular contact, traded records with each other and then, well, a protracted silence until this LP was handed to me by one of my handmaids. Nice though it was, I then couldn’t actually listen to the thing until now, due to my turntable having gasped its last breaths at the turn of this year (I can’t afford new turntables and handmaids, you know!). Thankfully, some waits pay off, however. Not that I honestly expected much less from anything by this Scottish artist whose music is as enriching as his paintings…
What we have are ten pieces spread equally over both sides of an attractive 180g slab perfectly matched for these sounds. With pieces either taken from the LP’s name itself (in three parts) or titled ‘Negative Space’, ‘Whirlloop’ and ‘Horizon’, etc., Ian successfully transports us to those places of wonder and magic so often missing in music borne of the lonely studio scientist. As with the previous work I have of his, Ian excels in crafting rich moraines of sound streaked with sparkling crevices and shimmering streams cloaked in mists of mysterious hues. Tones ripple with organic delight, oscillating hums take on the appearance of a language from another world, rhythmic flutters carress you hypnotically, and an overwhelming yet unspoken beauty forever breaks away from the nearby shadows.
When contemporary electronic music can sound this good still, there’s no reason in the world to abandon any hope. Sublime. (Richard Johnson)

NANA APRIL JUN The Ontology of Noise CD (Touch, 2009)
Five pieces by Swedish visual artist, composer and art magazine editor Christofer Lamgren intended to explore the “dark associations of post-black metal” via an entirely digital medium that employs no traditional instruments. As such, we are left with an array of cascading tones, frequencies and timbres that aim for a hallucinatory high yet aren’t quite well-formed enough to achieve this. Like so much of this type of listening experience, the result is too cold or detached and aloof. The filmic realms it aspires to are perhaps hinted at on the final cut which, as the title ‘Sun Wind Darkness Eye’ suggests, at least evokes a slightly warmer and more natural sound. Ultimately something of a misfiring, I feel, for the usually reliable Touch. (Richard Johnson)

THE NIGHTINGALES Insult to Injury CD (Klangbad, Germany, 2009)
Last time I heard this Birmingham-based group I was a teenager! John Peel used to play their records frequently and I once bargain-ought their ‘Paraffin Brain’ single (released in 1982 on Cherry Red, no less), although I think that went the same way as countless other records bought during this period. Whatever, it transpires that singer Robert Lloyd’s group have continued to remain active in one form or other over the years since then and reformed properly in 2004 with an assortment of others, such as members of pre-Nightingales group The Prefects, Aaron Moore of Volcano The Bear and Pram’s Daren Garratt, helping out or joining along the way. They’ve also released several singles since reforming and now, indeed, have this album both recorded by and on Faust’s Hans-Joachim Irmler’s studio/label. Although I’ve not listened to the group since their early days, I think it’s fair to surmise the twelve cuts here both perpetuate and expand on the ramshackle approach formulated then. Punchy-as-fuck rhythms cement an amalgam of cut-throat guitars, corridors of exploding melody, semi-spoken bridges of wry commentary, near-No Wave jazz-funk collisions, urban Country flourishes and deep dark delves into a kind of psychotic pop barely found these days. On ‘Big Bones’, both The Cravats and The Birthday Party spring to mind as meaty enough reference points but, ultimately, The Nightingales have skillfully embroidered their own sound, torn it violently apart and scattered it in several different directions. Fair play to them. (Richard Johnson)

MICHAEL PETERS Impossible Music CD (Hyperfunction, Germany, 2009)
Surely an album with such an inviting title should sound less downright ordinary than this? Composed of mostly piano fed through software this German artist himself devised called a Gumowski-Mira attractor (itself dedicated to an algorithim and named after the two CERN physicists who discovered it), the pieces mostly exude a faintly charming aura akin to a jaunty John Cage doing a drunken jig. Lopsided keys bounce off each other, then pare down for a more sombre embrace before stirring themselves up again. Meantime, Peters inflects them occasionally with live interaction that, it would appear, wasn’t taken far enough. Whilst the idea alone is worthwhile enough, the resulting sixteen pieces suffer for their not actually delivering on the excitement of the promise. (Richard Johnson)

REHAB Man Under Train Situation CD (+3dB Recordings, Norway, 2009)
Debut album by this new duo consisting of John Hegre (Jazzkammer) and Bjørnar Habbestad (N-Collective), with nine cuts of improv guitar and flute-led electronic works destined to pulverise your cranium’s toughest points. The guitar is as downright savage as anything old-timer Stefan Jaworzyn ever knocked us with, occasionally assuming almost rock forms before quickly spiralling into those unknown areas that are as alluring as the universe’s darkest recesses, and the accompanying bombardment of processed flutes and electronics weaves along with it all perfectly. Once in a while, the intensity subsides to make room for a little more breathing space. Track five, ‘Pankow’, in particular, sees everything whittled back to a more measured and subtle approach I’d personally have liked to have heard more of. As with so much of this music, though, I always feel it is best caught live. And if this release is anything to go by, I’m certain Rehab would make a commendable proposition. (Richard Johnson)

TECHIX Monosymphonic CD (AntiClock Records, USA, 2008)
Techix is the name given to Oklahoma-based artist Justin Jones, who has been dedicated to this project since 2001. Inspired by classical music as much as electronics and improvisation, the twelve cuts here appear imbued with a similar hue to Max Richter’s or some of Stars Of The Lid’s later delves into more heavily string-laden territory. Rich in atmosphere due mostly to the violins prevalent throughout, tempered electronic rhythms and textures likewise occasionally jostle alongside in an appropriate manner. It all sounds pleasant enough, but things generally tend to get slightly more interesting when, for example, other elements creep in. ‘Dead After All’, for example, with its guitar rhythm and synth whorls, and ‘Tear of Dust’’s being carried along by gentle folk-ish guitar strums and ghostly voices, add much needed moodiness to the proceedings. Ultimately, though, most of the pieces appear to suffer for their seeming to miss an ingredient or two. It would be good to hear Jones perhaps take his ideas into a collaborative setting. (Richard Johnson)
Note: The date on the sleeve states these songs are from 2004, but I only received this release last year. Either the mail from Oklahoma takes an exceptionally long time or this album simply collects work recorded from that year. Who knows? (Actually, a quick ‘net check has revealed this album was released at least a couple of years ago. Oh well…)

VIOLET Violet Ray Gas and the Playback Singers CD (Zeromoon & Sentient Recognition Archive, USA, 2009)
Violet is the name given to Washington DC veteran Jeff Surak’s latest guise. Operating since the early ‘80s and responsible over the years for a part in the homespun cassette label arena as well as collaborations with Crawling With Tarts, John Hudak, Frans de Waard, Kotra, Francisco Lopez, etc. and his own 1348, Sovmestnoye Predpriyatiye and V projects, Violet pretty much continues from where the V duo left off. Utilising found objects, prepared acoustic instruments, damaged discs, old record players and the like, Surak here heads for an exciting juncture where cinematic drones meet abrasive outbursts. Following the opener ‘All Records Collapse’, with its gliding metallic textures and spoken voices, we are treated to a good example of his capabilties. ‘Marionetki’, stretching for over 14 minutes, combines penumbric hiss the like of which The Hafler Trio are especially good at sculpting entire universes from with gentle whirs and flutters whose movements later fade away to make room for a savage machine attack. Afterwards, tracks mostly continue to work themselves around more dynamic gush, nods towards minimalism, carefully woven loops and enough attention to detail to keep things wholly engaging, but fifth piece, ‘Interior Ghosts’, makes way for a haunting violin drone-led setting that must rank as the album’s highlight. Whilst other sounds bubble away beneath the overlayed violins, visions of skinny black-clad types creating the perfect din in a New York loft hover ever closer, but it’s something that works sublimely when juxtaposed with all else on offer. An album I’ll certainly be returning to. (Richard Johnson)

JANA WINDEREN Heated: Live in Japan CD (Touch, 2009)
Using an array hydrophones, Norwegian sound-artist Winderen here collects material gathered from Greenland and Iceland as well as her native country to create a nearly 27-minute-long piece recorded live at Super Deluxe in Tokyo, October 2008. Concerning her work with the sounds to be found in lakes, oceans, glacial crevasses and generally beneath the world we see around us, she weaves together sonic blankets as haunting as they are beguiling or comforting. Mysterious underwater creaks, crackles and oozes converge with the atmospheric flowing and gushing to an effect as satisfying as that to be found on Nurse With Wound’s heavily criticised Salt Marie Celeste album. And, outside a limited edition 7”, ‘Surface Runoff’, released on USA-based Autofact label, some of her recordings appearing in Sigur Ros’ 2007 film, Heima, and a series of installations and collaborations (including a recent one with Chris Watson), Heated is actually her debut CD. I look forward to hearing more. (Richard Johnson)

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