CDr éter-06 Time: 38:42 Edition of 70
Tracks: 1) Pneuma, 2) Infraleve, 3) Indeleble, 4) Transparencia, 5) Levedad, 6) Gravedad
I listened to Levedad a few times and instead of immediately formulating thoughts about it, I moved on to some other activities allowing the impressions to coalesce in my subconscious. A day later I listened again and found myself thinking about cosmology, and the mystery that we cannot see or explain approximately 95% of the mass and energy in our Universe—what has come to be known as: Dark Matter and Dark Energy. It’s a conundrum of knowing that something is there out there, but not knowing what exactly it is.
Although I have no expertise in astrophysics, I have read some of Stephen Hawking’s and Carl Sagan’s works. Why I had this macro-scale reaction to Levedad, I’m not sure. By sharp contrast, there’s also a micro scale parallel as in the communications between (nerve) cells, the electrical impulses that pass via dendrites and synapses (which we KNOW to exist and have been observed in real-time using powerful laser and electron microscopy). And what of the 5% of the Universe that we can describe, see and hear?
In this album I think I would equate the tangible 5% of the Universe to the micro-sounds that populate the sonic ether throughout the six pieces on this album…like the flash of a small meteor that almost fools the eye when it disappears as quickly as it appears, the electrical pulses of a distant quasar captured with a radio telescope or the intensive shimmering ribbons of an aurora borealis. The vast remaining aura of sound is the indescribable and unknown.
Miguel Isaza studies sound and philosophy and conducts cross-disciplinary research on listening. His work includes composing, exhibit installations, performance, visual art (including computer generated images) and research. Isaza explores the relationship between creators, educators and students with workshops, talks and publications as well as creating, recording and producing music. He works with museums, academic institutions and on web-based projects. He co-founded the Éter label along with Alejandro Henao in Medellín, Colombia and also runs the Monofónicos, Invisible Valley and Sonic Terrain music labels.
Levelad is a series of micro-montages that are akin to the recent long exposure Hubble Deep Field images of a fraction of our visible night sky. The longer the time of the exposure the greater the detail that is revealed and the further back in time one travels visually; like letting one’s eye adjust to the dark and eventually more stars appear in the dome of the sky.
In my brief e-mail correspondence with Isaza, I asked if there are any underlying concepts for the album, and he had a reply that was curiously similar to my impressions (after I had already listened to the album and formulated my opinions):
“The work has for me a sense of nothingness, inspired on thin, delicate and suspended activity of bodies…”
So my reaction to the album, I have concluded, is plausible in the broadest sense. The album has varied textures and moments of contrast from crystalline (almost piercing) individual tones to broad and intense walls of sound. There are some recurrent sounds and themes giving a sense of familiarity within the largely ethereal sound-scape. It’s my opinion that the aura of two of the latter tracks (Transparencia and the title track Levedad) somewhat belie their titles, but that in no way diminishes the listening experience. Perhaps they were titled with a somewhat Duchamp-esque irony.
Pneuma (roughly translates to a vital spirit or creative force) opens the album with a vibrant clarity. It begins in relative silence and then merges into sonorous glassy environs, and moves briefly into cavernous and buzzing electric depths. Infraleve gives the impression of being nearby an audio jet-stream with micro-sounds and other sonic activity dancing below and in front of the high and fast-moving heavens. There is somberness in Indeleble, as if evoking a distant memory during a passage of time. In contrast to the jet-stream of Infraleve there is a feeling of an almost brooding undercurrent.
As noted above, and despite the title, there is a broad three-dimensional frontal density to Transparencia. It meanders a bit with the faintest sounds of distant voices. For me, Levelad (lightness) is ever so slightly referential, sounding mildly like the Opening Titles and backgrounds to the soundtrack of the film Bladerunner where Deckard is reviewing surveillance photos, which is followed by the Blush Response segment. Eventually a layered drone blends into the piece, but is delicately penetrated with avian sounds of an outdoor environment. Gravedad is appropriately grounded and has familiar sounds of nature, perhaps marking a return from the exploration of the unknown.
Enjoy the flight.
Volkoren 58 – Time: 39:46 Format: CD, also available as a limited edition of 35 copies (see Bandcamp link), recorded in the northern Netherlands
Available at: http://silmus.bandcamp.com/
1) Deeply Beloved 2) Remembrance 3) Set In Stone 4) You Are Tenderness 5) Leaving Darkness 6) Shelter 7) You Have The Words And I Listen 8) Bare 9) Sadness Covers Me 10) Follow Me
The word shelter has different connotations, and I recall an assignment in my early design studio days exploring that word in terms of space, light and structure. I think the new Silmus album is perhaps less about spaces or places, rather being more about people and seeking or finding the comfort and shelter of a person, friends or within a family. It’s the soft comforting embrace of a loved one—the holding on or the letting go, the giving or receiving shelter in or from a given situation.
Dutch musician Gert Boersma (acoustic and electric guitars, piano, synthesizers, ukelele, samples) returns along with producer Minco Eggersman (electric guitar, harmonica, synthesizer, effects), Jan Borger (piano and bass) and Mirjam Feenstra (vocals). In his debut album Ostara that I reviewed last year, Boersma explored the delight and wonderment of the cycle of life and parenthood.
Shelter is presented within a soothing yet relatively controlled dynamic range and shorter form instrumentals are more dominant on this album compared to Boersma’s last. There are moments when rhythms appear and a direction is established (as in the initially stark then hopeful Leaving Darkness or the firm acoustic presence of Remembrance). At other times the music peregrinates for a time and suddenly expands into a broad sound-scape (as in the stark moodiness of Bare, punctuated with electric guitar that emerges from the cover of an acoustic steel guitar). Some pieces are like brief visions of a mood or an experience, but others are self-contained and complete. Each track has a foundation, whether it starts with acoustic or electric guitar or piano, and gradually layers and responses are built to establish the atmosphere. It does seem that the album, taken in its entirety, represents a full cycle of feelings or reactions to a particular set of circumstances.
The CD opens with the meditation Deeply Beloved with repeated phrasings offering a gentle mantra of stability. Set In Stone has a clear voice of electric guitar, which is ever so gently treated with a phased chorus effect. You Are Tenderness opens with restrained orchestral strings and then a gently voiced piano, which is enhanced with light electric guitar.
The title track Shelter expresses the intent of its title—it starts delicately then the melody and harmonies are held firmly and uplifted within a secure bass line. In You Have The Words And I Listen the piano is treated as a voice. An enmeshed drone opens until the voice appears, then a conversation begins. The voice remains steadfast throughout the responses and delivers a message. A reflective piano opens Sadness Covers Me and is later coupled with a softly bowed electric guitar. The album closes with the steady hopefulness of Follow Me.
For those seeking a point of reference, I place this album within the gentler versions of Robin Guthrie’s solo work or perhaps the more contemplative instrumentals by Cocteau Twins. There is indeed a sense of warmth and comfort in this album, and it’s a pleasant place to be.
This is a solicited review.
Hundred Acre Recordings HA06: 12” LP (copy 18/40 signed, 200 total LPs & digital download)
Label: http://www.hundredacrerecordings.com/ Arrangement and production by Tim Noble
Hallock Hill Website: http://hallockhill.com/
Tracks: Side A: 1) I Light The Lamp And Sit Down, 2) The Good Dead, 3) The People Without Tears, 4) Death Was A Bird, 5) Villages Of The Black Earth, 6) A Secret It Remains, 7) Another Light; Side B: 1) Workbench Atheist, 2) Demons In The Birchwood, 3) Farewell, Pale Corpse Of Many Sins, 4) The Immortalisation Commission, 5) We Looked For You For 52 Years, 6) Massed Bands And Megaphones
Ask a person cold about a particular moment in time and the recall on specifics might not be immediate or complete, but drop a needle on an LP or press play on a CD and the instant the music starts (even if it has been unheard for 30+ years) that same person’s recollection of a memory could be lucid, with the place, time and circumstances remembered in vivid detail. Music is often a key that unlocks chambers in a memory palace. While not necessarily as far back as 30 years, there are moments while listening to Kosloff Mansion that visions of the past coalesce and the aura of the album further enhances that experience. Perhaps Tom Lecky had different intentions from my own experience for the inspiration of his fourth album, but that’s the power of music when combined with synapses, dendrites, proteins and whatever…
I often associate the works of HH’s with layered compositions for acoustic and electric guitar (as in the albums The Union or A Hem of Evening), but this LP is mostly rooted in solo piano with production and treatments by collaborator Tim Noble (of The Lowland Hundred). It’s hard to know where Noble’s contributions specifically appear, but I think of Lecky’s work as being mostly austere, without apparent structure at times, although intricately layered (some juxtapositions being left to chance). I was fortunate to have ordered this LP early enough to obtain a copy signed by Lecky and Noble, along with a hand written short poem by TL.
Kosloff Mansion starts gently, like the rising Sun with beams of light reaching into the morning, or rather, a candle’s flame penetrating the darkness. It could be an unhurried day or evening in a cabin in the woods, just sitting contemplating nothing (or everything) and listening without distraction—the types of moments of which we need more. Briefly, a storm interrupts in The Good Dead and this triggers the vision of a very late night deep in the Adirondacks (of New York) with lightning and thunder that a (then) very young son wanted to end, but I wanted (privately) to continue, to hear the storm echoing through the mountains. With assurances that the storm was increasingly distant, there was comfort enough for the younger to sleep and so the elder could continue listening and pondering that particular night before a loon emerged and greeted the dawn.
Instrumentation sometimes changes from solo piano to bells, or perhaps it’s a celeste, but they fit while shifting with the breezes, moonlight and stars reflecting in the lake of the vision. A Secret It Remains blends liquid and tones before landing in the austerity of Another Light with only hints of ominous strings rolling in on an imaginary tide of a lurking then emerging spirit…before fading.
Workbench Atheist seems to be more of the morning; soft music with a light rain or is it the creaking of an ancient wood floor? Demons In The Birchwood is a darker, but livelier spirit and the celeste returns with a deeper Leslie-esque treatment, before merging into a wraith-like Farewell, Pale Corpse Of Many Sins, which at times is unsettling yet ironically at peace. A reverie is freed to peregrinate in The Immortalisation Commission and it builds to a crescendo and then gently disperses. There is a firm perseverance in We Looked For You For 52 Years, a feeling of reverence is also present. Massed Bands And Megaphones punctuates Kosloff Mansion with a blend of a celebratory whimsy and sounds reminiscent of fireworks echoing in the distance.
At times Kosloff Mansion is mysterious, yet halcyon moments come forth and while different in sound and instrumentation from his previous works, it’s very much rooted in what I have come to appreciate in Lecky’s work—a really brilliant and different kind of music experience.
Added bonus! Hallock Hill live on WFMU, along with Tim Noble (HH segment starts at about 30:00, but enjoy the entire show!): http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/55533
Label: Whispered CD WR001CD Limited to 500 hand-numbered copies Time: 36:54
Available at: http://whisperedlabel.bandcamp.com/album/fields
Tracks: 1) Cristaline (Flux), 2) Copper Traces, 3) Elements, 4) Archaique, 5) Rubis, 6) Pudgala, 7) Myth, 8) Canvas, 9) Cristaline (Reflux)
Fields is the first album to be released by the Whispered label and opens with a solo piano and the sounds of a distant shore. The music is from the imagination of Stéphane Vandezande in his guise as the Peaceful Wrath, and the work is part minimalist and part chamber orchestra along with delicate electronic and environmental treatments. The spirit is somber at times, as in Cristaline, but can change quickly to be playfully furtive like in the track Elements.
One moment, the music appears to be from a discreet scene from an imaginary film (as in Pudgala) whereas at others it depicts a broad conceptual sonic portrait, much like in the track Rubis. The presentation of the compositions is never brash, but the starkest of tracks can be the most powerful, even more so than those more broadly orchestrated (in a way, the power of silence). In Copper Traces, Vandezande also plays with rhythm and syncopation and has elements similar to Johannes Schmoelling’s solo oeuvre. There are also brief moments of humor in the variety of the orchestration in Elements and I was instantly reminded of Eno Moebius Roedelius’s 1978 album After The Heat.
Voices also appear like momentary distractions in dreams, but are gentle enough to allow a return to the comfort of the music; this occurs in Myth as it advances cautiously from solo piano to cello and then bass (or treated synth) and then into a section of chamber music, which quickens rhythmically. It’s one of my favorite pieces on the album. Canvas shimmers, rumbles a bit and even growls before the “reflux” of Cristaline. Vandezande notes that Fields was recorded under rainy skies in Brussels and in a small village in the French countryside, and he recommends as companions, “…a log on the fire and a nice cup of hot chocolate…”; sounds like an excellent idea, and I can also attest that it works well on warm sunny days too, a very nice listen with beautiful cover artwork.
This is a solicited review.
Available at: http://polarseasrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/transit
Polar Seas Recordings PSR-007: CD-R Limited to 50 (Time: 64:02) with hand stamped numbered envelope, 8 page booklet and unique numbered art card by Shannon Penner. Review copy is 35/50. Album is also available as a digital download, but the first seven tracks only.
Tracks: 1) The Breathing of Roots, 2) Saturnine, 3) Chambers of the Sea, 4) Sungazing, 5) Ylla, 6) Un Jardin Des Cieux, 7) In The Decay of Shadows, Bonus CD tracks: 8) Equinox, 9) In The Decay of Shadows (Piano)
It’s all a matter of relative perception…a transit at sea, in the sky or on land and the paradox of experiencing the direct speed of travel from within or observing from afar a celestial body in space, a vehicle on land or a jet in the sky moving very slowly, when in reality in it could be traveling hundreds or even thousand of miles per hour. Time can seem to stand still…
Shannon Penner is Orbit Over Luna and he is an animator, sound designer, composer and multi-instrumentalist from Toronto, Canada. His work draws from many influences and instrumentation in his work varies, but it’s primarily guitar-based (often with ample reverb) with select moments of piano.
Penner’s album Transit is both about being in the moment and observing from afar while experiencing the sense of movement on land, at sea or in air (or perhaps even floating in space). The album is quite serene and comforting, but it holds one’s attention weaving through a variety of sonic territories. I compare the album (as much as I like the competitive side of sailing) to spending a delightful afternoon on a sailboat in the warm sunshine with gentle breezes and my hand occasionally creating a gentle wake in the water.
The Breathing of Roots announces what follows almost like a distant fog horn at dawn, to gently nudge one’s attention that it’s time for a journey. Saturnine seems a bit of a misnomer, because rather than being gloomy, it’s a slow drift on that boat (and not in the doldrums) allowing the distractions of the world to dissolve and to focus instead on the gentle and calming movement…a languid afternoon on the water.
I’ve read Shannon Penner’s oeuvre being compared to a number of different musicians, but the closest for me is the work of Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) and in particular his trilogy of recent EPs entitled Angel Falls, Songs To Help My Children Sleep and Sunflower Stories. Penner’s work, however, is not as rhythmic or melodic when compared to Guthrie’s; instead it focuses more on atmospheric imagery. Throughout the album there are occasional broad wave motions that yield gossamers of a tangible melody, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. In The Decay of Shadows, which follows the transit of the Sun in the sky, has a minimal and complementary piano melody to the guitar chords that emerges and disappears gently like shadows created from clouds passing across the sky until the Sun sets below the horizon (one of the bonus pieces is the isolated piano track).
Sungazing has moments of distorted guitar as if shielding one’s eyes from the Sun’s glare and as a more comfortable view emerges the sound clarifies and the panorama of the landscape comes into focus. Ylla is a celestial passage and it makes me wonder if it’s a nod to one of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles of the same name. And the farthest and most ethereal transit of all is in Un Jardin Des Cieux (The Garden of Heaven). In The Decay of Shadows is the postlude to the album, but there are two bonus tracks on the CD, the first is Equinox, the two points in our year on Earth where we travel about the Sun and where day equals night, before summer or winter, as we pass through time…and the older we are the shorter our relative perception of time becomes.
Enjoy the ride!
CD DR-21 Time: 56:34 – http://dronarivm.com/
Tracks: 1) Donitsk, 2) Daithn, 3) Skdiv, 4) Aoleeignal, 5) Rionzemef, 6) Vansunbarth, 7) Pleq Remix of Rionzemef
I’ve been a bit out of the loop with Dronarivm label releases for the last six months or so, but one of their new albums caught my ears—the collaboration with Pjusk and Sleep Orchestra.
Drowning In The Sky initially strikes close to home in its sound aura since we are just emerging from a VERY long winter here in the northeast USA. Pjusk’s (Rune Andre Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik) music is often rooted in their Norwegian locale being inspired by weather, landscape and nature and Sleep Orchestra’s work (as noted by Christopher Pegg) is often influenced by science fiction or imaginary soundtracks to “…movies in your head…”
From what I have heard of their prior respective works, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought that their musical styles would merge comfortably, but after listening to Drowning In The Sky the combination works quite well. The album does indeed seem very much like a soundtrack to a short film of an imagined journey that starts in a stark and harsh landscape of wind, snow and ice—not exactly a comforting place to be, but the solitude brings a focused awareness of the surroundings (Donitsk). Eventually the scenes change and there is a transformation from an outdoor landscape into more industrial and metallic-sounding scenes (Daithn) with sporadic rhythms. Taut and glitchy beats emerge and then there are layers of cavernous spaces, like giant shipyards or factories with remote gantry cranes (Skdiv), sharpened with a solo trumpet.
In time the scenes are darker (Aoleeignal), although still quite spatial with sounds dancing within the mix, and there is a strong visceral undercurrent and an increased sense of motion. There is a return to an outdoor environment: water and wind in Rionzemef and an auditory sense of being in a vehicle of some sort (a large truck, train or ship perhaps) while experiencing a storm and pulsing undercurrent from outside the vehicle. The environment, despite being a long way from the desolation of an Arctic plain continues to intrude into the soundscape and at a windshield or porthole…or in the mind. Vansunbarth appears to be the arrival at the imaginary destination, where furtive sounds move quickly, muffled announcements, signals ring and footfall moves in a foggy haze, disorienting as if being awakened suddenly from a traveling slumber.
The album is a journey of contrasts, from the far reaches of harsh yet pristine tundra to the gritty environs of an industrial zone, from desolation and isolation to population. Pleq’s remix of Rionzemef gently sways and is more hypnotic and comforting than the original track.
A historical comparison: Drowning starts off being quite similar to Envangelos Papathanassiou’s chilling soundtrack to the film Antarctica and ends up more in a post-apocalyptic and highly cinematic realm of Bladerunner. Also of note, (and I always prefer a physical release to digital) Dronarivm has changed their CD sleeve to a quite effective recyclable folded heavy cardstock slide-out package; my only comment would be to ask that the inner portion slides out another centimeter farther for easier access to the CD.
Eilean:  – Eilean Records: CD-R (an edition of 80) Time 48:16
Tracks: 1) Prelude in E Major, 2) Evenings Wait; The Morning’s Break, 3) Early Ferns, 4) The Sun Looks Quite Ghostly When There’s A Mist On The River And Everything’s Quiet, 5) Faint Whirs Of The Smallest Motor, 6) They Carried Teapots And Tiny Gas Canisters, 7) A Ship’s Bell (Sings), 8) The Weight Of The Frost On A Branch, 9) And The Guitar Plays War Hymns, 10) (Sings)
Long ago I found myself curiously attracted to an old celesta (celeste) in the back corner of my high school band room. I’d plug it in when I was sure that no one was around and adjust the controls and the small piano-like instrument made pleasantly sonorous yet mysterious sounds: belltones with alluring sustains and tremolos…
Eilean Records is a new French-based label run by Mathias Van Eecloo and twincities – variations for the celesta is the label’s first release (although ironically labeled ). Long Islander (New York) Fletcher McDermott creates music in his basement studio in the guise of twincities (funny, when I think of “Twin Cities” I think of Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota).
Eilean is Scottish Gaelic for Island and the label’s works will each relate to a point on an imaginary map with up to one hundred predetermined locations. Coincidentally, McDermott lives on an island (albeit a rather large island). Eilean releases will vary in quantities from 75 to 200 physical copies and there will be up to 100 releases with hand made covers and related artwork in this map series. Connections to the place where the music is created will be memorialized with an image of a small bottle containing the soil from the musician’s locale. On the reverse of the image with be the map quadrant assigned to the musician. Each release will be a part of the puzzle of the overall map…the music connected to the artist, a point on the map and a small vial of soil. In effect, an imaginary hybrid island with a small yet tangible existence. Islands of the imagination, islands of the mind, perhaps even islands of isolation. Have any of you ever read the short story The Man Who Loved Islands by D. H. Lawrence?
I’ve noted before that I’ve listened to shortwave and ham radio operators for decades and in some respects this album is like roaming the radio dial late into the night on an old analog shortwave set using the fine-tuning knob. The music is like traveling and it takes the listener to different places. The feeling of being taken on a tour through a shortwave realm isn’t literal like in Kraftwerk’s song Radioland (from their 1975 album Radioactivity), rather it’s more subtle in the background and doesn’t distract from the aura created by the music and other sounds. The album at times also evokes Godley and Creme’s song Get Well Soon from the 1979 album Freeze Frame (waxing rhapsodically about Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline late into the night), although that song is more melodic. The celesta isn’t the dominant sound generator in this album, but each piece has a strong thread weaving throughout along with other well-disguised instrumentation, found or ambient sounds and faint voices. Rather than repeat the track names, I’ll just reference the track number in my overview:
1) variations opens with rapid-fire automated Morse code, soothed with slow comforting celesta responses. 2) The celesta is transformed into restful wind chimes with long passages of deep resonant tones and distant faint melodies. There are some comparisons to the recent works of Kane Ikin’s otherworldly explorations (seek out his recent 12k label releases). 3) Is like hanging on the edge of a dream while awakening in the misty early morning light—the calm and the quietude. The celesta treatment is like it could be from portions of the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet—rather mysterious, almost ominous.
4-7) This collection of tracks seems like a suite, at first sonorous, gentle and deep tones and mysterious atmospheres (in time, a slower Morse code reappears), transitioning into an edgier realm (6) and finishing in a gritty drift across the radio dial, sharper sounds with kalimba-like percussives. 8) Sways gently and is the most peaceful track on the album. It evokes some of the feeling of Robert Rich’s recent album Nest. 9) This piece is a broad soundscape (in some respects like those created by the band Lambchop as links between songs…William Tyler’s moody electric guitar drones). The celesta is treated like chimes sounding like church bells, in memoriam. 10) A gritty close, like the beginning, and the distant music returns one last time from a far away island.
Eilean Records is off to a fine start with twincities variation for the celesta. Visit their website soon for the next planned destination which will be released on 5/5/14 and monthly thereafter.
Photo of twincities by TJ Boegle
This is a solicited review.
CD TANGENT001 Time: 52:56
Auditioning long form musical works take time and with the many modern distractions it’s often difficult to dedicate an extended period to focused listening, but for Not Knowing I think you’ll want to make the time (especially if you are familiar with Nicholas Szczepanik’s previous work such as Please Stop Loving Me). In fact, if one is in the right frame of mind (like in a state of meditation, self-hypnosis or deep relaxation) the sense of time is often compressed, and one wonders ultimately where the time has gone.
This piece was originally available in a shorter version on the limited 12 part release CD3 series Ante Algo Azul from 2011, and it was a favorite of mine back then. So, I was delighted to hear that an extended version would be released by Desire Path Recordings as part of their new Tangent series.
I liken Not Knowing, which is different in form and sound from PSLM, to a dream sequence in roughly four parts, although there are threads of sound that keep the piece connected throughout. The first 12 minutes or so is a deeply pulsed and hypnotic mediation that brings one to where memories and dreams might become lucid, but still out of tangible reach. It’s at this point where an imagined orchestra appears from the ether and it flows. Is it a literal sample of another piece or is it combined with electronics? It appears like unresolved memories in a dream. I can hear chords of Elgar…wait, then Dvorak…but wait, there’s the flow of Debussy, a sleight of hand used by other composers, hiding themes from elsewhere, leaving the brain to search for a source, and the sound is ethereal and uplifting (dare I say even heavenly for the non-believers?).
Then the music and perceived vision seems to drift out of reach and almost dissolves. At the point in a dream when one loses touch, but wants to return to the visions, and then the melodies and harmonies arrive again, but in a shrouded form with layers of choral vocals. And within this new realm the piece moves into a less recognizable and deeper unknown territory before gently returning to the original sonic thread, albeit in an altered and transitional chordal-tone state and ultimately the arrival back into the warmth of the visceral pulses.
Although quite different in presentation and instrumentation, I compare the journey in this album to that of some other favorites of mine like Vangelis Papathanasiou’s Rêve from the album Opéra Sauvage and Tangerine Dream’s Desert Dream from their double live album Encore. The development and sound architecture of the piece is clearly influenced by the works of French electronic composer Éliane Radigue, to whom Szczepanik dedicates the album.
450 CD copies, first 15 copies signed by BP, also digital (to be released January 21, 2014)
Remix label: http://losttribesound.com
Available at: http://losttribesound.bandcamp.com/album/hymnal-remixes
CD 1 Remixes – 44:51: 1. Mercy (Fieldhead), 2. Margin (William Ryan Fritch), 3. Excave (Squanto), 4. Litiya (The Green Kingdom), 5. Homily (Cock and Swan), 6. Florid (Brambles), 7. Censer (Field Rotation), 8. Reliquary (Part Timer), 9. Margin (Zachary Gray), 10. Foxtail (Graveyard Tapes)
CD 2 Remixes – 53:29: 1. Hawkeye (The Remote Viewer), 2. Censer (Segue), 3. Knell (Widesky), 4. Florid (Loscil), 5. Foxtail (Radere), 6. Gospel (James Murray), 7. Reliquary (Benoît Honoré Pioulard), 8. Margin (Ruhe), 9. Gospel (Window Magic)
I want to note that sound quality and production are very important to me, almost as important as the music itself. So, given that statement, please read this review carefully. Comments seen as criticisms are not of the music or the writing, but largely on the choice of production methods and sound quality. I think very highly of the music penned and played by Tom Meluch (in his guise as Benoît Pioulard). With that in mind, please read on.
Hymnal – The Original
I’ve enjoyed Benoît Pioulard’s previous kranky releases as well as the more experimental vinyl EP Plays Thelma on Desire Path Recordings, so coupled with the early press accounts of Hymnal I was hopeful that it would be a great album…
I feel that there are many exceptional songs on Hymnal (Hawkeye, Reliquary, Excave, and especially Margin, and Litiya) along with some comforting drones (like Censer), but in general I feel there is a lack of presence in the recordings—they sound flat, out-of-phase and firmly entrenched in a claustrophobic mid-range (nothing at all like the sumptuous reverb of the intended muse “religious architecture”). Pioulard’s songs on this particular album are lost in a limiting boxy haze.
I’m a big fan of lo and mid-fi recordings and some musicians do it so well; East River Pipe (FM Cornog), more recently Will Samson and especially (one of my favorite albums of 2013) Bryan Ferry’s The Jazz Age (recorded in monaural with Jazz-era microphones). Granted, some artists and writers create works within strict limits and can be quite successful (shades of a single color, certain textures or excluding a specific vowel in a written work), but with all the praise I take a contrarian view on the technical execution of Hymnal. The quality and depth of recordings matter to me, unless there is a stated goal for why sound must be altered so dramatically.
I learned recently of Benoît Pioulard’s other off-label work, such as his 2011 digital EP Lyon (and in support of how I think Meluch writes some great songs). Have a listen to the gorgeous and unadorned song Tie:
It has some of the qualities of recordings by Nick Drake and Bert Jansch (think The Black Swan). I’m certainly not advocating that Pioulard chooses between one recording approach or another, I’m suggesting perhaps a sound somewhere in the middle, with the vocals higher in the mix and a fuller sound.
Hymnal – The Remixes
Original songs can find new life in covers or remixes. So, when Lost Tribe Sound announced this collection of Hymnal reinterpretations (by artists such as Loscil, Cock & Swan, Brambles, The Green Kingdom and William Ryan Fritch) I thought that some of the depth that I felt was missing in the original might be introduced or restored.
This is a really interesting collection, and the recordings in most cases have the clarity and sonic diversity that I had hoped for in the original album.
The two CDs are split loosely into two categories: 1) rhythmic with vocals and 2) more on the ambient side, largely instrumental. After a couple of listens I was quite surprised that I found myself leaning more towards the feel and sound of the more actively engaging CD 1.
As with the original album Mercy (I’ll call it track 1.1) opens the collection and it’s a bit of an assault on the ears (the original being a full-on harmonium before the vocals enter), but in the remix version the harmonium is tamed and a slow march beat is overlaid. The sound is far more spacious, as if entering a cathedral. William Ryan Fritch’s remix of Margin (1.2) is an almost frenetic orchestration compared to the original and Zachary Gray’s version (1.9), which starts off quite stark with lone guitar and vocal and gradually the instrumentation and soundstage expands—I think both are quite successful, and in Gray’s version the vocals are clear as the song develops (makes me wonder all the more why Meluch chose to shroud such a great song). Squanto’s remix of Excave (1.3) is a series of repeated fragments made into a rhythm and sounding very much like some of Peter Gabriel’s mid-career work.
The Green Kingdom’s and Cock & Swan’s remixes of Litiya (1.4) and Homily (1.5) are quite enchanting. The sound of Litya softer, fuller and more comforting than the original—the soft electric guitar and cello overlays give the track such an easy feel, and Pioulard’s largely untreated vocals weave right in, so well. I have to admit that Homily is one of my least favorite tracks on the original album and Cock & Swan have woven their unusual magic, making it an ethereal journey (supplemented with Ola Hungerford’s vocals) while maintaining some of the original grit, and I assume that the crisp nylon guitar overlay is Johnny Goss’s. Brambles transformed Florid (1.6) into a (quite unexpected) “chill dance” piece—it has a languid vibe. Field Rotation put Censer (1.7) into a time machine and it emerged from an old modular Moog during Tangerine Dream’s Stratosphere era. The original version of Reliquary is furtive and mysterious, and Part Timer (1.8) stretched this concept further with his stark (and at time minimally orchestrated) interpretation.
The Remote Viewer’s version of Hawkeye opens CD2 (2.1) and its origins are deftly shrouded, and at first I didn’t care for it much, but it has grown on me—it’s delicately fragmented with some quirky treatments (very Boats-y!) and at times it sounds like Mark Isham’s early experiments from back in his Windham Hill label days (yes folks, I’m that old). My two favorite tracks on CD2 are Segue’s version of Censer (2.2) and Loscil’s (at times, visceral) remake of Florid (2.4). Curiously, Censer is given a gentle heartbeat, which despite the motion has a rather soothing effect to it. The remix of Florid somewhat belies its connotation, elaborate in its sonic depth, but not ornate.
Widesky’s Knell is an expansive fragmentation of the cathedral bells of the original and then all is absorbed into a rather compressed package of the experience (kind of like a snow-globe)—it’s a bit edgy for my ears. Sorry, but Radere’s version of Foxtail (2.5) just didn’t work for me—too strident. James Murray’s Gospel (2.6) meanders and bends with a broad color palette and is a contrast to Window Magic’s version (2.9) that is narrower, more primary shaded.
Pioulard’s remix of his own track Reliquary (2.7) shrouds the original even further; the furtive character is diminished—a curious approach. Ruhe’s version of Margin (2.8) is an almost unrecognizable adaptation of the original with only the slightest of rhythmic and vocal fragments remaining—in kind of a trance beat.
Sometimes sequels or remakes are better than the original, and that’s how I feel in this case on the production side of things. Despite my comments on the source material, I urge listeners to purchase a copy of Hymnal and judge for yourselves—some might disagree completely with my assessment on the sound quality. I’ll continue to look forward to Benoît Pioulard’s future recordings.
This is a solicited review.
DR-14 – CD Time: 36:36 – Limited to 250 CD copies or digital download
Aaron Martin: 1) Slow Wake, 2) Burl, 3) Comfort of Shadow, 4) Night Never Came
Christoph Berg: 5) Pillows, 6) Today Has Been Alright, 7) Things Are Sorted, Finally, 8) Coda
Contemplation is too often overlooked; a time for reflection, giving the mind a chance to wander and resolve the events of a day before moving onward into the night. The transition into night may come slowly as the Sun sets on the horizon, yet some of the scenes of the day’s past are lost to fleeting time in the camera obscura of the mind.
Listening to Aaron Martin and Christoph Berg’s shared CD Day Has Ended is way to refocus the mind and to put the swiftly moving retrograde of time and visions back into perspective and allow the mind to return to a more natural order. Martin’s half of the CD (tracks 1 through 4) are starker and more direct despite mixing a variety of instrumentation (electric guitar, acoustic strings [banjo or lute?], organ, voices and the familiar cello—in most cases the calming narrator). Slow Wake’s electric guitar gently percolates with cello weaving. Burl is more serious and centered. Comfort of Shadow uses layered voices like gentle breezes with slow, low and enveloping cello harmonies reaching up from below. Night Never Came opening with an organ is the most solemn and deliberate with a mournful and distant cello, which transitions into…
…Berg’s more broadly orchestrated compositions (tracks 5 through 8). Pillows starts with a phrasing and melody very reminiscent of King Crimson’s Formentera Lady (from the album Islands), and the cello (with other stringed accompaniment) is the narration before gently dispersing. Today Has Been Alright is the most reflective piece on the album, the foundation (at first) is deeply rooted, then an idée fixe appears on piano. The pace quickens somewhat to replay that which is to be contemplated and absorbed. Things Are Sorted, Finally is as in a dream-state when the thoughts of the day may reformulate and become enmeshed in dreams. And finally to Coda, the calming end, the quietude.
Day Has Ended is to be released on September 23, 2013.