Review: Chris Dooks – 300 Square Miles Of Upwards
Record Label: http://www.idioholism.com/ Album Time: About 32 Minutes
Chris Dooks’ Website: http://www.dooks.org/
LP or Digital available via: http://chrisdooks.bandcamp.com/album/300-square-miles-of-upwards-2013-blue-vinyl-digital-album-hd-film
Tracks: Side 1 – 1) Gardening as Astronomy; 2) The Greeks That I Love; 3) Morse Mode; Side 2 – 1) Conversation with a Boy (album mix); 2) Gwiazdozbiór Andromedy; 3) Pinpricks; 4) Katrina
For those old enough to remember, Carl Sagan wrote a book and produced a television series in 1980 for PBS (USA) entitled Cosmos*. In that series he probed our knowledge of the Universe and explained in remarkably accessible language what scientists and astronomers knew at that time, and theories on the yet undiscovered. On one hand we humans are bound by the limits of our Earth and our observations, yet beyond there are seemingly boundless realms to be explored and understood. As noted by Dooks (in the detailed liner notes that I highly recommend reading) on each of the deep space Voyager probes (that have now left our Solar System) there is mounted The Golden Record, a phonograph LP containing sound recordings of Earth and pictograms explaining our location in our Milky Way galaxy–a collective memory of our humanity.
300 Square Miles Of Upwards (subtitled: Tales for a Dark Sky Park) is the second album of Chris Dooks’ Idioholism Trilogy, the first being The Eskdalemur Harmonium (the link will take you to my previous review and an explanation of the overall project). As with the first album, the graphic design and presentation (by Rutger Zuyderfelt AKA Machinefabriek) are impeccable; this time the motif and LP vinyl are the primary color blue. The liner and cover photos are by Dooks, relating to the same color. Dooks also has a marvelous online archive of his photographs here: http://d7000000.tumblr.com/
300 SMOU is a calming meditation and memory archive relating to science, astronomy, conversations, and music, and relationships to earthly flora. The album’s title refers to an area of the Galloway Forest Park in Scotland (near Dooks’ home) and is a Dark Sky Park for observing the night sky.
The album’s recordings (a film soundtrack, field recordings, interviews and readings) are deftly interlaced with Dooks’ minimalist compositions (on piano and other instrumentation). The works occupy an experimental realm somewhere between ethnographic documentary akin to Alan Lomax or Hamish Henderson and experimental (looped and altered) music by Laurie Anderson (Big Science) and The Books (The Lemon Of Pink). Dooks has imaginatively woven the music, sounds and reflections on the night sky into an almost hypnotic opus. Within the intricate, clarity is revealed.
If digital download is your usual mode, consider purchasing the LP–a beautiful presentation overall. I’m looking forward to the third part of the trilogy.
* – For interested readers, Cosmos is available via streaming at Netflix.
Review: Recent Dronarivm Label Releases
Three albums from far away (to me) arrived at studio wajobu yesterday, and my immediate reaction (aside from the excitement of getting a package from Moscow) was when I opened the envelope, I was very pleasantly surprised with the design approach of the album packaging—a heavy semi-gloss stock tri-folded card (about 5 by 7 inches) with really nice layouts, printing and graphics—simple, elegant and compact.
The three albums are the latest collaboration by Machinefabriek and Minus Pilots entitled Signals, the Aquarius project (a collection of 5 minute works by artists including: Federico Durand, The Green Kingdom, Pjusk, Melodium, Simon Whetham, Loscil, Marsen Jules, Fabio Orsi, Pillowdiver, Machinefabriek, Hakobune + Hiroki Sasajima, Francisco López, Pleq + Mathieu Ruhlmann and Yann Novak) and Darren Harper’s release from late 2012 entitled Passages for the Listless and Tired. What drew me to Dronarivm (at first) was Darren Harper’s album.
Dronarivm Label – Aquarius
DR-09 – CD: 70 minutes – Limited to 200 CD copies and digital download with extra track
Aquarius, being a sign of the ancient zodiac, representative of one of the many artificial constructs of arrangements of stars in our Universe and on Earth symbolic of undulating waves of water, and in color an aqueous blue. This album is largely the sound of comfort and peacefulness with only occasional hints of stormy seas or skies (as in Untitled #288 by Francisco López). There is a broad sonic presence in each 5 minute track that belies their brevity, each telling a complete and unhurried story. Each track is somehow connected by imaginary links to another and perceptions of the overall whole change if listening is done in the shuffle-mode. There are so many strong pieces on this album, but I had the strongest connection with the incredible pulsing depths of Loscil’s Hemlock. This would be an excellent choice for lying down in the grass on a clear dark night with a pair of headphones and staring into the night sky and as the eyes adjust to the darkness, the many secrets of the great depths are revealed.
Machinefabriek and Minus Pilots – Signals
DR-10 – CD: About 34 minutes – Limited to 150 CD copies and digital download
minuspilots.com & machinefabriek.nu
Signals is the latest release from Dronarivm. Like signals drifting in and out on a shortwave radio far off into the night, Minus Pilots and Machinefabriek have created a sense of mystery and discovery with intertwined and layered sounds. At first constructed with arrayed loops of electric basses created by Minus Pilots and Machinefabriek blending woodwinds, strings and voices into a loosely woven fabric of sound; the result at times being like conversations between unlikely strangers. There are moments of quiescent contemplation contrasting with more vibrant exchanges akin to morning-songs of birds reacting to the rising Sun. Sonic moods shift throughout Signals with more dulcet tones appearing at about the mid-point of the piece before more active coils of sound emerge later. With careful listening, distinct instrumentation can be gleaned from the recording, but blurring the mind yields a gestalt that is like imagining a room full of people (perhaps strangers sitting quietly in an airport lounge or waiting room) with their thoughts being transmitted into the ether, many passing into the nothingness, yet some connecting.
Darren Harper – Passages for the Listless and Tired
DR-07 – CD: About 45 minutes
Limited to 100 CD copies and digital download
This is the album that brought me to the Dronarivm Label. I don’t recall how I was drawn to it or what landed me at sampling this album, but it must’ve been a lateral association somewhere in the neighborhood of six degrees (or in this case six passages) of separation and then attraction. The effect of this six-part album is calming, ethereal and curiously grounding. At times it growls (gently, as in Second passage) and often drifts into delightfully pastoral zones (like the closing Sixth passage). There are sections with a sense of flying slowly, just above a landscape in a vividly colorful slow motion dream (think Kubrick’s 2001) with deep almost motionless grooves reminiscent of parts of Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon. At times, the sound reaches, and reaches far, as in Third passage—it just keeps stretching ever closer to an unattainable edge and still onward for more. Despite being created from improvisation, Darren Harper has achieved a well-planned and deeply satisfying journey. There is a soft resonant afterglow present in this album.
Note: If you live where I do (far away!), it might take a couple of weeks to receive an order from Dronarivm, but trust me—it’ll be well worth the wait and patience. I look forward to more releases.
The Darren Harper CD was a direct purchase and the other two are solicited reviews.
A List Too Small – My Favorites of 2012
Thank you to all the artists and record labels for such wonderful and diverse music.
This is one list of many, it’s my list, and it leaves off many other favorites that I have enjoyed over the year in addition to the thousands of other albums and single tracks that make up music throughout the World. What has helped me arrive at this list is what I have always loved about music: Does it move me? In addition, is it creative, well recorded and produced with a degree of care that makes me pay attention to it? There was a time when I was obsessed with highly produced and tightly engineered works, then I learned about artists such as East River Pipe and Sparklehorse, and many other genres of music were opened to me.
If you don’t see your favorite album on this list (or even your own album), it doesn’t mean a thing. If an album has been reviewed on my website this year, it’s meaningful to many others and me, but this is only a very, very small slice of the music world. Often people ask me about new music, and what I recommend. When I started this website in late January, 2012 it was first a means to write about music that I enjoyed, but also to get to know other artists and learn about new music that they create, so I could pass it on. Often, the best new music is that referred by a friend. Please feel free to send me your comments and recommendations.
Special note: There are still three or four late 2012 releases that are either enroute to me, have yet to be released or have just arrived. I need to spend proper time listening to and absorbing these albums. Rather than delaying this list further, and if after listening to those last 2012 releases I feel that they hit a sweet spot, I’ll review those albums in early 2013. I know of at least two 2012 releases that I’ll likely not receive until 2013.
I have three categories: Albums (12), Individual Tracks (6), and Special Releases (3) that don’t necessarily fit into a category.
Albums (Artist – Album Title – Record Label)
1) Twigs & Yarn – The Language of Flowers – Flau
2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records
3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence
4) Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – Inside Out Music
5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k
6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory – Felte
7) Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – 12k
8) Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kitchen. Label
9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein
10) Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday – Words On Music
11) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred – One Little Indian
12) Stick Men – Deep – Stick Men Records
Individual Tracks (from other albums)[vimeo http://vimeo.com/46499688]
1) Library Tapes – Sun peeking through (from the album Sun peeking through) – Self Released
2) Cock & Swan – Orange & Pink (from the album Stash) – Lost Tribe Sound
3) Alex Tiuniaev – Daylight (from the album Blurred) – Heat Death Records
4) Kyle Bobby Dunn – In Praise of Tears (from the album In Miserum Stercus) – Komino
5) Kane Ikin & David Wenngren – Chalk (from the album Strangers) – Keshhhhhh
6) Olan Mill – Bleu Polar (from the album Paths) – Fac-ture
1) Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake, Numa/Penarie, Hei/Sou – Self Released
2) Birds Of A Feather: Michael Frommer – The Great Northern Loon, Porya Hatami – The Black Woodpecker, Darren McClure – The Black Kite, The Green Kingdom – The Great Blue Heron – Flaming Pines
3) Simon Scott, Corey Fuller, Marcus Fischer, Tomoyoshi Date and Taylor Deupree (Recorded live in Japan October, 8, 2012) – Between (…The Branches) – 12k
Record Labels Noted Above
Merge Records: http://www.mergerecords.com/
Temporary Residence LTD: http://temporaryresidence.com/
Inside Out: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Kitchen. Label: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Words On Music: http://www.words-on-music.com/
One Little Indian: http://indian.co.uk/shop/landing-on-a-hundred-1.html
Stick Men Records: http://stick-men.net
Library Tapes: http://librarytapes.com/
Lost Tribe Sound: http://www.cockandswan.com/ Note: I have not listed the weblink to the record label as Google has noted that the website MAY be compromised.
Heat Death Records: http://www.heatdeathrecords.co.uk/
Kesh (Simon Scott’s label): http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Machinefabriek & Celer: http://machinefabriek.bandcamp.com/ & http://www.thesingularwe.org/fs/
Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/
Updated: What’s Spinning Today – Robin Guthrie, Olan Mill, Machinefabriek and A Winged Victory For The Sullen
Robin Guthrie – Fortune ***Updated with Souncloud link sample***
Soleil après minuit – SM1203CD – CD and 300 copies forthcoming on Vinyl
Robin Guthrie, long ago, moved on from his work with Cocteau Twins. Some fans want him to keep looking back, but frankly, I’m glad that he has continued on with his own work (albums and EPs) and numerous collaborations with Harold Budd, Eraldo Bernocchi and others as well as film soundtracks. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy my CT albums, and nothing is more searing, emotionally than the CT track (from their last album, Milk and Kisses) Violaine.
Fortune is a personal work, putting his life, emotions and experiences into his layered, chorus-and-echo-filled guitar sound. I sense intense memories too. I find that Guthrie’s work is filled with sound-color, which is also why I am so drawn to it. My favorites include the languid ladybird, the refreshing like water in water, the tender and deeply-toned melody of perfume and youth, and and so to sleep, my little ones, which picks up where the EP Songs To Help My Children Sleep leaves off—enchanting.
Artist Website: http://robinguthrie.com/
Available also at: http://darla.com/?fuseaction=item_cat.ecom_superitem_detail&item_cat_id=41313
Olan Mill – Home
Preservation CIRCA512 – limited 300 copy CD release and Digital
With each Olan Mill release, I am drawn all the more to their work. There is a subtle lag between rhythms, melodies and harmonies that gives a tidal flow, similar to some works of Ralph Vaughn Williams or Claude Debussy. Also, I’m not sure how this will be taken by some current listeners of this genre, but some of Olan Mill’s work reminds me of early to mid 1970s compositions of Evangelos Papathanassiou’s, especially the soundtrack to the Frédéric Rossif film La Fête Sauvage.
Record Label: http://www.preservation.com.au/product/olan-mill-home
Album overview at Experimedia:
Machinefabriek – Secret Photographs
Important Records – IMPREC366 – CD and Digital
This is a three track (more than 70 minute) soundtrack for a forthcoming film about Alvin Karpis (notorious bank robber and longest serving prisoner at Alcatraz Prison) by Mike Hoolboom. Karpis was released from prison in 1969, moved to Spain and wrote a memoir. He took photographs in the closing years of his life, and never shared his work with anyone until the collection was found for sale on ebay. Rutger Zuyderfelt’s response to the work is separated into three parts (black and white, color and black and white). It is a subtle guitar and electronics-based composition that gives the sense of taking a hushed and private tour through chambers of secluded memories.
http://www.machinefabriek.nu & http://machinefabriek.bandcamp.com/album/secret-photographs
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Erased Tapes – ERATP032 – Vinyl, CD and Digital Files
Released about a year ago, the eponymous A Winged Victory for the Sullen album is the work of Stars of the Lid’s Adam Wiltzie and LA composer Dustin Halloran. I didn’t realize that there was a connection between Adam and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), but it was ultimately that connection and colleague Francesco Donadello that brought …Winged Victory… together. Large spaces, grand pianos, string quartets and delicate woodwinds and brass are the framework for this lush and stunning album.
Artist Website: http://www.awvfts.com/
Record Label: http://www.erasedtapes.com/artists/biography/16/A+Winged+Victory+For+The+Sullen
Machinefabriek – Stroomtoon
Artist website: http://www.machinefabriek.nu
Available at: http://machinefabriek.bandcamp.com/ & http://www.metamkine.com/
Label: Nuun Climax #Nuun 11 CD: http://www.nuun-records.com/?page_id=718
CD Time: 35:51 Tracks: 1) Eén; 2) Twee; 3) Drie; 4) Vier; 5) Vijf
Prolific composer, artist and performer Rutger Zuydervelt (known as Machinefabriek) has written that the intent of this short-format album is to experiment with the sound of electricity using a new live set-up tone of analogue tone generators, effect and loop pedals. As I have noted in a recent review, I also keenly appreciate his background in graphic design—the quality of the visual aspects of his work, the design, layout and presentation of a given album’s artwork. Perhaps unintentionally, Machinefabriek has evoked some historic sound explorations in a similar vein to those made by Kraftwerk in their 1975 album Radio Activity (though without the seminal electro-pop sound).
The first time I listened to Stroomtoon, I immediately thought of the Kraftwerk track The Voice of Energy. The overall feel of the album is like touring a large industrial building late at night, passing through mechanical rooms or an electrical generation station. The recording is sharp, with piercing clarity at times and the visceral depths at others. This is not a conventional music album; it is experiential and visual ambience. Stroomtoon consists of one long format piece, followed by four shorter glimpses.
Eén is an industrial-strength ambient world. It is like a tour through a power station with turbines winding and cranes moving equipment overhead. This track starts with a sound akin to the long wind-down of electric motors. It is hypnotizing, and the layering gives the sense of descending while remaining in suspension. Ascent begins at about 8:00 as other incidental sounds enter the scene. It has some shades of the opening titles of Louis and Bebe Barron’s soundtrack to Forbidden Planet. At about 14:00 it is as if we have moved into an electrical switchgear room. A high-pitch whine permeates the space and the clicking, beeping and thuds here are like the systems within a building (even the sound of high pressure steam passing through pipes above). The piece builds almost to the point of the threshold of pain, and suddenly at the close there is an expansive low frequency cluster and the large switch is thrown—OFF.
Twee pulses and pumps, like a heart. This track builds slowly with a sharp clicking edginess of static electricity. Low frequencies push in, switches are thrown, and adjustments made then…click into a quieter zone, yet with radio interference. Drie opens with low frequencies and a sense of building tension; an ominous rhythm shadows and there is a sudden deep buzz like passing through an energy field. Gradually, chaos builds as radio interference overtakes and builds to a sudden full stop.
Vier is pure tones; high, low, blending and slowly warping. There is tranquility in it. It is more the sound of systems at rest, on stand-by, and monitoring. Vijf is the sound of perhaps the giant transformers at the heart of this power station. Here there is deep humming with blending harmonics, as if moving between enormous pieces of electrical distribution equipment. As the track continues a door seems to be opened and the listener is transported into a vast room of pulsing energy; made me think of scenes of the long abandoned outpost of The Krell.
At first, I was concerned that I would have a hard time relating to a recording like this; I tend to gravitate to more musical works. Yet the intent of the recording is quite compelling and the results very effective—a cinematic journey through a densely energized realm, a really fascinating work. One last note: Because of the wide range of frequencies and the great clarity of the recording, be aware that Stroomtoon may challenge some audio systems. It could even be considered a reference recording for audio system evaluations.
Photo of Rutger Zuydervelt by Michel Mees
This was a solicited review.
Celer Machinefabriek – Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake – Numa/Penarie – Hei/Sou *UPDATED sound links*
Artist website: http://www.machinefabriek.nu
Artist website: http://www.thesingularwe.org/celer/
Available at: http://machinefabriek.bandcamp.com/ and http://www.experimedia.net/
Videos by Marco Douma: http://www.marcodouma.com/
“Having a great time, wish you were here…”
While some on holiday are sucked into over-crowded commercial tourist traps, and others are off in their resorts or private villas, some of the most memorable places and experiences are the somewhat unusual, even off the beaten-path locales. Picture postcards often contain brief accounts or memories of travels to these places, being descriptive, cryptic or comical anecdotes of a given day’s events, compressed into a few short phrases—a substitute for longhand letters. They also serve to freeze a moment in time in a more permanent and retrospective fashion than the immediacy of a quick e-mail or photo sent via the internet. These moments in time are what the trilogy of releases by Celer (Will Long) and Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt) are like.
It started when they performed together in November, 2010 in Tokyo, Japan and then decided to collaborate remotely on a series of short releases beginning in October, 2011 between Tokyo and Rotterdam. The pieces started as larger works and eventually were edited into musical postcards, or drone poems* of sorts, evoking a place, event or state of mind. Artwork found by Long in Tokyo has been used for the covers of the 7 inch vinyl releases with design and graphic layout by Zuydervelt. As much as I appreciate the convenience of digital-format music, there is something quite special about the 7 inch record, packaged in artful sleeves of re-purposed postcard and souvenir images. Even better, each piece is accompanied (via download) by a beautiful and timeless video interpretation by multimedia artist Marco Douma.
The soon-to-be-released Hei/Sou is the last in this trilogy. Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake and Numa/Penarie were the first two releases. Digital files are also available and the vinyl pressings are limited to 250 copies each (Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake vinyl is now sold out).
Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake are readily identifiable places. Maastunnel is a tunnel in Rotterdam and this track has some mystery. The piece opens on the outside approach to the tunnel (with the ambient sounds of water). There is an apparent twist in the plot where voices can be heard, “I didn’t see his face…he might have been just anybody…just anybody.” Suddenly, a break to the interior where vehicles are passing over expansion joints creating pulses that resonate throughout the underground structure before a quick return to the roadway above-ground. Mt. Mitake is a contrast to the underworld. It starts with a sense of floating in the clouds. The second section creates a sense of tension with the calming effects of the first section in the background; kind of a panoramic view with scenes changing. The peaceful opening section returns to close the track.
Numa/Penarie are more obscure experiences. Numa is almost like a collection of sounds experienced throughout the day; clusters of lights buzzing, bell-like sounds, subways braking, jets taking off in the distance. The second section is more intense (again, a feeling of being underground), expansive and layered with lower frequencies underneath. The close brings a return of lighter and higher frequencies, returning somewhat to the opening themes. Penarie is perplexing; it’s dense, electric and unrestrained. It expands and contracts with clusters of tones. Then there is a pleasant interlude of Mellotron-like waves before mixing with the original themes and sounds, while being accompanied by a clock and then fading quickly, almost like a fleeting dream.
The forthcoming Hei/Sou is the more contemplative of the three releases, and the most abstract. Hei starts with a cymbal-like percussive and then drifts into a gentle sustained keyboard mantra with a wandering background of gentle buzzing and contrasting deep bell-like tones. The cymbals return and are combined with a placid cluster of sound. Sou opens with a Morse-code-like pulse and omnipresent warping tones that gradually combine with a fabric of lightly sequenced rhythms, and there they hang in suspension as the pulsing grows stronger and then fades. Gradually an undertow of deep liquid sound emerges to the foreground and the rhythms are overtaken and then disappear.
These self-released sound postcards are beautifully presented visions of places and experiences. Where will Celer and Machinefabriek be traveling to next?
Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake Preview
*Drone Poem: Like Tone Poems, a shorter format single musical work, within the drone or electro-acoustic genre, based on or evoking the content of a poem, story, place or event. The term initially inspired by some of the recent shorter-form works by Nicholas Szczepanik on his album We Make Life Sad.
A solicited review, but I have purchased the first two releases and now preordered the latest.