M. Ostermeier – Still
Tench – TCH-07 CD: About 35 Minutes
Label and Information: http://www.tenchrec.com/TCH07.html
Tracks: Stasis, Division, Hang, Counterpoise, New Lights, Congruence, Inertia, Parity
I read something recently by a musician whose work I admire about disconnecting from modern life, even for a short while, and in the time away a sense of one’s true self may return, even briefly. During that time, relationships with others might even improve. The mystic writer of the Victorian era, Richard Jefferies also wrote of this in some of his essays in the latter part of the 19th century. The pace of what I call life’s ‘carousel’ is sometimes so dizzying, and at those moments, no matter what beckons it’s often time to get away and seek a refuge. Personally, my quickest solution is to go for a walk in the woods, or even local streets away from the din in the mind or work at the desk.
M. Ostermeier’s new CD Still offers a cleansing respite with both passive and active listening. It took a few tries (first while doing other things and then sitting and focusing on the music) to condition myself, but by the time of the third audition, I was tuned-in. Most of the pieces have a piano-dominant center, the primary melody or phrases, and there are sonic backdrops delicately stitched in which complement a given theme. The melodic arrangement is often more akin to Far Eastern rather than Western musical structure, but it isn’t always the case. There is no ominous darkness here, only soft and gentle light. In fact, Stasis opens the album as if the Sun is rising and shadows can be observed to course slowly across the camera obscura of the imagination.
From what I recall of M. Ostermeier’s splendid last album, The Rules of Another Small World, this work seems more focused on acoustic instrumentation with electronics and sampled sounds taking a more secondary role. The album is largely a preservation of the quietude, but there are moments as in Counterpoise, the only marginally forceful piece on the album, where after attention is grabbed it turns into an almost gentle pattering massage, which is eased with a slightly distant piano and other microtones. The fabric of Congruence is gently percussive, reminiscent of dampened marimbas. The CD closes at its most broadly sonorous and harmonic in Parity, with only a hint of foreboding, yet thankfully, no sudden dose of reality.
As is often the case with meditation or self-hypnosis, one loses a sense of time, after entering into a state of deep relaxation. What the clock tells us is a half an hour feels as if it’s only moments, not easily parted from, but wanting to return–like a dream one doesn’t want to end. It’s often difficult to find time to escape to a quiet forest, lake or one’s favorite place for truly as long as is needed, so in lieu of that disappear into some contemplation and take time to think, reflect and be Still.
Yes, I’m guilty. I haven’t written many reviews of late–no other excuse except that there are many other things going on (not to mention a really rough winter), but here’s some of what I’ve been listening to, and I will also soon be writing a review of a forthcoming album on the Eilean label by Twigs & Yarn (some may recall that their The Language of Flowers on the Flau label was my favorite album of 2012). I recommend any of these albums.
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – ATOMOS: Kranky 190: I want to really like this album, but I struggle with some sections. I instantly loved their eponymous first release, but I continue to listen.
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.: KScope 315: Follow-up to The Raven That Refused To Sing, and I frankly need more time with this album to formulate an opinion. The recording lacks the clarity and strength of the last (engineered by Alan Parsons), but I’m working through it.
M. Ostermeier – Still: Tench TCH07: Just started listening; minimal, soothing, and it is both in the background and can be for focused listening–a combination of melodic sounds and microtones. Helpful for calm…need more of that!
Robin Guthrie & Mark Gardener – Universal Road: Soleil Apres Minuit SM1501 CD: Comfortably familiar sound and soothing lyrics–shoegazing for the Sun.
I’ll likely have more to say on these soon, but for now, rest assured that my recommendation will not disappoint.
I’m hoping for Spring, and SOON!
Should – The Great Pretend
Words On Music – WM38 CD Time: 43:15 (To be released on March 25, 2014)
More on Should and the album: http://www.words-on-music.com/WM38.html
Tracks: 1) Don’t Send Me Your Regrets 2) Loveless Devotion 3) Mistakes Are Mine 4) In Monotone 5) Down A Notch 6) Everybody Knows 7) Dalliance 8) A Lonely Place 9) Amends 10) Gold Stars 11) Don’t Get To Know Me
I was around for the punk and post-punk eras (Wire’s Pink Flag and Chairs Missing being pretty prominent in my studio days along with early Talking Heads albums and many other bands and genres). I have to admit that I missed a great deal of the original Shoegaze bands largely due to austerity and having a young family, so other pleasant distractions reigned from the late 1980s into the late 1990s (although bands like Cocteau Twins, The Sundays and Scritti Politti found their way to my vintage stereo). I missed the early days of the band Should, but I remember their second album Feed Like Fishes from the edges, and their 2011 album Like A Fire Without Sound is a recent favorite (by then I was well out of my musical seclusion).
Relationships are often complex entanglements, whether one is embarrassed to admit being in one, longing to be in one (longing to be OUT of one, perhaps?), or preferring to be just plain left alone (whether misanthropic or morbidly shy). The songs on The Great Pretend have pleasantly simple and catchy foundations of melody, chords with lyrics of young and even mature longing or angst. The songs build gradually and the instruments and voices weave into dulcet yet deceptively intricate compositions. The album never sounds heavy, and if anything it’s ironically upbeat at the moments when lyrically it’s just the opposite (at times avoiding directness, shrouding emotions, much like the album’s stylized cover). A side note: The Great Pretend is also the title of the last track on Like A Fire Without Sound.
Don’t Send Me Your Regrets opens the album and is a sort of foreword, largely a verse without a chorus. To me, it’s more of a song fragment that sets a mood, much like some of F. M. Cornog’s East River Pipe songs like Wholesale Lies from The Gasoline Age. The one cover on the album (and it’s a great one) is Loveless Devotion by Over The Atlantic’s Nik Brinkman and Bevan Smith (from their album Dimensions) and it’s a softer interpretation with staggered harmonies from Marc Ostermeier and Tanya Maus accompanied by crisp guitar and bass. The rougher edges of the original version appear towards the end of the song.
What’s a bit different on this album compared to Should’s last is that rhythms seem more energetic (dare I say danceable?) as in Mistakes Are Mine, Everybody Knows (with drum machine and statement-response lyrics) and Dalliance, yet there are moments (like In Monotone) that are more contemplative with gentle keyboards, light electric guitar and drums; it’s a Shoegaze One Note Samba.
Down A Notch is an excellent first single for the album, another example of an upbeat song with paradoxical lyrics. A Lonely Place is a duet reminiscent of some of Brian Wilson’s songs from the romantic yet melancholic Pet Sounds era, it reminds me of Caroline No. Amends explores a darker mood and sound. Gold Stars is like a gentle sonic waterfall, similar to Turned Tables from Like A Fire Without Sound.
The album closes with the curiously upbeat yet shy introspection of Don’t Get To Know Me, and there it is again, the complexities of relationships and emotions—songs that often express feelings better when one is at a loss for words.
Porya Hatami – Shallow
Tench Records: CD TCH06, about 43 minutes
Tracks: 1) Fen; 2) After The Rain; 3) White Forest
Artist links: https://soundcloud.com/poryahatami & http://poryahatami.bandcamp.com/
There are unknowns and misconceptions when it comes to learning of others in far away lands and different cultures, but we have a universal language: Music. Music with or without words, music of nature or created with found or built objects. This is perhaps where we can find common ground and even Peace among us. We can hope.
Years ago when I was in school I had a friend from Tehran, Iran who sadly I have long since lost touch with (I always marveled at his design work, because it was rooted in ideas and techniques so different from my own), and later I got to know another person from a different family who fled Iran during the 1979 Revolution. This person’s family was persecuted because of their beliefs (sound familiar?). We became friends and colleagues in the mid 1980s after he made his way to America via Europe and we have since learned of each other’s heritages (and enjoyed many spirited discussions over the years!). We all have stories, histories, struggles and desires—we have far more in common with one another than we often think.
Porya Hatami is from Sanandaj, Iran and although we have never met in person, I believe I feel Hatami’s deep and universal desire to reach out and share the experiences of his culture and environment in the hopes of achieving connections we can all appreciate while preserving our regional identities. With all the turmoil and fear bred by our countries and political establishments, Hatami’s music is a magical beacon of hope and beauty observing the natural world around and more of what binds our humanity instead of what separates us in our beliefs and politics.
Some of Shallow is taken directly from the fens and streams, some from the sky and rain, and some from soft breezes in the trees (as in White Forest), while parts are symbolically reminiscent of those places and experiences (real or imagined). There is deep sense of warmth in Hatami’s work. At times it’s so delicate and tender and at others it gently soothes and envelops–allowing one to drift freely into an imagined experience (like where Fen transforms from an environmental to more of an inner dream or even underwater experience at the mid-point of the piece, before returning again to the outdoors—as if from reality to dream and back again). After The Rain opens as if soft comforting rays of sunshine have entered the morning with a fresh mist still falling from trees or eaves (you can decide).
Shallow is available here: http://www.tenchrec.com/TCH06.html
unrecognizable now – two rooms
CD Time: 33:14* #KESH018
*With forthcoming excerpt remixes by Simon Scott and Kane Ikin
Record Label: http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Artist Website: http://unrecnow.com/blog/
Sound Samples & More Info: http://kesh.bandcamp.com/
More on Matt Jones: http://www.matthewjones76.com/Unrecognizable-Now-1
More on Marcus Fischer: http://mapmap.ch/index.php?/ongoing/unrecognizable-now/2/
Tracks: Track 01, Track 02, Track 03, Track 04 (mastered to have seamless transitions)
unrecognizable now is an occasional collaborative project of Matt Jones and Marcus Fischer. They consider their work to be “gradual layered music” based on live improvisation, found sounds, a range of instrumentation, and laptop computers. In 2004, Jones and Fischer scored various experimental films by Portland, Oregon filmmaker Rob Tyler. The relationship of sight and sound was further explored by Fischer, Jones and Tyler in the first of a series of events in 2006 entitled Vision+Hearing. Fischer and Jones released their debut CD in a cave or a coma in mid-2006 on the Pehr Label (with 10 tracks and a short film by Tyler). In 2008 a live performance of unrecnow was captured on self-released limited edition CD entitled for sleeping it off. Marcus Fischer is a well known solo and collaborative sound artist, to date releasing more than ten recordings on labels such as 12k, Tench and Flaming Pines. Matt Jones is a photographer, artist and sculptor. Both are based in Portland, Oregon.
While two rooms is a further exploration of the electro-acoustic improvisation realm, this project also seems to nod to earlier works like Brian Eno’s seminal Ambient 1 – Music For Airports (1978) and the somewhat darker Ambient 4 – On Land (1982). unrecognizable now including a diagram of how the music was recorded is not unlike diagrams included on the reverse of both of the noted albums by Eno. This release is not only the literal music recording, but an in-situ analysis of how and why it exists as it does. Not a “field recording” per se, rather an interior anti-studio recording, one where it is important to document not only the music, but the ambience of the setting as well as the process.
The microphone placement for two rooms (in the basement of a downtown Portland office building), with the varying distances from source material and varying sound decay rates gives a tangible sense of space. This treatment also counters a sense of claustrophobia that one might expect, being recorded in a concrete tomb, of sorts. It has a remarkably expansive sound (historical note: the vocals for the David Bowie song Heroes were recorded using a series of remotely placed mics similar to this). Since this is a live improvised recording, it includes all the sounds associated with movement and production of the work by the artists (walking, changing instruments, etc.); adding a sense of transparency and intimacy.
The progression of this work is similar to Fischer’s recent 16 minute live release EP At Frame. Non-representational yet (depending on the listener) it can evoke memories or visions. For me, parts are like being on a sailboat, anchored or just drifting in light wind, and at others like wandering through an old dark factory and wondering about the history of the place. two rooms has the pleasant effect of allowing the mind to wander while occasionally being nudged by recognition of a particular instrument in the soundstage.
unrecognizable now photo by barry hill
The feeling in Track 1 is largely one of comfort. This section is more guitar and string-based (with some bowing) with pedal effects. Track 2 transitions to more keyboards, and then strings blend and the sound is fuller and brighter. After a graceful lull, deep and gentle waves begin at about the midpoint. There is a slight recurrent low-register plucked-string theme and then one is cast adrift at about 9:00. Track 3 is more ethereal than the other parts, especially at the beginning. Guitars return again at 1:30 and are blended into the omnipresence. At about 3:00 the density increases and bowed strings return to then be consumed into a cavernous silence. Late in this track there are various percussive effects to announce the transition to Track 4. This section is plucked, strummed and somewhat simplified; in a sense returning to the beginning and later an overlay of a nearly hidden repetitive melody appears and vanishes as the piece closes.
two rooms will be released on July 16th and digital files will be available for download, but if you are so inclined for a physical release, there will soon be 300 CD copies available in numbered and letter-pressed recycled card sleeves and related artwork—reasonably-priced, for such a beautiful work of sound art. This is an intriguing exploration of sound and space (an interior “field recording” of sorts), evoking different images and experiences. Perhaps now, rather than incidental music to a short film, this piece could be the creative inspiration for a visual work of its own.
*Postscript on the forthcoming remixes – More information on these soon (to be released on July 28th), but the Simon Scott remix is taken from the second half of Track 2 (one of my favorite sections) and finishes with the sound of a vinyl runout groove. Given Simon Scott’s recent work on his Below Sea Level project, I can see why he would be attracted to what I think is the most marine-like section of this work. The Kane Ikin remix has mysterious origins (to be discovered by the listener) with added treatments and loops.
This is a solicited review, although I have the physical release on pre-order.