Project4

I’ve listened to this album many times and would say that Anla Courtis seems to favour specific musical values: musical meaning expressed by means of a plurality of sound sources and inventiveness of composition; an almost historical approach to the making of the album – a sort of retrospective glance at methods and sound archives and consequently the possibility of nostalgia in setting out a lo-fi environment; short episodic pieces each exploring their own corner of sonic territory; inventiveness within the limitations of a of restricted palette. The sources are diverse – electric guitar, tapes, bags, bells, bronceosasma system, pipes, turntable, violin, plastic trumpet, music box and processing. The music was recorded on to 4-track cassette in the early 90s and, though we are left to guess, possibly reworked.

The album is quite simple to describe but hard to recall. I can’t form an image of the music in my head as I can with, say, the music of Mark Fell or Francsisco Lopez, to take two well-known contrasting artists.

Side A has a quiet start with rumbles, clicks and loops. Then pauses and synthy pads. The music starts to become a mixture of more concrete recorded material and device-driven sounds set out as short passages of disconnected material. The foregrounds, generally identifiable timbres, are often layered with noise. Away from the processes, concepts and gestures, in purely sonic terms some of the noise passages are quite interesting as are those which focus on sound rather than organisation of sounds.

Side B offers some contrast. Things seem to run and evolve a little more freely, though again with fairly recognisable sounds, some surprises (for example something resembling a WEM copicat in full voice and something else resembling a Romanian nose flute) and carefully considered injections of feedback and resonance. Even with somewhat bland electric guitar sounds everything is extremely well-crafted and musically structured.

The whole album, to put it simply, sounds very experimental, like an invitation to a not-quite-mad professor’s lab which lends the work an atmosphere of warmth, generosity, honesty, humor and enjoyment. These are not to be treated lightly and are the qualities that make Courtis’ music so accessible.

I asked some questions of the artist questions to help me understand his choices, ideas and processes:-

What makes you decide to use so many different sound sources? Do you restrict yourself, are the resources simply what you have to hand or do you make a conscious decision to work with what one might call lo-fi sources?

The LP is from the early 90’s when I started with solo recordings. I got my first portastudio and I discovered a whole world recording in my own bedroom. Four channels on cassette! It was all fresh and new so it was exciting to try out many sounds sources and record with them as much as possible. The lo-fi aspect has to do with the cassette itself: since I didn’t get a computer until the end of the 90’s that was the only way for me to make these kind of pieces. By the way I like the cassette sound a lot – magnetic tape has some organic quality that works very well with some stuff so I still use the portastudio sometimes.

What do the titles mean – are they significant in the context of the music?

The titles are based on a neologism that connects the words “cassette” and “utopia”. Despite the fact that the name came afterwards I think it describes pretty well the spirit of that moment.

I sensed a structure of short-ish disconnected pieces. Is this a deliberate formal choice, driven by restrictions in the material or something else?

The pieces themselves are in a way all pretty different which was a kind of hallmark of that moment. To choose a sound source, to try to do something with it not knowing very well where it would end up were all part of the creative process. And I think it’s still nice that the pieces don’t sound all the same.

Some, perhaps a majority of the pieces, are gestural and quite linear. Is this again a deliberate compositional choice or is this driven by a live mixing approach to making the work? I suppose I’m asking about spontaneity here as well.

During those years I was pretty aware of my limitations so to focus only on one sound or one idea was something normal. In the end maybe that helped a bit the pieces to avoid becoming too “pretentious”. However now I find that early simplicity to be something not only anecdotic but also pretty interesting in itself.

 

Released as a vinyl lp on ini.itu

Press Release

Project4

 

I want to begin this review by offering some statements of meaning about Kraig’s work, about the communicative power of his work, bearing in mind that I’ve known of Kraig and his work for around fifteen years and that recently we were fortunate to meet up in person after many years of correspondence on microtonality and other musical topics.

I’d say then that I’ve found much of Kraig’s research and creative output over the years to be consistently compelling, evocative, unique and memorable. What I find compelling is his dedication to an art which is fundamentally complex, requiring an investment of high levels of both time, energy and resources. Grady’s work combines the required practical craftsmanship (to design and manufacture instruments) and the well-honed mathematical skills (in the design and understanding of a range of tunings and their musical applications). Yet we the listeners are rewarded by an accessible and easily understood sound world.

Because of the underlying Anaphorian context, this half-real, half-imaginary continent with its own ethical and musical codes, the music is always evocative in its reference to aspects of this hidden place with its various spaces, qualities and attributes. The fact that shadow puppetry and other hybrid theatrical and movement forms have provided containers for Anaphorian music over many years enhances its evocative powers. It is all of these details taken together which make the music unique and memorable in my view. Although there is plenty of microtonal music out there, both old and new, perhaps even played on hand-made instruments which resemble those of Kraig Grady, there’s nothing which blends the old and the new so seamlessly and which binds the instruments and their tunings together into such a tight and accessible creative output– even the music of Harry Partch runs so fast at times that the powers of the tuning can be lost on the listener and the instruments cannot sustain long enough to let the tuning work its magic.

Our short dialogue might help the reader/ listener to understand Grady’s intentions and creative output.

To what extent is the Anaphorian world view a prominent element in your musical aesthetic? Perhaps you could tell me a little about what Anaphoria represents.

I appreciate this question as it is quite misunderstood. Anaphoria should not be envisioned as an appendix to its music as much as music being just one element immersed inside of it. It is an extension of the installation that includes virtual space, performance practices, recordings, live performance and shadow theatre and installation. The most comprehensive view is presented on the website (www.anaphoria.com). It is the world folded into itself.

As much installation can be traced to theatre, this work began from a musical perspective, so the question is a logical one. Possibly seeing Partch’s instruments on stage as a presence coming from some unknown land would be a germinal seed.

Anaphoria allows for a more truthful representation of myself, being as I am of nine known nationalities, an exile from many societies. This mixture makes the possibility of any single mundane geography inadequate to represent a point of orientation, so a model became fruitful in which they could each communicate contrapuntally, and manifest the type of creolization that results. This is similar to what one often finds on islands inhabited from many different directions. All these backgrounds are folded into one place. As more and more people become more and more mixed, hopefully such a model might be useful in the future to deal with the dilemma of such situations. Music is a wonderful medium by which to represent such a space as my favorite music always implies the space in which it is heard. It is as much a way of hearing as what is heard and it gives us a context for who is hearing the music and where they are.

I can’t tell at times what is improvised and what is composed. Can you tell me something about the relationship between the two in your work?

I am glad to hear that. I have a strong compensatory nature so that in the presence of composers I speak about the importance of improvisation, and among improvisers will point out the strengths of composition. For the most part there is always a score for my acoustic music. The purpose of the score has always been an interactive guide for performers, often in conjunction with oral instructions or dialogues.  Rarely do two pieces share the same type of score and different sections too might require a new form of placing the material.

I am interested in what humans can do and do together as opposed to exploring just how well they can take orders together. Electronics provides us with precision and the ability to work directly with the sound when strict order is required. Acoustic and/or live music allows us the opportunity to explore more human freedom and collaboration since the demands of the past can be accomplished elsewhere.

I should also point out though that the instruments themselves act as a part of the score in that what freedom is given to the performer is still shaped by the layout of the instruments. This is an element that might develop over a long period of time where the same set of bars might undergo as many as four different layouts before one alone is decided upon. The tuning of the scale also predetermines much as we can see how impossible 12-tone equal temperament has been able to move beyond atonality or regress into past practices. Different scales involve completely different sonic worlds which are ripe for exploring as soon as one no longer feels an obligation to make concessions to past practices.

Finally, can you say something about the connection between the elements of landscape in ‘Escarpments’ and the music? Are these impressionistic or is the music analogous to the textures and rhythms of the landscape.

I think our relationship to nature is at least twofold. There is the ‘observational’ view of it as seen from a scientific perspective, which is useful but risks saying more about the observer and the method of observing than about what it is they are observing. Are we observing nature or are we just engaged in a form of aesthetic scientism? The second relationship could be described as psychological – how does our soul react to nature? Here I believe that the observer is less hidden. The question of the titles also brings up the question of music expressing ideas in which I think we have to also entertain the possibility of the opposite as being also possible, where music generates ideas that wouldn’t occur otherwise. There is a danger of taking what an artist says about their work as being methodical. We might argue against music altogether and just relay the idea, but art strives more for reflection than knowledge. It keeps us in suspense, avoiding any resolution. Knowledge on the other hand allows us to leave it behind us, as James Hillman pointed out, since we move on once we know. In the case of Escarpments the titles mostly followed the music depending on the piece but they also reflect poetic fragments drifting in synchronicity.

Released as a vinyl lp on ini.itu

Press Release

Nick Hennies, Work

07/06/2014

work

  1. Settle [10:23]
  2. Expenditures [40:28]

 

Nick Hennies lives in Ithaca, New York. He was formerly based in Austin, Texas and is perhaps best known for his explorations of the vibrational properties of woodblocks. The very informative promotional literature for this album tells us that ‘Nick Hennies makes music from work – and work into music. Simply put, work is process and one of Hennies’ goals as a composer is to shape the possibilities of a given instrument as well as its sonic imprint. The result is austere, lyrical solo percussion music that focuses on resonance, natural overtones, room acoustics and slowly developing structure.’ We are also told that Hennies likes to explore quite a wide variety of musical approaches in his creative output.

Musical people tend to have all sorts of values attached to their listening and experience of music, both in their own music and that of others. I’m no different and I tend to value some sort of consistency in an album of work. I should say though that in the absence of a dialogue with Nick himself I can only go on what I have to listen to. So for reasons of my own I found one piece to be of great interest and the other less so. Others will differ in their perceptions, obviously. There are two pieces, the ten minute and the forty minute. To my ears the ten minute piece Settle speaks of an almost environmental approach to listening, restraint in execution, intense concentration, personal discovery and even expression. The album is worth purchasing for these qualities alone. A solo vibraphone gently but firmly sets out a simple shifting ostinato which flirts with arpeggiation. A well placed occasional shimmer in the background and a harmonic sheen in the later stages of the piece lend interest to the austerity of the foreground. It’s a simple as that. There’s no fatigue in the piece owing to the diatonicism of the instrument (I assume it’s equally tempered).  The beatings and combination tones are rich yet tightly controlled in that they don’t overpower the clearly percussive nature of the work. The inharmonicity of the metallophone does its work beautifully. It’s somewhere in the depth and strength of concentration on the sound of the music that Nick Hennies has something going.

The longer piece Expenditures is for ensemble and vibraphone. From the promotional literature we are told that ‘Here Hennies is joined by several Austin new music regulars, including bassists Ingebrigt Håker Flaten  and Brent Fariss, drummer Chris Cogburn, clarinettist Jon Doyle, trombonist Steve Parker and violinist Travis Weller. As Hennies puts it, the goal of the piece is for the musicians to play sustained tones on the same pitches as the vibraphone and then eventually to play ‘work music,’ where the players each come up with their own phrase to be repeated until the end of the piece.’ Expenditures begins like Settle with a solo vibraphone ostinato, drawing the listener into the same world of restraint and concentration. Then the spell is broken as it shifts from being a listening environment in which ‘sound’ overrides ‘music’ and process overrides gesture to an environment where the history of Western music seems to rudely intervene. Distinct ‘contemporary’ structures take over and a more analytical frame of mind is required to process the stream of musical information as other instruments begin to weave formal patterns and create ever changing timbral structures. For me this is too much too soon, though the last minute or so returns to a more contemplative mood in which the vibraphone and a low drum succeed in creating something of the simplicity and strong sonic interest which gave the fist piece so much of its elegance.

 

http://www.quakebasketrecords.com/nickhennies/

http://www.nhennies.com/

 

Garnet Skein

07/03/2014

Garnet Skein (49.20)

Released December 2013 on Aural Terrains

TRRN0725

THANOS CHRYSAKIS: laptop computer, synthesizer, radio, gongs | WADE MATTHEWS: digital synthesis & field recordings | JAVIER PEDREIRA : guitar |

This six-track album from Aural Terrains adds to the catalogue of a very successful independent label which offers a fine range of work, from new compositions to free improvisation, by artists such as Thanos Chrysakis and Wade Matthews to name but two. Each piece has its own unique focus and the overall album has the feel of a small chamber ensemble hard at work with a variety of very versatile instruments. Overall the album contains a fine blend of digital and analogue tools. The listener is drawn into the music as a result of uncertainty around whether the music is composed, freely improvised or semi-structured.

Taken as a whole there is a good measure of consistency throughout the album. Its strongest attribute is the clarity of the music – typically each layer is very distinct and the music never dissolves into mush, an ever-present danger in music which adopts this kind of complex gestural layered approach. The clear strands of tracks 1 and 2 for example help the listener to focus on the details of the gestures which in turn point up the freshness of invention.

The variety of sound is never overwhelming and, with one or two exceptions, gives the impression of a very tight trio. Certain techniques are consistent throughout the album, for example figures on a ground, typically to open a piece – distinctive grounds such as the grainy and oscillating movement at the beginning of track 2 or the more indeterminate fundamental layer in track 5 contrasted or complemented by various figures. The hint of arch form in tracks 2 and 4 is very effective adding to the general sense of a strong formal awareness, an episodic approach, which lets the music breathe. Add to this some very tight yet powerful crescendi and diminuendi. Finally there are some admirable passages of restraint which add to the impression of carefully considered musical creation.

Only occasionally do some of the sounds reduce the momentum. For example in track 3 there is a passage of call and response involving pitched material, the sounds of which come over as relatively impoverished by contrast with the preceding and following richness of invention and which seem to be padding out the piece, the longest of the six. However this weaker passage is bookended by two of the best passages in the album – a preceding flowing movement from gong/bells to sines, radio interference and static bursts which transit into electronic noise and feedback amounting to a very successful linear passage of transformation (as opposed to everything piled in together) from instrumental to electronic sound and beyond towards radio voices and possibly field recordings. Then, to finish, some fine crunchy sounds, possibly from a prepared electric guitar, and what sounds like furniture removal in a grain silo.

The weaker passages are very rare and can be set aside because of two specific choices. First the musicians have had the good sense to remain consistent in their choice of idiom, which could be described as gesturally rich, inventive, flowing, smooth, seamless and dynamic with something of the spirit of a well-oiled contemporary jazz ensemble. Only once does the music tip into a more ambient idiom which, if sustained, would have diminished the impact of the album by compromising its consistency. The trio chose however to pick up again on the busy three-piece feel and to emphasise the guitar (never once lame, scratchy or aimless) through to the end. Clever and effective. Secondly, they have avoided exploring musical avenues that can’t be effectively explored at the same time as the gestural processes and track 6 illustrates this by hinting at the potential problem in exploring metallic sounds or more accurately metallic spectra, inharmonicity and overtones – more sound than music. Such in-depth morphological investigations would be far too risky given the trio’s choice of resources. Instead a clever use of form and gestural clarity organises the material to suit its qualities. Some albums hope to achieve textural density and complexity by simply piling it on and it simply ends up being a mess.

Once again Aural Terrains strengthens its reputation as an independent label of original and inventive new music, putting quality above the growing trend of chasing fashionable shadows.

lin_obs

Sometimes it’s very satisfying to leave behind all your prejudices about what music is or should be and listen to the amazing musical activities that people get up to. For example, take Spectropol Records who have a catalogue of albums which offer the listener a range and variety of sound worlds that you won’t hear anywhere else. There’s enough here to keep you going for months. As the sidebar explains: Spectropol Records is a friendly netlabel devoted to excellent music unbound by venue and commerce; it’s a destination for adventurous music beyond journalistic and commercial style/genre classifications

And to be honest after listening for a while I still can’t fathom what’s going on in some of this music, nor can I figure out where it should sit, which box the various artists should be stuffed into. This is in itself a very welcome breath of fresh air. All I can say is that I’ve been charmed by this catalogue and treasure and embrace its presence in a world where it’s too easy to get sidetracked by all manner of institutional and personal agendas. There is something very interesting and ultimately pleasing going on at Spectropol.

Let me begin with Vincent Bergeron’s Il y a seulement des apparitions for voice and various instruments. This work defies categorisation and is all the more loveable as a result in its blend of cabaret, sound poetry, improvisation, cinema sound and/or music for animation, with hints at contemporary classical composition. I should point out in particular the uncanny uncertainty I felt as to how seriously I should treat this work, something I haven’t felt since I saw some of Ionesco’s stage plays.

Then we have the more abstracted world of Andrew Young’s Inkplaces where field recordings and electronic music are brought together in a most idiosyncratic fashion. Every bit as entertaining and skillfully crafted as any of the more reductive music currently overexposing itself on the etherwaves.

J.C Combs Gazing stands in contrast with the two previous albums in its simple exploration of processed piano. Now this isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, nor should it be for me to mention it, but this kind of simple instrumental music is important for many listeners and I’m happy to bring it to your attention because it stands up perfectly well alongside any of the better known artists in this idiom.

Finally I’ll point you to Bruce Hamilton’s 2012 work, Drams, which offers an impressive range of different pieces held together by the notion of dreaming. The use of microtonality on some of the pieces was what first led me to theis label and to Hamilton’s earlier work.

There are others I could mention, some well known for having been around for a while, like Viv Corringham, not to mention the ridiculous talents of improvising guitarist John Bisset and the extraordinary musical and extramusical skills of Ivor Kallin. two artists who wouldn’t stay in a box if you fastened down the lid with rivets.

As they say in the adult shops, there’s something for everyone…

Basic CMYK

Released on Noise and Hate & Ultra-Mail Prod, ‎Aseleuch Tendrradero has eleven tracks of electronic music which make use of a generous palette, most notably synthesisers and effects (analogue or digital?), recognisable musical instruments and a smattering of field recordings.

The track names are intriguing – I can’t tell what language they come from so you can consult the list here.

The music on Aseleuch Tendrradero is very loose in the sense that there’s no real perceptible form or structure to most of the individual pieces. Regardless of how the album has been put together, the over-riding plan seems to be a series of improvisations, perhaps with a basic underlying idea or concept at times to guide the players.

The sound sources are quite distinctive – a mélange of predominantly synthesised timbres many of which are quite historical (to avoid using a less respectable term). Because of the amount of material on the go at any one time, especially in tracks 1, 2, 5 and 7, the more hackneyed sounds are occasionally offset by contrasting material such as background reverberating timbres or by techniques such as fast cuts, extreme contrasts, noisy gestural crescendo or tonal ostinati. Some of the techniques bring to mind early musique concrète – whether as a retro nod of approval or resulting from a hard committed decision to work within this aesthetic framework I can’t tell for sure. Another uncertainty in this respect is the predominant glitch aesthetic common to many of the tracks, for example 5, 7, 8 and 9. Overall, taking into account all of the aforementioned, most of the sounds fall into an electroacoustic tradition or mannerism where things ‘come at you’. This could of course be a very clever nod at a specifically modernist yet already historical musical habitus.

Two of the tracks have all the makings of very well shaped science fiction soundtracks. Track 3 gives us the scary version with its big silences and synthy reverbs, characterised at times by some good panning and always offering a hint of tonality. Track 5, with the hums and clicks of its glitch aesthetic (fashionable about five years ago) and its bursts of electronic noise, would go well as a soundtrack to the late Iain M. Banks’ complex and austere science fiction novel Excession. All in all a fairly consistent narrative of sorts. Pleasant little orchestrated additions make their entries, for example bell-like sounds. This is essentially very linear music despite the occasional two and three part contrapuntal efforts to afford depth.

Three tracks offer some contrast to the prevailing sound world. Track 8 has an interesting change of pace which fairly livens up the atmosphere, the envelopes lending additional dynamism. Track 9 offers some semblance of form in its unique punctuation and restraint. Track 10 brings in some bowed string sounds with atonal screeches (again bowed strings) and other instrumental timbres on top. The last of these is markedly different and refreshing in its consistency, even if a fairly orthodox layering of sounds.

In summary this is electronic music of the sort that people who don’t listen to new music would associate with the genre. I’d say that this is probably very well-assembled electronic music, within its own limitations. It’s not a style of music making that I follow with great interest, largely because I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that synthesisers, unless they’re generating vast dense pullulating and complex timbres, would be better put to work doing what they’re best at, which is synthesising timbres and perhaps not making music. This is however heretical and I can already hear the inquisition at the door so I’ll stop.

——————————————————

Ralf Wehowsky (born in 1959 in Mainz, Germany) is one in a growing group of non-academic sound artists whose work is abstract, but very focused on the possibilities of sound and very rewarding over repeated listenings and different works. Although he started his musical career in the post-industrial scene, his musical output in the ’90s resists categorization as well as casual listening.  His earliest recorded work was with the post-industrial group Permutative Distortion later called P.D. and finally recording as P16.D4, and in 1981, Wehowsky and his colleagues formed the collective/label Selektion. P16.D4 is still considered one of the fundamental groups or German post-industrial period.  In 1992, Wehowsky released his first solo album under the name RLW. Most of his output in the ’90s was collaborative, but he did release four additional solos (see discography below). His work in the ’90s culminated in a five-CD set, Tulpas, where he invited several leading sound artists from all over the world to participate in a transformative process, creating a reflection and commentary on his own work unparalleled in contemporary music. Ralf Wehowsky has released the solo works on labels like Trente Oiseaux, Streamline, Metamkine, Selektion, Table of the Elements, Anomalous, etc and has collaborated with artists like Walter Marchetti, Kevin Drumm, Bruce Russell, Yang-Tul, Andrew Chalk, etc.

Anla Courtis was born in 1972 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was a founder member of Reynols. He has more than 200 solo releases and collaborations on labels like: PSF, Porter, Blossoming Noise, No-Fi, RRR, Tonschacht, MIE, Pogus, Riot Season, Antifrost, Beta-Lactam, Quasipop, Kning Disk,  Sedimental, 8MM, Public Eyesore, Smittekilde, Alt.Vinyl, Mikroton, etc. He has toured extensively in Japan, Europe, USA, Australia, NZ & Latin America and has collaborated with musicians like: Pauline Oliveros, Nihilist Spasm Band, Lee Ranaldo, Yoshimi,  Jim O’Rourke, Eddie Prevost, Otomo Yoshihide, BJ Nilsen, Phill Niblock, Makoto Kawabata, Daniel Menche, KK Null, Rick Bishop, Tabata, Mats Gustafsson, Toshimaru Nakamura, L.A.F.M.S., Damo Suzuki, Thomas Dimuzio, Rudolf Eb.Er,  Seiichi Yamamoto, Tetuzi Akiyama, Lasse Marhaug, Rapoon, Uton, Birchville Cat Motel, The New Blockaders, Jaap Blonk, Jazkamer, C.Spencer Yeh, Okyung Lee, Avarus, & Kemialliset Ystavat. His music always has strong experimental sense and usually based on high-skilled techniques of prepared sound, tape manipulations, processing of field recordings, live electronics, objects, cymbals, synthesizers, computer tools, playing traditional (both acoustic and electric) instruments as well as self-built, strange and unusual instruments (eg. unstringed guitar).

ASELEUCH TENDRRADERO is the second collaboration album by Ralf Wehowsky & Anla Courtis. Based on abstract electronics and tape as main sources, the CD contains 11 tracks and it was co-released by Hong Kong label Ultra-Mail Prod. and Noise and Hate. It comes in a 18,5x14cm plastic wallet with full colour artwork.

Coppice, Holes/Tract

Released on the UK label Consumer Waste,  Holes/Tract was composed and recorded in late 2009/early 2010 by Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer who go by the name of Coppice.

The artists write of their work thus:

Holes/Tract documents the origin of a sound palette of bellows and electronics – the formation of our collaboration as Coppice. The four compositions highlight the widely dimensional sonic range of a strictly narrow instrumentation: shruti box/acoustic filters and modified boombox/tape loops.

So what we have here is a very tightly focused approach to music made with a carefully chosen and simple blend of acoustic and electronic instruments. A palette has been developed, flexible enough to merit a full length album, yet restricted enough, in the main, to offer the listener a very original, unique and recognisable sound world.

Before commenting on the music I have to say, in very simple and personal terms, that I find their work inspiring – hard to pigeonhole, contemporary without playing to fashionable idioms, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable.  A good dig around their website is thoroughly recommended, if only to speculate on the range of influences brought to bear on the duo’s work.

Agate [11:36]

Some artists work uniquely with raw field recordings, some with the processed versions. Others add dashes of recorded sound here and there for various reasons, musical and otherwise. Coppice, with their selected instruments, however, manage to make music that sounds like field recordings, a practice which adds another layer of  complexity to the ‘what is music’ debate. Agate in particular sounds for all the world like some of the textile mills that I’ve been recording of late. I have no doubt that many recordists will recognise the sounds of (apparent) small industrial processes. But then one could reasonably argue that what we have here is indeed a cottage industry defined by the grit, crackles, blasts, whirrs and whines of machinery and mechanisms in motion. This onomatopoeic world is a world of agency and of physical labour.

There’s a palpable intensity to the work. Instead of measurable change in the larger structure, we have a focus on small variations in texture and density. There is no attempt to make ‘beautiful’ music in the conventional sense of, say, evoking emotional sweeps by means of dynamic gestures. Any post production is well hidden. Everything seems to be the result of performed or initiated sonic processes, lending a sense of immediacy to the music.

Mild Grey Lustre [5:28]

This piece is characterised by its strong formal arrangement: four finely shaped passages framed by periods of rest as the bellows draw breath. Always in motion, each of the main passages exhibits a blend of electronic textures with what I’d call organic sounds, human activated sounds of uncertain provenance.

Scour [16:21]

Scour has more of the purr, hiss, whine and whirr of the first piece, along with crickety jungle sounds, some delicious passages of indeterminate foutering and a range of breathy sounds, presumably part of the bellows and reed mechanisms.

There are lengthy periods of what might at first be taken for relatively gentle activity, offering fine contrast with more obvious industrial processes. But these passages are as deceiving as they are clever. Whilst offering genuine contrast (a long period of apparently nothing much more than a ticking sound) a closer listen reveals a hive of small industry, as if something’s being repaired or prepared in the lab. Certain passages remind me of some field recordings I captured recently of horses in their night stables – some fidgeting and the odd snort, then silence, then more of the same.

Brim [15:26]

Brim begins with a long drone which turns out to be rather complex if you listen closely for the harmonics and other ‘noise’ in the signal. One might be forgiven for drawing parallels with the darkness and austerity of a medieval processional, sackbuts and shawms in full voice. The processional is accompanied by the beating and wind of bellows which eventually give way to  more recognisable dynamically filtered instrumental timbres – those of  a (cleverly amplified) sruti box. As the texture becomes ever denser, and richer, interesting morphologies emerge in the combinations, becoming quasi-orchestral, like an ensemble of bowed zithers with electronic overtones. The piece ends on a very long decrescendo, one third of the total duration of the piece.

On a technical note, the track has been very well equalised. I say this because the region around 2kHz has been kept prominent in the mix, without stripping the enamel off your teeth – not an easy task.

Brim stands apart from the other three pieces. A different approach seems to be at work here, no less successful, but which risks compromising the integrity of the album, considering the nature of the other three pieces.

Finally, to complete my reading of this work, I would consider the duo’s overall approach as a following-on from the work of Harry Partch and others like him, whether conscious or not, and of course setting aside obsessions with tuning systems. Holes/Tract succeeds in contributing a dash of meaningful originality to the ever expanding field of new experimental music.