CD/Digital releases

Emancipated beats: voidesque – as if it never existed

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Despite my fondness for more avant-garde beat-oriented music, for a long time it’s been disappointing to see the current state of such idioms overshadowed by its champions. The likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre and Aaron Funk have, on the one hand, deeply moved and inspired composers and musicians to seek to explore what can be done with beats that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with dancing, while on the other hand intimidating these same musicians to the point of pastiche and parody. It’s possible to count the really imaginative beat-artists of the last decade on one hand. All the more reason, then, to celebrate someone who brings some fresh invention to the genre.

Derek Jeppsen is a composer based in San Diego, California, a recent graduate in electroacoustic composition, and he piqued my interest when i read the description of his first release:

The album is really quite simple, and draws from certain things that may seem antiquated (drum samples), but this collection is about staying away from my “sound art” experiments and academic work. Many “popular” idioms make it to my music (use of a beat, repetition, etc.), but also many things that wouldn’t fit that context, especially in the rhythmic and form realms (polymeter, metric modulation, tempo changes), which often reflect the fact that I play Javanese gamelan professionally. The album is generally about creating an atmospheric artistic space, and including some stylized elements from dance music. There are also moments about randomness and aggression, and one of the tracks is an algorithmic composition, generalizing “beats” and playing with modal melodic generation.

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Joyous and infectiously playful: Lindstrøm – Six Cups of Rebel

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Having spent several weeks focussing on music of an introspective and ascetic nature, it’s time to let off some steam, and to that end let me flag up the latest release from Lindstrøm, titled Six Cups of Rebel. In nearly 10 years of music-making, this is only Hans-Peter Lindstrøm’s third album (which is not to suggest his output is small; he’s put out over twenty 12″ singles over the years), but the large-scale format clearly suits him. Six Cups of Rebel is a somewhat strange entity to try to define, opening in dazzling fashion with a cascading piece of organ minimalism (‘No Release’), its static, Steve Reich-like epicentre chasing itself in circles over a glowering pedal part of rising Shepard tones. None of which really suggests the full-on party atmosphere that’s about to ensue, with multitudinous but astutely-judged throwbacks to an earlier time; but Lindstrøm’s not just another statistic in the endless parade of latter-day retrophiliacs; he’s far more subtle, opting – for the most part – for whiffs of suggestion rather than a faceful of the past. Lindstrøm has assimilated his influences, and when they appear—funk and house gestures in ‘De Javu’; ’80s synth arpeggios and power chords in ‘Quiet Place to Live’—they’re merely elements in an experiment that’s very much bigger and more original. Read more

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A crazily convoluted crucible of ideas: Three Trapped Tigers – Numbers: 1–13

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Turning away from the Lent series for a bit, for some time now i’ve been itching to write about Three Trapped Tigers. They’re a trio of musicians from London, and despite the fact they consist of keyboards, bass guitar and drums, despite the fact their music is given labels such as ‘math rock’ or ‘instrumental noise rock’, and despite the fact their live gigs subject one’s eardrums to the kind of pummelling one might expect from, say, Meshuggah, it just doesn’t feel right to describe them as a ‘band’. Superficially, they fit the mould, but their music is significantly different—in both conception and execution—from pretty much everyone else of that ilk.

Their debut album, Route One or Die, was released last year, and the fact i placed it second on my Best Albums of 2011 perhaps says something. It’s an astonishing tour de force of heavyweight invention and lightweight agility, but this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. For a full three years beforehand, Tom Rogerson (keyboards/vocals), Matt Calvert (guitar/electronics) and Adam Betts (drums) evolved their unique mode of expression through a series of 13 compositions; simply numbered in order rather than given names, these pieces were released on three EPs with similarly functional titles, EP (2008), EP2 (2009) and EP3 (2010). Released in relatively small quantities, these EPs have became hard to find, so they’ve recently been re-released both as digital downloads as well as on a “remastered” compilation album, Numbers: 1–13; more about these later.
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New digital EP: Simulated Music – postscript

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i’ve released today a new EP of electronic music, titled Simulated Music – postscript. As that name suggests, the EP contains material related to my album Simulated Music, released a few months ago. Here’s an excerpt from the blurb:

Simulated Music, released in June 2011, was a cycle of music created at speed. As i wrote at the time, “critical decisions … were made with a minimum of deliberation. Once they were decided, i worked quickly, not concerning myself much with minutiæ, thinking instead about the broader, gestural shape of the music as a whole”. Nonetheless, the process that led to each ‘Simulation’, while relatively brief, contained a considerable amount of experimentation, as it was worked into its final form. On several occasions, i produced more than one version of a piece, uncertain of which i preferred; only when finally assembling Simulated Music did it become clear which versions of the pieces should be used. This EP contains nearly all of the alternate versions.

As with my earlier EPs, Simulated Music – postscript is only available as a free digital download, via my Bandcamp site.

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The Softness War: Chubby Wolf – Los que No Son Gentos & Celer – Noctilucent Clouds

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A little under a year ago, reviewing Celer’s then latest release Dying Star, i made the rather rash remark that with its “quietly massive majesty … [it] may just be Celer’s masterpiece”. i’m not going to retract that statement—it remains for me the most striking album in the Celer corpus—but it’s been fascinating to hear a pair of albums this year that draw very near to it, in terms of both aspiration and execution.

The first comes from the Celer-offshoot Chubby Wolf, the result of Danielle Baquet-Long’s solo explorations. As i’ve remarked in the past, left to her own devices Baquet-Long pursues a more austere, sonically complex soundworld than that of her duo work with husband Will, and new release Los que No Son Gentos is no exception. That’s not to suggest it lacks warmth—far from it—but the ‘heat’ it emits is soft and residual, not blazing; there are no overt grand gestures here. The 14 tracks are founded on slowly-moving foundations that for the most part keep themselves at a distance, not so much aloof as reserved; and their mode of expression is pithy and succinct, many of the tracks lasting under three minutes. Yet their miniature stature belies a remarkable intensity with which the music speaks. It’s a paradox neatly encapsulated in Baquet-Long’s familiarly loquacious track-titles, which (like so much poetry) are simultaneously immediate—more than once invoking desire—and alienating. One quickly realises that each track is not merely concise, but concentrated, boiled down into a richly undiluted essence, in which each shifting agglomeration of notes, each surging bass protrusion becomes utterly compelling. Thankfully, this is clearly what matters most; once again, Baquet-Long flies in the face of so much contemporary ambient music, that simply regards sounding pretty (which is, in any case, subjective) as its primary goal. Los que No Son Gentos shifts in and out of loveliness, but the weight and power of its conviction never lets up for a second. It’s perhaps perverse to single out any individual track in such a context as this, but “You are the Description that brings me out of Myself… But cannot Give Me anywhere to go” is especially impressive, bringing to mind the best work of Jonathan Coleclough. Read more

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New CD: Simulated Music – out today!

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Simulated Music is my new CD, released today, Sunday 12 June 2011.

The piece marks something of a departure from my previous electronic music. In Simulated Music, i have allowed the sound materials much more freedom to ‘do their own thing’, leaving them to unfold with minimal intervention. Both in duration and content, the nine ‘Simulations’ heard on the album are a diverse collection, encompassing large-scale, thundering noisescapes and soft, intimate whispers, wide clusters and narrow drones, piercing high pitches and powerful deep bass surges. Ever shifting and transforming, they are together suggestive of the worlds of noise, drone and ambient, yet stand apart from them all, occupying an abstract sonic space that is strange yet beguiling.

Simulated Music is dedicated to the memory of the great Roland Kayn, who died in January of this year.

The album is a limited edition of 50 numbered copies. For more details, to hear excerpts and to order a copy, go here.

There’s also a brief article about Simulated Music on Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s contemporary music blog The Rambler, here.

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A flawless reverie for the end of the world: The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation – Anthropomorphic

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From time to time, an album comes along that doesn’t just confound expectations, but actually goes so far as to widen one’s understanding of what music is capable of being. Scott Walker’s The Drift (which recently turned five years old) is, for me, the most memorable example of that; the most recent, released three months ago, is Anthropomorphic, from The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, the live performance configuration of The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble. If you’ve not heard of them, and/or if the word ‘jazz’ in those titles puts you off, have no fear. In their original Kilimanjaro guise, stylistic mannerisms such as the muted trombone and double bass action raise the superficial spectre of jazz without its substance. As Mount Fuji, barely a trace remains; if anything, it’s almost like a palimpsest of jazz, over which multiple layers of obtuse musings have accumulated, and that’s particularly true of Anthropomorphic. Put together from three separate live performances (in, respectively, Utrecht, Wroclaw and Moscow), it is a single, hour-long piece divided into four equal sections, given the headings “Space”, “Dimension”, “Form” and “Function”.

Despite its 15-minute duration, the first part is something of an overture. Soft and calm at first, “Space” opens with a trombone making shapes while a guitar ebbs elsewhere. A few minutes in, an ultra-deep bass throb begins—more felt than heard—gently unsettling everything, and perhaps indirectly initiating all that follows. Five more minutes pass in relative quietude, the guitar gradually easing out of the shadows, after which some threatening electronic stabs briefly but brutally interrupt the flow. The trombone’s soliloquy splits in response, and its duties are continued by a new voice in the texture: a sliding sine tone (at first sounding like a bending trombone note); it starts an acrobatic counterpoint to the previous material, causing a series of aggressive, industrial surges beneath, increasingly electronic in tone. “Space” culminates in a focussed, forceful drone, the trombone joining in, buzzing and spitting on its surface. Read more

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