“a hush, almost sacred”: Steve Peters – Here-ings

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As will have been obvious from my two “Best of” posts at the end of last year (here and here), i’m very taken with the work of sound artist Steve Peters. i’ve been spending a lot of time with his work of late, and one release has particularly impressed me in all sorts of ways. Peters is clearly a composer with both an acutely sensitive ear as well as an innate sensibility to the contexts in which sound occurs; nowhere is this better illustrated than in Here-ings.

Subtitled ‘a sonic geohistory’, Here-ings takes the relatively unusual form of a book and CD, the former illuminating the contents of the latter through a combination of prose and poetry (also by Peters), plus photographs contributed by Margot Geist. Essentially, the project consisted of Steve Peters spending a great deal of time at a site in New Mexico called The Land, set aside for site-specific art that engages with the environment surrounding it. Feeling that he would prefer to let the place ‘speak for itself’ rather than asserting his own creative impulse, over the course of a year, Peters made a series of hour-long field recordings at The Land, each occupying a different hour of the day, totalling 24 hours of material. Furthermore, each hour was recorded at a different location within The Land, so his recordings succinctly capture the entirety of The Land, throughout a year, conflated into a day’s worth of sound. Read more

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Like a ton of feathers: Morten Riis – Digital Sound Drawings

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Many moons ago, i wrote a retrospective of the work of Ryoji Ikeda, composer of some the finest raw digital music yet created. It’s an unfortunate corollary that Ikeda, like all great innovators, has a sizeable cluster of imitators (‘flattery’ be damned), many of whom form part of the now woefully tautological output from the once interesting Raster-Noton label. But something quite new appeared today, from the Crónica netlabel that i’ve praised so highly in the past. Out today is the fifth of their ‘Unlimited Releases’ series: Digital Sound Drawings by the Danish composer Morten Riis. The short programme note speaks of these six compositions being “composed through the drawing of images and their direct conversion into sound”, which brings to mind the well-known spectral imagery occasionally used by, among others, Aphex Twin, Venetian Snares and Plaid (about which more can be read here). Riis’ compositions are quite different, however, more akin to ‘sculptures’ than anything else, something that becomes strikingly apparent when the music is listened to using audio editing software, as recommended by the composer. i found this a fascinating way to listen, proving revelatory about the sound structures Riss has created. Read more

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An absolute must-have: Steven Wilson – Insurgentes

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It may only be two-thirds of the way through January, but already i’m fairly sure that i’ve heard the album that’ll be my best of the year: Steven Wilson‘s Insurgentes. Wilson is the musician behind, among other acts, Porcupine Tree and Bass Communion, and Insurgentes—the first album he has released under his own name—brings together the best elements of those projects and much else besides. Strictly speaking, it was released last year, in a limited edition of 3,000 copies; the retail version was to have been released at the end of February this year, but appears to have been pushed back to March. However, in true Trent Reznor style, if you pre-order, you’re immediately given a link to download the entire album in mp3 format (256Kbps) to tide you over. Read more

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In Memoriam Michael Tippett

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Today is the anniversary of the death of Sir Michael Tippett, and last week was the anniversary of his birth. To mark both occasions, here’s a collection of his music from a service of Choral Evensong that dates back to St Peter’s Day 2005, from St John’s College, Cambridge. It’s a recording i recently discovered in my archives, on a video cassette, so the quality doesn’t quite live up to the digital recordings i make today; all the same, it’s a nice clear reproduction, taken from digital radio.

Almost all the music in the service was by Tippett, beginning with his neo-renaissance motet Plebs angelica, mellifluous and texturally very thick throughout. The canticles are Tippett’s setting for St John’s College (composed in 1961 to mark the 450th anniversary of the founding of the college); the Magnificat is brilliantly virile, startlingly muscular from the outset, and the Nunc dimittis is no less interesting for its relative softness, individual voices sounding stark, even vulnerable against a gentle choral backdrop, occasionally punctuated by the organ, contributing strange singular clusters. Instead of a single anthem, the choir performed no fewer than all five of Tippett’s Negro Spirituals from ‘A Child of our Time’. They’re given a thoroughly spirited performance (no pun intended), the singers quite clearly relishing the material. “Steal Away” (in my opinion the best of the five) is performed with great delicacy, and the baritone soloist is superb; and “Go down, Moses”—which, more than the others, tends to sound significantly weaker than its original orchestral version—is strikingly brought to life here, the final bars given a suitably authoritative tone. To finish, the voluntary was Tippett’s meandering, rather mundane Preludio al Vespro di Monteverdi. Read more

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Mix Tape #9 : Best of 2008

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Today 5:4 is one year old, and to celebrate that—and continue the celebration of the best albums of last year, here’s a new mix tape, featuring tracks from each of those albums. Not surprisingly, it’s the most eclectic mix so far, and also the longest, just a few seconds shy of 3 hours. Start 2009 with the best of 2008—enjoy!

Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2008

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

It’s been difficult deciding what i feel are the best albums of 2008. Partly, because i’ve listened to so many (of the 667 albums i’ve listened to this year, 141 of them were released in 2008), but also because i’m conscious of a number of albums that i haven’t yet listened to, and which could well appear in this list. Anyhow, all lists of this kind are provisional, so as things stand today, here are the 5:4 Best Albums of 2008:

40 | Squarepusher – Just A Souvenir
On the one hand, this album isn’t as successful as Squarepusher’s last and best album, Hello Everything. On the other hand, Tom Jenkinson is just so talented that even failed experiments like this are better than most. Quite what led him to resurrect 70s electronics and seek to incorporate it into his style is anyone’s guess, but he’s hardly alone in doing so. At times it’s downright annoying, and overall there’s a diminished sense of unity across the album; yet tracks like “Tensor in Green” and “Quadrature” are brilliant demonstrations of the kind of synthesis of which Jenkinson is capable.

39 | Nurse With Wound – Huffin’ Rag Blues
NWW have turned down the absurdism somewhat on this release, allowing the jazz inflections to come through unfettered. Nonetheless, there’s still sufficient surreal juxtaposition of material for this to be a superbly eclectic electroacoustic outing. “The Funktion of the Hairy Egg” is especially effective, and the outstanding track on this disc, which also features irr. app. (ext.)’s Matt Waldron and is mixed by Andrew Liles.

38 | Gregor Samsa – Rest
Another great album from this band, who are able to sound simultaneously languorous and ecstatic. At times it’s a little too shoegaze for its own good, but most of the album is particularly effective, and sometimes strikingly delicate. The vocals, in particular, are often ethereal to the point of becoming inaudible, providing a wonderful mysterious surface beneath which the textures can drift and intermingle.

37 | Byetone – Death Of A Typographer
Despite being fairly typical Raster-Noton material, this album displays real variety, encompassing lovely ambient episodes along with the familiar glitchy electronica. There’s a markedly industrial tone to the beats, but they’re delivered with such panache that they never feel oppressive. It also lacks the coldness that seems to accompany, say, Alva Noto’s recent material (although, having said that, i really liked this year’s Unitxt, despite it not appearing in this list); this is surprisingly light and warm dance music.

36 | AGF – Words Are Missing
A rapid, insistent album, with Antye Greie’s voice (along with pretty much all other sounds) fragmented into a myriad shards. The constructions she makes from these pieces are consistently engaging, while not perhaps representing the best of her work; at times, the music are off-puttingly minimalistic. Nonetheless, the deep beats that permeate the tracks give them a potent physicality that is infectious; and, as in “Dread In Strangers Eyes”, influences of musique concrète and collage-like techniques give the album a fascinating variety.

35 | Ladytron – Velocifero
There are distinct traces of Curve in Ladytron’s latest release, which is most definitely no bad thing. This is particularly the case with “Runaway”, recently released as a single and easily the best track on the album. First and foremost, though, Ladytron have brought out their best album to date, filled with dirty, somewhat languid rock-tronica.

34 | Deerhoof – Offend Maggie
i wrote about this album back in October, and my initial disappointment about this album has, to some extent, given way to (i hope) a deeper appreciation. It still doesn’t quite capture the unbridled fire and passion of Friend Opportunity, but there’s a maturity present here that perhaps i wasn’t expecting. A flawed masterpiece it may be, but any group or album that can come up with a track as astonishing as “Jagged Fruit” is nothing less than brilliant.

33 | Stephan Mathieu – Radioland
A curious assemblage of thoughtful meditations, this is ambient from a more heavyweight perspective. At least, that’s the way it comes across, like vast heavy nimbus clouds, their complex inner structures ever shifting. The result is powerfully hypnotic, and often very beautiful, particularly “Auf der Gasse”.

32 | Implex Grace – Through Luminescent Passages II
i wrote a fair bit about this release back in November, so i won’t repeat that here. Since then Michael Goodman has made it clear to me that what i perceived as a lack of direction is something quite intentional on his part, and while i’m prepared to accept that, the brevity of the tracks, i feel, still militates against the kind of ‘meditative’ state he desires. All the same, it’s still an interesting counterpart to volume 1, focussing more on the noise end of the ambient continuum. It’s still available free of charge, here, in FLAC and mp3 formats, direct from Goodman’s netlabel, Distance Recordings.

31 | Ran Slavin – Nocturnal Rainbow Rising
Ran Slavin’s latest release is another free download, from the excellent Crónica netlabel. It’s a disc that demonstrates real skill at shaping sound, as well as formidable restraint, the tracks given space to develop at their own pace, never seeming forced along. Its use of bass frequencies to punctuate the material is very striking; “Pure Honey in Lack One” is perhaps the best example.

30 | Specta Ciera – Mystic Valley Parkway
Yet another free album, released through Distance Recordings, and available here. This is music reassuringly difficult to categorise, bringing together diverse sound sources into a melange within which they briefly become obvious before being re-absorbed. At times (“I Lost The Dream Archive”) it becomes really breathtaking, dazzling the ear with its restless activity. Read more

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Best EPs of 2008

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It’s been a fascinating year for music. And so, partly because i love making lists(!), here are the 5:4 Best EPs of 2008 (my top 40 albums will appear tomorrow):

10 | Belong – Colorloss Record
Creators of some of the most poignantly decayed music ever, Belong have excavated four more relics in this lovely EP. Whiffs of the source material hover just too far to be resolved, while chord progressions wistfully undulate somewhere far, far beneath. Quite how long they can continue in this direction is hard to say, but for now their originality in this kind of music is absolutely first-rate.

9 | Operator Please – Just A Song About Ping Pong
The best-known (but not the best) song by Operator Please, this EP (mentioned in my review a few months back) contains a superbly danced-up version of the title track: the Kissy Sell Out White Stallion Extended Remix. It, together with the original version, perfectly capture the wonderfully breathless quality of this band’s music.

8 | Operations – Cold Months
Beautifully packaged inside a piece of felt (photos of my copy can be seen here), sealed with a safety pin, Chris Anderson’s latest release is an introverted masterpiece. As suggested by the title, this comes across as ‘wintry’ music, conjuring up potent images of wistfulness and nostalgic yearning. The most outstanding example is the short central track, bearing the enigmatic title “( )”, where a fin de siecle gramophone record utters its last gasp of music, a rapturously beautiful fragment of clarinet and strings. It’s astoundingly lovely, and my favourite track from 2008.

7 | Ian D. Hawgood – Tents And Hills
The latest release from the interesting Luv Sound netlabel (free download available here), described by them as “a thick miasma of overtones and shifting colors”, which is a pretty fair assessment. Hawgood has a real gift for ambient, although for the most part the textures he creates are far too interesting to ignore—but that’s hardly a bad thing. All too brief, but very satisfying; opening track “October” is particularly good, its dreamy shimmering finally coalescing into rich octaves.

6 | irr. app. (ext.) – Enterruption Hermetic Archival Cassette Series 3
Just two tracks lasting barely a quarter of an hour, but this is Matt Waldron at his obtuse and recondite best. Not quite as glaringly surreal as his Aspiring to an Empty Gesture, also released this year, this is nonetheless a rich salmagundi, taking in a range of aural shapes that belies their brevity. A number of releases are supposedly forthcoming, so hopefully 2009 will be an exciting year for irr. app. (ext.). Read more

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