Ben Fleury-Steiner

Mixtape #49 : Untitled

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For the latest 5:4 mixtape, i’ve turned my attention to that most elusive of artistic statements, the untitled work. When i set out to assemble a shortlist of pieces in my library that had adopted the word ‘untitled’, it wasn’t immediately obvious what i’d find. Yet, with one or two exceptions and to varying extents, untitled tracks tended to yield a very particular type of soundworld: generally dark and/or monochrome in terms of their tone, tenor or palette, with slow, patient use and deployment of sound, often including extended periods of quietness, overall lending the music a pensive, deliberate quality. Above all, i found these pieces to be music highly abstract in character, and while use of the word ‘untitled’ can often provoke frustration when we encounter it in works of art (“doesn’t the artist know what they’re trying to say?”), the intangibility of such music seems to strongly justify the suitability of this word. However, artists use the word ‘untitled’ in ways that are as playful and deceptive as they can be aloof and distancing, and for this mixtape i’ve therefore included not only tracks that are simply untitled but also tracks that use the word ‘untitled’ as part of a longer title as well as untitled segments of larger titled works.

In the first hour, having begun with something of a red herring by Hecq, i’ve concentrated on calmer, darker examples that tend to focus on explorations of texture, from both static and variegated perspectives. Near the centre of the mix is the unexpurgated 15-minute Untitled Drone by Aidan Baker that isn’t just the highlight of his wonderful 2009 album Blue Figures, but one of the most beautifully coruscating exercises in slow-burning ambient that i’ve ever heard. In the wake of this, in the second half i’ve explored untitled tracks that are generally brighter and more colourful, introducing more beat- and pulse-based pieces, some of which even feature vocals (a real rarity in the world of ‘untitled’ music, it seems), and more overt use of instrumental sounds, both raw and cooked.

Throughout the mix, there’s a wide temperature range demonstrated in these pieces, from the warmth (not always gentle) and/or balmy intimacy found in pieces by, among others, Subsea, Zbigniew Karkowski & Kelly ChurkoJames Clarke, Sea Oleena, Ochre, Aphex Twin and 36 to the varying forms of chilly remoteness, some of it seriously aggressive, exhibited by the likes of Noto, CD-R, AutechreHelena Tulve, Nordvargr, Lethe and Christopher McFall & Ben Fleury-Steiner. And that playfulness i mentioned before – plus a fair amount of inscrutability – can be heard manifesting particularly in tracks by Natasha Barrett, John Wall & Alex Rodgers, Marc Behrens, DJ Yo-Yo Dieting, Øyvind Torvund and John Oswald.

Ultimately, though, i don’t want to labour these descriptive terms or indeed the putative aesthetic connections i’ve been making between them, as they may belie the fact, as i said at the outset, that these are above all strikingly abstract pieces of music, and their ostensible lack of a title (if indeed that is what it is) is perhaps all that needs to be said about them.

Two-and-a-half hours of unidentified musical objects; here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain the music (interesting to note how many of them are available free of charge: another ‘untitled’ connection…?). Due to the inherent ambiguity of some of the track titles, where relevant i’ve also included in the tracklisting the track numbers. As always, the mixtape can be downloaded via the link below or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Best EPs of 2009

Posted on by 5:4 in Best of the Year | 1 Comment

As December draws to a close, it’s time once again to cast our collective eye back over the last 12 months. Before we get to the highlights, it’s only fair to say that 2009 has been filled with more than its fare share of disappointments. Kraftwerk finally succeeded in releasing The Catalogue, the “re-mastered” versions of their output, although success is hardly the word for a project that managed to inflict so much bombast on the music, bludgeoning it into the 21st century; only a few of the albums came through unscathed. Dangermouse and Sparklehorse managed to distract attention away from how genuinely awful was their album Dark Night of the Soul by whipping up a frenzy about that great über-menace the Corporate Record Label; for once, a label did listeners a favour, consigning this vacuous lame duck to peer-to-peer oblivion. A-ha attempted a revivification of their image, returning to ’80s synths, but in a context so compressed as to be almost impossible to listen to; Foot Of The Mountain must take the award for the most horrifically over-compressed album in recent times, although the fact it only has a single good song (“The Bandstand”) lessens the blow somewhat. Muse got delusions of orchestration, turning their quirky and usually impressive ideas into something damp and actually rather camp; The Resistance was hardly the best name for such a lacklustre album. Even the powerhouse that is Lydia Lunch seems to have lost her way, Big Sexy Noise only living up to the last of those epithets, and not in a good way. And one of the best songwriters of them all, Neil Hannon, rested firmly on his laurels with The Duckworth Lewis Method, his tongue so far into his cheek that it must be causing facial damage. It’s a shame that Hannon so often resorts to comedy and pastiche (forever lurking audibly in the wings of his Divine Comedy output); album highlight “The Age of Revolution” proves what the project might have been capable of, while “Jiggery Pokery” is absolutely horrific. But for me, the worst album of 2009 was a tie; Joe Goddard proved he’s simply rubbish both in and out of Hot Chip, his first effort, Harvest Festival, among the most dreadful experiences i’ve had this year. And what exactly led Tori Amos, one of the most interesting singer-songwriters of the last decade, to release the monstrosity that is Midwinter Graces? it is, literally, shockingly bad.

But let’s turn away from such infernal offerings, and move in a more paradisical direction. Thankfully, 2009 has also been filled with an abundance of excellent releases, and that’s where our attention should be fixed, beginning with the best EPs of the year. Read more

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