Christopher McFall

Mixtape #51 : Silence (Requiem)

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November is a somewhat sombre month, and not only because the days are getting a lot colder and darker here in the UK. This year’s remembrance ceremonies have had extra potency due to the centenary of the end of the First World War, so i’ve taken this as my cue for the next 5:4 mixtape. It’s titled ‘Silence (Requiem)’, though i should stress that i haven’t created it as a commemoration, homage or tribute to anyone or anything specific – i’ve simply curated music that exists in an interesting and thoughtful relationship with silence.

In some cases this takes the form of busy lowercase chatter (Bernhard Günter, John Wall, Tomas Phillips & Luigi Turra, Shinkei, Ennio Mazzon, Christopher McFall), a few tracks are creatively ‘silent’, presented as ostensibly passive field recordings (Unknown Artist, Christoph Limbach, British Library, Dallas Simpson), and there are various examples of restrained or compressed music, containing a sense of pent-up energy (Ben Frost, Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, Desist, Jason Lescalleet, Supersilent, Need Thomas Windham, Secret Chiefs 3, Andrew Liles, Ryoji Ikeda). Most of the tracks, though, are gentle, ruminative and/or meditative music, most of which treats silence as an omnipresence into which its material is carefully placed (Gareth Davis & Frances-Marie Uitti, James Weeks, Brian Eno, The Hafler Trio, The Denisovans, Ouvrage Fermont, Jakob Ullmann, Haruo Okada & Fabio Perletta, Burkhard Schlothauer, Kenneth Kirschner, Jürg Frey, Eva-Maria Houben).

Interspersed at half-hourly intervals are four short excerpts from choral works that either reference the dead or are otherwise laments. Ricky Ian Gordon‘s Water Music: A Requiem is a work, according to the composer, “not only for the dead, but for what seemed like a sort of death in me”. Galina Grigorjeva‘s setting of Joseph Brodsky’s The Butterfly (review) is an exquisitely tender articulation of life’s frailty and ephemerality. Bernat VivancosRequiem (review) avoids the traditional Latin text in favour of a more personal philosophical and poetic reflection on death. To end the mixtape, following two minutes of quasi-silence by irr. app. (ext.), i’ve turned to Alfred Schnittke and the haunting wordless piece that ends his Psalms of Repentance.

In all, two hours of near-noiseless contemplative quietude; i recommend close listening in a darkened space, and as there are no sudden loud outbursts feel free to crank up the volume as much as desired. Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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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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Mixtape #45 : Birds

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At the start of May each year, i always find myself thinking about birds, as the first Sunday of the month is marked globally as International Dawn Chorus Day, something i celebrated in a podcast back in 2010. So the theme for this month’s mixtape is of an avian persuasion – not actually focusing on actual birdsong (some of which were featured in last month’s Spring mixtape) but on music that in some way either references, alludes to or simply takes its name from birds. It’s a typically eclectic mixture, encompassing playfulness (The Real Tuesday Weld, Venetian Snares, Clark, Secret Chiefs 3, Broadcast, Tangerine Dream, Patrick Wolf, Neil Richardson), elegance (Chubby Wolf, Tōru Takemitsu, Aidan Baker, Simon Goff & Thor Harris, Dita Von Teese, Robin Guthrie, Deerhoof, Bernat Vivancos), gritty noir (Gorau Glas, Christopher McFall, Tout Croche, Angelo Badalamenti & David Lynch, James Newton Howard, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble), experimental (Akita / Gustafsson / O’Rourke, Jan Jelinek) along with tracks that are either imitative or almost entirely transparent (Åke Parmerud, Chris Watson, Steve Peters, Douglas Quin – whose music punctuates the mix at 30-minute intervals).

90 minutes of feather-strewn blasts and murmurations; here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links (where possible) to obtain the music. As always, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Mixtape #42 : Late Night

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As part of 5:4‘s tenth anniversary celebrations, i’m going to be putting out a new mixtape each month throughout 2018. While they’re quite time-consuming to curate and create, they’re also a lot of fun, and it’s been clear for a long time that the mixtapes are a popular feature on the blog. The very first of my mixtapes dates from the earliest weeks of the blog’s existence, back in February 2008, and for this new mixtape i’m paying homage to myself with a return to that original theme, music for late night listening. In fact, the whole idea of putting out mixtapes began due to the fact that i already created various playlists in iTunes with specific themes or to suit specific listening contexts, and the one i listened to most regularly at that time was a late night one.

The structure of this two-hour mix is four 30-minute sections, each of which is started by a piece by Dick Mills, one of the composers who worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop; each of the pieces featured here are inspired by astronomical phenomena. Section one is mostly about establishing the tone of the overall mix, focusing on a number of tracks that act via wave-like swells or soft pulses (Bass CommunionBreaking, Venetian Snares, Hecq, Alva Noto) – there’s something intrinsically restful about this kind of behaviour – alongside more mellifluous or amorphous music (Bernat Vivancos, Jonathan Coleclough, Brian Eno). Section two tilts the mix into darker territory, passing through hauntology (The Caretaker), ominous noir (Angelo Badalamenti & David Lynch), convoluted field recordings (Christopher McFall) and edgy dark ambience (Ektoise, Aphex Twin).

Section three is the most variegated and, in the best sense of the word, inscrutable, encompassing blank fields of reverberant electronics (Error Genético), slowly shifting, somewhat impenetrable clouds of pitch formations (Kenneth Kirschner, Benjamin Dauer), intense meditations, one long, one short (Mirjam Tally, Nicolas Obouhow) and acousmatic sound-theatre (Kreng). Section four initially takes the mix through its most broken-up textures yet, from both experimental electronic and doomjazz perspectives (Andrew Liles, The Thing With Five Eyes) before bringing it back to stability and calm, through a series of more peaceful ambient-esque pieces (Simon Cummings, Fovea Hex, Ochre). i’ve concluded with a second track by The Caretaker, one that i’ve listened to countless times just before settling down for sleep, bringing the mix to a decidedly poignant end.

The accompanying artwork uses a photograph of the night sky that i took in July 2015. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud; here’s the tracklisting in full, including links to obtain each of the albums: Read more

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Best EPs of 2013

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So, having listened to no fewer than 261 EPs and albums released this year, it’s time to distil that listening into the annual Best of the Year lists. As always, we’ll start with the ten most exceptional EPs. Read more

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Best EPs of 2011

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Lists help you believe that there will be a future – by reminding you that the things you are listing have happened, in a time that was once a future, and that therefore there will be a future where things will happen that can then be listed and taken forward to remind us of a past where stuff was generated that made us believe there is a present and so, ultimately, a future. (Paul Morley, Words and Music)

Here we go again, then, with my own series of lists summarising what i believe to be the best music of the last 12 months. As usual, i’m going to strew caveats all over them—these lists are only what i presently believe to be the best and if i made them again in a few months’ time things would likely have changed, and in any case i haven’t heard every release this year, and while we’re on the subject there are still three days of the year left and we all know how much can happen in just three days—but regardless, these lists, in all their provisional tentativity, are, right here right now, definitive. Okay, so bearing all that in mind, let’s get the ball rolling with the ten EPs that have stood out most through the last 12 months.

10 | Hecq and Exillon – Spheres of Fury
It’s hardly worth repeating Ben Lukas Boysen’s 2009 claim that “beat-science can’t go any further with me”—his unique take on the world of grime and dubstep through the last couple of years has been blisteringly exciting. Spheres of Fury lives up to its title, a sleazy track with indelicate beats and bass—the accompanying video, featuring a wonderfully over-dramatised waterfight is hilarious—but it’s the last of the four tracks that’s even better. The “Stochastic Process remix By Techdiff” goes way beyond the scope of regular remixes, turning Hecq’s masterly original into a flawlessly-executed glitch-fest that ends with a twist, the sedate pace abruptly doubled, ending up as a frenzied dance track. [Juno Download]

9 | Fovea Hex – Three Beams
Clodagh Simonds doesn’t mess around when she gives her music to other musicians to play with. Her 2007 release Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent ended up in the hands of no less than The Hafler Trio, and this time around her latest songs have been given to Michael Begg, Colin Potter and William Basinski. With its detail and surface filigree, it must be hard to know where to start reworking Fovea Hex material, but this fine little EP (available only as a bonus CD with her new album) proves what’s possible. Predictably, Basinski’s is the least inventive, but the other two “beams” are outstanding, Begg and Potter refashioning the material into soft, surrounding ambient soundscapes, reverently celebrating those aspects that make the music of Fovea Hex as unique as it is. [Janet Records]

8 | Pablo – In Hurricanes
i know precisely nothing about Pablo, and only discovered this EP by accident when roaming the iTunes store some time back. There’s something of the retro quality that pervades so much synthpop at the moment, but it’s not a throwback; analogue synths are only one colour in Pablo’s palette. Each of the three songs has a lightly cheeky quality that’s most endearing; second track “Rock Bottom” is a delightful encouragement to those facing hard times: “son, you have to fall face first, hit rock bottom, to learn in life”. Pablo’s voice is splendid, and his heartfelt lyrics never feel trite, the music keeping things light and airy. [iTunes]

7 | Yugen – Ae’shT’aT’aQ
David Sani’s Yugen project is hard to define or even to describe. To some he’s better known through the lowercase music he’s released as Shinkei, but i find this new departure of his to be far more impressive. He brings to mind the soundworld of The Hafler Trio in Ae’shT’aT’aQ, an episodic work that explores some utterly captivating and immersive textures. The title is Aramaic for “he stood in silence”, and Sani has used (in his words) “some old middle east archival recordings” as source material, but they have been so extensively worked on and processed that there’s barely any clear trace of them. Yet, while the origins are indistinct, the grain of the music is tangibly evocative, which together with the fascinating techniques used throughout, sets this album apart from the majority of experimental electronics. [Free download]

6 | Ex Confusion – Too Late, They Are Gone
Ambient music can’t always withstand being presented in smaller, shorter formats, but this is where Atsuhito Omori’s music is most at home. and it’s the miniature size of these tracks (reviewed back in March) that makes them as powerful as they are; while lesser minds endlessly play with loops dully repeated ad nauseam, Omori condenses his ideas into pieces barely three or four minutes long. Their short span blurs the nature of their content (is it a looping fragment? or is it a part of something much larger?) thus freeing one to focus entirely on the resulting music, which—in part, again, due to the duration—is imbued with real fragility, enhanced by such titles as “Too Late, They Are Gone” and “It Doesn’t Last Forever” (one of my favourite tracks of the year). The five amuse-bouches on this EP are like the last streaks of colour in fading photographs—beautiful and very moving—and i love how Omori leaves the start and end of each track rough and unfinished, which only adds to its authenticity. [Bandcamp]

5 | Uh Huh Her – Black and Blue
Uh Huh Her have been around since 2007, but don’t seem to have found their sound until this year. Their particular marriage of synthpop and rock is finally given perfect expression on this EP, almost every track of which is a winner. Leisha Hailey and Camila Grey bring a delicate lyricism to their music that’s very impressive, and songs like “Never the Same” (with its simply gorgeous chorus) and “I’ve Had Enough” somehow navigate through the tropes of ballad and light rock, emerging with real emotional power. The more electronic tracks are certainly infectious, but despite their pace are kept relatively low-key (Hailey and Grey often singing low in their registers) and always at the service of the words; definitely some of the best songs released this year. [UhHuhHer.com]

4 | Clem Leek – Home Outside
i must admit to having mixed feelings about Clem Leek’s music, which has had as many (if not more) misses than hits. But when he gets it right, as he does on this 17-minute, single-track EP, the results are breathtaking. There’s a lovely balance between the deep, omnipresent richness of the underlying drone and the mournful, string-inflected wailing above (redolent of Richard Skelton). There are all kinds of sound sources involved in the piece’s dense texture, but their details are kept hazy and they thereby become more able to hint and evoke, without the need to be specific. Leek judges the duration perfectly, and insodoing has crafted his best work to date. [Bandcamp]

3 | Tetra – Live at Gallery of Modern Art
Tetra is an offshoot from the Australian group Ektoise (comprising Greg Reason and Jim Grundy), focusing primarily on ambient atmospherics. This 27-minute live improvisation is the second of just two releases the duo has created so far, both of which are available free. Guitars are at the epicentre of the piece, but they’re suffused and surrounded with shifting layers and clouds of sound, creating a huge sonic space. Apart from the oblique beauty of the music, what stands out most for me in this recording is the restraint, Reason and Grundy keeping things moving but never pushing them along, drifting but always with a discreet guiding sense of purpose. [Bandcamp]

2 | irr. app. (ext.) – The Famine Road/Celestial Laminate
After a number of years seemingly in the wilderness, Matt Waldron’s irr. app. (ext.) project has gloriously returned in 2011. The focus this year has been digital, Waldron releasing a slew of new and remastered material via his Bandcamp site. i’ve been unable to choose between these two; The Famine Road, a collaboration with Diana Rogerson and her noise duo Fistfuck, originally appeared in 2008 in an edition of just one copy (auctioned on eBay). Waldron has now made it available to everyone, together with two revised versions; all three are devastating in their abrasive impact, pushing Waldron’s extreme and surreal experimentalism to its limits. Celestial Laminate is no less dense, but begins with a superb drone-based piece, around which large quantities of sound have accreted. [Bandcamp]

1 | Christopher McFall and David Velez – Credence
When it comes to working with field recordings, few demonstrate more innate understanding and technical control than Christopher McFall. In this remarkable collaboration with David Velez, McFall’s tendency to focus on the dark, amorphous nature of sound is coloured by overtly melodic material, seamlessly integrated into the sonic fabric. “Seamless” doesn’t really do it justice, though; Credence is, no doubt, a collage of elements, but the skill with which they are brought together, juxtaposed and intertwined is truly astonishing. Nothing ever feels remotely out of place; on the contrary, the way in which the piece comes across—as is usual for anything McFall is involved with—is like an unadorned field recording in its own right, such is the naturality of the result.

i dare say Credence won’t be for everyone; it’s gentle, yes—but equally it’s perhaps the most pitch black music i’ve ever heard. Like a cross between Twin Peaks and Lustmord, vast, yawning noises ponderously arise from unfathomable depths, emerging into an ominous nocturnal landscape. Evoking foghorns and organ pedals, deep melodic fragments circle like a funereal ground bass, at times made arboreal through the noises of birds and other creatures, othertimes aquatic with creaking boat wood. Although it projects an acute, vivid sense of isolation and even desolation, there’s much, much beauty to it all, which only makes it more moving. As only the best music can, Credence ultimately transcends words and communicates the immensity of its vision at an instinctual level. An absolute masterpiece. [Free download]

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Mixtape #19 : Best of 2010

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

It’s 1 January, which means it’s 5:4‘s birthday, and today we’re three years old. Having spent several days looking back on last year’s most outstanding releases, what better way could there be to start the new year than with a new mixtape, featuring one track from each of my forty best albums of 2010. As you’d expect, it’s another extremely eclectic mix, and this time lasts a little over three-and-a-half hours. If you like the mix (and how could you not?!), please support the artists and buy their excellent music.

Here’s the tracklisting in full (click the image for high-resolution artwork): Read more

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