Mix Tape #17 : Lay the Voice to Rest, Dear Mist (In Memoriam Danielle Baquet-Long)

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How quickly a year passes. On this day, 12 months ago, Danielle Baquet-Long died, bringing to an abrupt end the remarkable musical project that she and husband Will had crafted together for several years. Of course, music, like life, goes on regardless, and the prospect of plenty more releases yet to come from both Celer and Chubby Wolf (Dani’s solo project) continues to be an exciting one.

To mark today’s sad anniversary, the new 5:4 mix tape is in Dani’s memory, bringing together a diverse selection of music that broadly falls into the ‘ambient drone’ category. Drone has entranced me since i was pretty young; in the right hands, it has a quality that always seems familiar, yet somehow achingly inscrutable and difficult to define; close and intimate, yet also impossibly distant. But this kind of music (and certainly on an occasion such as this) is perhaps best not written about in too much detail; suffice it to say the examples here range from vast, dazzling textures that seemingly envelop everything in sight to gentle half-heard whispers. Of course, Dani’s own music is included, the final (very brief) example of which gives the mixtape its name.

In total, two and a half hours of music to commemorate the life of one of ambient’s more insightful and imaginative figures. The complete playlist is as follows: Read more

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A ferocious take on dubstep: Hecq – Sura

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Despite claiming, a little over a year ago, that “the whole beat-science cant go any further for me”, Hecq has unleashed a new EP, Sura, that is a ferocious take on dubstep. Far from turning his back on beats after Steeltongued, Hecq positively bombards the ears with them, barely held in check by—as ever—his trademark ambience.

This is not the familiar shambling, lackadaisical dubstep, however; the title track is thrown into existence amidst a plethora of relentless high-hats that propel the material on. It’s over this, like a warm liquid, that Hecq’s slow chaconne builds in substance, easily swallowing these opening beat-gestures. Everything subsides, and then, literally, explodes, shards of white-hot rhythms cascading outwards as if from a welding iron. The track then, essentially, goes through the motions a second time; the chaconne briefly re-emerges, distant and hauntological, and with even more violence the metallic beats resume their onslaught. Read more


Mix Tape #15 : Late Night

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It’s been a while since the last mix tape, and i’ve decided to return to the theme of the the first two mixes, music particularly suitable for late night listening.

Steve Peters‘ work is always fascinating, and his field recording project Here-ings is a masterpiece. i wrote about it at length early last year, and its profound sense of hush, allowing the space and its environment to speak, is unparalleled, and a fitting way to start this sonic foray into the night. Lovesliescrushing have dominated my listening in 2010; their lavish 2CD box-set Girl. Echo. Suns. Veils. arrived a few weeks back, and earlier this week Crwth (Chorus Redux) arrived. As the title suggests, it’s a retake of Chorus, their superb classic from 2007, as laden with velvet gentleness as the original (the CD comes with a voucher to download the original free of charge, so you get the best of both worlds). Ambrose Field‘s Being Dufay was one of my best albums of 2009, and the whole release is arguably best heard at night, when everything else is still; this is especially true of “Sanctus”, which emerges from the solo voice into some breathtakingly beautiful textures. sc140 was a project in conjunction with The Wire magazine, where composers wrote short snippets of Super Collider code, no longer than the length of a tweet (140 characters). The result is a mixed success but Nathaniel Virgo‘s contributions are invariably engaging; the pink noise in this track, punctuated by deep booms takes on the transparency of a field recording, all rain and thunder. Read more

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Mix Tape #14 : Best Albums of 2009

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Today marks the 2nd birthday of 5:4, so a big thank you to all of you who are regular readers for your time and interest in this blog. Following yesterday’s run-down of my favourite 40 albums from 2009, here’s the accompanying mix tape, featuring a track from each album. It’s probably the most diverse mix tape yet on 5:4, and lasts a little under four hours. 2010’s going to have to try pretty hard to surpass this remarkable music—enjoy!

Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2009

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

Embarking on another list such as this, i’m reminded again of what i think of as “Paul Morley’s Dictum”; in his superb book Words and Music he writes of the provisional nature of all “best” lists, describing how they could (and perhaps should) change, perhaps quite radically, from day to day. i think he’s absolutely right, and there are many albums released in 2009 that i haven’t heard, so feel free to treat the following as the gospel truth with a pinch of salt. Put it this way, it’s true now, at the end of the year, and that’s perhaps as good as anything else. There really has been a dazzling display of imagination and innovation this year, of which these forty are, in my view, the best. Read more

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Mix Tape #12 : Electronics

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Back, not so much with a vengeance as a new mix tape; the theme this time is simply electronics. Many of the pieces are rather long, so this mix, more than the others, features excerpts rather than complete works.

The mix opens with one of the most exciting electronic works by the duo FURT. Taking Brahms as its starting point, “Rigor” immediately slows, seemingly descending closer and closer upon its surface, the ensuing music seemingly scrutinising the Brahms material at the microscopic level. i was fortunate enough to witness this piece performed live (at the ICA, back in the mid ’90s), and it was thrilling, a truly memorable experience. The complete work can be downloaded free from FURT’s website; link below. “fol4” is Autechre‘s expanded version of “Fol3”, found on the limited double edition of Quaristice. It’s just as mercurial as its sibling, darting between the speakers with nervous, frenetic energy, from which assorted rhythmic patterns obtrude. A brief interruption comes in the form of Alva Noto’s “fontlab4.0”, one of his assorted miniature slews of (presumably) raw data from his superb album Unitxt. i’ve been interested in Ambrose Field‘s work since i heard him give a talk at Birmingham University about 15 years ago; he has a unique and fascinating approach both to sound itself as well as to its relationship to the listener. Included here is an episode from his splendid electroacoustic work Expanse Hotel, “Orient Express”. Next a work taken from an ancient off-air radio recording lurking in my archives, a work titled “Augustine’s Message” by the Welsh composer Robert Mackay. i’ve not heard anything else by Mackay, and sadly this piece doesn’t appear to be available on any releases, but i’ve been able to clean up the recording very well, and it nicely demonstrates the composer’s joint interest in music and drama. Despite its brevity, “Augustine’s Message” is an intense, beguiling listen. Then a lengthy excerpt from one of my very favourite composers, Roland Kayn. Kayn’s electronic works are nothing short of amazing, spanning vast durations with equally vast slabs of sound, slabs that are constantly re-shaping themselves. To my knowledge, few of Kayn’s works have been reissued on CD (the main exception being Tektra), but most of his vinyl releases can be found in high quality rips on the web (particularly here). Included here is a portion from the first part of his 1979 cycle Infra, “Isotrope”. Also conceived on a large scale is Pan Sonic‘s album Kesto (234.48:4), encapsulated in its 61-minute final track, “Säteily (Radiation)”. The excerpt here demonstrates the track’s beautifully radiant, shining character. Read more

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When worlds collide: the dazzling, bi-polar explorations of Hecq’s Steeltongued

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It’s perhaps not too fanciful to say that music today has two ‘poles’: one characterised by the presence of beats (in whatever form), the other by their absence. Occupying each end of an impossibly wide continuum, these poles have both had their creative bars set extremely high, from the intricate, rhythmically irregular convulsions of Ryoji Ikeda and Autechre to the lush, elliptical driftscapes of Aphex Twin and Biosphere. Aesthetically, there would appear to be a infinitude of differences between the two—they could even, in fact, be called opposites—and it’s no doubt a symptom of this that most artists are emphatically one or the other; i did, after all, describe them as ‘poles’, and indeed the decision of whether or not an emphasised pulse is to be a feature of an album is arguably one of the most fundamental, even defining decisions for any musician. It’s not surprising, therefore, that examples of artists combining these contrary poles in their work are rare. Alva Noto’s collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto (particularly Insen) bring skittering glitched beats into a softly drifting context; Aphex Twin’s career has visited both poles, although never within a single album; and most recently, Autechre’s Quaristice project saw them to some extent attempting to forge a synthesis of the two. The attempt to combine pulsed and unpulsed musics would seem to be akin to pouring oil into water; the two can sit happily together, but never actually blend. Often, the result becomes a kind of aural illusion, the listener able to focus on one element or the other, but never both at once, suggesting some kind of fundamental incongruity. That is, until now.

For six years, and as many albums, sound artist Ben Lukas Boysen, better known as Hecq, has focussed on beats, creating in my view some of the very best beat-oriented music ever made (if anyone does, Hecq puts the ‘I’ in IDM)—A Dried Youth must rank as one of the most assured, successful debut albums by any artist. But from his second album (2004’s Scatterheart) onward, on tracks such as “Madison I” and “Midnight Generator”, he began significantly to deviate away from the glitching pulses into more amorphous territory, digitally stained ambient miniatures that do not simply sit cheek by jowl with the beats, but surround, penetrate and interconnect them, bonding the album together like electronic glue. Subsequent albums Bad Karma and 0000 continued to drop hints at Hecq’s ambient interest, hints that were abruptly writ large in last year’s Night Falls. Unexpectedly—and quite courageously—the album is almost entirely absent of beats, occupied by generously-sized quasi-watercolours, their canvases daubed in nocturnal ambient hues, at times (“Nightfalls”, “Red Sky”) touching on orchestral and choral textures. Sonically dark it may be, but laden with a profound and joyous light, the album was a clear statement of intent from Hecq, an assertion of the importance and value of beat-absent music in his output; and above all, it posed the tantalising question: what next? Read more