Nordvargr

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 #46 : Body

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For the new 5:4 mixtape, i’ve turned to that which is closest to us all: the human body. Not a particularly promising theme, you might think, but once i began digging through my music library the sheer quantity of body references quickly became overwhelming (take your pick whether that says something about music in general or my collection in particular). i’ve structured the mix in four sections, each begun with a track concerning the whole body: part one rises from the feet up to the waist and hips, part two moves up the arms from the fingertips to the shoulders and chest, then there’s an interlude focusing on the heart (the only part of the mix to delve inside the body), and finally part three ascends from the chin to the top of the head. Appropriately enough for a body-oriented mix, it’s a little tongue-in-cheek from time to time, and because of what i wanted to include i’ve relaxed my usual rule of only featuring an artist once.

The range of music encountered on the journey is as broad as you’ve come to expect from these mixes, encompassing electronica and dance (Above & Beyond, Goldfrapp, Art Of Noise, Sunken Foal, Freezepop, Peaches, Venetian Snares, Depeche Mode, Erotic Market, Ryoji Ikeda, Bloodgroup, Gazelle Twin, Prurient, Body Sculptures, Man Without Country, Purity Ring, The Flashbulb, Björk, Kate Wax), film and TV scores (John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Cliff Martinez, Joseph Trapanese, Aria Prayogi & Fajar Yuskemal, tomandandy, Jay Chattaway, Angelo Badalamenti & David Lynch, Howard Shore, Jim Williams, Jed Kurzel, James Newton Howard, Mica Levi, Jerry Goldsmith), light music (Paddy Kingsland, Bass Communion, Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, The Real Tuesday Weld), pop of various chamber, rock, lyrical and plastic hues (Belle and Sebastian, Transvision Vamp, Chromatics, Björk, Anna Madsen, OY, Lene Alexandra, Chvrches, Goldfrapp, Sleep Party People, Kate Havnevik, Braids, CocoRosie), ambient (Venetian Snares, Chubby Wolf, Nordvargr, Not, Pinkcourtesyphone, David Wenngren & Christopher Bissonnette, Moss Covered Technology), leftfield and experimental (Frank Zappa, Squarepusher, Waldron, Stapleton, Sigmarsson, Haynes & Faulhaber, Grutronic, irr. app. (ext.)), and electronic (Aranos, Andrew Liles, Pauline Oliveros, Hecq, The Hafler Trio, The Caretaker, John Zorn, Indignant Senility, Daniel W J Mackenzie).

Four hours of bodily bits and bobs; here’s the tracklisting in full, including links to get hold of the music. Once again, the mix can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Mixtape #39 : Days

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The new 5:4 mixtape takes as its theme the days of the week, charting a slow progression from Monday to Sunday. That might not sound like a particularly promising theme, but i’ve been noticing in recent months just how many tracks in my music library contain either specific or more general references to days, which led to the idea for this mixtape. Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to it being (from an aural perspective) such an abstract concept, the music in this mixtape is more than usually eclectic, but once i again i’ve been able to navigate what i think is a convincing, interconnected sonic pathway through exceptionally diverse material. This exercise was revealing in the extent to which some days of the week have received a greater amount of musical attention, while others are much more neglected. This clearly has more than a little to do with our cultural experiences and exploits: plenty of music to choose from for the weekend – when we’re more likely to be away from work, enjoying ourselves – while Tuesday and Wednesday in particular provided relatively few options (though good ones).

Once again, the mixtape includes some of my favourite music, old and new, and i’ve divided it up into sections for each day, demarcated with interludes. A couple of composers appear several times: there are various excerpts from Nordvargr‘s 8-hour epic Sleep Therapy and some pieces from Gesualdo‘s Tenebrae music. i’ve drawn on my love of easy listening on a number of occasions too, featuring some delicious slices of fragrant cheese from Charlie Byrd, Orchestra and Chorus, the Polish Radio Orchestra and The Cavendish Ten. Songs of a multitude of stylistic persuasions litter the mix, encompassing electronica (Yazoo, Client, SPC ECO, Bat For Lashes, Kate Havnevik), ballad (Emiliana Torrini, Get Well Soon), dream pop (Emmy Rossum, Tori Amos, Mitski, Desire), manic pixie dream pop (CocoRosie), light rock (Chrysta Bell, Asobi Seksu), experimental chamber rock (Chrome Hoof) and lo-fi (Leah KardosRose Elinor Dougall). Devoid of words but packing diverse beats are tracks from Christ., The Flashbulb, Free*Land, Cemeteries and tomandandy. At the more abstract end of the continuum, i’ve included a range of more free-form electronics from the likes of Ulrich SchnaussColin Andrew SheffieldNovellerTetraSaddleback (Richard Skelton), Brian EnoaTelecineThe Noisettes and Stray Ghost. There’s also a burst of Thomas Newman‘s luscious score for Less Than Zero and a gorgeously potent movement from perhaps Per Nørgård‘s greatest symphony (No. 6) towards the end of the mix. i’ve featured a small selection from my now vast collection of renditions of Gloomy Sunday – one of my favourite songs, about which i really ought to write a book sometime. In case it isn’t obvious, Venetian Snares and Tsukimono are reworking Billie Holliday’s classic recording, in both cases coming up with something wonderful, whereas DJ Phoenix reinterprets the song within a torrent of squelch, grime and bass. And the whole thing kicks off with a tantalising six-minute introduction from Marco Blauuw & Yannis Kyriakides.

So, a highly eclectic week condensed into three hours of music; here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to buy the music. As ever, the mix can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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New releases: Anna Þorvaldsdóttir, Markus Reuter, Ensemble Musikfabrik, Arditti Quartet, Eric Craven, Audiobulb, Zbigniew Karkowski, Nordvargr, Stockhausen

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It’s a while since i’ve had a chance to survey new releases, so there’s quite a few that are overdue being highlighted. Some of them appeared on my recent Best Albums of the Year list, such as Anna Þorvaldsdóttir‘s Aerality, out on Deutsche Grammophon. As i’ve mentioned in my previous articles about Þorvaldsdóttir’s work, her overtly elemental music thrives in establishing environments where elements of certainty are both undermined and consolidated. Orchestral work Aerality is a superbly lucid example of this, a work that seemingly keeps trying to reset itself via strong intervals like octaves, fourths & fifths, which are repeatedly overrun and infiltrated by tendrils of material, leading to fascinating passages of grey, almost blank obfuscation (a Þorvaldsdóttir fingerprint). Much of her work explores this friction between clarity and obscurity, variously weighted, and most of the works heard here begin shrouded in abstraction. But what’s so very refreshing about this is the absence of clichéd value associations: clarity here is no more positive a thing than its opposite. The interest, and it is considerable, lies in the juxtapositions and steady evolutions between states, a connotative mirror—if one wishes to see it as such—of Þorvaldsdóttir’s Icelandic heritage but just as much a liberated celebration of the primordial plasticity of sound. Read more

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From the ridiculous (via noise) to the sublime

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When any series comes to an end, it’s an emotional experience, and so it was yesterday when the last two CDs in Andrew Liles‘ 12-CD Vortex Vault series dropped through my letterbox. Black Pool and Black End mark the conclusion of an amazingly prodigious cycle of discs, released once a month, beginning at the end of 2006. Andrew Liles’ music was one of my biggest discoveries from last year, recommended to me by the equally remarkable Matt Waldron (irr. app. (ext.)). There’s a fascinating mix of both the beautiful and the disturbing in his music, with highly evocative (and sometimes, very funny) titles, including “Bamboo Sheep”, “An Unspoken Narrative Regarding Institutional Abuse”, “Ghost Breath – A Lament For A Bear Cub Called Медвежонок”, “Taking Bumblebee to France for the Afternoon”, “36-23-33½” and “Matthew Doesn’t Like Bananas in his Ice Cream”. These titles are often frivolous, but sometimes rather more deliberate: “The Jean Michel and Vangelis Taboo Liaison”, for example, explores the kinds of sounds beloved of those two “composers”. He’s capable of real gravitas too, though, and the final piece on Black End is like an electroacoustic/symphonic finale to the series (quixotically broken up into 94 tracks!). Read more

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