The Hafler Trio

The Hafler Trio – An Answer

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Let’s turn our attention to drones. The respective roles of time and material are perhaps nowhere more controversial – and polarising – than in drone-based music. Even if you find yourself drawn into the complexities of one form of drone, another can push you away with its relative monotony. For precisely this reason, i’ve always been fascinated by drone music, and it’s an idiom that includes some of my absolute favourite compositions. i wrote about one of them some years ago as part of my ‘Contemporary Epics’ series: The Hafler Trio‘s miraculously wonderful ‘Trilogy in Three Parts‘. As well as being a work i return to very often, at the start of this year i had the pleasure of discussing it as part of an ongoing series of conversations between Andrew McKenzie and Thaddée Caillosse, exploring the Hafler Trio legacy. The episode in question focused specifically on the Trilogy, and our lengthy conversation touched on a considerable range of topics related to and arising from it, along the way revealing fascinating insights into the thought and compositional processes behind the music, plus more than a few tangential asides taking in philosophy, listening practices and love. Anyone interested in The Hafler Trio and wanting to glean more about McKenzie’s approach to his work may well find this conversation to be of interest. It’s available via the Simply Superior Bandcamp site, along with plenty of other juicy things pertinent to the entire Hafler Trio oeuvre. Dive in, and be prepared for a long swim.

Even more recently, McKenzie has dusted off and polished up his three contributions to the first series of releases by Fovea Hex. The Explanation, The Discussion and An Answer were originally released as limited edition bonus discs accompanying the EPs Bloom (2005), Huge (2006) and Allure (2007). While many Fovea Hex releases have included accompanying remixes of their music, the three Hafler Trio pieces are rather more ambitious, best regarded as self-contained electronic works into which fragments and morsels of Fovea Hex material have been to a greater or lesser degree folded, embedded and woven. A decade and a half on from their original release, McKenzie has released a standalone edition of these pieces under a new, typically Haflerian, collective title: This is Our Problem: What Will Our Joy Be Then?. Read more

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Mixtape #55 : Sun

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For the latest 5:4 mixtape, inspired by the incredible heat that’s been sizzling its way across Europe recently, i’ve turned to the Sun as my theme. The mix has a somewhat different tone from my Summer mixtape from four years ago (which was, generally, intended to be quite upbeat and – well – ‘summery’), drawing on differing degrees of languorousness, dreaminess and, here and there, some searing intensity. As such, it starts rather slowly and lazily, through relatively gentle tracks by Heiko Maile, Benn Jordan, Fovea Hex, Anna von Hausswolff and Altus, before beginning to pick up some momentum. What follows includes various songs (Lady & Bird, Holly Herndon, Björk, Sigur Rós, C Duncan, Jenny Hval & Susanna, Ghost Twin), some of which are beautifully full-blooded paeans to the sun and/or poetically tap into its connotations of heat and fire. Of the non-vocal tracks, i’ve chosen some for their exuberance (Ashra, Kenny Beltrey, Deborah Pritchard), some for their potent energy (Autechre, Ulver, The Hafler Trio, Aidan Baker, Hecq, Elizabeth Anderson, Ouvrage Fermont, Wolves in the Throne Room, Brian Reitzell) and others for their ecstatic bliss (Ascoil Sun, Andrew Liles, Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano, Sleep Party People, Christina Vantzou, 36, Liisa Hirsch). The mixtape begins and ends with short traditional songs from Trio Mediaeval that invoke the sun’s rising and setting.

Two hours of sound that bakes, basks and boils in sunlight; here’s the tracklisting in full, including time positions and links to buy the music. As always, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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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 #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 #28 : Speech

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For the last mixtape of 2013, i’ve decided to explore music in which speech is paramount. Within a musical context, spoken words can jar in much the same way as an actor breaking the fourth wall, unsettling us by (ostensibly at least) withholding abstraction in favour of direct reference. The range of pieces included in the mix is more eclectic than usual, drawing on offcuts, afterthoughts and outtakes (Hecq, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Kreng, Aphex Twin), filtered renderings, recreations and re-imaginings of speech (Cabaret Voltaire, Charles Dodge, John Hudak, Gregory Whitehead, Marc Behrens, Jean-Michel Jarre) as well as forms of non-singing (AGF and the peerless William Shatner). But most of the tracks exploit the spoken word through fascinating essays in obscure narrative, by turns sinister (Eugene S. Robinson), prosaic (Jóhann Jóhannsson, Anne-James Chaton), sexual (Andrew Liles), wistful (Steve Peters), intimate (Edward Ka-Spel), surreal (Olga Neuwirth, irr. app. (ext.)), poetic (John Wall/Alex Rodgers), combative (Frank Zappa) and philosophical (Adrian Moore).

A little over two hours of speech-inspired music and sound art; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Mixtape #27 : Drone

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It’s 1 July, so here’s the new mixtape, focusing on the intense genre of drone. Drone music suffers the same kind of malaise as more generalised ambient music—immobility and drift as tacet apologias for a dearth of imagination and subtlety of ideas. But these 21 tracks offer an insight into something altogether more profound, plumbing the depths of immobility and stasis, teasing out faint, furtive tendrils of exotica. They represent a broad sonic palette, in terms of colour, dynamic and texture, incorporating elements from dark ambient and noise as well as more experimental electronics.

In all, two hours of droning wonder; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Mixtape #22 : Best Albums of 2011

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A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all! 5:4 is four years old today, & as in previous years, here’s a new mixtape showcasing the music from my best albums of 2011. One track from each of them—in total, 3½ hours of eclectica to start the new year in real sonic style. Do, please, support all the artists if you like what you hear (& you will!); links to buy their excellent music are included on the previous few days’ posts.

Here’s the full tracklisting (click the image for high-res artwork):

Uh Huh Her – Wake To Sleep (from Nocturnes)
This Will Destroy You – Black Dunes (from Tunnel Blanket)
Philippe Petit – 03 nyctalopia (from Nyctalopia)
Kate Havnevik – Mouth 2 Mouth (from You)
Aleks Kolkowski & Ute Wassermann – nor’easter (from Squall Line)
Kate Wax – Maze Rider (Live From The Cave) (from Dust Collision)
Arlene Sierra – Surrounded Ground – III. Egress (from Arlene Sierra Vol. 1)
John Cage – 109 [One8 and 108] [excerpt] (from 108/109/110)
Autechre & The Hafler Trio – ha3oe [excerpt] (from ae3o3)
David Lynch – Bass D Dark Stairway (from INLAND EMPIRE (Original Motion Picture Score))
Patrick Wolf – House (from Lupercalia)
Roly Porter – Al Dhanab (from Aftertime)
Braids – Plath Heart (from Native Speaker)
Deerhoof – Super Duper Rescue Heads! (from Deerhoof vs. Evil)
Talvihorros – Beta (from Descent Into Delta)
Christopher William Anderson – An End To Calm (from Moskenstraumen)
Stephan Mathieu – A Static Place Ia [excerpt] (from A Static Place)
Frank Zappa – Worms From Hell (from Feeding The Monkies At Ma Maison)
Leyland Kirby – Eventually, it eats your lungs [excerpt] (from Intrigue & Stuff Volume 2)
Celer – Part II [excerpt] (from Noctilucent Clouds)
Merzbow – Kamadhenu (Part 1) [excerpt] (from Kamadhenu)
Ulver – Providence (from Wars of the Roses)
Chubby Wolf – Deeper and the Damage From (from Los que No Son Gentos)
aTelecine – The Smuggler (Draft One) (from A Cassette Tape Culture Phase Two)
Akita / Gustafsson / O’Rourke – Two Bird [excerpt] (from One Bird Two Bird)
Tartar Lamb II – Polyimage of Known Exits: 3rd Movement [excerpt] (from Polyimage of Known Exits)
Hecq – With Angels (from Avenger)
Jenny Hval – Engines in the City (from Viscera)
Björk – Hollow (from Biophilia)
Ektoise – There and Here (from Kiyomizu)
Svarte Greiner – Twin [excerpt] (from Twin)
Access to Arasaka – Ixion (from Geosynchron)
Grutronic and Evan Parker – Mesomerism In Rhythm [excerpt] (from Together In Zero Space)
Xela – Charm [excerpt] (from Exorcism)
Black Swan – White Mourning (from The Quiet Divide)
Fovea Hex – Falling Things (Where Does A Girl Begin?) (from Here Is Where We Used To Sing)
Indignant Senility – Side B [excerpt] (from Blemished Breasts)
Monty Adkins – Memory Box (from Fragile.Flicker.Fragment)
Three Trapped Tigers – Magne (from Route One Or Die)
The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation – Function (from Anthropomorphic)


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Best Albums of 2011 (Part 1)

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

The list exists as a way of celebrating the known things which we all share that make us part of the same adventure, but the list also exists as a way of referring to the less-known things, which can remind us that the adventure does not have to be the same for everyone. […] The unfamiliar lists are routes at the edges of the city, in the shadows […] that make us feel a different kind of excitement, the excitement of discovery, the excitement of change. The change that makes the adventure constantly surprising. (Paul Morley, Words and Music)

Here’s the first part of my list of the best albums released this year; i hope in some small part it lives up to what Paul Morley is talking about.

40 | Uh Huh Her – Nocturnes
Uh Huh Her’s EP Black and Blue, released in the spring (and included on yesterday’s Best EPs list), hinted at what was coming, and that promise has been abundantly fulfilled on this album, the duo’s first in three years. Their edgy rock sound, propelled by synths, makes for a fascinating combination with the girls’ trademark lyrical vocal style, resulting in a rare kind of electropop that packs a surprisingly emotional punch. Occasional influences reveal themselves (Björk, Elizabeth Fraser) but Uh Huh Her have finally developed a sound all to themselves. It’s a shame the album is yet another victim of the loudness war, but the songs manage to rise above it. [UhHuhHer.com | iTunes]

39 | This Will Destroy You – Tunnel Blanket
You can’t mess around if you’re going to call yourselves This Will Destroy You, and there’s absolutely no messing on the group’s second album. The eight tracks progress at a sedate pace, made highly dramatic through the strategic use of lengthy quiet episodes. Subsequent loud eruptions solemnly plough noisy doomgaze territory, but TWDY’s interests extend beyond the confines of conventional post-rock; “Glass Realms”, in particular, inhabits a place of radiant ambient calm, and while the overarching theme is clearly a dark one, there’s so much beauty in evidence that it’s all too easy to forget that. [Amazon | iTunes]

38 | Philippe Petit – Nyctalopia
No-one destroys sound like Philippe Petit, and on this album there are more grit-scarred layers than ever. The distinction between treated recordings and live sounds created in the studio is similarly broken down, each track embodying both a ruthless sense of method and an aggressive spontaneity. Petit’s method, though, isn’t too far removed from madness, layer heaped upon layer until the ear can barely make sense of the complex textures that result. The power and intensity of this music mean that Nyctalopia is not a particularly easy listen, but it’s an undeniably rewarding one. [Free download]

37 | Kate Havnevik – You
Continuing the trend of outstanding Scandinavian pop, Kate Havnevik has clearly put the five years since her debut album to good use, as Youfinanced via PledgeMusic—is a huge leap forward. There are still occasions when she strays a little too closely to the sound of Imogen Heap (perhaps due to Guy Sigsworth’s involvement), but many of the songs are now nicely distinctive; the shuffling “Castaway” shows off the power of Havnevik’s voice, while “Soon” and “Tears in Rain” surround her with scintillating analogue electronics. [KateHavnevik.com]

36 | Aleks Kolkowski & Ute Wassermann – Squall Line
Ute Wassermann’s collaborations with Aleks Kolkowski go back a number of years (a pair of recordings from the 2007 Interlace concerts can be downloaded here), but this is the first time their bewildering music has been officially released. Anyone familiar with Wassermann’s incredible feats of vocal gymnastics will, at least in part, know what to expect—and, in fact, a few of the pieces (each inspired by weather systems) feel a little too gesturally familiar; but for the most part, it’s impossible to know who’s doing what or indeed how, and their combined music is a delirious triumph of improvisation.

35 | Kate Wax – Dust Collision
Kate Wax is the pseudonym of Aisha Devi Enz, who describes herself as “Swiss-born, half-Tibetan”. Hardly surprising, then, that’s she’s prone to do things a little differently, and while her songs have a recognisable dance aspect, this is always at the mercy of a determined urge to experiment. Take “Maze Rider (Live From The Cave)”, for instance, where a cold sawtooth bass underpins Wax’s twisting vocal line; later episodes with beats seem almost a concession in such a context as this. Elsewhere—as in the title track and “Holy Beast”—she’s more recognisably conventional, but this is the exception rather than the rule, and as a whole this is one of the year’s most interesting and successful albums of truly experimental songs.

34 | Arlene Sierra – Arlene Sierra Vol. 1
Just when you start wondering whether contemporary instrumental music doesn’t have anything new left to explore, along comes this, the first compilation of Arlene Sierra’s music. The earliest included work (Ballistae) is a decade old, but the rest of the pieces date from within the last five years. Sierra’s music is fresh and unpredictable, and the works connected with creatures—the chamber piece Cicada Shell and Birds and Insects for solo piano—make a particularly strong impression. A vocal work, Two Neruda Odes, indicates a lyrical streak to her work, but this appears to be of only secondary interest; Sierra is most in her element exploring rather hectic, scurrying textures. Superb performances throughout; the “Vol. 1” in the CD title is nicely optimistic—one hopes it’s not too long before there’s a Vol. 2. [Amazon]

33 | John Cage – 108/109/110
John Cage’s number pieces, composed late in his life, are among the most enigmatic of his entire output. They break down all kinds of conventions, adopting a form of notation known as the “time bracket technique”, constructing works from fragments of material with indications as to when they take place. The titles derive from the number of players involved, and frequently Cage stipulated that one piece could be performed simulataneously with others to form new compositional entities. This album focuses on Cage’s largest number work, 108, performed by itself and in conjunction with One8 and Two3. The performances (by the wonderfully-named “Chance Philharmonic”) are magnificent and the soundworld is riveting throughout, demonstrating anew how our understanding of Cage’s music is still a work-in-progress. [CDBaby | Amazon]

32 | Autechre & The Hafler Trio – ae3o3
i dare say this release, quite apart from the intentions of its creators, got hyped up way more than it should have, being announced and postponed repeatedly for about three years. When it finally emerged, back in the summer, the resulting music probably thwarted more than a few expectations—but taken on its own terms, this is a fine addition to the previous collaborations between these artists. Quite what Autechre’s involvement consists of remains unclear; once again, in both style and duration (lasting 3¾ hours), ae3o3 comes across entirely as a Hafler Trio work, forming large-scale sound sculptures from slow-moving, granite-like slabs of noise. The first of the two tracks, ‘ah3eo’, is a little bland and goes over ground pretty much covered before, but the second track, ‘ha3oe’ is very exciting indeed, one of the finest electronic compositions i’ve heard this year. [Norman Records]

31 | David Lynch – INLAND EMPIRE (Original Motion Picture Score)
Since relaunching his website, David Lynch has been primarily concerned with releasing supplementary material connected with Twin Peaks. But this year he also released a new version of the soundtrack to his last film INLAND EMPIRE, doing away with the songs and incidental music, replacing them with an additional 25 minutes of the score Lynch himself composed for the film (in a break with tradition, Angelo Badalamenti wasn’t involved this time). As such, the album is now far more consistent and genuinely representative of INLAND EMPIRE, a sound tapestry that’s as dark and intractible as the film itself. Lynch has clearly enjoyed experimenting with pop this year, but it’s in territory like this that he’s clearly most adept and at home, creating some of the best and most telling dark ambient ever made. [DavidLynch.com]

30 | Patrick Wolf – Lupercalia
Finding love has clearly had a wonderful creative impact on Patrick Wolf. There’s an audible spring-in-the-step on many of the songs, such as “Time of my Life” (with some stylistic echoes of Florence), “Together” and “The Falcons”, intermingled with elements of electropop, a broad palette of experimental sounds, and assorted mannerisms—both synth and vocal—that evoke the 1980s. The standout track, though, is “House”, a song celebrating that most prosaic and profound of things, setting up home with a loved one: “I love that here you live with me/Gives me the greatest peace I’ve ever known”—in both style and sentiment, this song is all glory. [Amazon | iTunes]

29 | Roly Porter – Aftertime
i’ve been little interested in Roly Porter’s work as one half of Vex’d, but this, his first solo album, is something else. Porter revels in his own aspirations; ejecting beats, but without betraying his bass-fuelled history, he’s drawn on a welter of hitherto untapped resources to forge Aftertime. The spectrum of music it covers is courageously broad, encompassing harsh noise, lush chords and intimate melodies (featuring the wonderful ondes Martenot). Despite its novelty in Porter’s output, there’s nothing about this album that feels experimental; there’s a confidence throughout that makes each track utterly compelling. [Amazon | iTunes]

28 | Braids – Native Speaker
i’m regularly impressed by music from Canada, and Braids are the latest. Their first album came out at the start of the year, and i’ve been returning to it constantly; their spritely brand of art rock is imaginative and uplifting, aided in no small part by Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s ever-dominant vocals. The songs are rich and substantial (most are 7-8 minutes’ duration), characterised by colourful and unexpected arrangements that serve only to propel the narrative. Standout tracks are “Plath Heart” , which both lyrically and vocally bears strong similarities to Joanna Newsom, and “Lammicken”, a brooding number fixed above a softly pounding beat; its final explosion is fantastic. [Amazon | iTunes]

27 | Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil
How on earth do Deerhoof do it? The similarities from album to album seem to grow ever more tenuous yet Deerhoof’s music is recognisable in a heartbeat. This short album is as quirky as ever; it gets off to a slow start, but many of the songs are among their best. “Super Duper Rescue Heads!” unites playful verses with an overdrive chorus (practically destroying Satomi Matsuzaki’s vocals), “Must Fight Current” is delightfully skew-whiff lazy lounge music, while “I Did Crimes For You” effects the guise of relatively straightforward indie rock, but keeps getting pulled off course. It’s all beautifully leftfield. [Norman Records | iTunes]

26 | Talvihorros – Descent Into Delta
Ben Chatwin’s music has been growing in maturity for the last few years (his 2010 album Music in Four Movements featured in my best album list last year), and Descent Into Delta is his finest creation. The guitar remains his primary sound source but it becomes highly plastic, transformed into new forms that lose sight of their origin. Supplemented here by (in Chatwin’s words) “organ, harmonium, mandolin, bells, synthesizer and waves of electronic static”, the five tracks show some influence of Aidan Baker in their structure and focus, but Chatwin’s sound is entirely his own. Descent Into Delta inhabits a somewhat amphibious and claustrophobic soundworld, but Chatwin fills it with wonders. [Bandcamp]

25 | Christopher William Anderson – Moskenstraumen
Having abandoned his previous moniker Operations, Chris Anderson has struck out in 2011 under his own name. Moskenstraumen is his first release, and the physical edition demonstrates Anderson’s deep love of design, coming in an intricately hand-made case with off-kilter concentric circles. They’re an abstract depiction of the whirlpools in the title and Anderson’s music explores them further, opening with “An End to Calm”, a track that gradually draws in and envelops the listener at its centre. The notion of maelstrom continues throughout, and while that inevitably leads to music with a noisy demeanour, it also encounters some lovely softer episodes. [Bandcamp]

24 | Stephan Mathieu – A Static Place
While the majority of ambient music has sacrificed the creative spark in favour of dry repetition or hollow paralysis, Mathieu’s music continues to demonstrate it’s a genre with prospects. Despite the title, there’s little actual stasis in Mathieu’s textures, which move and evolve with glacial speed and grace. It lacks pretention too, Mathieu deliberately accentuating the artifice of creation by making all but one of the track durations exactly 10 minutes long (the other is 20). The territory is pretty warm and familiar, but the slow, constant flux of its combination of ambient, drone and noise elements is fascinating. [Norman Records | iTunes]

23 | Frank Zappa – Feeding The Monkies At Ma Maison
For nearly two decades i’ve been in awe of the final album Frank Zappa released prior to his death, Civilization Phaze III; this release of five synclavier pieces augments that experience, containing nascent versions of some of that material. “Buffalo Voice” is effectively a stripped-down version of the one on CPIII, and what it lacks in immersiveness it gains in the clarity it affords to the inner workings of Zappa’s counterpoint; it’s a beautiful track anyway, and being heard like this does it no harm at all. As for the rest, “Secular Humanism” isn’t quite so effective as its later incarnation, but the remaining three pieces—which effectively fall between CPIII and the earlier Jazz from Hell—are splendid; despite its brevity, “Worms from Hell” is perhaps the most effective, its semi-chaotic material sounding all the more wild compacted into just 5½ minutes. [Barfko-Swill]

22 | Leyland Kirby – Intrigue & Stuff Volume 2
Intrigue & Stuff is an ongoing series begun in 2011, which to date has three volumes. Volume 2 features just four tracks, but they draw heavily on Kirby’s formidably-refined technique of grinding down to the essence of a sound. The title of “Eventually, it eats your lungs” bespeaks disease, and everything about its music is encrusted and weighed down with sonic infection, out of which a voice struggles to sing—it’s definitely one of Kirby’s strongest and most moving pieces. But even this is superceded by the final track “Complex expedition”, a 20-minute foray into entirely new hauntological waters, the omnipresent hiss and slithering bass providing the framework for a procession of analogue synth ideas. Kirby practically invented hauntology, and to hear him re-inventing it in such dazzling fashion is exhilarating. [JunoRecords | Digital download only available to subscribers]

21 | Celer – Noctilucent Clouds
Reviewed in August, this is Celer at their best, creating the most subtle of ambient soundworlds. Back then, i alluded to the music of Feldman, and that still seems the most appropriate analogy; barely audible a lot of the time, barely moving the rest of it, music rarely gets as intense or focused as this. To an extent, it suffers being broken into three arbitrary tracks, but at the same time duration becomes practically meaningless in music of this kind—one could almost listen forever. As the number of Celer releases asymptotically approaches absurdity, distinctions between many of the albums become harder to find; all the more reason then to celebrate Noctilucent Clouds which, both within Celer’s output and in ambient music generally, is unique. [Bandcamp]

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Mixtape #21 : Noise

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With noise is born disorder […] In noise can be read the codes of life, the relations among men. Clamor, Melody, Dissonance, Harmony […] when it becomes sound, noise is the source of purpose and power, of the dream—Music.

Stirring words from the opening chapter of Jacques Attali’s marvellous book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, and noise is the focus of the new 5:4 mixtape. As such, i suppose it could be deemed the least accessible of these mixes, although my interpretation of noise here extends beyond fortissimo walls of abrasion; there’s a lot more to noise than just that.

Three of Alva Noto‘s miniature renderings of computer files pepper the mix, blurring the distinction between active and passive compositional intent. To some extent, the same could be said of Richard James’ AFX track ‘Ktpa2’, one of a pair of ferocious static blasts that remain his most brutal music to date. Most of the tracks included here, though, are less single-minded than these, and drag a variety of æsthetic manners into their obstreperous orbits. Three Trapped Tigers (whose first album is one of this year’s most outstanding releases) explore a complex amalgam of math rock and glitch, while Ukranian soundscapists First Human Ferro put noise at the core of their paradoxically radiant dark ambient. Japanese experimentalist Lethe takes hard metallic field recordings in abandoned resonant spaces as his starting point, while Nine Inch Nails do what they do best tucked away deep in the bowels of a studio. Noise is a sine qua non of all music with a hauntological aspect, heard here in the hissy nostalgia of Black Swan and the searing, gritty glitter of The Stranger (in my view, Leyland Kirby’s most riveting persona). My own work the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars is a large-scale conflict between noise and pitched material; the excerpt included here is from the centre of the piece, where bell-like pitches first emerge. One could hardly have a noise mixtape without Merzbow; i’ve included part of the opening track from one of his latest albums, a typically kaleidoscopic feast of electronic mayhem. At the end comes a fittingly curt signing-off by Thomas Bangalter, from his soundtrack to Gaspar Noé’s film Irréversible. Read more

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Contemporary Epics: The Hafler Trio – Trilogy in Three Parts

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It’s impossible to speak of ‘contemporary epics’ without given especial mention to The Hafler Trio (the nom de guerre of Andrew McKenzie). While Kenneth Kirschner and Pat Maherr, discussed previously, usually restrict themselves to relatively modest durations, it’s rare for music by The Hafler Trio not to exceed an hour or more. This characteristic dates back as far as 1991, with the release of Kill the King, its single span lasting 73 minutes; the companion albums Mastery of Money (1992) and How to Reform Mankind (1994), ran to 75 and 78 minutes respectively. Those three albums form a trilogy, and large-scale trilogies have continued to be a feature of the Hafler Trio œuvre. Exactly As I Say (2004), Exactly As I Am (2005) and Exactly As I Do (2005), each double albums, together form a trilogy lasting almost 5½ hours. How to Slice a Loaf of Bread (2003) and sister work How to Slice a Loaf of Bread (Lengthwise) (2004) are each trilogies in their own right; together they too last nearly 5½ hours. Most recently, McKenzie’s occasional collaboration with Autechre has finally become a trilogy with the release in August of ae3o3 (which on its own has a duration of 3¾ hours); together with æ³o and h³æ (2003) and æo³ and ³hæ (2005), this trilogy is now the longest of all, stretching to a massive 5¾ hours. Even the albums not part of trilogies occupy long durations: Hljóðmynd (2000; 1 hour), Normally (2003; 2 hours), Where Are You? (2004; 1 hour) and Scissors Cut Arrow (2004; 1¾ hours). On all of these albums, individual tracks occupy a complete CD; faced with music on such a scale, it’s understandable why, quite apart from the multitudinous disjecta membra that red herringly encompass each release—not to mention the eternally bellicose attitude of McKenzie himself—The Hafler Trio can seem off-putting, unapproachable and daunting. Read more

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Mixtape #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 mixtape 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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Mixtape #12 : Electronics

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Back, not so much with a vengeance as a new mixtape; 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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An archetypal journey on a road from nowhere: The Hafler Trio – Dislocation

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Pretty much all of the music that qualifies for the lame but vital epithet “interesting” is found among the fringes and shadows of most people’s perception. Unfortunately, these days a great deal of dross and detritus lurk there too (the kind of feeble fodder served up on blogs such as “Deleted Scenes, Forgotten Dreams”), but that’s usually music that has placed itself at the edges actively, with the intention of disassociating itself from the mainstream. The best (or, rather, the best of the best) is there because it simply cannot be anywhere else; in fact, truth be told, it’s not even here: it resides precisely nowhere, and makes its point with a beautiful intensity of thought and bewildering clarity of utterance. With the literal meaning in mind, such as this may be called ‘Utopian’ music. The output of The Hafler Trio could be said to reside in just such a “no place”.

Various parameters need re-thinking and re-shaping in approaching The Hafler Trio’s works: this isn’t, in any conventional sense, ‘music’—nor, indeed, could it be described as ‘art’; it is something ‘other’ than either of these things. This need is, literally, mirrored in the plethora of paraphernalia that accompany many Hafler Trio releases, where text and image are frequently shown back-to-front; it suggests many things: the need to look at things in a new way, and that what appears backward may well not be; the backward writing also suggests Da Vinci’s practice of secreting his thoughts and concepts. and yet, nonetheless, these works have qualities that can be said to be both artistic and musical, and as such they provide a ‘way in’. It’s certainly a better approach than to question the author, Andrew McKenzie, who chooses to hide himself behind layers of pseudo-arcana and quasi-esoterica; this doesn’t matter, of course (outside of religion, when has it ever been profitable to shift attention from the creation to the creator?), it is the work that must command our interest (not our questions) and, in turn, it is the work’s response (not its answers) that we must face; then and only then, we shall be provoked for the right reasons. Read more

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Mixtape #4 : Miniatures

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This new mixtape began life as one of my playlists on iTunes, which simply specified that it should only include tracks under two minutes in duration. Surprisingly, 815 tracks from my music library fulfil this criteria, amounting to over 15 hours of music. Not surprisingly, this playlist makes for an eclectic and surreal listen, while at the same time providing a kind of ‘distillation’ of the music that i love. Here then, is a selection from that playlist, with a slight emphasis on music i’ve listened to more recently; almost 70 minutes of music stitched together with the aid of a variety of delightful advertisement spots by the wonderful and very innovative Raymond Scott. What this lot tells you about my music collection is anyone’s guess…

Here’s the complete tracklisting: Read more

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Merzbow and h³o

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Yesterday’s listening was confined to a single album, Merzbow‘s Door Open at 8am. Annoyingly, i felt distracted while listening, so i don’t feel i’ve engaged with it adequately; i’ll try again soon, perhaps as part of my journey into Masami Akita’s work. This morning i spent time with OM Electrique, the first of his 50-disc “Merzbox”, and it was a fascinating experience. i’m quite fond of journeying through an artist’s work chronologically, and beginning with this album, from 1979, i was aware it would be screaming “analogue” at me, and i’m sure this contributed to how abrasive was the start of the opening track. Fortunately, i’m made of sterner stuff, and after the (admittedly rather discomiting) first 10 minutes, the noise opened out into other areas. i’m already fascinated with the way that rhythmic pulses move in and out and evolve within Merzbow’s work; here, it seemed to be one of just a few layers of noise that dropped in and out at intervals; but when a layer drops out, it gives a startling new way of hearing the remaining layers. The four tracks are related in pairs, and the album’s a bit disjointed as a result; early days though.

Noise of a very different order this afternoon: The Hafler Trio‘s Hljóðmynd. How Andrew McKenzie creates his soundscapes i have no idea. It’s going to be an interesting week, since BBC4 is showing a number of programmes this week exploring aspects of popular music. Highlights: Monday has histories of The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops, Tuesday a review by Paul Morley (a genius, and one of my heroes) about the role of music on culture/identity, and on Wednesday Charles Hazlewood is exploring “How Pop Songs Work”…

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2007: memories and echoes; 2008: first sounds

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There were many, many musical highlights in 2007, but a lot of disappointments too, which i guess is unavoidable, considering the amount of music i listen to throughout the year. Probably the worst of the lowlights of the year was Avril Lavigne‘s The Best Damn Thing, an unfortunate title considering it was one of the most appalling things i’ve heard in a long time; it seems she’s not averse actually to steal musical ideas from other people these days (Peaches in particular). As for the highlights, the brightest and best were:

Andrew LilesVortex Vault series and New York Doll
irr. app. (ext.): Ozeanische Gefühle, Perekluchenie and Cosmic Superimposition
Joanna Newsom‘s Ys
Fovea Hex‘s Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent trilogy
The Hafler Trio‘s Hljóðmynd, How To Slice A Loaf Of Bread, The Explanation, The Discussion, An Answer and Whistling About Chickens
Belle and Sebastian‘s The Life Pursuit
Björk‘s Volta
Nine Inch NailsYear Zero
Orphan Fairytale‘s Whose Words Are My Words (with Mudboy) and Speaking Spooky
CocoRosie‘s Noah’s Ark and La maison de mon rêve
IAMX‘s The Alternative, and finally
Pan Sonic‘s Katodivaihe Read more

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