From the ridiculous (via noise) to the sublime

by 5:4

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!).

For absolutely ages, i’ve been wanting to explore Merzbow‘s music. Paul Morley is very complimentary about Masami Akita in his book Words and Music (my best read of 2007), and i’d read sufficient reviews in The Wire to leave me intrigued. i’m not sure if this is the best place to begin (i doubt it), but begin i did with Partikel, Merzbow’s collaboration with Nordvargr; it’s breathtaking, in so many ways. The noise is shaped and developed with superb control; it’s a testament to how truly beautiful noise can be, particularly when placed within a rather more dark ambient soundscape.

The day ended in the company of Jóhann Jóhannsson, one of Iceland’s more interesting contemporary musicians. In calling an album IBM 1401, A User’s Manual, it gives nothing away of the rapturous content within. Jóhannsson is something of a latter-day Pachelbel (or Gorecki), using brief, cyclic melodic motifs as the basis for passacaglias that grow and swirl and develop; in this case, the sounds of the IBM machine have apparently inspired the music. This is most successful in the opening and closing parts, the latter of which – titled “The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black”, released as a single last year – has become quite well known. In fact, this was how i first encountered the album; an issue of Specialten magazine included the video for this track, which, like the music, is hauntingly melancholic and utterly sublime. “The sky’s gone dim and the sky’s turned black, ’cause i loved her, but she didn’t love back”… a dark sentiment pretty much everyone can relate to. For once, some music seems to do it justice, desolation with a hint of hope.

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