[ Bedouin Records, 2017 ]
A massive, dark wave rises over the horizon on the debut LP by the Greek composer Constantine Skourlis. Named after the mythological underworld, with track names such as “Cosmos” or “Emptiness”, it wants to describe something epic and beyond our grasp. The first three tracks seem to come straight from the Void: endless reverb and doomy strings emulate a gargantuan cavern create an atmosphere of being lost in the vastness of space, the final track, “Erebus”, appropriates Tim Hecker with noisy, destroyed comptuer textures corroding on top of thickly layered, yet airy pianos. An experiential, cleansing experience. Recommended to listen to with headphones on.
[ Rocket Recordings, 2016 ]
A primordial fog rises above this genre-bending dark masterpiece by the Bristol based duo KURO. With its minimalistic artwork (and name) referring to the masterpieces of Japanese psychedelia and avant-garde, the thickly layered drones bring to mind the music of Tetragrammaton or Yoshi Wada (although not that minimalistic) with an occult twist. Referring to ancient cults and religions, KURO creates a dense, thick atmosphere that sounds like a preparation for a conjuring of a forgotten deity about to emerge from a trans-dimensional portal. This is a work of psychedelic beauty to get lost in. Recommended!
[ Self-released, 2016 ]
The newest album by James Ferraro is somewhat similar to Torn Hawk‘s Union and Return in a way that it also appears to describe the human condition in the 21st century. But while Luke Wyatt’s work seems to be an escapist utopia inspired by 19th century Romanticism, Ferraro is so 21st century it hurts. While Union and Return has a magnificent digital castle on the cover, Human Story 3 offers digital corporate drone wearing an Amazon box on its head. And it only gets more anonymous and dehumanized from here: music videos for the tracks on the album feature computer-generated faceless crowds filling up public spaces and walking in random directions, synthesized female voice recites generative poetry and musings on artificial intelligence and economics (Amnesia Scanner, anyone?), MIDI sequencers pose as a classical orchestra in a series of paradoxically kitschy and emotional passages with corporation-obsessed titles such as “Market Collapse”, “GPS & Cognition”, “Security Broker” or “Plastiglomerate & Co.”. Accept your fate. Embrace the smooth surfaces and location services. The touch screen is warm, just like flesh.
Aaron Martin‘s Chapel Floor is a kind of a release that just gets released silently and modestly on a cassette and kinda stays in the distance, hiding the sound world contained within. Featuring an artwork that would rather fit a sci-fi novel collection, it’s a raw take on slow, droning modern classical minimalism, as filtered by the nostalgic take on the American midwest. Cello, synths and church organs are played in a series of slowly ascending and descending meditations on life and death. There’s something strangely Kubrickian about that cover. Something Ultimate. And a piece of that Ultimate is present in Aaron Martin’s music. A piece of the Ultimate many will miss. Maybe you’ll miss it, too. Maybe not.
This modern classical/minimalistic work by Czech visual artist Jolana Havelková and composer Lucie Vítková might not be the target kind of material for Weed Temple musically, but it’s a mighty interesting experiment in a conceptual sense, and I’m a sucker for all things conceptual. In this case, it’s the work of 19th century classical Czech composer František Kmoch, whose original works are reworked into abstract, fragmented pieces. First, Havelková would take the notation of Kmoch’s pieces and rework them into abstract pieces of art. Then Lucie Vítková would come in to work on those notations, filled with topsy-turvy sounds that sound almost completely improvised and unstructured at first, but gradually become highly emotional pieces, as fragmented and detached as they might be. Silence and breaks between the sounds play a big part here, as if to magnify and signify the importance of the sounds themselves, torn out of their original time and source and reworked into either pieces of cold minimalism or strange, idiot savant-style semi-melodies for accordion, piano, harmonica, organ or voice. Released on CD and as digital download by the Slovakian experimental label LOM.
If you were ever thinking “Is there anyone else quite like Sean McCann in this world?”, then the work of the London resident Oliver Barrett, operating under the moniker Petrels might be the answer. Operating in the very similar area of morphing and modifying modern classical instrumentarium for the needs of glitchy drone and ambient music, he molds the walls of strings into shimmering, solid crystalline towers that seem fragile and delicate at first but turn out to be nearly indestructible, immune to weather or wars. It’s a raw, slowly emerging sound, like a cleaner version of Tim Hecker or a harsher Christian Fennesz, with a bit of choir beauty thrown here or there among the nearly post-apoc war drums or searing white noise textures. Deep, dark and unrelenting. Highly recommended.
At first glance, the cover of Chair, an album by Australian contemporary classical pianist Simon James Phillips, appears to be completely white. But that’s just an illusion: after some further inspection, there appears to be a photograph of a chair on the cover. Cropped, barely recognizable (and God forbid if you have your white balance set high on your screen/monitor, then it becomes invisible), but the chair is there. It’s cleverly corresponding with the music on the album – it’s made with a piano, just an ordinary piano, but there are times it becomes an ambient mass of sound with no recognizable source.
Simon James Phillips’ album can be considered a sort of a “concept” album revolving around the idea of chairs – whether it’s just ordinary chairs you can meet in every public place you go to, or the chairs at your home, which often you yourself have chosen. One doesn’t usually pay much, if any, attention to chair. They’re just there, and they serve one simple purpose – to be sat on, to provide support and comfort to the body. The music on Chair is a bit like the chairs themselves – it’s importance and beauty can be easily overlooked, but once some attention and thought is lended to the album, it suddenly becomes an interesting, entrhralling concept. Phillips purposefully designs his sounds to be as ambient-like as possible to blend with the background, but without posing the risk of becoming mere “backgrond music”. Just like chairs, which simply are there, but once a simple thought appears – “what would happen if all chairs suddenly disappeared?” – it becomes an important and interesting problem.
Conceptual mumbo-jumbo aside, the music on the album is lush and powerful without ever getting too much “in your face”. It relishes in slowly growing clusters of notes being played with differing power, from barely audible single notes to a gigantic wall of sound over a course of many minutes. If you enjoyed Clusters by Super Minerals (still probably my favorite Super Minerals and Stunned Records release after 5 years), The Well Tuned Piano by La Monte Young or Strumming Music by Charlemagne Palestine, then Chair will be right up your alley. It achieves some of the most powerful emotional response from the listener with the minimal means – hence the name of the movement “minimalism”. The slow, delicate tracks, like “Posture”, “9er On Off Switch” or “Moth to Taper” stand against the much more powerful and massive compositions such as opening ascender “Set Ikon Set Remit” or my absolute favorite on the album, “Poul”, which is the musical transcript of a downpour on a summer day.
Chair is a must have for all fans of “furniture music”, as Erik Satie prophesized the coming of the ambient music back in 1917. It’s a music to be listened to while sitting in your favorite chair and to be focused on with distractions reduced to a minimum. Then the album’s full potential can be fully realized. It’s not the easiest, most accessible listening, but once it clicks, you may not want to leave the chair in the next few days.