This month, as Spring starts to slowly set, and my garden can use a re-tilling to kickstart the season, these half dozen recordings remind me of an aura of renewal, and they each bring with them of stirring of challenging the senses. These diverse takes on contemporary composition, et al, come from several foreign places and viewpoints.
Saso/Kevin Corcoran | Thresholds
Melted Snow Records (CD/DL)
From Dublin a collaboration between pianist Kevin Corcoran and multi-instrumental artists Saso. The sumptiously designed coverart playing with light, shadow and uniquely dappled aqueous coating is just the entré into an awe-inspiring, melodious world of strings and keys. This world is painterly, bright here, melancholic there, streaked with dusky atmospherics. The album is dedicated to the fragility of life and time, in essence, when one of the musicians’ fathers recently passed away: “We wanted to press the reset button. We took everything we knew and put it to one side and embarked on a new chapter” and further, “Music can shift your perspective and transform awareness to contemplate life’s meaning. Ironically, death has taught me about life.” In this light, Thresholds is a truly loving and delicate tribute to family, the cadences are gentle and imbued with emotion. The record never comes off as morose or melodramatic, rather the players all bring a sincere connection to the material and each others’ playing.
My standout track here, The Tower, is a restrained ambient piece that has a ghostly pulse that fades and rears itself like a bit of a false front. The collaboration is perfectly balanced in this space of fusion between classical orchestration and minimally saturated electronics. The mood throughout is respectful, warm to chilly, somewhat self-effacing and coolly removed.
Professor Khaos | Music for Video Games
Out of Manchester England comes this unique recording, or “music for an imaginary video game.” And then Music for Video Games strangely opens with something quite unexpectedly bluegrass (Home (Theme) and Town (Theme)), moving into elements of Gamelan (Woods) and further throwing a wrench into the system with a very Eno-esque coverart. A true hybrid from its first note, to its last, Professor Khaos has bated the listener with observations and distractions by delivering a whopping curveball of inventive electronic music. It’s a stimulating collection that doesn’t rush to tell its tale, instead opening like seedling after a few weeks hidden underground.
As a concept album, this may be moreso the inner workings, the brain of building an experimental video game as in-progress, rather than one being deployed by the player. This is more like the myriad of elements of its inner make-up (parts, wires, programming) making it tick – slowly adding color and other bells and whistles on tracks like Caves and Distant Fields which meld into each other breaking from the otherwise circumspect disposition with minor effects and flutters. The echo effects on Swampland are a bit of a departure from the mood here, but manage to act as a passageway of darker experimentation that continues into the final three tracks here, most notable in the post-post-Beatles psychedelic vibe of Shrouded Treetops. This all sets the stage for the warped twang of the concluding Cloud Palace which runs for the final sixteen minutes. It’s a peculiar shell game of tones, likely the strongest candidate to fit into the mold of the recordings title that somehow feels like a Hawaiian luau.
Celer | Xièxie
Two Acorns (LP/CD/CS/DL)
We’ve covered a number of releases from William Thomas Long, more commonly known as Celer, but Xièxie is likely one of his most pure explorations of his unique fusion between field recordings and smooth ambient textures. Long, who lives in Tokyo, took to the streets Shanghai, through the rain and amid nature to deliver one of his most searingly beautiful works to date. He fluidly travels from active noodle shop to a REM cycle inducing passage without a moments notice, generously setting the mood with some of the slow, lulling cadences found in common with work by William Basinski, Max Richter or Robert Rich. But here on this very lengthy release Celer orchestrates string-like chords (In the middle of the moving field) that seem extended for days on end, giving way to reflective modulations that swirl like thin fabric suspended in water.
After every third track there are intervals of curious in-situ recordings that capture the space and time between the intonations of drone and distance. Long really understands how to captivate the listener with this investigatory pauses within the otherwise bountiful release, and looping of harmonious light and shade (For the entirety). The birds and tiered street voices, the Chinese train station announcements, the bustle of vehicles, all lend themselves into and out of this dynamic and beguiling state of consciousness in flux.
John Butcher & Rhodri Davies | Drunk on Dreams
This record begins with a sense of broken-ness, of stability and fluctuation. On Radio Guts the duo of John Butcher & Rhodri Davies bring a mysterious lot of textures, grazing the Earth with purpose and distortion. At first it’s a barren unsettled space, defining territory as if to say “keep off the grass.” That is until they experiment with the levity of a bird whistle, and a field of pure static. Their resident sax and harp seem to vanish in this mirage of fragility as they use them and other objects to conjure exotic surfaces and elusive, residual twang. The two then explore the extremes of their instruments, from the rubbery twee and flailing echo effects of slung chords on Lithopanie. The fragmentary becomes key when steeped in the low end of breath, when emphasizing how the body becomes responsible for all actions, from recall to the loosest refrain. The tipsy sensibility buzzes and blurts, squeals and otherwise dramatizes the reflexes of all of the above.
Butcher & Davies have developed a relationship here, one that creates an angular connection between performance art and avant jazz, one that is resident on its own island. This is most dramatic on the deconstructed and referential Chaos is the Spectre. The din leads way to a noisy funereal-like procession leads to an emotional discord where Butcher’s horn circles and pivots while Davies bloats the space with reverb and sonic drone. Distantly I hear inflections of players from Henry Threadgill to Ornette Coleman, but there’s a catch as this billows into a stultifying onomatopoeia with a side of post-industrial detritus for good measure.
Synaesthesis | Another Point Of View: Lithuanian Art Music
Music Information Centre Lithuania (CD)
This is the debut from the daring Lithuanian collective Synaesthesis, (founded in 2013 by conductor Karolis Variakojis and composer Dominykas Digimas) performing seven compositions by their countrymen dating from 1993-2017. On Cell (1993) they take a dive into a shaded pool of wavy rhythms and cinematic mystique. The coherent players bring the drama in detached phrasing and delicate pauses. The peculiar pace helps the listener decode the uncertainty in the calm of State of Mind (Observance) (2012). The piano keys acting like punctuation, like percussion, and the buzzing backstory plays like a drone hive. Elsewhere there are sweet little vignettes that are balletic and music box-like (After Sunset Cycles) as well as the plight of evolving harmonic variables heard on Canon mensurabilis (2000). It’s a darkening canvas that eludes and blindsides. The most current piece here is the title work, From another Point of View (2017). This is a formidable work of mysterious conundrum, of wistful emotional flux that grows a multicolored voluminous shell over its ten engaging minutes. A metamorphosis.
Stylistically Kōan (2012) harkens to the traditions of Japanese traditional music, in its minimal single strings and dalliances with flute and keys. Sudden starts/stops with flourishes of short melodies broken by short silences. Perky and amusing in its brevity, this is the most colorful work here. The whole movement of ASMR seems trite and odd in so many ways, but its intent to evoke the core of listening is not lost on these ears, and the work for which it’s named, ASMR (2016) has a defining ring to it. As the narrator walks you through the actions the players flail, stretch, finagle, stress, and manage to layout a harmonious collection of sounds that flow into an abstract collage.
Beachers | Language Shapes The View
Daryl Worthington is Beachers and his latest tape Language Shapes The View finds the obscure intersection between speech and communication. From the heavily front-loaded frequencies of Sapir Whorf to the intersectional vibrations and murmurs of Screaming Into The Echo Chamber – this record stands out from the pack this month. Worthington’s damaged melodies explore layers of divided beats overlaid with mysterious stretched whispers. Far from anything resembling techno the abridged electronics are full-tilt experimental in nature, while they leave room for potential resonances that seduce like a cyclical heartbeat.
Once the tape is flipped What You Did repeats its blurry refrain like the memory of a schoolyard taunt. And just like the power and disengagement of memory, this finds rhythm in loss of such faculties. It’s a suave piece of stoic floating patterns. As language continues to invade, fade, and repeat like a resurrected cutting room floor the voice treatments become more and more haunting, as does the emphasis on electrical in/output. The b-side comes off like a wary, frustrated and inward techno form that never fully takes shape. Language Shapes The View likely moves closest in this direction with a bouncy beat and an airy, shy harmonic counterpart casually manifesting in real time.