Just to let you know that this blog has moved over to a new location on Tumblr at http://savaranmusic.tumblr.com/ Look forward to meeting you all over there
Just to let you know that this blog has moved over to a new location on Tumblr at http://savaranmusic.tumblr.com/ Look forward to meeting you all over there
Well I seem to be one of the last people to post up their “Best of..” list this year, largely due to a hugely enjoyable two week holiday in Cornwall where there was no internet, TV or mobile signal, but plenty of rain and wind ! This list just reflects those albums I played the most throughout the year and is in no particular order. OK here we go….
1. Simon Scott: Below Sea Level
Often described by reviewers as a hymn to the fens and I would have to agree with that. Field recordings from fenland locations blend seamlessly on this album with hints of melodic guitar and drone ambience. Do get the accompanying booklet in the deluxe edition from 12k if you can as it adds hugely to the context of the recordings and includes site sketches and photographs together with a digital download of a live venue recording http://shop.12k.com/products/500470-simon-scott-below-sea-level
2. Marielle V. Jakobsons: Glass Canyon
Marielle is one half of the Oakland based duo Myrmyr (with Agnes Szelag) whose recent albums The Amber Sea (Digitalis) and Fire Star (Under the Spire) are also well worth picking up. On this solo album Marielle explores the meeting of timbres between violin and various synthesizers and its a great combination of sounds ! http://experimedia.net/index.php?main_page=product_music_info&cPath=578&products_id=5771
3. Hanetration: Tenth Oar
This anonymous EP was sent in for review at the start of the year and really took me by surprise. Hanetration describes his music as “ambient soundscapes, woozy atmospherics and glitchy sound collages – music for headphones”. With leanings toward the slurtronic vocalisms of Kemper Norton and a nod toward the hauntological scene this is a really interesting listen. This was followed up by a second EP, Torn Heat, in August. Both EP’s are free to download on Bandcamp here http://hanetration.bandcamp.com/
4. How To Destroy Angels: An Omen EP
More inventive tracks derived from some distinctly quirky instruments (watch the “Ice Age” video) with a subtle hint of electronic tension and unease throughout from Trent Reznor, Mariqueen Maandig, Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan http://store.destroyangels.com/
5. Kemper Norton: Carn 1
My most recent discovery of 2012 thanks to an article in The Wire magazine on the electronic music scene in the south west of England http://thewire.co.uk/archive/artists/hacker-farm
Kemper hails from Brighton, but has roots in Cornwall and describes his totally unique sound as “slurtronic coastal folk” – a suitably obscure description for a musical output which cannot quite be pigeonholed into any current scene or genre. On Carn 1 myth, legend and landscape are explored via sampled folk instrumentation and etherized vocals over constantly evolving drone style ambient layers. It’s a complex, mysterious and exciting sound which is in a constant state of flux and there is clearly development here from his earlier releases including Lowender, Libraries Act and the free Unrequited series of EP’s. Carn 2 will be released on Exotic Pylon early in 2013 and i’m really keen to see how the Carn project develops. You can listen to and purchase all of Kemper Norton’s previous releases here http://kempernorton.bandcamp.com/
6. Chris Dooks & Machinefabriek: The Eskdalemuir Harmonium
This was, without doubt, the most obscure concept for a musical project this year. Basically it goes like this – Chris retires to a countryside retreat for some convalescence to recover from an illness and discovers two decaying American harmoniums on the premises. He proceeds to record their wheezes, rattles and thunks, together with the occasional musical refrain, and then interviews the owner about their history and past use by her father. Later on Rutger Zuydervelt, aka Machinefabriek, from the Netherlands is invited to join the project that develops from these recordings and a drone ambient underlay is created. Tinged with folk nostalgia, perhaps a bit of melancholy, but also a healthy dose of optimistic renewal, this is a real undiscovered gem of an album full of character and inventiveness. The LP is a work of art in itself, but if you don’t have a turntable there is also a download option too and both include extensive project notes and photographs. Order your copy here http://kominorecords.com/site/news/portfolio/k0m1n0-004/
7. Elisa Luu: Un Giorno Sospeso
Perfect music to relax to during a Sunday morning coffee with the papers. This is a more technical album then her previous ambient electronic releases with intricate rhythms and subtle melody interspersed with the electronic hum, pulse and chatter of synthesizers. Most tracks start quietly, but always develop in interesting ways – well worth a listen. http://agora.hiddenshoal.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=42&products_id=204
8. The Eccentronic Research Council: 1612 Underture
What’s not to love about this concept album release from the excellent Finders Keepers label ! It has a bit of everything – retro-analog radiophonic style pop, scathing northern political satire, actress Maxine Peake handling the spoken word content in style and witches, yes witches ! It makes you smile and shimmy whilst also giving you a subtle historical narrative about the terrible events surrounding the Pendle Witch trials in Lancashire in 1612, the 400th anniversary of which are hereby commemorated. Highly recommended ! http://www.finderskeepersrecords.com/discog_014eggs.html
9. Hiroki Sasajima & Takahisa Hirao: Hidden Birds Nest
The first of a number of pure field recording releases in my list. This one from the excellent 3 Leaves label concentrates in minute detail on the wildlife of the Togakushi region of Japan. After listening to the secret microworld activity of a range of unnamed creatures the soundscape pulls back to the macro scale of the human environment and ends blissfully in a rainstorm at a Japanese temple with temple bells chiming. http://3leaves-label.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=0&products_id=18
10. Peter Toll: Movement (Holkham)
An immaculate set of field recordings from Peter Toll which perfectly transport you to each location and envelop you in the daily lives of creatures inhabiting the Holkham estate grounds in Norfolk and the adjacent wildlife reserve leading down to the sea. Peter’s stated aim of hoping to convey the magic of moments spent in close proximity to wildlife, which seems completely oblivious of his presence on these recordings, is admirably achieved here. Completed over two years the recordings have a pristine quality devoid of human noise and you feel right there in the middle of the action as deer snuffle around in the undergrowth at your feet, owls hoot in the trees above, geese call at dawn as the sun rises and squirrels skitter up pine trees bending in the wind. It’s a complete tonic for the soul in audio form. Available from Jez Riley French’s excellent Engraved Glass label here http://engravedglass.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/peter-toll-movement-holkham-eg.html
11. John Grzinich: Madal oo (Shallow night)
This is another high quality recording by John Grzinich of five dawn chorus sessions completed during spring in Estonia. The sense of space and location in these recordings is immense and the sounds have tremendous depth from foreground pond life to distant background bird calls and dogs barking as the landscape slowly wakes. The Cookoo chorus on this release is one of the most amazing field recordings I have heard this year. Available from the Engraved Glass label here http://engravedglass.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/peter-toll-movement-holkham-eg.html
12. Mushy: Breathless
Wonderful Italian darkwave electronica with a distinct 80′s analog flavour. Peppered liberally with thumping retro beats and topped off by the soaring melancholic vocals of Valentina Fanigliulo. Available from Mannequin Records here http://mannequinrecords.bandcamp.com/album/mnq-030-mushy-breathless
13. Nils Quak: Aether
Easily the best use of a eurorack modular system to create an ambient album that I have heard all year. A wealth of constantly evolving sounds are conjured from the swirling tones of electronic hiss, thrum and pulse to create a melancholic and occasionally sinister narrative perhaps tinged by nostalgic reflection. This is one of those deep listening albums that requires headphones and multiple listens to get fully immersed. http://nqmusic.bandcamp.com/album/aether
14. Offthesky & Man Watching the Stars: Afar, Farewell
This is a hugely moving ambient work that really defies words to explain the full gamut of emotions you will experience on listening to it. Something akin to a grand hymn to nature this release is given huge depth by the experimental violin constructs of Brendan Paxton working in perfect harmony with the electronic processing techniques of Jason Corder. http://music.ruralcolours.co.uk/album/afar-farewell
15. Chris Whitehead: Ravenscar
Chris Whitehead’s field recordings capture nearly 2000 years of landscape change and development at Ravenscar near Scarborough in North Yorkshire in a sound exploration. Five key periods of human activity which sought to harness the topography and resources of this windswept stretch of coast are featured including a Roman signal station, a 17th century alum works, a 19th century railway tunnel, a failed holiday resort development and a WWII radar station. Collected material from each site was manipulated along with location recordings and some sound processing to create a highly atmospheric representation of site. The sense of long history and inevitable decay are palpable throughout. http://unfathomless.wordpress.com/releases/u12-chris-whitehead/
I can thoroughly recommend Chris’s earlier work Gryphaea on the Russian Obs label too which explores the Jurassic coastline near Whitby in a similar way http://abser1.narod2.ru/releases/
I’ve been working on some field recordings lately for what I have termed my “Safe Havens” project. This explores three nature reserves in quite different landscapes taking in the full width of Wales from the flat Welsh Marches borderland (where I live) in the east to the wide estuary at Ynyslas in the west, passing through a high mountain reserve on the way. The reserves each represent different habitats too. Holly Banks is a restored wetland at the heart of the confluence between the rivers Severn and Vyrnwy. Gilfach resides on a hill farm in the Marteg Valley and includes hay meadows, rocky outcrops, oak woodland and wet flushes, all bisected by the River Marteg. Ynyslas (part of the wider Dyfi National Nature Reserve) lies at the mouth of the River Dovey estuary and includes coastal sand dunes with nearby inland raised peat bog, saltmarsh and mudflats. The aim in each case is to capture a broad sonic signature of the landscape in which the reserves reside including not just the wildlife, but all of the periperhal sounds that feed into the reserves audible soundscape. Ultimately I am hoping to release the finished work on one of the dedicated field recording labels in Spring or early summer next year.
Last weekend was a first recce visit to Holly Banks, which is very poorly signposted (in fact there were no signs !), located just beyond the small village of Melverley in Shropshire. The reserve is an attempt to restore the kind of wetland landscape that would have been common in the confluence before drainage, flood defence banks and enclosure carved up the wetland and dried it out in the eighteenth century. The meadows are kept wet in the Spring and Summer by managing the flow on a deep ditch bordering the reserve and then the land is allowed to drain in the winter so that it can soak up floodwater. Large ponds and scrapes have been created across the area.
When you first enter the reserve via a kissing gate off a rough track you are presented with a huge open vista looking across the floodplain to the Breidden and Middletown hills in the far distance. Having soaked up the vista you then become aware of the accompanying depth of sound carrying over miles. On the day of the visit it was sunny with light cloud and a gentle breeze and the acoustic detail was really rich from foreground to background.
I found a good recording location (shown in the photo above) with a pond scrape in the foreground surrounded by bamboo like reeds that rustled gently in the breeze. The pond looked quite active with skaters, beetles, small fish and snails all moving around so I dipped the JrF C-series hydrophone in to capture micro level sounds while the larger macro level soundscape was recorded on my Tascam DR-100 MkII recorder using the internal stereo mics and a windshield. Three recordings were made, one with the hydrophones in the pond, one with the rustling reeds in the foreground and sounds beyond and one capturing the bird activity above in the form of a large group of buzzards wheeling on the air currents. These were all mixed into one track to recreate the full depth of the soundscape I could actually hear.
The complexity of foregound to background sound is fascinating in this track with grasses in the immediate foreground together with passing insects, then the hydrophone ticking and stridulating of water insects in the pond along with occasional bubbles of gas rising to the surface. Beyond that there are a wide variety of bird sounds, farm machinery, dogs barking on farms and right out in the background you have the cracking of shotguns on the Criggion Estate where pheasant shooting season is well under way. In fact I found the juxtaposition of human endeavor to manage the land for nature conservation in the foreground and for shooting birds in the background quite fascinating.
Do pop back to the blog to follow the sonic journey over the coming months as I will be posting up photos and sonic snippets along the way.
The new Savaran CD-EP featuring vocals by Barbara De Dominicis and Francesca Genco is now available and shipping early next week from Somehow Recordings http://www.somehowrecordings.co.uk/page20
This was originally intended to be an instrumental ambient release utilizing my own field recordings and photography to enhance the coastal theme, but I was then introduced to the amazing vocal improvisations of Barbara De Dominicis from Rome in Italy http://www.soonapres.com/ Barbara is a talented sound artist, musician and professional sound recorder with a string of previous album releases on Schema Records (Cabaret Noir, 2004), WM Recordings (Anti-Gone, 2009) and most recently on the Baskaru label with Julia Kent and Davide Lonardi (Parallel 41, 2012 http://www.par4llel.org/ ). She has collaborated widely with ambient and experimental music artists across the world and I am really happy and grateful that she agreed to do a couple of tracks with me on this five track EP as her vocals add hugely to the texture and atmosphere of Strandline.
The music fuses sampled acoustic instruments, processed electronics and synthesizers mixed with some of my own field recordings made in coastal locations of Scotland and Wales over the last two years. The photography which forms the cover and CD art on this release includes images taken on Harlech Beach, North Wales and the Dumfries and Galloway coast, Scotland. As ever with my music, it was the environment which informed the musical process that followed, with all cues being taken from visual and audible references in the landscape.
The EP is dedicated to all those people who can see the bigger picture in life by looking billions of years back in time as well as far into the distant future – they are life’s true explorers….
An anonymous debut EP dropped into my inbox last month from London artist Hanetration asking for some feedback. Currently unsigned to any labels Hanetration’s Tenth Oar EP has been released as a free download on Bandcamp where his anonymity remains intact with no additional info. on the artist. He describes his music as “ambient soundscapes, woozy atmospherics and glitchy sound collages – music for headphones” and I would pretty much go along with that, but I would also add that the EP is compellingly different, sonically inventive throughout and one of the most promising debuts out there in the ambient/experimental field at the moment.
Opening track Rex immediately grabs your attention with its frenzied babbling vocal layered with fluttering flute tones and a quirky beat underlying a mumbling voice buried in hazy delirium. Piano notes meander above a low static layer here and there before the rhythm picks up again to fade out on that fevered vocal line – a superb track! Alarm builds slowly with piano over dense layers of velvet drone into a mournful death march parade. Lifting the tone slightly, but still with a melancholic air, Rufus includes some wonderfully bowed psaltery-like sounds which stretch out over a steampunk mechanical rhythm full of hiss and steam. Final track Wreck has a delightfully twisted vocal like a lost soul wailing in a fog shrouded limbo with a slow pulse beneath supported by an insistent pickup glitch.
No hesitation here – go and download this now! This is a very exciting debut from Hanetration full of unusual and well mixed sound combinations and very worthy of the 24 minutes of your time that it will take to listen to the full EP.
Hanetration – Tenth Oar. Self released on Bandcamp 6/1/12 http://hanetration.bandcamp.com/
Hanetration – Soundcloud http://soundcloud.com/hanetration/tracks
The online electronic/experimental/ambient music magazine Futuresequence has attracted a large readership since its inception back in August 2010. The slick design, lively interviews and well informed reviews have recently been accompanied by two huge collaborative ambient releases in the free-to-download SEQUENCE series, curated by Futuresequence’s owner Michael Waring. With the success of SEQUENCE 1 & 2 it seemed almost inevitable that Futuresequence would evolve into a fully fledged netlabel and so it has come to pass with the imminent digital download release of the label’s first album by Radere – I’ll Make you Quiet.
Radere is Carl Ritger who lives near the picturesque foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, Colorado. He has been working as a sound artist since 2003 blending field recordings with electronic processing, effects and guitar. While Ritger apparently eschews synthesis techniques in favour of live instrumentation and organic looping this album does sound distinctly electronic and full of sound synthesis, a common result of processing original sounds to such extremes that the source can no longer be identified.
Opening track I’ll Make You Quiet sets the tone for the rest of the album where clear visual and audible influences from the mountainous scenery around his home filter down into Ritger’s expansive soundscapes, managing to sound by turns majestic, forbidding and melancholic. Soaring drone pads are gradually subsumed under an ear shredding layer of distorted white noise for much of the first track, which just barely manages to stay on the right side of listenable. The noise fortunately passes toward the end like a clearing storm and a gentle fading drone is revealed beneath.
The next three tracks have a similar format where an underlying repeated loop phrase is given dynamics through the use of effects processing with much reverb, echo and distortion thrown in to create some atmospheric pieces. Sometimes, I can’t Make Full Sentences actually manages to mimic the album cover in sound with a distinct sense of cloud rolling ominously down a dark mountain valley.
Final track Stay Away is the longest track on the album and, to my mind, the most fully developed of the tracks on offer. From a quiet start it builds into a menacing swirl with a little distortion here an there and some cold blasts of icy wind. The use of field recorded keys jangling around only serves to increase the heightened tension, as if you are following a climber, harness full of clanking belays and karabiners, into the maelstrom above.
Radere successfully manages to capture the essence of changing weather conditions, environment and scenery in this mountainous first offering from Futuresequence and provides a rock solid foundation on which the label can now grow. I look forward to traversing the many pathways of experimental music that will be on offer in the future.
Radere – I’ll Make You Quiet. Futuresequence FSoo1. Digital Download. Mastered by Jannick Schou. Released 24/1/2012 http://www.futuresequence.com/releases/ill-make-you-quiet/
Radere Blog: http://falsereactions.tumblr.com/
Radere Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/radere
Radere Bandcamp: http://radere.bandcamp.com/
The Hibernate label starts the new year in good shape with Tom Honey’s latest cure for sleep deprivation and tinnitus in the form of his new album Underneath the Stars.
The ten tracks on this release continue Tom’s exploration of the gentler side of ambient soundscaping which started in 2009. Suffering with tinnitus himself he set out to write therapeutic pieces of music which subsume the din of our noisy world and the faint burblings of the troubled inner ear in a calm and blissful rapture. Amidst the reverbed, reversed and stretched guitar layers there are gentle electronic pulses, diffuse vocals, soft warbling strings and a host of cleverly muffled field recordings of kids playing, thunder, rain and other sounds that interject here and there, or form a burbling undertone giving some bottom end weight to these otherwise airy pieces. The second track Another Day Out really stood out for me with its opening gentle patter of rain and low thunder rumbles which slowly give way to gentle guitar phrasing and a wonderfully rich sounding piano and strings section joined by a choral overtone, playing out wistfully on distant kids voices.
Relaxed – check, soothed – check, drifting off to sleep with a smile on my face – oh yeah I’d say that was mission accomplished for me.
Do check out this album whether you have tinnitus or not – you owe it to your ears !
Good Weather for an Airstrike – Underneath the Stars. Hibernate Records HB38. Released: 13th January 2012. Available digitally via Bandcamp http://goodweatherforanairstrike.bandcamp.com/ iTunes and Amazon. Also available in a limited run of 200 CD’s from Hibernate Records http://store.hibernate-recs.co.uk/products/14647
It was a pleasure to review Mark Harris’s debut solo album The Boy Observes the Ocean on the Hibernate label last year and his follow-up album has been eagerly anticipated by many. His electro-acoustic music gently unfolds from carefully manipulated sound generating software that he developed himself in the Reaktor programming environment. Always subtle, nuanced and slowly evolving his tracks manage to perfectly capture the essence of location, environment and emotion through sound.
Harris’s search for an appropriate new home for his second album seems to have alighted on the perfect destination with Mike Cadoo’s contemporary electronic label n5MD based in Oakland, California. n5MD’s tagline is “emotional experiments in music” and I think that perfectly sums up the content of the new album An Idea of North/ Learning to Walk, which has its origins in the Winter of 2010 and was further developed throughout 2011.
The album includes five tracks which seamlessly play through as one work totaling some 44 minutes in length. Opener softly lies sleeping builds gently from blended field recordings of cars swishing past through a fine curtain of rain, birdsong and kids playing somewhere in the distance. Accompanying the field recordings there are strains of woodwind and reed instrument tones that perfectly complement this soundscape of a sleepy Sunday afternoon in suburbia. Second track in slow motion she falls builds and develops the sound of the orchestral drones into a swelling pastoral symphony before fading to the blue-grey Atlantic swell and sea mist of an idea of north/ learning to walk. This is the central piece of the album and the longest track at just over 19 minutes and it really benefits from having that extra time to develop. Sounds of the the sea-kissed shoreline are pierced by high pitched flute like meanderings and some colossal reverb interjects here and there to give the impression of some huge hulk of a ship groaning in the wind. Processed chimes feed into the sound from about half way through and really lift that misty veil to throw some glinting sun into the mix before the tide slips and slides back into hushed white noise – this is a mesmerizing track ! Fourth track a place of safety/ all things will change is full of string swells with a slight dissonance and some hazy cathedralesque organ before playing out on a light piano refrain to great effect. The album ends where it started with towards an ending and reprise where the sounds of the first track make a barely perceptible return before vanishing again in a long fade.
This is already one of the most outstanding albums of the year for me and I was spellbound throughout. I highly recommend that you selfishly reserve some quality time for yourself to give it a listen.
Mark Harris – An Idea of North / Learning to Walk. n5MD MD195 Released on CD and Digital formats 6/2/12. http://n5md.com/discography/195/An-Idea-of-north–Learning-to-walk
NOTE: Also released on January 24th at n5MD’s digital outlet Enpeg is the accompanying album Points of Departure: Works 2004 – 2009 which collects some of Mark Harris’s earlier experiments in loop phasing with musical phrases. This album again includes multiple tracks in one seamless and constantly developing soundscape. http://www.enpeg.com/discography.php?catno=55
Just over a year on from his last release (collab album Flower Garden of Rejuvenation) with the electronic/experimental label Moongadget Jay Bodley brings us a new sound landscape in the form of the long player album December.
Recorded over two years while flitting between his mother’s home, his adopted home in Brooklyn NY and Blacksburg VA the five tracks are ultimately derived from piano, guitar and field recorded sounds. These basic sound sources have then been pushed through some extreme sonic manipulation and you will find it difficult to believe they were not all the product of some vast modular synth system spewing out randomly generated sounds. The end result is a set of tracks with a distinctly electronic flavor, sometimes extremely harsh and industrial then veering off into quieter humming drones. Be warned that the pure noise sections eg. the first five minutes of Livonia, end of Cosmic Trigger 1 and parts of Frost get quite unbearable if, like me, you have hearing that is sensitive to high pitched white noise.
There’s much to like here too though. Parts of Cosmic Trigger 1 sound like a space elevator pumping ambient bell pulses gently into your ear as you ascend on a twinkling breathy hiss of static cloud to watch a sunrise illuminate the wide horizon. Frost delivers, true to its title, the music of icicles melting over shimmering drones. December is suitably hushed and certainly the quietest track on the album with its slow pulsing drones that build to a crescendo then fade.
For me this was more a piece of sonic art suited to an installation or a live audio-visual gig than a traditional album. Few of the sounds get a chance to fully develop and expand in the mix before they immediately morph into something else, which is why it has that algorithmic sound generator style of sound.
Experimental listeners will no doubt soak this up though and as a piece of sonic art combining a harsh and wintry theme with nostalgic memories of home locations it does produce the goods.
A Setting Sun – December. Moongadget. Released 13/12/2011 as a digital download via iTunes www.moodgadget.com/december