Over two months have passed since my last post, a near tragic length of time when considering the rate at which new music is being pumped out. I’ve no illusions of this site ever becoming a dominant figure in the content provider’s rat race, or even the blogosphere for that matter. The reality is that my interest in experimental music is touch-and-go. I listen to music almost non-stop, but often become exhausted when listening to certain styles for extended periods. What it comes down to is that if I’m not engaged in something, I’m not writing about it. I don’t know what will eventually become of this site, but I do hope that I can continue to find inspiration to write about music and that the alcohol seed will always exist in some capacity.
So, for two months I’ve been more-or-less exhausted by the music I’m “supposed” to be writing about, instead consumed by Cass McCombs, Deafheaven’s new record, Bruce Springsteen’s 80’s period and pretty much all of Spiritualized’s catalog. Also discovered that I have a passion for photography, often finding myself walking the neighbourhood throughout the day and into the night, taking pictures of whatever was catching my eye. A meditative practice soon formed out of these photo walks, filling a void carried over from weeks of quiet music consumption.
Amid the apathy I felt toward most new experimental work and submissions I was receiving, I wasn’t completely removed from that side of things. A few albums did manage to move me and even occasionally provided inspiration for photography. Some of these albums were released this year, while others were ones from years ago that I was either revisiting or just discovering. I thought I would use this space to write about these albums—what I’m calling my summer experimental media diet. And who knows, maybe this endeavour will spark some prolonged activity or a new direction for the site.
øjeRum – Skælver Fuglenes Vinger
øjeRum is musician and collage artist Paw Grabowski, whose tireless artistic efforts were unknown to me until earlier this year, when I discovered this piece. Physical versions of øjeRum albums quickly become scarce, released in tiny runs and snatched up quickly on bandcamp. I managed to grab two, a CD of Skygge and the tape at hand, Skælver Fuglenes Vinger. Both are great but the degraded, looped hypnosis of Skælver has pulled me in more, proving itself a worthy ongoing soundtrack for pensive nights.
I try my best to avoid streaming and/or listening to digital versions of albums when physicals are available, and Skælver, to me, plays out like one of the best examples in favour of this stance. I’ve heard this digitally and it simply doesn’t compare. On tape, the album’s imperfections feel in harmony with the mechanics of the player. That characteristic warmth from an analog system welcomes these sounds, while digitally, the music feels at odds with the computer—a kind of square-peg-round-hole scenario. Compositionally, the seven pieces that make up the album never do all that much, but these loops have been well thought out, able to coast for minutes on end without sounding tired or overly repetitive. This is just great. One of the best tapes to cross my path in some time.
Ian Hawgood – 光
Hawgood has had an eventful year, with two excellent collaborative discs released in January, and later this outright solo album on the French label eilean. Not dissimilar to øjeRum’s work, Hawgood operates in a difficult to define realm of post-classical decay. He haunts his listeners with little more than a piano and tape system, creating intimate arrangements that unfold with the delicacy of smoke wisps. Headphones reveal piano notes swathed in the soft buzz of imperfect analog recording (Hawgood is a sound engineer, so this is obviously intentional imperfection). Every note struck, that would otherwise be crisp and clean, shutters inside a shell of electricity. There is a world of subtle activity behind these arrangements, but Hawgood is the only performer in this ballasted orchestra. At a mere 27 minutes, the album feels over in a blink. What it lacks in length, however, it more than makes up for in replay value.
Marcus Fischer & Simon Scott – Shape Memory
Stunning collab from these two vets recorded in a single session while Scott was on tour with Slowdive (he’s their drummer). Both artists play cymbals, electronics and guitar over a backdrop of prerecorded tape loops. The result is a dense ambient-jazz excursion, full of skittering percussion and ear pleasing drones. At times Shape Memory harkens to The Necks’ quieter side, but most of the time I just picture a babbling brook slowly making its way down a gently sloped mountain side. I love the feel of these sounds, and how the work as a whole evokes a spirit of improv that so many electronic/ambient albums lack. The disc unfolds in a reverse climax over three seamless movements, beginning with the more energetic “Ferns” and ending in an active simmer with “Branches.” A contender for my favourite album of the year in the experimental camp, and a real pleasure to throw on and get lost in.
Mathieu Ruhlmann + celer – Mesoscaphe
I’ve owned and enjoyed Mesoscaphe for years, but something about this album really clicked for me over the summer. At this point I would say it’s the best thing I’ve heard from either of these artists (although Ruhlmann’s collab with Chris Strickland, This Heap is Greater Light, is a close contender. And I’ve only heard a fraction of the immense celer catalog). The album’s overarching theme of deep sea exploration is channeled by an array of sonic tactility (mostly Ruhlmann) and languid droning (mostly celer). I love the unhurried way it all comes together. Listening to this, I am transported; I can imagine being inside the very submarine from which the album takes its title. The syrupy sounds feel weary and broken, as though they’ve had to travel a great distance to reach your ears. All around a tasteful choice of sounds, perfectly paced and composed.
Yann Novak – The Future is a Forward Escape into the Past
Novak has been on my radar for some time but I’ve not really heard a lot of his work, and he’s released A LOT of work. Enjoyed Presence from quite a few years back but it didn’t grip me as much as this latest one. What immediately strikes me with Novak’s music is his clean style, not necessarily in the timbral qualities of his sounds, which can be rough-hewn (though he does favour a cleaner tone), but more so in his steadfast approach to a kind of straight-shot minimalist composition. The Future… has a range of sonic elements happening throughout that lend an unpredictability and dynamism to the album, such as nature recordings—noticeably birdsong—and intimate lowercase sounds such as a finely tuned crackling (sounds electronically sourced but maybe not). I recommend listening to this one on high quality headphones to reveal all its pleasant textures.
Sarah Davachi – Let Night Come on Bells End the Day
Davachi is on a tear. She is undoubtedly one of the greatest experimental musicians/composers to come out of Vancouver. Really looking forward to sitting with her latest released, Gave in Rest, but really I’m still digesting Let Night Come… As a follow up to last year’s All My Circles Run, the album feels like a proper extension of the ideas she was honing in on then, albeit a touch looser this time around. Davachi’s venturing into more real-time instrumental work is to me a welcomed change from her earlier analog synth stuff. I like the older work too but I feel she’s just now finding her stride in this approach of blending synths with organs, pianos, strings and such. The drones she comes up with are delicate and seem to flutter unbeknownst to the workings of time. So pretty and reminiscent of Max Richter’s Sleep, which I absolutely love and will probably have to do a feature on one of these days.