Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Eric Barnett - Music for a picture of a painting

Guitarist Eric Barnett sent me his recently released cd - Music for a picture of a painting - details of which are at his myspace page. On this ambient album he plays electric, acoustic and lap steel plus prepared piano. There are two parts - a longer first (22') and shorter second (11'), with unnamed (numbered) tracks.

Part one begins with slow, resonant picked notes through which some gentle playing emerges together with pedal steel.The track is all about emergence and growth as the music develops, adding elements, intertwining layers, with some minor echo FX - attractive active ambience. The one false note on the album is the abrupt change from the fullness of track one into simple gentle melodic guitar in 2 - which has some pedal steel accents and close miking to emphasise the finger slides. There is an verse/chorus element as the piece shifts registers. Speed and melody pick up in 3 as looping figures are played, balanced by the steel. The final section is a pleasing experimental touch as the guitar plays backwards, including the finger positioning, fading to a wind-like humm.

Part 2 begins very softly, layering strummed and picked guitar with some deep resonances. Expanding guitar loops, both staccato and resonant in 6 are joined by scraped strings (from a piano) and a tinkling chime which is probably the 'preparation'. This continues in the final track, with a soft drone. Hollow, resonant ringing guitar emerges with more harpish piano behind, then fading to a final echoey ratchet processing in the dying minute.

This is a very nice album - eno budd and brooks came to mind - but Barnett has developed his own approach to guitar ambience which is strengthened by the inclusion of piano and experimental touches. Have a listen to samples at his myspace page, the find out how to get a copy of this satisfying ambience.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

eh? more: Krakow and KBD

A fresh lot of material from Eh? has arrived : 4 disks which I'll review in a couple of batches.

First, Jesse Krakow World Without Nachos (eh? 33). Krakow had a release on Public Eyesore, and is, from my web search, something of a journeyman across a range of serious groups. I say this because this album, like the last, is a lo-fi outsider piece: there are 72 named tracks across its 38 minutes, which means that there are some very short tracks (4 seconds is the shortest) and no very long ones (1:38 is the winner there). The pieces are dominated by Krakow's voice - a sort of friendly drawl which occasionally does different accents - his seemingly untrained guitar (which at times reveals his skill) and percussion (a drum machine I would guess). Using 4 track recording he does some over dubs (most noticeably vocal) and there is some electronics (Me and my laser friends or extensive strings on I am dum). While the album appears as a collection of doodles, songs such as I am learning to like golfing or So urban belie the hidden writing component, where at times the mulitvocal harmonies recall the Beach Boys. Many of the songs are 'mere' stings - 51 to 53 are single sentences (I am the king of rock but I don't like crowns) with simple backing, but as they expand they demonstrate some complexity as in the title track which asks 'how can you live in a world without nachos' twice over strums, but stretches the final harmony of the dish into a magic tone or I will love you tomorrow which is a complete harmonised song, with building synth chords and the guitar, ending in a looping guitar strum and percussive beat and imploration to the 'girl' - but the songs are really too compressed for any real analysis. The topics canvas personal weaknesses, food, love, coolness and friendship (and its mirrors). At times disturbing, amusing, entertaining and usually musical this is a strange and frustrating release-you get the feeling that there are some great somgs which could emerge from here, but it is as if the Beatles had sung 'I want to hold your haaaann' or Amy Winehouse 'Rehab? no no no no Rehab, nooooo'. But just go with the flow as this sketchbook washes its changes over you, and enjoy it.

The second disk for this post is The KBD Sonic Cooperative - Kimaid, Beam and Dohm on percussion, strings, horns, trumpet, cello, signals, electronics, objects and a no-input mixer. Four plus one refers to studio improvisations and a live track. This is a group that seems primarily interested in creating atmospheric soundscapes using the instruments as sound generators rather than playing 'music' - hence there is a squeaky wooden rubbing noise which could be a toy or a cello tuneing knob. In the studio pieces they focus on different aspects of their music; the long first is abstract and doesn't have many focussed group-playing sections, but is gentle, building slowly, clicks purrs scrapes percussion with an echoey processing at the end with something of a climax. The second is more active, particularly percussion and the wind sections, with less space and more instrumental playing, and some particularly nice long processed trumpet notes.The third becomes more active again, with more electronica to the fore, looping sonarish beeps tones and shimmers which plays along well with the trumpet; and the short fourth one has soft buzzsawscrapes and builds to a big percussive climax. Each of these is interesting, but my favourite track is the live one - almost half the album. Here the group plays within the constraints and expectations of a live set - providing more variation, a greater ebb and flow and maybe less indulgent. All the aspects of the group are on display - electronica, scrapes and nosies, brass - and provides an interesting ambience. None of these pieces 'go anywhere' but rather weave through a space of their own creation that is diverting - and at 80 minutes it is probably best consumed in two doses: the studio tracks or the live excursion.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nathan Hubbard - Blind Orchid

Nathan Hubbard, percussionist, has appeared on a number of albums reviewed across the &etc years, mainly on Circumspection and Accretions. This solo album - Blind Orchid - is on Accretions (, ALP043) and is subtitled solo works for percussion and electronics. This release continues from his previous solo collection Born on Tuesday (circumvention SA081) and also complements ensemble releases Compositions 1998-2005 (circumvention CS121a/b) and Skeleton Key Orchestra (circumvention 039a/b) to give us a view of his developing oeuvre.

This is a very constructured, musique concrete album. i/nside (no exit) is a helter skelter of jumpy percussion creaking and groaning with a voice in the mix, which finally succumbs to a cracking up to break up (the lyrics are included in small writing in the diagram that accompanies the track in the booklet). more processing and piano resonance join percussion and voice in 17 stone park stutter/breath, with events occuring around a percussion solo (such as voice pops, and skittering hollows) that segues into a keening section and then complex rumbling rolling sounds with the piano twangs before a long slow fade. A simple drum solo and poem is Microhole; while another dense drumming solo, with some deep resonances forms Wisdom of not knowing II (for Stomu Yamash'ta).

The title track again carries us on a complex journey from fast distorted percussion into a pulsing tone, a simpler gonging central section, a voice crackle that builds a wave of percussion and feedback. A flowing percussion with tones and tinkles (possibly a sonographic tape) drops and rebuilds in Circle within a circle (for Max Neuhaus). Another normalish drum solo in Witchball breaks up through the processing and returns. A loose jack buzz opens Close to the margin with a metal percussion, building and speeding up over the track, layering, with a chittering end.

Not a simple percussion album - which makes it that much more interesting to me. Prepare to be unsettled as these constructions unfold before you in a complex weaving of processing and electronics, which my descriptions only begin to explore.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Geoff Westen: Vidiots - TUNE IN

Back in 2006 I gave a short review to Westen's previous album The Pigs - OINK and now have been sent a pre-release copy of the Vidiots - tune in release [and am now not really sure if Pigs & Vidiot are part of the title of these releases or the 'author' - I will credit them to Westen for simplicity]. That earlier release brought to mind 80s and 90s electropop and this album does again. There are a couple of direct nods - a Depeche modish sequences that Just can't get enough on She's so young or a New Order guitar line through Searching for love (8).

On the whole the music is driving, percussive and hooky: the title track opener (actually called Better get started) is an anthematic rocker with a guitar solo designed for air guitarists, as is the beaty Angry young man. Together uses synths and percussion to move it on before the celebratory sound of Action Man suggests a party (this track opened the Pigs album as Saturday Night). Another group that kept popping up in my mind was Godley and Creme - something about the percussion bed and processed vocals of Some of you girls, and even the theme, reminded me of Ismism, as did some vocal aspects of Don't stop the kiss and the use of percussion and horns. Women dominate has a salsa swing, while the restrained electropop of Friend or lover closes the album nicely. Perhaps the centrepoint of the album is Searching for love (track 8) which is a slow number, full of bells and a big sound and a guitar solo that reminds me of Fripp on Heroes and the slips into Queen.

Lyrically/thematically the album expresses a male view of alienation and love - Vidiots who are stuck in their room with no future, who may be together but are in a lost life, angry young jealous men, women who are temptresses 'who don't know when to stop' (i'm so scared'), who dominate men's lives, and boys confusion about whether you want to go all the way. Even the good times, like Saturday night parties, offer an opportunity to 'forget about depression' or to take Sally's mind off suicide. We have been watching the TV show Skins, and this album parallels the confusion and uncertainty seen in some of those characters.

Friend or lover is more complex, as I can't work out the gender of the person the song addresses nor the relational outcome, though I think its a threesome. And one song I haven't mentioned yet diverges both thematically and musically - She's so young is a ballad, a much slower number than anything else, and is sung by a 55 year old millionaire about a young woman wondering why she is so in love with him.

Full of hooks this is a pop/rock album with lyrical intelligence, that is entertaining and surprising - the sort of subversive product that gets you singing along but then pondering the lyrics and the lives depicted. But fun.

The album is available from March 25

More about Westen here -

Sunday, February 10, 2008

More Mystified

Following from the blog of 9 January some more on Thomas Park aka Mystified.

First, as noted at the end of that post I had only scratched the surface of his discography by focusing on Webbed Hands and Tree Trunk. By closely scrutinising his text discography (on the mystified site) I found a heap more. Regular readers of &etc across the years will know I am a bit of a completist where time, money and downloads allow. So I have been gathering these from a welter of labels (Nishi, Dreamland, Smell the stench, Jon7, Enough, Batman and Robin, Earthmantra, Blackflower, Infinite Sector, Dark Winter, Negative Sound Institute, Ben
ekkea, 20kbps, non-quality audio, TZP drone, Kahvi, Sine fiction, 4 4 2, Umbrella, Roil noise: is them all I think) [and will have to temper my urge to then download the rest of the labels - way too much music]. There are at least 45 releases available free from these sites on top of the thirty odd from Tree Trunk and Webbed Hands.

Recognising that this is a simplification there have been three 'phases' to Mystified's career to date
  • the first saw releases on Webbed Hands and a variety of net labels
  • then there was a greater focus on his own label Tree Trunk, but with other net labels getting a good look in
  • while currently cd-r and real label releases are coming to the fore.
Basically a fairish overview, but noting that there are still current web releases. Another simplification would be to suggest that the earlier stuff is more beaty, contains more samples while latterly there has been more minimal ambient. I would also venture to suggest that Mystified places his releases: the Nishi stuff is nicely beated and perhaps reflects the Autocad (Park's previous incarnation) relationship with Rapoon; while 20kbs is more dubby (an interesting label, its name describes its download aesthetic - small lo-fi); Umbrella noize has a couple of albums featuring sonography. Again, there is more here than is possibly to reasonably review, and all I can suggest is that you sample a fair whack of it as there is a host of high quality ambient, dub, grooved, minimal, sonographic music on offer. As analysed below they combine shorter tracks and often a broader diversity (eg Puzzle Street on Jon7 has moved from a groovy piece through some sonography (and back to it now) to AM layers which is extremely minimal: a hum and the end groove of a record).

(More generalisations - Mystified swings between long album length works and shorter collections of tracks about 6 minutes or less in length; a further generalisation - these collections are more common on the 'other label' releases. As of my collection today, 60% of the tracks on Webbed Hands/Tree Trunk are less than 5 minutes compared to 88% on other labels; the data for less than 7 minutes is 73% and 95% [it's the scientist in me! - I would do it by year too if I had the data.])

A problem that Mystified has created for himself, however, is why would anyone buy any of his releases? With so much on offer on the web, for free, purchasing may seem a poor second cousin to some. Reasons to buy however would include - better sound quality; having an actual artefact (which is important to some people); attracting people with a penchant for collecting something nearly unique by having a small run; and recognising that there will be a small but dedicated (and fluid) group of people who like the music so much they want as much as possible, another reason for smaller runs as this is not a huge market (but it is amazing how much product a prolific artist like Muslimgauze or Merzbow can sell). Anyway, in response to my previous review, Mystified has sent me two of his recent cd-rs.

Hazy Waves came out on Cloud Valley Recordings (cv-30) which is based in Canada and has runs of generally less than 50. Simple packaging that includes a track list, the cd-r is hand artfied and contains 9 songs in 43 minutes. In many of the long-form Mystified works there is a static minimalism: exemplified by Constant, which spawbed a series by other musicians, or his take on Rain. This disk contains what sound like fragments captured from longer works which have been going before you heard these bits and will still be going while you are listening to the next track. They fade in and then fade out. These are lovely pieces, Wavelength drifts in an eno-ish way exemplifying the structure here: a lovely tonal work playing over a soft buzzing - a juxtaposition seen throughout. Transmutation is whooshing over a watery flow; Fuzz drone has musical tones which surface through the fuzzy hiss and deep thrumming; Many legs with oscillating pulses, chattering and vinyl crackle-spatter. Another aspect is heard in Bring rain where a roiling cloud of sound is constantly moving forward without arriving, Amorphous is an amorphous subsonic rumbling, while the title track features a rapid chittering that sounds like a whooshing that softens and becomes more whooshy, again with tones deep within - as with much of this minimal ambient there is a psycho-acoustic quality where your brain creates other sounds from within the stasis. The edit from Chronos has more variability in its short presence, and is a fine conclusion to a nice little album (edition of 33 - hurry).

The other is Escaping Physics, the first release from Sentient Recognition Archive, in an edition of 50: 11 songs in 49 minutes. Again, these are short, often excerpts, but seem more enclosed than Hazy. A couple of tracks reflect the cover image and have a watery theme - both Freak of physics and Pulsar 2 have a dolphin or whale like sonar sweeping through with undertows of humming ambience. Another group suggest site recordings: wind blowing on a microphone in a storm (Class conflict 2) with a high cycling, a wind swept building softly shudders in Shuffle drone and rain over a melody is The ocean inside. Roww has a voice-processed-ish rhythm with rachets and tones and a Tuvan-ishh growl offers Mild alarm with a swirling wind over. The other three tracks - Class conflict, Mild alarm 2 and Revving - are all a bit more edgy with high tones, buzz saws or drones. So again a fine range of styles across this and slightly more available.

To be honest, neither is dramatically diffrent from releases that can be garnered from the web - but these are quality recordings at high fidelity
. And worth having.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Free Music - update

More on We7 at the end

An article in the guardian about new ways of distributing music
introduced me to a new service: We7. This offers free music downloads - as MP3, no DRM - but with a caveat - there is a brief advert at the beginning of each track (which sounds more like a radio sting - not too much of a nuisance on long tracks)

After 28 days you can (apparently) download a new version without the advert. Or, the files seem to editable in Audacity and the ad can be removed. The site aims to promote new artists, and the range of existing artists is limited - there are some Morissey singles, and if you are an ELP fan (yes, I admit it - there goes my credibility!) their back catalogue is there, including the Manticore bootleg series. Keith Emerson is obviously a big supporter of the site. Surprisingly (contractual?) Peter Gabriel who is somehow a backer is not on site. (There are also some oher 'names' - Tangerine dream [including their bootleg series], the Kinks, eap, early Bob marley, Fairport convention)

It's an interesting experience: there is no way I'd be willing to pay for the ELP bootlegs - I have never been one for collecting live versions (never joined the King Crimson collectors edition club). However, I am enjoying these and will get the lot. The We7 stings are like radio ones at the beginning of a track: somewhat distracting where there are shorter tracks, or edits of long pieces (like Pictures At An Exhibition) but you get used to them.

But shows things are developing

PS my ongoing saga with Apple for the $16 Bruckner set - next stage. I tried buying a track and doing complete my album. No luck. Sent in a 'complaint' and got credits for 5 tracks, so am a bit ahead at the moment - still want the Bruckner though!

We7 registrations allow you 100 tracks per day or 500 per week. Have had a good look through and there is some interesting classical, the rock/progressive already mentioned, quite a bit of folk (pentangle, incredible string band, bert jansch), a Gary Numan compilation of his 80s&90s stuff, but most surprisingly the most recent King Crimson - Power to believe. Some material is not available in some places (eg a Nice collection and also surprisingly the King Crimson album before Power! can't be downloaded in Australia. Not sure where they are unrestricted).

It works well for me - have got a host of new string quartet stuff (lots from a UK mob called the Lindsays; and while I wouldn't contemplate buying the ELP I am enjoying the bootleg collection).

Ads so far have all been for We7 - and can be managed.