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Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Russian Connection: the Latest from Mikroton

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Moscow-based Mikroton label specializes in experimental, free-improvised electroacoustic music. Mikroton latest release offer challenging yet highly gratifying listening experiences.

Cilantro: Angélica Castelló & Billy Roisz - Borderland (Mikroton, 2017) ****½

Cilantro is the Viennese duo of Mexican Angélica Castelló, who plays here on paetzold, ukulele, organ, tapes and electronics, and Billy Roisz, who plays here on electric bass, organ, tv, piezzo, computer and electronics, and on live performances adds her video art. Castelló and Roisz collaborated before in a quartet with fellow Viennese guitarist Burkhard Stangl and turntables master Dieb 13 (Scuba, Mikroton, 2014), and are involved in many other like minded project. They have worked under the moniker Cilantro for the past six years. Borderland was recorded n a basement in the resort Austrian area Podersdorf am See.

The demanding, enigmatic music leaves no time for mind numbness. Cilantro, like the spicy herb, thrive on intense borderlands, between the ones who can’t have enough of this herb and those who can not stand its taste or smell. Castelló and Roisz play wisely on the contradictory sonic terrains. Their nuanced, labyrinthian soundscapes can sound sensual, fragile and and delicate and almost on the same time can be chaotic, mean and cryptic. Both move instantly between control and total freedom, evoking suggestive human, very emotional textures with their varied arsenal of noisy, feedback-laden and processed, electronic devices and sampled, fragmented vocals. Pieces like “Oruga” and “Skrimslo” navigate in stormy and hazy, hallucinogenic oceans while other pieces like “Whales on Wheels”, “Prinz Wompe” and “Lullaby For A Ghost” suggest delicate, meditative rituals. 

Beautiful and strange.

Ease: Klaus Filip / Noid - No No No, No (Mikroton, 2017) ****

Ease is another Viennese duo comprised of sine-wave explorer Klaus Filip and free-improviser cellist Noid (aka Arnold Haberl), both playing here on laptops equipped with the freeware audio-visual software ppooll. Ppooll is a project driven by Filip with contributions from many users, including Noid, Christoph Kurzmann (who plays it in Ken Vandermark’s Made to Break) and Christian Fennesz. Filip and Noid work together also in the Sonic Luz duo, exploring DIY optometric synthesizers. No No No, No celebrates the ten year anniversary of Ease. It offers two live recordings - the first, “Never”, from June 2014, captured at the Teni Zvuka Festival in St. Petersburg and the second, “Ever”, from January 2015, at the musicians-cooperative (sounds weird in German) annual festival in the Brut hall in Vienna.

Filip uses the ppooll software to generate pure sine wave synth sounds, while Noid employs the software to manipulate field recording as noises from various mechanical devices and recordings of wind, geysers and water revealing only microscopic traces of their origin. “Never” distills Ease aesthetics to its musical atoms. Its fragile narrative is comprised from abstract, transparent sounds, often reduced to almost absolute, still silence, leaving only fragmented contours of imaginary, stormy sonic events. “Ever” is more tense and raw, still, exploring surprising, more deeper and dynamic aspects of an elusive silent soundscape , sometime with noisy edges. Both pieces suggest a unique, hypnotic listening experience.

Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt - Hjem (Mikroton, 2017) ***½

This trio also investigates quiet terrains. Mikroton boss, Moscow-based Kurt Liedwart plays the ppooll, using sinewaves and quiet noises; Saint Petersburg-based Andrey Popovskiy plays violin, electronics and objects and Norwegian, Oslo-based Martin Taxt, who runs the Sofa Music label and plays in the microtonal tuba trio Microtub, plays the tuba.

Hjem was recorded in Moscow on September 2015, later mixed and mastered by fellow sonic sculptor Toshimaru Nakamura (who plays the no-input mixing board). The 28-minutes piece offers a surprisingly organic, restless drone that dismisses any distinctions between the acoustic, manipulated, processed and electronic sounds. The patient, careful approach of all three musicians blend wisely clouds of microtonal sounds, continuously sustained and resonating into this arresting, twisted sonic organism.

Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel - Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton, 2017) ***½

Fracture Mechanics is a European quartet of sonic sculptors - experimental German percussionist Burkhard Beins, who plays here on hand oscillator, monotron, e-bowed zither, snare drum and objects; fellow Berliner, Argentinian soprano sax player Lucio Capece, who plays here also on sax samples and on wireless speakers; Swedish sax player Martin Küchen, known from the Angles 9 band and the Trespass Trio, who plays here on tenor sax, flute, radios, ipod and speakers; and Swiss-Irish clarinetist Paul Vogel who plays here on “air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware” transform the concept of Fracture Mechanics into a unorthodox but highly inventive sonic texture.

By definition, Fracture Mechanics is a scientific field focused on studying the cracks in any form of material. This metaphor is used for a careful, alchemical process of creation and investigation of sounds - in all its forms and manifestations, their ever-evolving elastic shapes, and their noisy breaking points. The quartet was recorded on October 2014 at Radio Student in Ljubljana. After a short vocal introduction that suggests the coming dynamics the quartet offers three extended improvisations. “Pebble Snatch” is the most engaging one, obviously, in its own weird manner. It is a quiet, colorful and highly cinematic soundscape, that may depict a lone journey in a deserted, icy scenery where the senses of time of space are almost frozen, turning into abstract yet tangible entities. The following “Pendentive” dives even deeper into minimalist oceans, where all stands still, except ritualistic, exotic oscillation of distant sine-waves and radio stations. The last, 30-minutes of “Transmogrification” expands the the methodical investigation of ultra-minimalist, static sonic terrains into a dreamy, meditative soundscape.