Click here to [close]

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

AMPLIFY 2020: quarantine (II of III)

By Keith Prosk, Eyal Hareuveni, Nick Metzger, Nick Ostrum

Read: Part 1 | Part II

Delphine Dora - lost in my dreams, a nightmare maybe

It begins with chirping grasshoppers, and a hazy buzz. A quiet piano nudges in, followed by a variety of vocal, water, wind, and unidentifiable sounds. Indeed, the fabricated and the “natural” sounds blend into a single slowly churning morass. Polyphonic voices lend the piece an air of ghostliness, or of fractured memories. Other more musical elements (keyboards, synth) likewise lend some humanity to the track, but also strangely elevate it from the birds and splashes. It is difficult to pierce the veil, here, but maybe that is the point. Lost in my dreams, a nightmare is all veil. It is all blur and dream. Dora calls this a nightmare, and the track certainly progresses into heavier, more menacing territory including a mimicked a dog growl. Presumably this is a reference to the chimerical figure in the included artwork. Then again, the piece concludes with soothing sounds of water dropping onto a tinny surface. Maybe the nightmare is itself is lost in the dream and is therefore diluted. Maybe the rain actually washes it away. Either way, lost in my dreams, a nightmare is appropriately eerie (and what dream is not), but ultimately serene. - Nick Ostrum

Jérôme Noetinger - “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today”

The title is taken from the words of Chicagoan anarchist and radical labor activist August Spies when he faced his death on the gallows. French electro-acoustic improviser and Revox tapes master donates all contributions to ADA, a non-profit organization working in Grenoble to help Asylum Seekers. The five pieces, composed at Noetinger’s home on April 25-30 attempt to be the soundtrack for the last moments of the short life of Spies and to serve as a sonic testament for activism and social consciousness, especially in times of crises. As a sonic anarchist himself, Noetinger borrows, without permission, samples from the British punk rock band Crass and the proletariat trance collective Henry Flynt & Nova'Billy and offers a chaotic, noisy and explosive - literally - narrative for this era, where all the familiar political and economic paradigms shatter and better ones have not arisen yet. It ends with twisted, down to abstract, white noises blended into the version of Henry Flynt & Nova'Billy to “The International”. These are the real sounds of our times. One of the best releases of Amplify 2020. - Eyal Hareuveni

Toshimaru Nakamura - NIMB #61

No input mixing board (NIMB) innovator Toshimaru Nakamura's contribution NIMB #61 is an incandescent sonic sculpture of prickly redlined mixer feedback. To this listener the melodic undertones of the overdriven maelstrom nod to shoegaze genres or albums like Belong's October Language as much as the minimalist EAI sounds from his past work, and are consistent with the sound established on his previous solo release, 2018's NIMB #9 though maybe slightly less rhythmic. He was also a part of Magnus Granberg & Skogen's enchanting Let Pass My Weary Guiltless Ghost which I've really been enjoying this fall, in part due to his contributions. I don't think I've ever heard anything he was involved in that I didn't like, even his early experiments in high frequency tones are unique and intriguing, if not exactly easy listening. - Nick Metzger

Lance Austin Olsen - I woke up this morning and Richard Penniman was gone


Lance Austin Olsen is an intriguing musician. Although he frequently collaborates with Jamie Drouin among many others, there is something eminently solitary about his work. Sometimes this is unmistakable, as in his exploratory audio-visual project Craig’s Stroke. Sometimes, it comes across more in his cut-and-paste technique that captures sounds in stilted time, and sequences them into newly imagined and newly compiled soundworlds. I woke up this morning and Richard Penniman was gone is one of the latter. As the title indicates, this track speaks of loss, but in a curious and contemplative rather than emotive way. And, it bears all the hallmark subtlety, graininess, and inventiveness that much of his other work carries, even if it examines space and isolated sounds more than oscillating hums and layers that characterize his busier works. - Nick Ostrum

Matthew Revert - Duo for Ulcer and Throat

Multidisciplinary artist (and another AMPLIFY 2020 co-conspirator) Matthew Revert is another alumni of both Kye as well as Erstwhile and may be known as much for his excellent graphic design chops as for his unique music. His pieces are mainly populated with the sounds of highly processed field recordings and it seems to be his M.O. to make each of his creations sound completely unique from the rest. That's definitely the case for his three contributions to the virtual festival of which this second one really caught my ear (and eye). Duo for Ulcer and Mouth is populated by an orchestra of gruesome cakehole sounds. Grunts, coos, gurgles, raspberries, murmurs, cackles, wreching, you name it have been chopped up, processed, and arranged into a 20 minute collage that serves as one of the more unique a capella pieces of the year (this is anti-ASMR). - Nick Metzger

Steve Beresford & David Toop - No Relation


On No Relation we have a blind collaboration between the legendary English musicians Steve Beresford and David Toop . Only the duration was agreed beforehand, and then each participant recorded their piece and sent them to Taku Unami who dubbed them together. The piece works marvelously well, blending Beresford's spare piano travels with Toop's busily eclectic sound field. Many happy coincidences such as early in the track as Beresford seems to perfectly time his stabbed chords or at just past the seven minute mark when his tone darkens just as Toop expels eerie vocalizations with the combined effect giving off ominous overtones. Toop fills out the piece out with his multi-tracked bombardment, his sounds continuously shift and change in intensity, density, and variety. A thoroughly enjoyable experiment. - Nick Metzger

Claire Rousay - im not a bad person but…

Fantastic piece here from blog favorite Claire Rousay, as a confessional takes the form of machine generated speech. Her confessions range from the darkly humorous to those she really does feel badly about. It's extremely candid and honest and ultimately very human. As the confessional progresses a field recording swells from the background. Soft melancholic piano chords drift in. All the while Rousay's confessions continue, tragic and humorous, of guilty pleasures, drug use, sex. Crowd noises drift into the field, people passing, talking then onto quiet footsteps. The album thumbnail is hilariously perfect. Another piece Rousay released this year called it was always worth it could perhaps be considered a companion piece to this one so you might want to pick that up too if you enjoy what you hear. - Nick Metzger

Michael Pisaro-Liu - Tai Pi

If forced to pick a single favorite piece from the AMPLIFY 2020 set it would be Michael Pisaro-Liu's contribution Tai Pi. I have to first admit my bias, as I've probably listened to Pisaro-Liu more consistently than any other composer in the last several years. His projects are consistently fascinating, both musically and conceptually. In the last several years though, he has really issued some special releases. His collaborations with Reiner van Houdt, The Earth and the Sky (which initiated Abbey's ErstClass sub-label) and Shades of Eternal Night (on Pisaro-Liu's own Gravity Wave) are incredible; I really can't recommend them highly enough. Then there is his 2019 opus Nature Denatured and Found Again , a multi-year endeavor based on his flussaufwärtstreiben (floating upriver) project that I'm still working on fully absorbing almost two years later. Also released last year was his excellent Barricades album with pianist Shira Legmann. The album's terse, grayscale piano and spectral electronics blew me away while I was still wrapping my head around Nature Denatured…

On Tai Pi the haunting takes on a cinematic scope with a multipart suite of ethereal fragments and hints of melody that feel as familiar as they do strange. I’m not even sure of the source material of some of the sounds here, there is definitely piano, some guitar I think, field recordings, strings, samples, but other than that I’m at a loss, though the how doesn’t really matter. Pisaro-Liu’s sounds drift across the stereo field, gauzy ambience, piano doublets, crickets, delicate electronic floats, cavernous groans, almost impossible to do justice with the written word. Beautiful, that’s a word for it. The title references I, Ching hexagrams 11 (Tai, Peace) and 12 (Pi, Standstill), alluding to the sentiment that in order to know peace, one must experience discord. The desire for Peace and the familiar can lead from further growth and lead to a stagnation (Standstill), which reminds us that all life changes and moves towards growth. The song concludes with a melancholy Satie-esque piano epilogue that will stick with you long after you’ve stopped listening. I've just starting digging into his recent release Asteraceae with Zizia (the duo of Amber Wolfe and Jarrod Fowler) as Pisaura on Sedimental Records and look forward to spending some time with it in the coming weeks. - Nick Metzger

Catherine Lamb - fragment study of inter-spatia

Dense layers of strings out of which slowly emerge streams of notes that elongate, suspend, and fall in and out of tune. There is more sound and obvious movement than Viola Torros, her duo with Johnny Chang, but the focus on excavating melody from creeping drones seems a continuation of that project. At an hour and twelve minutes, this one of the longer pieces in the AMPLIFY catalog. And, I know, an hour of an incrementally drifting wall of sound may sound daunting, but fragment study of inter-spatia is a wonder. At times, one gets lost in the music. At others, one wanders from the music. But, in its deceptive monotony fragment study of inter-spatia is quite captivating. Something is always moving, even if in no detectable direction. It’s like time, or, as the title hints, the spaces between eventful moments. Sometimes those spaces fade into the background to be forgotten. At others, they dramatically and tenaciously persist. - Nick Ostrum

Anne-F Jacques/Tim Olive - Sur Place/Staying

What is more solitary, and more reassuringly so, than soft scratches, gravely churns, and wrinkly crackles that slowly coalesce into a cohesive unit of off-centered and out-of-sync loops and occasional crescendos? I mean that only partially in jest. Jacques and Olive have stumbled upon a unique blend of woodshed noise that plays more with incremental changes in timbre and resonance than the plodding linearity that so often characterizes lower-spectrum EAI. Jacques and Olive have been working in this medium for years, but rarely under such circumstances (isolated sound-file sharing). The lack of real-time responsivity has lent this piece a more sinister and somewhat less delicate air than some of their other work. Rather than just an observation, that point actually means something in this context (staying in place, per the title). Despite the cyber-optic mediation, this literal depersonalization and missing interaction does not betray a lack of connection. Instead, these are two recordings made for each other and overlain by visionary practitioner of noise production (Taku Unami). Sur Place/Staying nevertheless embraces a different kind of intimacy, a simultaneously remote and claustrophobic intimacy with which we have all become more familiar. - Nick Ostrum

Taku Sugimoto - Lines 2

Highly influential guitarist and composer Taku Sugimoto's contribution to AMPLIFY 2020 is a graphical score for guitar and field recordings calledLines 2. It's the second part of his graphic score Lines that was interpreted by the Tokyo Bagabond Collective (of which he's a member) and is available on the artist's Bandcamp page. The track begins with the whirr of a transformer, dogs barking in the distance, cars passing quietly, birds singing, all accompanying a long ebow-generated drone of guitar strings whose frequencies overlap and dance. Sugimoto's spare acoustic guitar figures accent the din as do the periodic swells of feedback that complement the droning strings. Sugimoto has been a favorite of mine for a long time now and was instrumental in the early development of this type of music, the AMPLIFY festival, and Erstwhile Records and it's a pleasure to see him continue to evolve and expand his sound. - Nick Metzger

Keith Rowe - GF SUC

This is the second of Keith Rowe's contributions, and I really could have written up either to be honest. I chose this because it's a little more straight forward to explain, but do listen to both . For this piece Rowe arranges various radio/news snippets related to our current situation over a recording of Shostakovich's 25th played by the Taneyev Quartet, all the while teasing amazing little sounds from his tabletop guitar and electronics. The snippets are with regards to hospital PPE shortages, the uncertainty of high school and university graduations, the shutting down of professional and college sports, the stock market crash, the uncertainty of the newly unemployed, George Floyd's murder and institutional police violence against African Americans and communities of color, the failures of leadership, and many other themes related to the pandemic and subsequent fallout, sometimes in series, sometimes layered as if simulating the bombardment of all the troubling scenes playing out around the world day in and day out. It is a brilliant synopsis from one of the great treasures in all of experimental music and a keystone of the Erstwhile/Amplify esthetic. If you didn't follow along with the festival on Facebook, Jon Abbey did hint that Rowe might be scheduled for an upcoming release on his ErstClass sub-label which I think we can assume will be brilliant. - Nick Metzger

Rhodri Davies - For Simon H. Fell

Rhodri Davies freely plays the harp on the hour-long For Simon H. Fell. Recorded two days before and released on the day of the late bassist’s death, the dedication is particularly powerful because of the mentorship Fell provided to Davies. It’s worth noting that all proceeds Davies receives from this release are forwarded to Fell’s wife, Jo. This is true play, flitting freely across timbres and techniques. Mimicking gongs, percussive plucking allowed to hang in the air like vibraphone, hitting high-tension strings sounding like shooting space lasers, his characteristic dual-bowing, detuned lullabies, creaking mastheads, a giant mbira complete with circular rhythm, a ringing gamelan, zimbelstern twinkling, grandfather clocks chiming, and hurdy gurdy are just some of the associations his playing might resemble. Nearly a catalog of harp sound but never sounding rote. True to his style, much of it seems folk-inflected or informed by traditional musics. And particularly commendable is Davies comfort in silence, with large swaths of it throughout the hour. - Keith Prosk

Charmaine Lee - SAL’s Nu Edition

Vocalist Charmaine Lee can produce sounds you would probably never associate with a human and, on SAL’s Nu Edition, she seems determined to demonstrate quite a few about as fast as she can. Across four minutes, you can hear at least flapping, sucking, breathing, popping, gasping, and gargling, chirps, purrs, quacks, raspberries, and cheek play, and suggestive, seemingly commercial phrases like “it’s so big,” “mmhmm,” “look at the size.” This is hyperactive.Fast-forwarded. Heavily post-produced. Kaleidoscopic. Chopped up catalog of vocal extended techniques. Like Aronofsky’s hip hop montages. Fun. - Keith Prosk


Keith said...

Just want to clarify that, though it sounds heavily post-produced, Lee's SAL's NU Edition is actually unedited and all processing is performed live.