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Peter Rehberg, 1968-2021

We are all incredibly shocked and saddened at the sudden and unexpected loss of Peter Rehberg, a peerless and powerful force in independent, forward-thinking, innovative, and original music. It is rare that someone can leave such a lasting impression as a performer and composer (solo as Pita and with ensembles such as Farmers Manual, Fenn O'Berg, and KTL) and a label director and partner (Mego, Editions Mego, Recollection GRM, and Spectrum Spools). Everything he has had a hand in bringing to our ears has been worth listening to, and it has been a pleasure to be covering his works for over two decades.

Our hearts go out to all of his friends, family, and fans.

Guardian article.

 

Episode 528: July 18, 2021

Snail by StefMore Tunes to Keep You Moving

We have managed to fit another 14 songs into an hour-long episode. This one features new music from Gudrun Gut + Mabe Fratti, Rachika Nayar, Jeremy Young with Johannes Bergmark, Western Edges, Astrid Øster Mortensen, Ryan J Raffa, Moin, Rama Parwata, and claire rousay + more eaze, with older selections from KMRU, Cybotron, The Same, Nurse With Wound, and Karate.

Snail photo by Stef.

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Forced Exposure New Releases for the Week of 7/19/21

New music is due from Caterina Barbieri, William Parker, and Bigeneric, while old music is due from Amon Düül, Popol Vuh, and Karen Black.

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Robert Gerard Pietrusko, "Elegiya"

cover imageThis is Pietrusko's first solo album under his own name, but sound art enthusiasts will likely remember his previous outing as Six Microphones (2019).  Elegiya is a radically different release, however, as it comfortably fits within the more ambient/drone side of Room40's aesthetic on its surface. Beneath the surface, however, lies a roiling emotional intensity that sometimes becomes downright volcanic.  As befits the album's title, Pietrusko drew his inspiration from elegies, but does so in a very unconventional way, as he was most fascinated by themes of repetition and shifting context.  As he himself puts it, "the creation and performance of an elegy, however, is not an experience of this original sorrow but is instead its repetition."  The more interesting part, however, is that Pietrusku "attempts to capture the contradictory condition of a macro-level stasis versus a tumultuous interior."  In more practical terms, that means that Elegiya transforms five piano motifs into a suite of beautifully melancholy ambient pieces that self-destruct into frayed, blown-out eruptions of emotional catharsis.

Room40

The album kicks off in supremely crushing fashion with the epic "Pershing Red Skies," which sets an impossibly high bar for everything that follows.  The piece deceptively opens with warm swells of billowing chords, but that proves to be a mirage, as everything gradually becomes sharper, louder, and more frayed en route to being ripped open by seismic waves of juddering synth-like tones.  At times it favorably calls to mind Oval or Tim Hecker, but it mostly feels like an great ambient piece whose wake of overtones unexpectedly refracted back something roaring, alive, and all-consuming (like a feedback monster attacking heaven).  While "Pershing Red Skies" is unquestionably the album's zenith, the other eight pieces offer similarly deft variations of the same nightmarish inversion.  For example, "Iru Descent" sounds like a ghostly factory that manufactures clouds of menacing dissonance, while "UTM 39N" feels like thick, viscous drones slowly undulating and oozing across a desolate prairie towards a distant train.  The latter is my second favorite piece on the album, but just about everything on Elegiya blossoms into a memorably intense crescendo of some kind.  Usually that crescendo resembles something akin to a Tim Hecker album getting sucked into a gnarled, curdled, and squirming extradimensional horror, which is just fine by me.  That said, Pietrusko proves impressively inventive in finding cool news ways to ravage beauty, such as transforming heavenly choruses into snarling, infernal roars or materializing a demonically possessed Victrola inside a quietly churning, hissing soundscape.  Given how unrecognizably mutilated some passages feel, I have no idea which instruments Pietrusko's palette included beyond piano, but the whole album feels like someone opened a Pandora's Box of corroded classical music fragments and enigmatic field recordings that transform a somber occasion into something far more visceral and unpredictable.  Pietrusko has achieved something truly impressive with Elegiya, crafting a poignant, haunted-sounding drone opus that is repeatedly torn apart from within by a clawing, thrashing elemental force.

Samples can be found here.

 

Dolphin Midwives, "Body of Water"

cover imageI loved Sage Fisher's last album (the wonderful and hallucinatory Liminal Garden), so I was quite eager to find out how she would follow such a unique vision.  Now that Body of Water has been released, I have my answer and it is very much an expectation-subverting one.  While the harp arguably remains Fisher's primary instrument, her vocals take a much more prominent role with this latest opus.  That is a twist, certainly, but it is not THE twist, which is that Fisher enlisted the aid of acclaimed producer Tucker Martine to craft a suite of songs that feels like a sensual and psychotropic strain of outsider R&B.  Whether it is close enough to the real thing to make an impact beyond underground electronic music circles remains to be seen, but Fisher's stylistic reinvention is an extremely cool and surprising one regardless.  Admittedly, it took me a few listens to fully warm to the unabashed pop hooks that fill this album, but Fisher's more lysergic impulses are never far away, resulting in an immersive swirl of delightful mindfuckery anchored by memorable hooks, simmering grooves, and a newly unveiled soulfulness.

Beacon Sound

After a brief yet surreal introduction of cooing looped vocals and skipping Oval-esque electronics, the autotuned R&B of the title piece reveals the unexpected new direction.  When I listened to the album initially, I kept waiting for "Body of Water" to cleverly derail into more hallucinatory and abstract territory, but that moment never came.  The vocals are processed into semi-artificiality and there is an eerily ghostly atmosphere, but the piece is otherwise straight-up melodic pop, as Fisher's inner dance diva belts out a sultry melody over a stark backdrop of deep bass, slow kick drum, and a quietly simmering haze of electronics.  Rather than a fluke, that piece is a statement of intent that sets the tone for all that follows.  That pop-inspired side reaches its apotheosis with "Clearing," which could easily be mistaken for a killer Portishead remix.  At the opposite end of the spectrum are a couple of stellar harp pieces: the rippling and gently heaving psychedelia of "Fountain" and the swooningly melodic "Idyll."  The remainder of the songs evoke the artfully glitchy and pixelated pop of an imagined cyberpunk future, but Fisher keeps things stark, weird, and intimate enough to make that seem like an appealing trajectory.  "Capricorn" is a particular highlight, resembling some kind of spaced-out synth-driven future funk that is wonderfully unstable and out of phase.  Elsewhere, I loved "Break," which gradually transforms into a delirious swirl of pitch-shifted voices suggesting a chopped and screwed Enya classic, as well as the frayed and shuddering vocal loops of the two-part "Hummingbird."  In fact, I like just about everything on this album, as even the most straightforwardly melodic pieces are inventive and art-damaged enough to stand out as compelling, fresh, and unique.

Samples can be found here.

 

Kyle Bobby Dunn, "The Cohesive Redundancies-P1"

cover imageThis is the first installment of "an ongoing album series with an undecided end point examining futility and beauty."  Those are hardly new themes for Kyle Bobby Dunn, so I am not sure why they needed their own series, but any new KBD opus is fine by me.  Dunn is a unique figure in the ambient drone milieu for a number of reasons, but the most significant for me is his unique gifted for crafting soundscapes with a very real emotional intensity at their core.  When he directly hits the mark with a composition like "Triple Axel on Cremazie" or "The Searchers," he achieves something poignant and transcendent that is damn hard to come by.  I suppose one caveat with Dunn's work is that such moments are usually hidden within sprawling double-, triple-, or quadruple-LP epics, but this latest album is a more focused and concise release.  More importantly, the bulk of the album is devoted to the absolutely sublime 48-minute "Fantasia on a Theme of Affection."  The other two pieces are memorable as well, arguably making this the closest that Dunn has come to releasing an "all killer, no filler" masterpiece.

Self-Released

"Thresholding" kicks off the album in striking and surprising fashion, as Dunn unleashes an industrial-sounding drone that oscillates slowly and menacingly.  Gradually that foundation is subtly fleshed out with additional depth and harmonic color, but the most compelling part is the murky undercurrent of dissonance that roils within.  While it never intensifies enough to consume its surroundings (it is the album’s shortest piece), Dunn does manage to resolve it in startling fashion with a nightmarishly plunging pitch-shift.  I did not expect such a cold and alienating piece from Dunn, but it is masterfully crafted, and I loved the simmering uneasiness beneath the drones.  That said, it is immediately eclipsed by the dream-like reverie of "Fantasia on a Theme of Affection."  On its surface, it is not a radical departure for Dunn, as a ghostly see-sawing guitar motif languorously unfolds over a backdrop of shimmering haze.  However, it stealthily amasses deepening harmonies and an aching poignance as it lingers in a state of billowing suspended animation.  It is the sort of piece that I could enjoy in an endless loop, as Dunn's attention to textural detail is truly something to behold.  Nearly every sound is spectral, hissing, smeared, quivering, or enigmatic in a beautifully hypnagogic, soft-focus way.  The album closes with the divergent "Pavane for the Internal Monologue," which is centered on a repeating, bittersweet piano chord and its long, lingering decay.  Eventually, a hesitant melody emerges, and the piece moves closer to the liquid shimmer of Harold Budd, yet the real show lies in the space between the notes, as dissolving tones form murky harmonies, and quiet sounds of wood and shuffling paper start to evoke an enigmatic sense of place.  While the bookends do not quite hit the same heights as the album's centerpiece, all three pieces are strong enough to make this one of Dunn's finest albums to date.

Samples can be found here.

 

Kleistwahr, "Winter"

cover imageBack in 2019, Helen Scarsdale celebrated its 50th release with a ten-cassette wooden box, On Corrosion, that immediately sold out.  While I did manage to pounce on that landmark release in time to get one, I have not spent nearly enough time with it, as absorbing ten full-length albums is quite a herculean time commitment.  Consequently,  I was delighted to see that the label had embarked upon a campaign to reissue some (or all) of its contents and that they were starting with this bombshell from Gary Mundy's long-running Kleistwahr guise.  Being a casual fan of Ramleh and the Broken Flag milieu, I thought I had a solid idea of what to expect from this project (noise, possibly involving guitars), but the striking and unique beauty of this album completely blindsided me.  It is fitting that Winter debuted on a release entitled On Corrosion, as it has the feeling of an achingly gorgeous drone album that has been corroded and ravaged into something texturally complex and viscerally soulful.

Helen Scarsdale

Due to its original cassette format, Winter is roughly presented as two twenty-minute sides, but each side features two pieces that segue into each other.  "We Sense It Through the Even Snow" kicks off the album with the first of its two god-tier highlights, as buzzing, shifting, and smearing organ drones unpredictably form knots of dissonance while harpsichord-like melodies make me feel like I am imprisoned in a darkly enchanted music box.  It becomes incredibly gorgeous at some points, but its mesmerizing dream-like trajectory nearly becomes consumed by an engulfing roar of roiling noise (imagine heaven suffering through a brief plague of psychedelic locusts).  That piece segues into the more infernal mindfuck "Rust Eats the Future," which sounds like Purple Rain-era Prince's evil twin unleashing ugly, gnarled shredding over a sinister bed of deep, dissonant bell-like tones.  Things only continue to get weirder, but the album returns to more beautiful and melodic terrain as the second side opens with another masterpiece, "The Solstice Will Not Save Us."  It is built upon a looping semi-melodic howl, but that hook is surrounded by an absolutely feral-sounding maelstrom of noisy guitars and chords that seem to catch fire and burn away.  It feels like a hallucinatory fireworks display over a dying world and easily rivals anything I have heard from other celebrated purveyors of fucked-up guitars.  Amusingly, the piece I love the most is immediately followed by one called "Everything We Loved Is Gone."  However, that closer is quite strong in its own right, as Mundy makes the air come alive with buzzing high frequencies while evoking a lonely, clanking train slowly chugging through a shimmering and spectral dreamscape.  All four pieces are excellent, but at least two of them reach a level of sublime brilliance that absolutely floored me.  I had no idea that Mundy's art had evolved to this level.

Samples can be found here.

 

Tasos Stamou, "Antiqua Graecia"

cover imageThis London-based electroacoustic composer/instrument builder/DIY electronics enthusiast has been engaged in projects and activities for more than a decade now, but this latest album is the first time his singular vision crossed my path.  Antiqua Graecia is the final release of a Greek-themed trilogy that began with 2018's Musique con Crète, though there is also a fourth related work that surfaced on Chocolate Monk last year (Greek Drama).  The series is the fruit of an extended creative research project that initially began with a residency, but blossomed into repeat summer visits to Crete to hunt for traditional music albums, perform with local musicians, and make field recordings.  While I have not fully absorbed the entire series yet, Antique Graecia feels like a significant creative leap forward from previous installments, as Tamou's earlier Greek forays resemble a Sublime Frequencies album dissolved into a fever dream: there was a clear reverence for the source material, yet Tamou's sound collages imbued traditional music with a murky, spectral character.  With Antiqua Graecia, Tamou decided to go for broke, gleefully chopping and layering folk songs in a wonderfully psychotropic fantasia.  I find all of the strains of Tamou's Greek series to be compelling, but this album is the one that most beautifully transcends tradition to feel like something wonderful and new.

Ikuisuus

This is an album of top-tier psychedelic mindfuckery from start to finish, which makes it very hard to describe with any concise generalizations, but a rough summary like "a supernatural fun house at the center of a Greek street fair" is probably a solid starting point.  There is a distinct arc, however, as the first few drone-based pieces steadily deepen my immersion in Tamou's otherworldly fantasia to prime me for the wilder plunges to come.  For example, "Madoura" sounds like a nightmarishly insectoid cacophony of buzzing bagpipe-like drones, while the following "Poor Mum" sounds like mid-90s Dead Can Dance made a lysergic soundscape from Nonesuch Explorer classics.  We then pass through something akin to a flickering and phantasmagoric Scottish parade in a haunted jungle ("Oil Wrestling"), a phantom rembetiko song with an electronic doppelganger ("Taki’s Sorrow"), and a Lisa Gerrard-sung DCD classic consumed by a sickly, dissonant delirium of smeared chimes ("A Woman's Moan").  All are a delight, but the album fully catches fire with the sixth piece, "Just Pagan."  It begins as a psychotropic throb of heavy electronic drones and surreal, jumbled, and haunting layers of melody and field recordings, but gradually transforms into a heartsick folk dance.  The following "Epitaph" is yet another highlight, as the gong of a church bell leaves a ringing, bleary haze of high frequencies that morphs into a squirming, menacing electronic buzz mingled with a chanting street procession.  The final piece brings that trend of escalating otherworldliness to its curious crescendo, as it feels like a cathedral is invaded by a churning, honking, and squawking cacophony (and a cow) before everything dissolves into a disarmingly sweet and calm rustic oasis.  Tamou truly outdid himself with this tour de force, as all of these eight songs seamlessly blur sacred and traditional sounds with vivid, multilayered psychedelia in impressively singular fashion.

Samples can be found here.

 

Don Zilla, "Ekizikiza Mubwengula"

cover imageThis debut full-length from Ugandan producer Zilla is something of a much-anticipated event, as his Boutiq studio is a crucial part of the killer underground music scene centered around Kampala's Nyege Nyege Tapes.  Ekizikiza Mubwengula was additionally anticipated because it is the follow up to an absolute monster of a single that Zilla released in 2019 on Nyege Nyege's club music-themed sub-label Hakuna Kulala.  While this latest release is on that same imprint, these songs are considerably wilder and weirder than the more straightforward (and relentlessly, viscerally danceable) "From the Cave."  With Ekizikiza Mubwengula, Zilla shoots right past the cutting edge of contemporary dance music and lands somewhere akin to an industrial-damaged dance deconstruction of Rashad Becker's deeply alien Music for Notional Species.  Predictably, I am the exact demographic for such a gleefully unhinged tour de force, and this would be the ideal soundtrack for a party occurring exclusively in my head.  Yet it is quite a challenge to imagine songs this pointedly hookless and aggressively outré packing the floors of any but the craziest clubs on earth.  Granted, there are a handful of more straightforward pieces here too (Zilla's production is as exacting and punchy as ever), but those will not be the ones that people most remember.

Hakuna Kalala

If Ekizikiza Mubwengula has anything at all that could be considered a follow-up single to "From the Cave," it would be the killer closer "Ekivuuma."  It even caused some spontaneous dancing to erupt in my apartment, as it remains infectiously rhythmic despite its many nightmarish and darkly hallucinatory elements.  Zilla is something of a virtuoso at crafting heavy industrial-inspired grooves, and "Ekivuuma" is one of his finest creations in that regard, as a skittering, lurching beat and woodpecker-like percussion drag a rumbling bass throb through a lysergic jungle of otherworldly animal howls.  It is the best song on the album, but it takes that honor primarily because it feels like the most fully formed.  It would admittedly be nice if the other eight pieces felt less like cool percussion vamps, but the consolation prize is that said vamps are invariably inventive, unique, and intensely physical.  I am especially fond of "Full Moon," which sounds like a strangled tuba leading a shambling parade of cartoon monsters.  Lamentably, it is probably too brief to make my personal highlight reel, but the jackhammering, seismic onslaught of “Entambula” is not.  I particularly enjoyed the chopped and stammering vocal hook, as it is one of the rare flashes of human warmth or melody on the album (albeit in brutally mangled form).  For the most part, Ekizikiza Mubwengula feels like a broadcast from the dance floor of an alienating, futuristic dystopia where all melody has been replaced with air raid sirens, ominous machine hum, and broken, gnarled, and unrecognizable deconstructions of samples.  It is an incredibly striking and instinctive aesthetic for sure, but it is best experienced in bracing, single-song doses, as the relentless industrial bludgeoning starts to yield diminishing returns as an album-length assault.

Samples can be found here.

 

Dave Seidel, "Involution"

cover imageThis challenging and overwhelming double album is my first exposure to this NH-based composer, and it was quite a synapse-frying introduction to his uncompromising vision.  While Seidel has only been releasing albums as a composer for the last decade or so, he was an active part of NYC's flourishing Downtown music scene in the '80s, and his work feels like it is spiritually descended from that era.  Or perhaps from even before that, as he cites Alvin Lucier and La Monte Young as key influences.  Unlike most artists inspired by Young, however, Seidel did not stop at dabbling in Just Intonation.  Instead, he took "Young's ideal of previously unheard sounds, those that may engender new sensations and emotions in the listener" and ran with it, delving even deeper into unusual tunings until he could bring to life the sonorities that he was chasing.  In practical terms, that means that the two compositions here ("Involution" and "Hexany Permutations") are longform drone works teaming with strange and buzzing harmonic collisions, which makes Phill Niblock's XI Records exactly the right home for this epic.  While I suspect many people will find Seidel's single-minded and no-frills approach to conjuring unfamiliar sounds intimidatingly difficult, this album will definitely make a big impression on anyone fascinated by the physics and physicality of sound.

XI Records

Dave Seidel is not the first artist to be inspired by the work of Alvin Lucier, but the album that struck him was not one of the usual classics.  Instead, Seidel found himself fascinated by a more recent composition, "The Orpheus Variations," which was "based on a particular sonority from the first movement of Igor Stravinsky's ballet score, Orpheus; a sonority that has haunted Lucier for decades."  I find "sonority" to be an elusive quality to define, but Lucier's notes on The Orpheus Variations album provide some clarity for what Seidel is attempting, as Lucier views sonority as a sort of phantom energy field that sometimes forms from the unpredictable interactions of waveforms.  On Involution, Seidel exactingly employs a modular synthesizer and CSound to conjure one ghostly, buzzing energy field after another like a sorcerer.  He succeeds most beautifully with the three-part "Involution," which resembles an endlessly shifting feedback sculpture in which alien dissonances take shape and dissolve into buzzing drones.  It calls to mind a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat, as it is a series of pregnant lulls punctuated by blossoming microtonal events that make the air feel humming and alive.  The six-part "Hexany Solution" feels like a darker, more disconcertingly alien variation of the same phenomenon, as it exists in an uncanny valley that transforms melody into something that feels wrong and grotesque.  It reminds me of Michael Gordon's Decasia, suggesting a time-stretched recording of an out-of-tune string quartet that feels unnervingly artificial, as though someone who never heard a cello was trying to reproduce its sound waves with a modular synthesizer.  I mean that as a compliment, as otherworldly harmonies and tunings rarely yield comforting and consonant sensations, yet Seidel's queasy and unsettling sound fields are very much not for the dissonance-averse.  Given that and the complete absence of any firmer melodic or textural ground, immersing myself in Involution for its full two-plus hour duration is a bit of an endurance test, yet I am nevertheless fascinated by the unique and reality-bending soundscapes that Seidel brings vividly to life.  This is challenging and adventurous sound art unlike nearly anything else that I have heard.

Samples can be found here.

 
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Daniel Menche, "Vilké", "Marriage of Metals"

cover imageMenche was the first American noise artist that I was able to embrace, as his approach to art was not only unique (the first work I heard was him processing the sound of salt rubbed between contact mics), but it also was cliché and pretense free.  It was simply the work of a man who loved experimenting with different sounds and ways of generating them.  While he has stepped back from his more prolific past, the works that he has been releasing are more fully fleshed out and rich, and these two albums are no exception. With Vilké building upon drums, guitar, and wolf howls, and Marriage of Metals focusing exclusively gamelan, the two are vastly different in approach, but the same in quality and structure.


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