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    Matthew Burtner – NOISE Plays Burtner

    February 21st, 2014

    Matthew Burtner - Noise Plays Burtner

    The harsh environment of Alaska, where composer Matthew Burtner grew up, has exerted quite a big influence on some of his musical works. Take, for example, “Snowprints,” the second of three pieces on his new album of chamber music–featuring the ensemble NOISE on flute, violin, cello, guitar, piano, percussion, sax and computer–called NOISE Plays Burtner. Employing the sounds of recorded snow as a droning counterpoint to the acoustic instruments, this 15-minute centerpiece maintains a subtle web of minimal ambience that ranges from pastoral to squeaky to homely to ominous to outright intense. The ensemble maintains interesting playing throughout.

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    Keeril Makan – Afterglow

    January 19th, 2014

    Keeril Makan - Afterglow

    Following up his excellent Target CD from 2011, the young avant-garde classical composer Keeril Makan (born 1972) returns with a smorgasbord of works spanning the years 2006-2010 that were at least partially derived from his dealings with depression. The meal begins with a Caesar’s salad known as “Mercury Songbirds,” a subtly wheezing, minimal / maximal time-stopper chock-full of droning alto flutes, cellos and violins peppered with occasional piping flutes and piano outbursts with lyrical Bacon Bits sprinkled on top courtesy of clarinet, plus some cool piano knocks. It’s quite strange the way this track combines dissonance and consonance in such an odd, unsettling way. The title was inspired by the increasing level of mercury found in Hudson Valley songbirds. You know that startled feeling you get when someone wearing a fright wig unexpectedly jumps out from behind a corner and screams at you? That’s what the beginning of “Husk” sounds like. And to think it was produced by a simple, dissonant harp strum and flute cry. Then, suddenly, amid a sustained web of tense oboe drones, the piece gets all Psycho shower scene on you as it continues to occasionally stab your ears with fabulous bursts of atonality.

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    Juan Blanco – Nuestro Tiempo / Our Time

    December 18th, 2013

    Juan Blanco - Nuestro Tiempo / Our Time

    Who would ever imagine that electro-acoustic music could thrive in a place like Cuba? Not me! Alas, in the mid-20th century, Juan Blanco (1919-2008) became one of the earliest adopters of experimental music production in that small Caribbean island country, which surprisingly harbored quite a scene of avant garde painters, writers and composers who went on to put their stamp on the international stage. Not surprisingly, this scene coalesced into Sociedad Cultural Nuestro Tiempo, an actual group that was started and funded out of pocket by Blanco himself. After inventing the first sampling keyboard in 1942, a good two decades before that instrument came into popular use, Blanco got inspired by the musique concrete of Pierre Schaeffer and started composing electronic works in the early ’60s on some low-end tape decks that he ordered from Sears! As if that weren’t cool enough, Blanco then became the director of Instituto Cubana de Amistad con el Pueblo, where he staged concerts featuring artists ranging all the way from Luigi Nono to Pink Floyd! In the ’80s, after becoming “involved with multimedia performance, theater ballet, film and environmental sound pieces,” Blanco started the International Festival for Electroacoustic Music in Cuba, followed by the ’90s, when he began composing pieces on a NeXT computer. Collecting pieces from 1961-1993, the Nuestro Tiempo CD spans a full three decades, which formed just part of Blanco’s even longer and illustrious career. Collector scum may note that a few of these works previously appeared on LP on the Egrem label back in the ’70s and ’80s–very rare records which change hands for big bucks now.

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    Chris Watson – In St. Cuthbert’s Time: The Sounds of Lindisfarne and the Gospels

    November 15th, 2013

    Chris Watson - In St. Cuthbert's Time: The Sounds of Lindisfarne and the Gospels

    In St. Cuthbert’s Time: The Sounds of Lindisfarne and the Gospels is a set of conceptual field recordings made by noted wildlife / BBC sound recordist Chris Watson. Employing nothing but captured soundwaves and photographic images, Watson transports the listener far away in space and time. The place is a tiny island off of Northeast England containing a Christian monastery. The time is the seventh century, smack dab in the middle of the Anglo Saxon Period. While the bishop of Lindisfarne, Eadfrith, sits snug inside the monastery writing a richly illustrated book of the Christian New Testament called the Lindisfarne Gospels, the sounds of the natural world ebb and flow all around him. As a steady drone of crashing ocean waves roars in the background, “Winter” really brings on the birds in the form of ducks, Greylag geese, Brent geese, whooper swans and wigeons–all of which warble and chirp away. Spurred on by a stalking fox, the bird and ocean sounds coalesce into a hectic and strange sonic web.

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    Mika Vainio + Joachim Nordwall – Monstrance

    October 8th, 2013

    Mika Vainio + Joachim Nordwall - Monstrance

    According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, in the Roman Catholic Church, a monstrance is “an open or transparent receptacle in which the consecrated Host is exposed for veneration.” Outside of the Roman Catholic Church, Monstrance is a compact disc by Finnish electronic musician Mika Vaino, whose name sounds like a cross between Mickey Mouse and Keiji Haino, and Joachim Nordwall, a like-minded artist whose last name is not to be confused with a small Arctic whale. Kicking off the album with the perfectly titled “Alloy Ceremony,” Joachim grabs his bass and bakes a big ol’ wedding cake in the form of a slow, low-pitched pulse, accompanied by Mika, who slathers on a hefty helping of Sonic Youth-like behind-the-bridge picking and droning feedback guitar icing. Martha Stewart would be proud–even more so if she rocked out to this in JAIL (again).

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    Cristian Vogel – Eselsbrucke

    September 13th, 2013

    Cristian Vogel - Eselsbrucke

    Cristian Vogel is a composer of electronic music who has been at it since the late 1980s, pumping out a seemingly endless amount of tracks full of avant grade-influenced techno and pop, as well as music for dance, film, sound art and whatever else strikes his fancy. His latest album, the depressingly atmospheric Eselsbrucke, opens with “Invisible Planets,” which borrows a few lines from the movie My Dinner With Andre that describe the pretty good possibility that artificial intelligence / robots will take over the Earth, leaving small pockets of savage humanity cowering in the shadows. After a short while, Vogel spritzes the speech with a blanket of gleaming, pinging electronics until it’s totally obliterated. Eventually, the clouds clear and the talking wins out, as the speaker is caught ordering an espresso at a cafe, which completely deflates the menacing mood established at the beginning. Insert a chuckle here. “Caswels Genius Stack” descends into the hazy house of a homely handmaiden, while “Mount the 137″ blows synth bubbles all around your noggin with the help of a lone, muted beat, then treats you to the worst kind of aluminum-drenched hangover that definitely coats, but will never soothe or protect. “Snaker” slithers along, boasting more glimmering, reverb-soaked synth stabs and squeaky percussion knocks. “Ballad” falls further into the handmaiden’s dark boiler room without a flashlight, bumps into walls and knocks over stuff–all with the reverb turned up to 111.

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    Berangere Maximin – Infinitesimal

    August 27th, 2013

    Berangere Maximin - Infinitesimal

    Berangere Maximin is one of those rare birds: a female composer of experimental music. Let’s throw on our binoculars and take a quick look at her life. Calling Paris France home, she has been studying and working on electro-acoustic music under the guidance of the INA-GRM’s Denis Dufour since way back in the Gay ’90s. Wait a minute, wasn’t that the 1890s? I mean the Grunge ’90s! Following her debut on Sub Rosa, No One Is An Island, her second album on that label is called Infinitesimal. Although that word is really hard to spell, the flowing music contained on this disc of the compact variety is really easy to listen to–unless you’re an uptight narcissistic control freak bureaucrat who just got hit in the eye with a whiffle ball, then diagnosed with a brain tumor.

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    Grauton – Zwischen

    July 30th, 2013

    Grauton - Zwischen

    As the old saying goes, a rose by any other name is still a rose.* So it goes with Karen Geyer, who is also known as Grauton. A musician hailing from Zurich, Switzerland, Grauton grabs everyday objects like bicycles, fans, kettles and stools prepares them with wood, wire, rubber, cord and masking tape, and sets them into gentle motion with small electrical motors. The Zwischen LP collects two side-long pieces of such matter. The first side is primarily comprised of the mechanical tapping of what sounds like detuned guitar strings spritzed with occasional layers of scraping, clattery ambience via the rattling of bicycle wheels, electric fans, etc. Side two is dominated by what sounds like someone hitting a pick against guitar strings, supported by more rhythmic chatter. The overall sound bears a striking resemblance to the work of Fluxus artist Joe Jones, especially his Solar Music and Back and Forth Exhibition Sound CDs. Fans of mellow, meandering, mechanical ambience should enjoy the oddly relaxing Zwischen. It’s a gallery edition if I’ve ever seen one, complete with a full-color insert containing a photo of a table set up with all of Karen’s gear.

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    Bryan Lewis Saunders – Bed Bugs 1-3

    June 28th, 2013

    Bryan Lewis Saunders - Bed Bugs 1-3

    Painter, musician, poet, performer and all around twisted Renaissance man Bryan Lewis Saunders is one talented and prolific individual. In addition to all of the aforementioned endeavors, he also somehow finds time to belch out what he calls “stand up tragedy,” a depressing, morose form of spoken word. Bed Bugs 1-3 is a whole LP’s worth of such haunting stories culled from the author’s tumultuous life down in Johnson City, Tennessee. The album opens with some diary-like entries detailing Bryan’s interactions with an emotionally disturbed girl–all delivered via tinny yet menacing spoken vocals that sound like they’re coming in over a telephone line and rudely splattered with swirling noise drones.

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    Herbert Deutsch – From Moog to Mac

    May 28th, 2013

    Herbert Deutsch – From Moog to Mac

    Composer Herbert Deutsch (born 1932) was Professor Emeritus of Music at Hofstra University, where he taught for a mere 55 years and inaugurated their electronic music studio, and many other music programs. In the early 1960s, he collaborated with Robert Moog on the first Moog synthesizer, providing a musician’s insight to counterbalance and aid the technical breakthroughs of the “mad scientist.” As you may have guessed from its title, the From Moog to Mac CD is a collection of rarely heard yet historic works caught on tape during the early years of the development of the synth, appended with some later pieces on the personal computer. “A Christmas Carol” (1963) presents via tape manipulation an array of cut-up musique concrete sounds—including snippets from a radio play containing news reports of church bombings in Birmingham, Alabama—along with piano, drums, cymbals, ratchet, radio test oscillators, choral singing and scads of low-end synth damage. Some nice drones, echoes and knocks also get thrown into the mix. “The Abominatron” (1964) was the nickname Robert gave the first Moog synth. In this track, he gives a demonstration of the newly emerging instrument, verbally introducing each sound sample. Dissonant and consonant organ-like stabs, and plenty of bleeping sawtooth and squarewave mayhem dot this crude soundscape.

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