New York Music Daily

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Category: electronic music

Brooding, Cinematic, Synthesized Dancefloor Jams From Reza Safinia

Keyboardist and composer Reza Safinia likes diptychs and triptychs. Kraftwerk and the rest of the icy, mechanical, electronically-fixated bands of the 70s are a big influence. The techier side of Arabic habibi pop and suspense film music also factor into his hypnotically propulsive instrumentals. He likes long jams that go on for nine or ten minutes at a clip. There’s a pervasive darkness in his work, but it’s closer to a flashing digital billboard approximation of evil than the genuine, ugly item. His latest album Yang is streaming at Bandcamp. If you need dance music for your Halloween party this year, this will do just fine.

He opens it with Yantra, a habibi pop Exorcist Theme of sorts, a choir patch from the synth rising behind the chimes and flutters. Watercolor is an insistently rippling piano theme teleported into quasi-diabolical Alan Parsons Project hyper-gamma space.

Shiva is also a throwback, closer to Tangerine Dream’s mechanically pulsing, hypnotic mid/late 70s themes, then morphs into a moody, motorik theme closer to the title’s Indian destroyer spirit. Eddy begins as such a close relative to an iconic/monotonous green-eyed New Order hit from the early 80s that it’s funny, but then Safinia does a 180 and brings down the lights.

Loopy, warpy, increasingly warm and playful sequencer riffs intertwine in the next track, Dream.

Vitruvian is closer to 21st century EDM here, a picturesque bullet train passing through a padlocked nighttime industrial wasteland of the mind. And when you least expect, Safinia transforms it into an angry anthem.

Prana is even techier and, ironically, more breathless. Shushumma doesn’t get interesting until the playful clockwork counterpoint midway through. Wary, surrealistically echoing phrases filter through the mix in Helix: this transhuman DNA is twisted! Then all of a sudden it’s a whistling, windy nocturne, and then an increasingly droll, squirrelly theme.

Funkbible is the lone dud here: that phony cassette wow effect is annoying. Safinia brings the album full circle, more or less, with the trip-hop Tantra.

Smart, Broodingly Evocative Spoken Word and Electronics From Blue Lick

Today’s Halloween installment – streaming at Bandcamp – is Hold On, Hold Fast, Chicago duo Blue Lick‘s disquieting album of spoken word and electronics. There’s nothing traditionally Halloweenish about this, although frontwoman Havadine Stone’s worldview is relentlessly unflinching. Ben Baker Billington gives her provocative, poetic imagery a typically chilly, squiggly synth backdrop.

The album is best appreciated as a contiguous whole: the individual segments vary from very brief to around the three minute range. “If I’m not brave enough to drop it I’ll turn it upside down,” Stone muses in the first track

“If something is flat and wide open, you can’t hide in it, can you?” Stone asks at one point during the second. She’s talking about the Midwest, but there’s obvious subtext. Not a pivotal moment, but it’s characteristic of how Stone works

“Every human you see was pushed and pulled out of a wet dark place, of course there is no question we grope, eyes shut in the dark…I am my own endless void, I am my own iron weight, I am my own tapeworm.”

But hardly everything here is grim and cynical. Stone’s sardonically detailed portrait of relationship angst in the fourth track is irresistibly funny. She revisits that theme, in a more allusively sinister way, in track seven. Then later there’s “An otherwise shadow-boxed conversation. There’s that pull again. Do you drop the rope, hang the line on the branch and walk away whistling a tune, thinking, “Dang, sure glad I got outta that one…”

One of the album’s more playfully loopy synth-scapes gives Stone a canvas for a reflection on autosuggestive self-empowerment…for starters, anyway. And the narrative about the kids on the beach in the tenth segment can’t conceal a dark undercurrent. Snarkiest line here: “She’s a dead ringer from the back, isn’t she.” As strong a lyricist as Stone is, what we really need from her is a book – or a Substack feed.

Pensive, Meditative Sounds From Chrystal Für

Chrystal Für‘s album Elusion – streaming at Bandcamp – seemed for a second to be a good candidate for the daily Octoberlong Halloween celebration here since the first cut is a requiem. As it turns out, there’s absolutely nothing Halloweenish or even particularly dark about most of the record’s expansive, minimalist themes. But it is a good backdrop for meditation.

The opening requiem is gently pulsing spacerock without the drums. It could be Noveller in a particularly minimalist moment. The segue into I’m Losing You introduces a moody, spare, steadily loopy piano theme.

Spark Over the Horizon is aptly titled, a theme for a perilous new day dawning. Minimalist volume-knob guitar phrases filter through the sonic picture in Memory and There Is No Second Chance, then shift to piano in Memory of a Fading Home, finally falling away in fragments.

Deep-space unease permeates the album’s most epic soundscape, I Rise at Dawn, up to an unexpected conclusion. Pass the Torch is the one interlude that follows a familiar rock chord progression. That’s where the album ought to end; it goes on for another track..

A Shimmering, Potently Relevant New Album From Fearless Composer Susie Ibarra

Percussionist and composer Susie Ibarra‘s rapturous, starkly orchestrated new album Walking on Water touches on the two most deadly ecological crises of our time: the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and global warming. Inspired by a breathtaking series of paintings by Mako Fujimura dedicated to the victims of the March 11, 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear explosions, Ibarra also addresses a familiar theme in her work, the perils of climate change. With the Japanese government threatening to dump millions of gallons of lethal radioactive water from the still-unstable Fukushima site into the Pacific, Ibarra could not have picked a more appropriate time to release this record of what she terms as “spirituals” at Bandcamp.

Ibarra’s DreamTime Ensemble here includes Jennifer Choi on violin, Yves Dharambaj on cello, Claudia Acuna on vocals, Jake Landau on guitar and keys, with Yuka C. Honda adding electronic elements. The music is much more dynamic than you would expect from such troubling central themes and includes many field recordings of water, from melting ice in the Himalayas to water tanks in Washington State.

The first track is Elegy in Azurite, a shimmery, circling theme, part terse, lush classical atmosphere aloft with Acuna’s vocalese, and part pointillistic Filipino kulintang music. Landau’s spiky acoustic guitar pierces the mist in the bouncy Light East of Sendai. His organ falls away, leaving Ibarra’s cymbals and gongs to mingle with melting ice sonics in Waterfalling.

Assertive, flamenco-tinged guitar chords anchor resonant, shivering phrases from violin and cello over Ibarra’s rustles in Coastal Birds The next track is High Wave, a mashup of found sounds of water amid nebulous acoustic and electronic ambience. Acuna sails soulfully above a syncopated organ groove and Ibarra’s slinky drums in the aptly titled Natural Lightness.

Night Rain sounds like exactly that, a field recording with birds chattering away as they take cover. Violin and cello rise warily over Landau’s lush arpeggios in Divine Forgiveness, followed by a fluttery tone poem, Celestial Migration. Floating Azurite makes a good segue, somber atmosphere contrasting with the mandolin-like delicacy of Landau’s guitars.

The bossa-tinged swing of New York With Grace comes as a real surprise, Landau’s spiny textures and the strings adding a surreal, disquieted edge. The album’s big epic is aptly titled Listening at Himalayan Waterfalls, a found-sound pastiche which Ibarra captured with underwater microphones. The group close with Floating Along Banares, a summery field recording of a boat trip mashed up with distantly Indian-flavored melodies. The implication seems to be that this kind of natural camaraderie is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) of what we stand to lose if we don’t stop burning things to power the world. The apocalypse never sounded so dreamy. Count this as one of the best and most captivating albums of 2021.

Passepartout Duo Put Out an Invitingly Hypnotic New Album Made on Handcrafted Textile Instruments

Custom-built instruments are typically designed with more attention to exterior detail than their mass-produced counterparts. Once in awhile there’s an exception: too bad the Vox Teardrop, or the Kay guitars of the 1950s, didn’t have electronics to match the beauty of what’s on the outside. Keyboardist Nicoletta Favari and percussionist Christopher Salvito, who perform as Passepartout Duo, design and build their own instruments, and have created a fascinating pair of synthesizers which they call Oto.

They’re made from e-textiles and wool from Brogna sheep native to their home turf in Italy’s Lessinia region. The duo hand-felted the wool themselves. The point of the project was to create fully functional instruments that doubled as works of fabric art.

The two musicians put the new instruments through their paces on their new cassette Daylighting – streaming at Bandcamp – which also comes with hand-designed, soy-inked inserts. The duo call what they play here “slow music,” inspired by a trip to the Meili Snow Mountains in China and recorded in diverse locations throughout the world.

For what it’s worth, the seven tracks don’t have any distinctively Chinese characteristics, although there are passages which could definitely be called snowy. This music is psychedelic and often gamelanesque. Waves of bubbles and cheery, echoey bleeps percolate through the mix in the album’s first track, Plainness. There’s a delightfully keening, bagpipe-like patch in the second number, Indentations, intertwined amid dancing bell timbres and hand-held percussion.

There are playful percussion and squiggly accents over a warmly inviting calm in the third track, Matter. The album’s title cut is its most minimalist and hypnotic piece. Spare, mobile-like chimes mingle within woozily stacked electronic counterpoint in track five, Hue.

Speciation – a really, REALLY scary concept for 2021, huh? – is the most bell-like tableau here. The duo bring the cassette full circle with the final track, Quiescence. It’s often blissfully enjoyable chillout music.

Plunge Into the Depths With Lucie Vítková and James Ilgenfritz

Lucie Vítková and James Ilgenfritz’s new album Aging – streaming at Bandcamp – is a series of dronescapes. As relentlessly bleak music, it could just as easily be a portrait of the past fourteen months as much as an exploration of what a drag it is to watch the years pile up. Just remember that getting old is a state of mind no matter how many trips you make around the sun.

This is microtonal music. With one exception close to the end of the record, none of these seven long interludes move very far from a sonic center, and it’s frequently impossible to distinguish Ilgenfritz’s bowed bass, abrasively keening harmonics and extended-technique slashes from Vítková’s electronics.

Slowly rising and falling pitchblende resonance is flecked with crumbling fragments of grey noise, clunking loops and ghostly flickers – a deep-space icebreaker clearing the junk from what’s left of the Death Star, maybe. Oscillating scrapes, buzz and boom, achingly unresolved close harmonies, sirening bends and dopplers all filter through the mix. The funereal, tolling chords and darkly contrasting textures of the almost fifteen-minute fifth track are the high point of the album, such that it is. The one after that, a study in high harmonics, more or less, is the most animated.

On one hand, someone with no experience on stringed instruments could probably play this whole thing, or an approximation thereof, after a few tips on bowing. On the other, it really maintains a mood. If you like the lows and the low midrange, this is very enjoyably immersive.

Gorgeously Haunting, Surreal Cinematics From Dictaphone

Dictaphone’s distinctive, unique sound falls somewhere between film noir soundtrack music, jazz and the Middle East. Which makes sense, considering that bandleader Oliver Doerell does a lot of movie scores. The group’s often sweepingly crepuscular instrumentals are much more lush than one would expect from just three musicians, yet it’s also very minimalist: no note goes to waste here. Their new album Goats & Distortions 5 – streaming at Bandcamp – expands on their exploration of what they call “morbid instruments.”

The album’s opening track, simply titled O, has a loopy trip-hop beat beneath drifting ambience over that could be muted pizzicato violin, or a processed guitar riff, or a sintir at a distance: it’s often hard to isolate who’s playing what here. Clarinetist Roger Döring looms sparely and moodily as the atmospherics pulse in and out.

The second track, Island 92 quickly coalesces into a hypnotic Middle Eastern groove, Döring’s bass clarinet chromatics weaving broodingly, then suddenly dropping out for Alex Stolze’s hazy violin. From there, Doerell builds a terse, resonant web of guitar clang and atmospherics.

Döring’s sax and Stolze’s violin waft uneasily over Doerrell’s sintir loop and a lo-fi electronic click track in track three, titled 808.14.4. The album’s title track is in two parts: the first a brief, swoopy, minimalist loop pastiche and the second a trickily rhythmic, darkly surreal dub interlude, pings and blips contrasting with spare bass and morose bass clarinet.

Likewise, washes of grey noise, bass clarinet and amplified loops from an old, broken tape recorder mingle mournfully in Tempete et Stress. Il Grande Silenzio is anything but, a lament with funeral parlor organ and more of that bass clarinet, plus some creepy robotic textures.

M – which doesn’t seem to be a salute to the iconic Peter Lorre horror film – is the driftiest interlude here. Helga Raimondi takes an enigmatic cameo on the mic in Your Reign Is Over, a rainy-day Balkan reggae dub theme. They close with Griot Dub, which is not a reggae tune but a grey-sky tableau.

Fun fact: the band take their name from a lo-fi tape recorder with a variable-speed motor, invented in the late 40s and commonly used in offices as late as the 1990s. It was meant to free up secretarial staff from the slow process of taking dictation. A typist could transcribe the tape and slow the machine down if the person doing the dictating was speaking rapidly. There was also Dictaphone etiquette: to avoid mistakes in transcription, it was considered de rigeur to enunciate slowly and clearly, to spell out proper names and difficult words, and to thank the typist – almost invariably a woman working for near-minimum wage – at the end of the tape.

Remembering a Rapturous Annual Brooklyn Festival of Cutting-Edge Vocal Music

The annual Resonant Bodies Festival of avant garde vocal music ran from 2013 to 2019 at Roulette, and had just begun to branch out to other major cities when the lockdown crushed the performing arts throughout most of the world. This blog was there for the initial festival, and subsequent editions matched that year’s outside-the-box sensibility. Roulette’s vast archive still exists, and presumably everything from those often riveting performances was recorded. Let’s hope that there’s been enough resistance to the lockdown, and enough talent left in New York this fall to resume the series; if not, there’s a fantastic live compilation album featuring some of the highlights from over the years streaming at Bandcamp.

The lineup here is a who’s who of some of the most formidable new-music vocal talent out there. As was often the case with the series itself, all of the singers here are women, most of them composer-performers playing and singing solo. All but two of the tracks are from the festival.

Charmaine Lee‘s Littorals makes an apt opener. Her shtick is that she uses all the sounds in the international phonetic alphabet, plus some that may not have symbols. Part human beatbox, part devious infant, part comic, her solo performance will leave you in stitches. It sounds as if the mic is inside her mouth for much of this. This might be the funniest track anyone’s released this year.

Julia Bullock brings a beefy, soul-inspired vibrato to John Cage’s She is Asleep, Milena Gligić supplying muted, percussive microtones under the piano lid. Pamela Z’s highly processed solo diptych Quatre Couches/Badagada spins an increasingly agitated pastiche through a funhouse mirror.

Backed by clarinetist Campbell MacDonald, Sarah Maria Sun delivers Thierry Tidrow‘s grisly murder ballad Die Flamme, Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire recast as arsonist. Tony Arnold nimbly negotiates the multiple voices and disjointedly demanding extended technique of Jason Eckardt’s Dithyramb.

Arooj Aftab joins forces with pianist Vijay Iyer and bassist Shahzad Ismaily for En Route to Unfriending, a slowly unwinding, ghazal-inspired, melancholy tour de force from the 2017 festival. Iyer’s gently insistent staccato, evoking the ringing of a santoor, is masterful.

The title of Kamala Sankaram‘s slowly crescendoing solo electroacoustic piece Ololyga reflects a shrieking mourning ritual practiced in ancient Greece, which men reputedly scared off all the guys. Needless to say, the Bombay Rickey frontwoman pulls out all the stops with her five-octave range.

Another solo electroacoustic performance, Caroline Shaw‘s diptych Rise/Other Song is considerably calmer, with a gently incantatory quality. Gelsey Bell‘s Feedback Belly is one of the more imaginative and intense pieces here, drawing on her battle with the waves of pain she experienced during a long battle with endometriosis. “If there’s anything you take away from this, please take women’s pain seriously. There is nothing like having a women’s disease to radicalize a feminist in this incredibly misogynistic health system,” she relates in the album’s extensive, colorful liner notes. Manipulating feedback from a Fender amp inside a metal canister hidden under her oversize dress, Bell builds a strangely rapt, dynamically shifting atmosphere punctuated by pulsing electronic grit.

Duo Cortona – vocalist Rachel Calloway and violinist/vocalist Ari Streisfeld – perform Amadeus Regucera‘s relationship drama If Only After You Then Me, beginning furtively and ripping through many moments of franticness and sheer terror. The iconic Lucy Shelton sings a dynamically impassioned take of Susan Botti‘s Listen, My Heart, a setting of a comforting Rabindrath Tagore poem, accompanying herself energetically on singing bowls and metal percussion.

Anaïs Maviel plays spiky, circling ngoni on In the Garden, a hypnotically moody, masterfully melismatic retelling of the Garden of Eden myth. The album’s closing epic is Sofia Jernberg’s One Pitch: Birds for Distortion and Mouth Synthesizers. Is she going to be able to hold up through seventeen minutes of nonstop, increasingly rigorous falsetto birdsong-like motives…let alone without a break for water? No spoilers!

Surrealistically Captivating Electroacoustic Solo Clarinet Sounds From Esther Lamneck

On one hand, clarinetist Esther Lamneck’s new album Sky Rings – streaming at Spotify – is primarily for fans of her axe, her silken sostenuto, her effortless legato and command of extended technique. On the other, devotees of adventurous new classical music ought to check it out. It’s a collection of six solo electroacoustic pieces, testifying to the fact that we’ve probably barely scratched the surface of how many solo records have been made in the fateful days since March 16 of last year. Often it’s hard to tell what’s an overdub and what’s getting reprocessed and spun back through the mix, enhancing the psychedelic factor.

The opening piece is Lars Graugaard‘s Quiet Voice. It begins as a wafting reverbtoned soundscape that picks up slowly: the distantly chimey multitracks sound suspiciously like the mixer picking up the clicking of the keys. A loopy, uneasy, chromatic phrase hints at the development of more anthemic melody, then Lamneck fires off a sudden cadenza akin to a stone hitting a pond. The sonic thicket grows thicker and more flutelike, even as it’s balanced by fliting low notes against the trills and leaps. Playfully bubbly phrasing alternates with austere atmospherics as she winds up this colorful showpiece.

The album’s title track, by Michael Matthews, has a bracing,, heavy-gamelanesque electronic introduction that gives way to lively allusions to Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time and dynamically shifting variations which come full circle almost imperceptibly.

Kyong Mee Choi‘s Ceaseless Cease gives Lamneck alternately drifting and playfully percussive backdrops for leaps and bounds as well as more pensive phrasing that eventually weaves into a sort of catch-and-follow. She airs out her blues phrasing in the intro of Ihbtby, by Paul Wilson, a minimalist take on a Gershwinesque stroll; from there,surreal ambience alternates with hectic flutters.

Although it’s awash in gritty harmonics and keening duotones, Michal Rataj‘s Small Imprints is the most straightforward and subtly playful number here. Lamneck winds up the record with David Durant’s rather brooding Faji, sailing tersely and then glissandoing frenetically over an ominous series of noirish electronic textures and accents.

A Creepy New Abnormal Single From Tessa Lena

For the past year, author and poet Tessa Lena has written some of the most lucid, insightful commentary on the lockdown and the sinister motivations of the oligarchs and tech Nazis behind it. As a first-generation American immigrant who spent her early childhood in the Soviet Union, she knows totalitarianism when she sees it and somehow manages to keep her withering sense of humor intact.

She also records as Tessa Makes Love. One of her particularly creepy, techy singles is I Want to Know You As a Computer. Rather than just scrolling to the bottom of the page where you can find the song, check out her latest critique of the New Abnormal on your way there.