New York Music Daily

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Tag: electronic music

Rafiq Bhatia Brings His Surreal Soundscapes to a Summer Series in Midtown

It’s hard to think of a guitarist who personifies the state of the art in ambient jazz more individualistically or interestingly than Rafiq Bhatia. He’s just as much at home reinventing Mary Lou Williams tunes with his longtime collaborator Chris Pattishall as he is creating an immersive electronic swirl. Bhatia’s next gig is outdoors at Bryant Park at 7 PM on August 19.

Bhatia had the good fortune to release his most recent album, Standards Vol. 1 – streaming at Bandcamp – in January of 2020. It’s a characteristically outside-the-box series of interpretations of iconic jazz tunes. He opens it by transforming In A Sentimental Mood into a disquieting series of sheets of sound, running Riley Mulherkar’s trumpet and Stephen Riley’s tenor sax through several patches including an icy choir effect.

Cécile McLorin Salvant sings The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face with alternatingly coy charm and outright menace, enhanced electronically by Bhatia’s minimalist textural washes. The only track that Bhatia plays guitar on here is Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman, which he reinvents as an utterly desolate, surrealistically looped, raga-tinged nightscape, Craig Weinrib a fugitive on the run with his palms on the drum heads. The two horns take it out with a dusky wee-hours conversation.

The album’s final number is The Single Petal of a Rose, Pattishall’s spare, raindrop piano licks subtly processed (and maybe cut and pasted) to flit into and out of the sonic picture. It’s a prime example of how Bhatia builds a space to get lost in.

A Relentlessly Suspenseful, Immersive Soundtrack From Ronit Kirchman

Ronit Kirchman’s soundtrack to seasons two through four of the detective series The Sinner – streaming at Spotify – is tantalizingly allusive. Her chilly digital analogues to sweeping orchestration are assembled in and around a series of suites, a welcome change from the minutely fragmented playlist sequences that plague so many other recent soundtrack albums. Much of this could be considered ambient music.

Rhythms, such as they exist, tend to be on the unforgiving, mechanical side. Moments of reflective melancholy filter into Kirchman’s slowly and methodically spiraling kaleidoscope of sound. The opening diptych, Two Deaths Suite rises to a shivery, wildfire thicket of strings. Horizontal tone poems have never been so interesting. The second part is more techy, a study in contrasts and echo phrases.

Gently twinkling keys morph into a mechanical loop and give way to wafting down-the-drainpipe sonics and then a distantly wistful quasi-orchestral theme. Drifts, oscillations and motorik rhythms recede for unexpectedly droll, bubbly fishtank-scapes. There’s an airy simulation of what could be Asian temple ambience and instances of simple plucked violin accents warped into play-dough shapes. Throughout the score, chances that’s Kirchman overdubbing herself into a one-woman string section.

Just when it seems that the Lonely Traveler Suite is going to coalesce into a sweeping symphonic crescendo, the subway to dystopia approaches from far down the tunnel. Whirlybird is not a helicopter portrait but a subtly shifting, circular string piece in a Caroline Shaw vein. When an actual helicopter seems to enter the picture, it comes as a complete surprise.

Here, Midnight in Greenpoint seems far closer to desolate post-2020 nightmare than its previous bar-crawl bustle. As the album reaches the end, the immersiveness and tension rise considerably: it’s hard to think of a better advertisement for the show.

Darkness and Drama on Soprano Misha Penton’s New Release

First thought, best thought? Sketchy tags aren’t usually a good way of describing music, but in this case, the note on the folder here containing singer Misha Penton‘s new short album Radiant Poison holds up. “Weird witchy avant goth” was a first observation: “Operatic industrial soundscapes” would be just as accurate. As a bonus, the ep comes in two versions. The audio is streaming at Bandcamp, with matching video at Vimeo.

The first track, Visible Darkness has layers of operatic vocals over similarly echoey, icy ambient accents and textures. The template is much the same in Shore Pines & Spider Silk, George Heathco’s uneasily portentous guitar lingering amidst the shifting sheets of sound and Penton’s arioso leaps. The final number is the title cut, which “rises from the desert” to a redemptive narrative spiced with Heathco’s flaring leads, backward masking, and ominous drumbeats from Chris Becker. Penton is based in Houston: adventurous Texas listeners can keep an eye on her gig page for upcoming performances.

Chilly Suspense and Subtle Humor in Tori Letzler’s In From the Cold Soundtrack

In her soundtrack to the sci-fi Russian spy series In From the Cold – streaming at SpotifyTori Letzler packs a lot into some very brief passages: the action is nonstop. What’s coolest about this is that she sidesteps the usual tropes: no late-night subway sonics, massed cellos, bongos announcing an intruder on the doorstep. or Terminator coldly surveying the aftermath. Instead, Letzler runs with motorik sequences alternating with chilly, drifting atmospherics. toxic industrial textures and simple, brooding piano riffs. Aircraft are also involved, or so it would seem.

Pussy Riot sing the opening credits theme, like a techier version of the Bad Brains with a woman out front. Letzler’s score begins with an airy, drifting hint of a Carpathian-tinged lullaby, followed by a brief, brisk, apprehensive motorway theme as Abba might have done it. This ride leaves the road fast.

A sparse, moody piano interlude disappears into electronic crackles. The loopy motorik piece after that has some of the lowest tones you’ll ever hear blipping from a sequencer. A love theme rises to the level of sarcastic new wave loopiness, but no further. Backward-masked footfalls in a pursuit scene are a similarly wry, deft touch. The way Letzler finally brings the mountain lullaby theme back around is even more artful. This is good driving music: it’ll definitely keep you awake behind the wheel.

Eclectic Digital Sounds Trace the Development of an Analog World

Multi-instrumentalist Uèle Lamore‘s new instrumental album Loom – streaming at Spotify – traces the evolution of life on earth. The music is more airy and playful than you would probably expect from such an ambitious theme. Lamore blends elements of psychedelia, downtempo, chillwave, ambient and film music in a series of succinct, relatively brief tracks with occasional vocals.

A loon, or the electronic equivalent, calls out in the darkness, then a swaying, echoing, slickly 80s-style trip-hop theme develops to open the record. Lamore takes a flippant little piano phrase, flips it upside down and then runs the riff and variations through a series of patches for the second track, The Dark.

The Creation begins with gamelan-like chimes, then a flute patch moves to the forefront over puffy, rhythmic synth.

The First Tree is a sweeping, vaguely mysterious hip-hop tune.The next track, Breathe is not a Pink Floyd cover but a motorik-flavored theme that reminds of a big hit by Prince.

Currents has a wry vocoder track over the swirl, while Gene Pool is a return to fun things that can be done with a simple piano riff and textural variations.

Lamore follows Pollen, an atmospheric neosoul tune, with Predation, a muted whoomp-whoomp dancefloor jam. By the time we reach Dominance, are we in the dinosaur era yet? This loopy, cinematic segment is much more futuristic. Lamore winds up the album with Warm Blood, her vocals adrift in an echoey sheen.

A Singularly Disquieting Electroacoustic Album From Pianist Peng-Chian Chen

On her latest album Electrocosmia – streaming at Spotify – pianist Peng-Chian Chen explores the intersection of new classical composition with electronics, as well as the many philosophical and real-world implications thereof.

She opens with a set of miniatures, Pierre Charvet’s Neuf Etudes aux Deux Mondes. Enervated motorik bustle, cautious strolls, spare dripping minimalism and a slow ramble through stygian depths are juxtaposed with and sometimes mingled within icy ambience or gritty industrial sonics. There’s sardonic humor as well: a plane crashing at takeoff and the nagging interruption of phone ringtones. Is the point of this that as much as we hate this techy shit, we might as well get used to it since we’re stuck with it? Or that even in the grip of a digital dystopia, there’s beauty in – or guarded hope for – the human element? Maybe both?

Next, Chen tackles Cindy Cox‘s spare, surreal Etude “La Cigüeña” for piano and sampler, its furtive upward flights and uneasy lulls set to a backdrop of what could be whalesong or birdsong. In Elainie Lillios‘ Nostalgic Visions – inspired by a Garcia Lorca childhood reminiscence – Chen throws off dramatic improvisational flourishes, goes under the piano lid for autoharp-like shimmer, chilly minimalism and a murky crush. Some of it gets flung back to her, through a sampler, darkly.

She concludes with Peter Van Zandt Lane‘s electroacoustic partita Studies in Momentum. Steady, glistening, circling phrases mingle with increasingly menancing close harmonies; a devious peek-a-boo theme meets its ghostly counterpart; a tongue-in-cheek, Charlie Chaplinesque march reaches the end at a cold reflecting pool. Chen’s stiletto articulation in the lickety-split, coyly altered third piece is the high point of the record, although the brooding tone poem that follows is just as tantalizingly brief.

Pensive, Disquieting Minimalism For Piano and a Rare Early Electronic Instrument

As Snowdrops, Christine Ott and Mathieu Gabry have been releasing a series of albums which blend new classical music, electronic soundscapes and film score atmospherics. On their latest release, Inner Fires – streaming at Bandcamp – Ott shifts between piano and the surreal ondes Martenot, an electronic keyboard which predates the theremin and can create a wild variety of sounds. Gabry plays piano on the first two tracks plus electronic keys and tubular bells on the final two. It’s distantly, sometimes persistently troubled, immersive music.

The first track, Elevation begins with Gabry’s spare rainy-day piano over subtly gritty and airier textures, which Ott expands on with loopy upper-register work as the piano grows more insistent. The template is the same for the fourteen-minute Egopolis, icy piano incisions over low, looming fog from the ondes Martenot. From there, Ott slowly constructs a less ornate, funereal. Radiohead-like tableau.

Ott and Gabry switch places, essentially, for the diptych Shadow Society/A Piece of Freedom, a chuffing, loopy industrial rhythm receding for echoey, plaintively glistening piano. Ott remains on (and inside) the piano for the final cut, Ruptur 47, with Gabry on tubular bells plus Richard Knox on guitar, shifting from dark, hypnotic polyrhythms to a slowly spinning bell choir. By that point, the listener has gone through the funhouse mirror and it’s not clear who’s playing what, validating this duo’s singular, uneasy vision.

Ambient Sonic Comfort From Austin Rockman

The last time electronic composer Austin Rockman was featured on this page, it was for a couple of chilly, disquieting down-the-drainpipe tableaux. This time out he’s totally flipped the script with his latest album Our Own Unknown, streaming at Bandcamp.

It’s a warm, bright, enveloping series of soundscapes. Allusive implied melody is one of Rockman’s most persistent and effective devices: he leaves you humming something that he only hinted at. A lot of the pieces here start out spare and echoey and grow more lush or increasingly textured. Sparse guitar-like accents typically develop more resonantly as Rockman brings the lights up.

There are a couple of moments where he falls back on tropes like simulated tape wow effects, or in one place, a spastically arrythmic loop, but he takes the listener back to the womb from there. Contrasts are on the gentle side, and striking when they’re not, as in the interludes where he runs crackles akin to a film projector against shifting sheets of simple, single-note melody. But most of this is a soothing musical hug with enough going on where it won’t send you off to dreamland. And who couldn’t use a hug right about now?

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.