New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: electronic music

Revisiting a Relentlessly Bleak, Minimalist Film Score

The annual monthlong Halloween celebration here may be past the midpoint, but there’s still plenty of dark music left in the pipeline through the end of the month here. Today we celebrate with the immersive score to the 2019 Rashid Johnson film Native Son, by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (of S U R V I V E), streaming at Spotify.

This is a very atmospheric, minimalist series of electronic soundscapes. A brief series of doppler-like phrases sets the stage. There’s more ominous texture and contrasts – rumbling lows, hypnotically shifting sheets of grey noise – than there is discernible melody. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t drama: those moments of agitation spring up in a split second, only to fade down into the murk.

Much of this evokes echoey industrial drainpipes, waves of heat over asphalt, and cold mechanical drones which build to turmoil. In contrast, there are interludes with simple, slowly rising and falling synthesized strings, and vintage 80s synth patches. Somewhere a Terminator is running low on batteries.

The film itself is based on the iconic Richard Wright novel: if the score is any indication, the cinematic version of the story of Bigger Thomas is even more relentlessly bleak than the book.

Christine Ott Releases the First Ever Solo Album Performed on the Rarest of Instruments

Christine Ott’s album Chimères (pour ondes Martenot) – streaming at Bandcamp – is the first record in history ever written for and performed solo on that rare machine. French inventor Maurice Martenot patented what was arguably the first-ever analog synthesizer in the early 1920s. Long since eclipsed in popular memory by the theremin, the ondes Martenot is easier to control, and as a result can generate more resonant, pitch-perfect, and less quavery sounds because a player’s fingers move across a ribbon on an electronic keyboard, rather than being activated by motion against a force field. Yet the ondes Martenot – also known as the ondea – can also replicate the sound of a theremin to the point where the two instruments are indistinguishable.

Ott is one of very few musicians alive to have mastered the ondes Martenot, and has been sought out by acts ranging from Tindersticks to Yann Tiersen. Her new album transcends the exotic, or any possible kitschy associations: this is catchy, enveloping, fascinatingly ambient music.

Co-producers Paul Régimbeau and Frédéric D. Oberland mix Ott’s live-in-the-studio performance through a series of effects for extra orchestral grandeur. In the opening track, Comma, tremoloing waves beneath keening, quavering highs give way to a calmly enveloping balance from the lower registers. The second track, Darkstar, rises to a catchy, motorik theme anchored by buzzing lows, Ott finally hitting a theremin-like crescendo way up the scale.

She builds a hauntingly nuanced theme, sliding upward into the melancholy riffs of Todeslied and then adding piercing accents. Much of this uneasy, undulating, increasingly turbulent piece is a sort of electronic analogue to Michael Hersch’s macabre work for strings.

Echo effects flutter and dance throughout Mariposas, then slowly shift to echoey drainpipe sonics and deep-space dopplers in Sirius. Then Ott completely flips the script with Pulsar and its droll, woozy lows.

Eclipse is the most ominously ambient and lowest-register track here: it seems patched through a choir effect and then oceans of loops for extra terror, up to a surprise ending. Ott closes the album with Burning, a broodingly catchy Twin Peaks theme that decays to fragmented shots from every corner of the sonic picture. Let’s hope this album reaches enough of an audience to draw other fearless artists to Martenot’s strange invention.

Soundwalk Collective and Patti Smith Salute an Influential, Psychedelic French Author

Over a triptych of albums, Soundwalk Collective and Patti Smith have explored the work of three defiantly individualistic French writers: Antonin Artaud, Arthur Rimbaud, and now, René Daumal. The primary inspiration for the collaboration’s latest and concluding chapter, Peradam – streaming at Bandcamp – is Daumal’s final, unfinished 1944 surrealist work Mount Analogue: a Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing. The album title references the philosopher’s stone in Daumal’s narrative, which is visible only to the truly enlightened.

In keeping with the rest of the records, this one features both found sounds and musical performances. Septuagenarian Sherpa Dhan Singh Rana sings the opening number, Nanda Devi a-cappella in his native vernacular over sounds of wind off the Himalayan mountain. Smith narrates the title track over Tenzin Choegyal‘s singing bowls and spare, hypnotically loopy percussion. “The gateway to the invisible must be visible; the gateway to the visible must be invisible,” she observes.

Knowledge of the Self features Anoushka Shankar’s lingering sitar: she has a distant connection to Daumal, as he went on American tour with her uncle, dancer Uday Shankar. “Your fondest theories vanish before the wall of appearances, that veil of colored shapes, sounds…this is where you started, but you chose the wrong door, instead you fell asleep at the threshold and dreamed your beliefs about the world ” Smith intones in Spiritual Death, a gnomic, Gurdjieff-like challenge to seek enlightenment.

Charlotte Gainsbourg half-whispers The Four Cardinal Times in Daumal’s original French over jungly nocturnal sounds and atmospheric keys from either the group’s Stephan Crasneanscki or Simone Merli. Smith offers an English translation of this shaman in action, which continues with greater detail over temple bells in Hymn to the Liquid.

Anoushka Shankar returns for Vera, a strangely murky tableau. Smith’s poem The Rat, an eco-disaster parable, closes the album over ambient samples and a bassy thud. This album doesn’t have the chilling intensity of the ensemble’s previous Rimbaud tribute; then again, it wasn’t meant to.

Revisiting One of the Zeros’ Defining Bedroom Albums

Today is all about zeros nostalgia. Since nostalgia is the enemy of history, let’s put this in historical context. Goldfrapp’s third album Supernature came out in 2005. There wasn’t much to celebrate that year, globally speaking. The Bush regime was dropping thousands of tons of depleted uranium on Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and dooming generations to a plague of birth defects. Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg was scheming up ways to turn his campus photoblogging service into the world’s most dangerous surveillance system. But at least Napster was still going strong, opening up a world of music that millions around the world never would have discovered otherwise.

To commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the album’s initial release, it’s been remastered and reissued on green gatefold vinyl, and you can hear it at Spotify. Throughout the record, singer Alison Goldfrapp’s breathy vocals have been left as sultry as they were on the original release, although Will Gregory’s many layers of simple, catchy, playfully psychedelic keys seem more balanced, less dancefloor-oriented than on the cd.

Revisiting the album, the influence of early 80s new wave acts like Missing Persons, Yaz and early Madonna is more vivid than ever. And the songs are a trip, from Ride a White Horse, the duo’s thinly veiled ecstasy anthem, to Number 1, the motorik New Order ripoff that closes the record. In between, the duo’s frontwoman shows off her upper registers in You Never Know (a song that would be autotuned if it was released by a corporate label in 2020), descends to a seductive whisper in the loopy Let It Take You and purrs over the catchy synth bass in Fly Me Away.

Who can forget the cheery, completely deadpan Slide In? If you were around back then, maybe you slid in or smoked up to the woozy, P-Funkesque textures of Coco, the pogo-sticking Satin Chic or the drifty, oscillating Time Out From the World. In the time since, the two have stayed together – and why wouldn’t they? Their New York shows over the past several years have gotten more and more stratospherically expensive.

The album gets extra points for its effectiveness as a weapon to get noisy neighbors to shut up. Played on a sufficiently powerful system, those icy, bassy electronic beats really cut through the the walls and ceiling.

A Rare, Turbulent Pauline Oliveros Online Concert Rescued From the Archives

The great Pauline Oliveros played her last New York concert in the spring of 2015, trading soulful accordion riffs and subtly sly musical banter with members of International Contemporary Ensemble at a since-relocated radical theatre space in Fort Greene. The inventor of the concept of deep listening had been such a force in the world of improvisation and the avant garde for so long that it seemed she’d be around forever.

She left behind an enormous body of work. Decades before locked-down musicians desperately turned to Zoom to serenade their fans or make records, Oliveros coined the term “telematic” and participated in innumerable online collaborations. One welcome rediscovery is the new vinyl album Telematic Concert, a duo performance with Argentine electronic musician Alan Courtis, originally webcast in the fall of 2009. It hasn’t hit the web yet, but as Oliveros would be quick to tell you, her work sounds best on vinyl.

This joint improvisation is divided into just two tracks, their long upward drives, swells and sustain mingling to the point where it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what. Much of this brings to mind early industrial acts like Suicide. The treble is really gaining in the mix early on: you may want to bring down the highs, especially if you’re listening on earbuds.

Courtis introduces flitting poltergeist accents, sudden, menacingly responsive drones, sounds of water and wind. A hammering interlude subsumes the accordion, but Oliveros returns resolutely to the mix. The music takes on a decidedly assaultive, disquieting edge from this point, Oliveros choosing her spots amid the looming, toxic whirlpool. The second part of the improvisation begins with its most grim interlude, rising and falling more spaciously and basically falling apart at the end: with a single coy flourish, Oliveros lets it be known she’s done.

It would be nice to hear more of her here in general, although it’s also extremely instructive to see how spaciously and methodically she approaches music this overtly dystopic. With her puckish sense of humor and finely honed improvisational reflexes matched by an unassailable calm, her own music was often dead serious, and the very definition of immersive, but seldom so macabre.

A Thoughtfully Enveloping Debut Album From Innovative Composer/Organist Molly Joyce

Composer Molly Joyce performs on the rarest of vintage instruments: the toy electric organ. She accumulated a serious collection in the wake of a horrific car accident that left her with limited mobility in her left hand – so she switched from piano to an instrument with easier action but an unexpectedly rich sonic palette, especially in the high midrange and above. Her debut album Breaking and Entering is streaming at Bandcamp. At low volume, this is soothing, enveloping music: played louder, its edges reveal themselves.

The first track, Body and Being, begins with twinkling, Terry Riley-ish loops and grows denser as Simon sends tectonic sheets from across the sonic spectrum through the mix, “Do you react to me, do you contract from me?” Joyce asks.

Her airy high soprano rises to stratospheric heights in Form and Flee: “You’re not normality, but you’re mortality,” she intones over an increasingly tense, circling pulse. Stereolab seems to be an influence on that track and also the title track, which she builds around a simple accordionish blues riff,

A fluttering, oscillating interlude leads into Who Are You, the album’s most anxious vocal contrasting with a calm undercurrent and some keening new wave riffage. Joyce brings the album full circle with Front and Center: “Try to remember your truest nature,” she reminds. Words of wisdom in an interminable season of alienation and atomization. Joyce is playing a webcast to celebrate the album’s release this Friday June 26, at 5 PM at youube.

Relentlessly Uneasy, Dystopic Soundscapes From Austin Rockman

Today’s pick for music here is cold, mechanical, dystopic…and trippy as hell. There’s a lot going on in electronic composer Austin Rockman‘s new maxi-single Sonde Aim/Seek No End – streaming at Bandcamp – so it’s more persistently uneasy than it is desolate. If you need about thirteen minutes to get lost in, this will work.

The rhythmic center of the first track is a loop of what sounds like the needle on a turntable bouncing off the face of a weatherbeaten record. Fleeting doppler smears pass through the sonic picture in a split second, echoed by low rumbles; eventually, keening, minimal highs and fragmentary backward masked effects begin to take centerstage.

The second is a more grimly hazy, echoey tableau, with slowly shifting sheets of sound in place of dopplers: as with the A-side, Rockman eventually brings the highs up in the mix. Neither piece offers any kind of resolution: life is like that.

Catchy Space-Pop From Violinist Alicia Enstrom

The instrumentals on violinist Alicia Enstrom’s lushly atmospheric new loopmusic album Monsters – streaming at youtube – are also part of a larger concerto. There are vocal numbers on the record as well: it’s just Enstrom (whose name is an anagram of “monster”), her voice, fiddle and loop pedal.

She opens the record with the slowly swaying title track, a catchy, vampy trip-hop tune with coy cartoon-monster flourishes. Half Moon starts out with spiky, echoey pizzicato, balanced by sweeping ambience: it could be Bjork at her most symphonic. Goodnight Nebraska – a shout-out to Enstrom’s home state – is the album’s most Lynchian track, a flamenco-tinged melody awash in reverb and slowly shifting tectonics.

The terse, Bach-like arpeggios in Big Idea make it the album’s most classically-influenced moment. Enstrom winds it up with Lies, a trip-hop song with more than a hint of circus rock, which comes as no surprise since Enstrom’s big gig so far has been with a famous acrobatic troupe. Fans of dark catchy pop with orchestral flourishes – think Amanda Palmer – ought to check her out.

Elegantly Riveting Intensity in Brooklyn with Luisa Muhr and C. Lavender

Last night at Spectrum dancer Luisa Muhr and sound sculptor C. Lavender improvised a literally mesmerizing, often haunting multimedia sonata of sorts, complete with variations on a series of recurrent tropes and gestures. It had all the intensity of butoh, but none of the brutality.

Muhr, dressed in a stark, loosely fitting black cotton top and pants, her hair back, typically moved in sync with Lavender’s electroacoustically-enhanced drumming –  even if that rhythm was often implied. Her timing was striking to witness. For much of the performance, Muhr swayed, turned, rose and fell at halfspeed, as if underwater. Much of her time onstage was spent contending with an invisible tether:, which seemed to encircle her, encumber her feet, hung in front of her face where she could analyze it, then became a sudden threat. But just when it seemed that it had finally sent her into a fetal position, and then a crumpled form at the very edge of the stage, she rose from the depths, slowly but ineluctably, in an understatedly steely display of athletic command.

Muhr’s green eyes are profoundly expressive: like a young Liv Ullmann, she excels at channeling very subtle or conflicted emotions. At times, Muhr’s features were undeterred yet shadowed with unease, especially toward the end of the show where she dealt with what could have been an unseen mirror, a hostile presence lurking beyond the stage, or both. Likewise, during the tether sequence, she fixed her gaze with an unwavering composure but also a profound sadness. This may have been a job she had to finish, but it was ripping her up inside. What exactly was responsible for that, we never found out, although any woman in the current political climate faces an uphill struggle with no comfortable conclusion in sight.

Lavender played a set of syndrums and also a dulcimer, which she hit gently with mallets. She ran the sometimes murky, sometimes much more pointillistic torrents of beats through a mixer for effects that diminished from turbulence to a trickle; then the river rose again. Meanwhile, even while the sound looped back through the mix, she doubled the rhythm, adding a layer of arid, blippy textures above the thump and throb. There were also moments when the sound subsided where she’d get the dulcimer quietly humming, or would build austere blocks of close harmonies and spin then them back through the vortex. Seated centerstage, there was as much elegance as restlessness in her performance, something drummers rarely get to channel: often, she was just as fascinating to watch as Muhr.

Get Lost in Susie Ibarra’s Chiming, Hypnotic Philippine Sounds on Governors Island

Percussionist Susie Ibarra, a mainstay of the downtown scene since the 90s, draws on her Filipina heritage to create an often mesmerizing blend of traditional bell ensemble sounds and jazz. She’s leading her aptly named DreamTime Ensemble this Saturday afternoon, July 13 at 3 PM, playing a free show outdoors in front of Building 10A in the park in the middle of Governors Island. Ferries leave from the old Staten Island Ferry terminal, and from the landing where Bergen Street meets the Brooklyn waterfront, on the half hour during the afternoon; a roundtrip ticket is $3. Ibarra is also at Issue Project Room on July 27 at 8 for $20/$15 stud/srs.

Ibarra’s five-part Song of the Bird King suite, with her slightly smaller Electric Kulintang quartet – streaming at Spotify – capsulizes the kind of dream state and flickering magic which have become her signature sound. From the first slides of Oz Noy’s acoustic guitar and Lefteris Bournias’ otherworldly, microtonal Balkan tenor sax over the bandleader’s ripples and pings, the effect is psychedelic to the extreme.

Her fellow percussionist Roberto Rodriguez drives the music forward – as well as round and round – with his drums and electronic loops. The suite’s epic first part, Of the Invisible rises and recedes, sometimes with majestic echoes of Pink Floyd, other times a mashup of ancient, fluttering and trilling Balkan sounds mingling with Ibarra’s steady pointillisms.

Part two, 21 Million Hectares (a reference to the Philippines’ forest acreage prior to global warming) comes across as a gamelanesque take on psychedelic cumbia, a shuffling, loopy thicket of beats underpinning Ibarra’s catchy riffage and Bournias’ achingly gorgeous, bagpipe-like phrasing. The third section, simply titled The Dream is more spare, echoey and evocative of loungey 90s trip-hop.

Spare bottleneck guitar and Bournias’ long, desolate birdcall sax echo over a martial, practically industrial beat in Indigo Banded Kingfisher. The concluding segment, Migratory has more of a swaying, strolling groove: until Bournias’ meticulously modulated microtones kick in, it sounds like a traditional Filipino ensemble taking a stab at Midnight Starr-style early 80s electro. To quote Jeff Lynne – another guy who knew something about early 80s electro – it’s strange magic.