A regular in the improv drone noise scene in Oslo, guitarist Frederik Ness Sevendal has appeared in many constellations of musicians, Slowburn, Del and (at the risk of being accused of nepotism) my own occasional combo We Snakes. His blend of folkish, finger picked tones and string bowing techniques, combined with more noisy uses of distortion and ring modulation, makes him an intriguing addition to any improvisational group, and someone I enjoy watching play! Despite having played with him live on a number of occasions, I quite literally ran home after he pushed his debut album No Foly Bow into my sweaty trembling hands.
I was pleasantly not so surprised… The first thing you notice is the cover, a gorgeous Victorian theatre stage, or puppet theatre, with some absurd performance going on, immediately puts you in mind of music hall and magic, but also freak shows, the circus, dadaism even. It puts you in the mood for the twisted, and bizarre, but somehow safe and naive.
The music is mainly drone based, (a form, which I have to say up front I am completely bored of these days) however, here the drones seem more, um… real.. like they have formed naturally somehow.
Imagine this if you will… You have a real old timer banjo player, an Irish fiddle player and … oh I don’t know, a bagpipe player perhaps? Well there they all are, sitting together in a sauna naked (this IS Norway after all) and casually strumming, stroking and (oh god, why did I start this) blowing their instruments. As they play, due to the heat and humidity, the music and sounds from their instruments sink to the floor and collect, as a hot, dense stew, and as this stew leaks out of the drain, there is Frederik scooping it up with those little shovels they have in the Pic-N-Mix, and layering it onto his record.
I don’t know enough about Norwegian folk music to say if there is a connection there, but the drone is certainly in the area. The Norwegian Hardanger Fiddle is famous for its special feature of an extra set of drone strings that lie under the normal strings, and give the instrument its resonant tone. Also there is a drone to the “Joik”, the monotonous chanting from the indigenous Sami people (or Laplanders, as they don’t like to be called).
He makes this dense hot pickle of a sound that is both up front and yet quiet. Guitars intertwine with guitars in a delicate web in near random time signatures, there is melody and tune, but nothing is stated loudly or brashly, but at the same time there is menace and mystery in the background, like how your skin prickles in hot environments and sweat stings your eyes.
Despite being basically a relaxed and non-confrontational album, it has also been mastered and compressed really very loud, and you really have to get up out of the sofa and walk across the room to the volume control, if you want a relaxing moment. Alternatively you can grip the edges of a cushion and lean forward into the drone and as your face distorts with the g-force and big fat grin that is contorting your face, you better pray that the wind doesn’t change direction.
I enjoyed listening to Formatt although at times I felt some of it to be a bit academic and austere. There is not much new in the choice of sounds, clicks, skips, ambient pads and low bit crunch that is served with a fairly large dollop of granular fairy dust. Formatt, AKA Peter Smeekens is based in Belgium and is “Focussing on the digital enforcement of audio, the main goal is to investigate and modulate blends of warm, fuzzy analogs and clean, colder digital signals and patterns”. However, all nicely encapsulated in a wrapping of warm, comfortable reverb. There are also occasional looped radio voices, which I’m a sucker for, disjointed yet subtle typewriter rhythms and muted drones. In one or two places the mp3 file is recorded a tad loud, so that it clips (no excuse for this IMHO) and generally needs some expensive mastering to bring out the warmth to put it up there with ohh, let me see, Fennesz for example? There are in fact some similarities with the aforementioned Italian, in the way that a basically ambient and lush atmosphere is created by the reduction of quality and processing / masking of the source material. The source material being. Well, the usual Musique Concrete / field recording bumps and knocks. Maybe it’s this that gives it an academic feel, but then again, the synthesized drones and pseudo voice sounds are really coming from a more Eno-ish or blimey, even Tangerine dream genre. And it is this blend that I like, that Smeekens has got right, not quite academic electro-acoustic rigidity, and not quite spliffy chill-out.
I see from the bio that he has performed his music in all manner of spaces, installations, collaborations with architects, writers and poets, as well as venues ranging from art-spaces to squatted industrial sites. This makes perfect sense as I can see both the industrial and the atmospheric in Formatt. The harsh is presented with the smooth, the hard surfaces with open spaces and the ambience feels like the soft murmuring of voices experienced in a large foyer, warehouse, or cathedral.
If I’m a bit harsh in my criticism of his choice of sounds I don’t mean to be. I listen to this kind of music all the time and I am very used to the genre and sound palette of glitch and this fits right in. It is high quality and I actually like it a lot. Oh, and strike the Tangerine Dream reference, I don’t know what I was thinking.
eXp is the nom de plume of one Phil Cooper and releases on Zimmer Recordsanother Net label, If only there were something. I’ve been meaning to listen to this for about a month since I got it for review, and to be honest, its a bit of a mixed bag; but 20 minutes ago, I was kicking myself for not having listened to this earlier, because the opener When you take me down is a track I should NOT have waited for, and have wasted a month NOT being aware of! Its so full of influences and memories of long forgoton music, obscure things I used to listen to but can’t for the life of me remember. The vocals are a slightly clearer and less hazy Pete Kember (Sonic Boom) from Spaceman 3, monosynths wobble like… oh…who was it? Can’t remember… theres a gliding synth that sounds like a 70’s wildlife theme tune and some seriously dodgy slap bass! But I love it… It reminds me of music thats donkeys years ago, and sold 25 copies to weirdos. (Want the list? Young Marble Giants, Pink Military, Delta 5, Lemon Kittens… See! Told you it was obscure!) So… it reminds me of a lot, but so what?
The standard is not quite this high all the way through the album, and most of it definitely has a bit of a home made sound that could do with a bit of production. The drum machine relentlessly tick tocks throughout and I would prefer real drums in this context, but I think Mr Cooper is actually trying to achieve a bit of 80’s nostalgia by using it. Both Shine and The Sun are excellent songs however, they just need a bit of a tart up!
The duelling Fahey-ish guitars on thoughts are either not tight enough or loose enough, but an interesting soundscape is achieved on is there anything where the title is sung over and over, on a bed of sea and wave sounds, a metronomic beat chopping in and out. If only there were something is the let down though, just a bit of a messy pseudo weirdness to end the album… I give When you take me down another listen, and sure enough, it WAS as good as I thought and goes straight onto my ipod.
If Phil Cooper aka eXp only recorded this song and then got hit by a train, he would have left a pretty good mark on the world, and for that his mum should be proud!
If Beck was to be sucked into a vacuum cleaner along with an assortment of squeaky toys and a few old Butthole Surfers albums the resulting cacophony would sound like The Dry Heeves performing their JC and the Dirty Dozen, oh… but wait… the next track Still Life VI sounds nothing like that, a big old distorted bass grooves along to a drum machine set on demo mode, in a wind tunnel. But wait… hang on… Ballad of the Giant Squid is um well… Monty Python, Flying Lizards um.. Coil-ish.. no not really.. er…
“Stop that… its silly!”
Then on “Still Life VII” after a spooky start, swishy swosh noises and spiky hi hats get thrown over a fractured bass pulse… then… ?
Oh god!!! on Voicemail Blues a cowbell and eighties synth… are accompanied by a very strange voicemail message as a hysterical witness recounts a fight between a bible salesman and a…hang on…? This is a joke right?
I’m not supposed to take this seriously am I?
No, probably not… I’ll relax a bit and see how it goes.
Now I get it, it’s great! Every track a new idea, roll up, roll up, every track a winner! Not any big prizes, you understand, no awards or trophies, but maybe a bottle of Cider in the Tombola, or a Purple Teddy bear at Bingo. Their humorous tracks are NOT that funny, the weird tracks are just weird, not experimental, but I don’t really care! It’s like a compilation album, if I don’t really like something; it doesn’t matter, because it’s over pretty soon. Of course it’s all rather cheesy, but there are lots of cool sounds and crazy rhythms which get ruined by bad samples of people putting on silly Goons voices, burping, and giggling at their own jokes, oh they think they are SO clever!
The Dry Heeves are out for a laugh and that’s fine, some of it is actually pretty good, the production is cool, very 90’s hip slacker, but they’re interested in 2 separate things here, this groovy joke electro and some more serious electronica weirdness.
Hilde (my lovely girlfriend) just came in and said it was VERY scary! When I asked why she said that “Joke Music” is always scary, like there’s something outside in the dark laughing at other peoples music. And sure enough a looped metal guitar is joined by some wind sound effects from a slasher movie, and a grating psychotic voice mumbles threats!
There’s some great Morricone guitar, some cool riffs, some quirky samples, and just when you are happy with it, its cut dead and someone tells you that… “If you like what your hearing then you should fuck off!” Well thank you very much! I nearly deleted the ” There’s some great Morricone guitar” line above for that!
(Yes I’m speed reviewing here!)
But I forgive them almost immediately because of the Gong-like laid back groove that follows… I’m typing faster than they can play now… the ideas start to repeat and I wait for the next track.. HA! And here it comes!! AS I SUSPECTED… Sussed you guys out!! GOT IT!!! Ha ha ha ha!! You are a just a couple of old Residents fans aren’t you?
There it is, hidden right in the middle of the album (Oh I didn’t say it’s an album did I? Well it is.. called “…and I’ll call Rusty” actually) Where was I?
Ah yes… the clue… The Residents Fans with their harmonised vocals… they LOVE this bit.. sounds just like their heroes!! Did no one tell you that the great Eyeball Masters of the Weirdyverse have that voice sound patented?
You just can’t do that!!!
Just Like chorus pedals are The Cure or 16th note delay chopping is The Edge… We’ve all done it of course…in fact all this sounds spookily similar to the big box of cassettes I have in the corner from my first ever band in the early 80’s when I was 12 or 13…. but really…tut tut…
Anyway… it’s all still wonderful stuff, its great to hear guys having so much fun, and not caring if the girls like them or not! The Dry Heeves are clowns, and we all know how scary clowns are.
Distorted drones, scratchy clicks, bit-crunched rhythms, rumbling tones; all the glitchy techniques are here in the work of sound and visual artist Charlie DeVico from Chapel Hill NC USA… And it’s really rather good!
DeVico, working, he claims, with a seven year old PC with outdated processor creates a space with his sound, albeit a rather scary little space, that is mysterious, beautiful and harsh. The Merzbow influences, the Zoviet France influences and the Coil influences clearly shine through, but what Mr DeVico does rather well, is to form a sound picture that works like a film still or a video on pause. You can see a place, a situation, and you can hear its ambience, but you are not sure what came before, or where it will go.
Often a drone or a muffled rhythm will start the track, and will then remain for its entirety, but far from becoming boring or repetitive, it makes a base for other tones, both nice and nasty to feed in and out of the picture.
For this review I picked three tracks at random from his audio page.
On Jesuit Sky Glaze, we are in some kind of plastic jungle. A bobbing cheesy beatbox (thankfully muted and understated to give it a quasi-ethnic and far away sound) provides the aforementioned thread through the piece. Over this glide great swathes of processed foliage. Sheets of phasing breathe and growl nearby. Nasal, bit-reduced buzzsaws hack at polystyrene trees. A swarm of insects flies by, and hundreds of wings flap in your ears from some synthesized waxy winged creature. This could be a remix of Kraut-rockers, Neu by a young Cabaret Voltaire, a blend I wish I’d thought of myself!
We are in a tomb or cave on Purpose by Poisoned. Some beast is heard moving large blocks of granite deep within, the wind whistles past the opening as a storm blows outside and reverberating ethereal voices of prisoners cry and wail. We are trapped between them, unable to escape.
Behemoth Feed I (The first part of three that make up Devico’s downloadable Behemoth Feed EP) could be the recording from deep within a rusted old ship, massive grating turbines turning deep in the hull, accompanied by a mechanical warbling of… oh I don’t know… a vacuum cleaner perhaps? All works nicely until a really horrible Merz-screech of… well screeching actually, thwacks you round the ears and shouts and screams as if to say. “Hey! You! Reviewer!!! This is noise music not a fucking movie soundtrack album!” And you would have to agree. Good Stuff!
“Chiste” means “joke” in Spanish, so here is a joke in Spanish.
Hay tres clases de personas: las que saben contar y las que no.
Chiste is also the project name for Daniel Jeffs and Hugo Espinosa (aka Djef and Mika Martini it says here…) both electronic musicians resident in Santiago, Chile, and members of the “Taller Electroacústico” organisation.
Chiste1 (Santiago Centro 2 AM Mix) is their first piece as a team, and was produced for the project “Positions” by Pyo Workgroup in France (http://pyo.workgroup.free.fr/project_01.htm). The project produced a series of tracks all based on the same samples that were derived from the organisers computer, and were named POSITION 9 to 32. As such, the track from Chiste is POSITION 28.
The piece starts with micro loops of digital glitches that start short and then blur, creating a high pitched tone. A crackle of surface noise and a muted undulating drone unfolds, interspersed with spikes and clicks. A typewriter (sic) clicks occasionally and provides a semi regular beat which is augmented by looped snippets of crackling. The piece pauses for a moment with some random blips and bleeps and continues as before allowing you to notice sounds that were there all along but had not noticed. There is an underlying tonal change in the original high pitched tone, which gives the feel of a melody beginning to evolve, which it never quite does. Again the track pauses with bleeps and clicks and again returns to the typewriter, and some digital crunchiness. And then it stops, abruptly.
I would have liked to have heard more from the duo, and what info existed in their bio was scant and gave no further clues. I tried to pry a little more from them via email, but was only directed back to the website and the same bio. It is difficult to accurately assess the piece in a vacuum, but to try to do so I would have to say that I would have liked some kind of progression from start to end, instead of just start, pause, play, pause, continue, pause, continue, end. If heard within a larger body of varied work, however, I would like this very much. It is ambient without being “pretty”; it is abstract without being “difficult”. It certainly sounds like it could derive from sounds inside a computer albeit a somewhat old and creaky machine, with a dodgy disk-drive. I think my old Amiga 1200 sounds a bit like this, and for many years it was my favourite computer!
This may take some time… last thing they did (The Caution Curves CD) was really a surprise, of the cup of tea brought to you in bed variety, nice, thoughtful, warm and sweet.
But now I know what to expect… so I shall furrow my brow deeply in a serious music reviewer frown, grit my jaded teeth, prepare to be disapointed and insert the disk.
Hmm… it starts as I have expected, which is a little sad. a squeaky sax, some hesitant drumming and some hysterical forced laughing. It’s all a bit too much like a parody of free improv, we’re oh so fucking weird and crazed, it makes me press skip a few times to see if its all like this… and it is…
OK, lets just dive in, and give it a real listen…
Now which one is doing the singing? Let me see.. Tristana Fiscella probably.. OK well she has a bit of a concept for each track… its a new vocal thing (1st track laughing, 2nd track “Uh ha Ah ha Uh ha” a gym instructor on a later track!) combined with a few lines of random verse/messages/maths that get played around with…
I’m not sure, Im really just not sure…
Track 3 Under starts to change my mind… a arppegiating wash of tones is accompanied by rattling jazzy percussion, and Im struck by the really odd production that they manage to achieve – very well recorded, close, personal almost and at the same time cheap and lo fi. I AM THERE… in that room, somewhere in the middle.
I have made hundreds of hours of recordings using dummy head/binaural techniques, and this CD gives me some of that feeling.
By about the fifth track I am relaxed, and with almost all the Machiavellian evil reviewer in me gone, having enjoyed the smoke filled sixties coffee house of the previous track, I wallow in washing up liquidity and somewhat foolish chokings on spiky objects and hidden references to their earlier cd, which is always nice.
Someone, probably Hilde, brings me an unexpected cup of tea, with honey, and the sound of my teaspoon merges with the percussion, I jam along.
In the course of the next thirty minutes I follow the fat thread of this music that wriggles like a long red worm as it squirms down tunnels, through forests, along motorways, into cold basements filled with slightly damp carpets and woodlice, and out under leafy trees with picnics and into slow stagnant rivers where music is muted and wobbley and slightly green.
A juicy worm it is indeed as it hangs there, and as i am a little hungry…
I take a bite…
Yet again I am hooked…
I am speechless, how could I have been so wrong? I listen again to the start of this CD, and yes I WAS wrong, it is just pure brilliance! Crazed, unforgiving, foolish even, but brilliant. I must know more… I must pose for them some questions, that, even though I know it to be impossible, may get to the point by some mystical route…
I shall construct a series of devilishliy cunning questions, where one may be deceptively simple and straightforward, but the next will throw them off and they will have to use all their faculties and wits to answer intelligently, I shall confuse them and suddenly I will throw a curveball of a question and they shall blurt out the truth, without a care for their own personal safety… Ha ha, now where is my quill?
Interview conducted via e-mail with band.
No editting has been made, apart from the removal of one question about sex for the sake of public decency, a reference to a celebrity for reasons of libel, two by the editor because he just didn’t like them and one fawning beg for approval by the author, removed for the sake of embarrasment.
Improv is obviously your main thing.. how much is worked out before hand, electronics/laptop etc?
Amanda: There is actually a fair amount that is worked out ahead of time, with lots of playing with the main themes as we go. A few of the pieces are much more improvised that others, but they all build on work we have done playing together over the previous months. Ben: We have songs? Rebecca: Loosely constructed ones.
I like the fact that the electronics are… well electronic, but the live elements of sax voice drums are very under effected, and clean.. the contrast is nice… discuss?
Amanda: We like the combination of the living animal with the cold mechanical. It creates a richer sound. Rebecca: The electronics themselves are actually pretty under effected, I think, as far as electronics go. Ben: I see no difference in an acoustic drum or a can opener. If it makes a sound, it makes music.
Your website states a new drummer, whats up with that?
Amanda: Our old drummer, me, moved to New York, which was a big pain in the ass for all involved. The main two things I regret about leaving DC are not being able to play with the Caution Curves anymore, and not being able to see my little brother as much. Rebecca: I was sad when Amanda moved away, as I knew that, in addition to the band becoming a bit less active, it would mean seeing her less often. Then Ben fell out of the sky, sort of like a gift from the gods.he’s amazing and totally gets what we’re doing. Ben: I’m but Amanda’s understudy. I’m just a placeholder, the role belongs to her.
What program/s are you using and how do you construct the electronics?
Rebecca: I use Ableton Live and Sound Forge. Constructing the electronics basically involves me recording all sorts of sounds, from field recordings of strangers talking to snippets of live instrumentation I’ve recorded myself, and then altering them just enough so that they sound completely different from their original form.
Where have you come from musically?
Amanda: DC punk, late 80s through today. The Ex, especially the early stuff that involves recordings of lots of weird noises, like the stuff on the Joggers and Smoggers album. People singing and playing music in church when I was growing up. My grandmother’s collection of little toy instruments. Phil Ochs. The Talking Heads. Rebecca: A radio program called Krapp’s Last Tape that aired on WCSB in Cleveland in the early 90s. Mix of noise, spoken word, random audio, and white space. Always thought it’d be cool to have a band that sounded like that. Ben: The swish and clanking of the dishes in the dishwasher.
What was your first record you actually bought?
Amanda: I believe it was the Dead Milkmen’s “Big Lizard in My Backyard,” purchased in seventh grade, 1984. But it was a cassette, not a record. First record may have been that Fugazi 7-inch with Song No, 1 on it, or maybe the first Gray Matter album, sometime in high school. Rebecca: “Autoamerican” by Blondie. I was nine. Yeah, Debbie Harry was my role model when I was in third grade. Ben: General Hospi-tale by the Afternoon Delights.
Do you think in terms of sound or music?
Amanda: Both. I’m interested in sound as music. In thinking of everything aural as potentially music. Rebecca: Almost entirely in terms of sound. Ben: Rhythm is everywhere. Music is rhythm.
A long time ago I wrote for Furthernoise.org. I just discovered that those pages are down and my backup of them is inaccesible on this version the sprawling mess that is markfrancombe.com. So here are ALL my reviews on one page!
The Caution Curves CD on Initiated Eye Recordings (IEOO1) from um…er… The Caution Curves.
A cosy electro acoustic combo comprising Amanda Huron, drums and percussion, Tristana Fiscella, vocals and guitar, and Rebecca Mills on her laptop, hailing from Washington DC, who’s music is refreshingly nice (as opposed to nasty).
‘Lemons’ begins with a yawning sleepy start from vocalist Tristana Fiscella … something about liking Lemons?
A slightly neurotic potpourri of naive noises… the music flittering about dangerously like moths round a candle, but hanging together on thin threads. A change comes half way through as Ms Fiscella tries desperately to stay awake as she sings some “proper verses” over simple, understated drums.
On ‘Leslie’, a naïve ambling clattering of drums, percussion and twangy guitar floats along nicely. The sun is out, it’s spring, and squirrels hop from branch to twig, until after a deep breath, a moaning and a wailing hails drums building and falling, against a feathery warm duvet of laptop gurgling. The track sinks into colder regions, the sun is obscured by dark clouds and guttural words can be made out as bassy low bit drones fill out the space… As the voice soars, we quieten down to almost nothing as Tristana pleads, please please please please, please Leslie come home!
Maybe it’s the sound of Tristana Fiscella’s voice or the lemony nature of the first track, but this awakens something in my severely damaged memory and, on hands and knees I finger my way along my vinyl shelf until I dust off Danielle Dax, and more specifically her early work in the ‘Lemon Kittens’ (hence the lemons). This was a pleasant reminder of the lovely Ms Dax, and the observation that experimentation when in feminine hands is simply and wonderfully NON-po-faced and refreshingly UN-nerdy!
And there is something feminine and charming about The Caution Curves, that is pastoral and free. The warmness of the laptop sounds that fill the air are delightful, the voice is improvised and happily carefree and unselfconscious. The drums although nicely recorded, are verging on the amateur, and it takes a while for me to decide whether I like them like this or whether someone needs a few lessons… but finally I decide that I not only like them like this, I love them like this… don’t change… please…
As my favourite German improvisers, Can once said…